100. “Fall in Love with Me” – Earth, Wind & Fire: 1983! I’ve been excited to cover this year on my Billboard challenge for a while now, for reasons I will elaborate on with future entries down the line. For now, though, here’s a mediocre Earth, Wind, & Fire song. Okay okay, it’s really not too bad – I’m not even sure if the group are even capable of recording a bad song! But the intro is a bit wonky, which immediately harshens the flow. Still, once it gets its groove going, it effectively proves that the guys still have it, a few years after their peak. It chugs along pretty nicely and Maurice White sounds great along those electric synths and bass riffs. I’m a fan!
99. “Breaking Us in Two” – Joe Jackson: My immediate reaction to Joe Jackson’s cold open at the start of this song is how closely the tune resembles Badfinger’s “Day After Day”. Seriously, it’s uncanny! Though I’m sure I’m far from the first to mention this. This song exemplifies a trend in 80s pop music encapsulated in the genre of “sophisti-pop”. Sophisti-pop is something I still need to dig into with more depth, but it’s plainly defined as music with pop production and distinct jazz influences. The lounge bar feel of this track stands front and center, with pianos and bongo drums driving the tune along. As a breakup song, it’s pretty great and Jackson strains every line with all his strength. He consistently sounds pained, even pathetic at points, especially with lines like, “Though it’s oh so nice to get advice, it’s oh so hard to do”. It’s a pretty simple song at its core, but its honesty is certainly something to be admired. It’s a distinctly 80s kind of sound that few ever bring up when discussing music of the decade.
98. “Don’t Cry” – Asia: And now for the return of Asia – with another top ten single to beat! For what it’s worth, I really enjoy those tasty power chords in the opening, and the way it transitions into its marching power ballad tempo so seamlessly. I must admit, though, that this is a step down from “Heat of the Moment”. The lyrics are noticeably less memorable especially in the chorus (“Don’t cry, now that I’ve found you / Don’t cry, take a look around you”), which is just pretty weak in general. The cheese factor is so, so high here. It’s far from a great AOR anthem, but as far as such songs are concerned, this really isn’t as bad as its potential.
97. “You Got Lucky” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Initially, this was a bit more of a scathing review of the song than it probably deserved. It’s not that I don’t like the song; while the emphasis on synths over guitars is a bit of a different sound for Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers, almost horror-like in nature, it mostly works in its favor in keeping their heartland sound front-and-center. Still, there was always something in the lyrics that always kept me from really loving this one. Nonetheless, I’ll reserve some of my most biting criticisms for another time. Even though I can’t say I ever really loved his music, Tom Petty was truly a bonafide 80s rock star, one of a caliber often forgotten when recalling the famous figures of the decade. “You Got Lucky” is just another example of the multitude of sleek, polished rock singles he churned out during the time. There’s enough here to keep me from skipping the track entirely, but it’s also clear that Petty himself is a shining beacon among the song’s not-so-favorable traits. I may be hard to please, but I will miss this guy’s presence for sure.
96. “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” – Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack: Here, we’ve got two very talented performers showing off their chops in a romantic, swelling duet. And… I’m conflicted. On one hand, the production is sleek and sophisticated enough to make this an interesting enough listen, at least sonically. And that’s not to mention the singers, who just sound beautiful. On the other hand, though… it’s an 80s R&B ballad, and one of the corniest ones at that. I’m trying my hardest not to discriminate against every one of these types of songs, but I just can’t think of a scenario where I’d listen to this without feeling internally embarrassed at lines like “Tonight our spirits will be climbing / To a sky filled up with diamonds”. Groan…
95. “It Might Be You” – Stephen Bishop: The lower rungs of these year-end lists tend to be occupied by songs that fail to make the top ten or even top twenty of the year’s weekly Hot 100. Such songs from this year specifically have, so far, hit the furthest from this goal. While the above five songs peaked somewhere between 10-20, this particular song only hit #25, which makes me wonder about all the other songs of the year with similar peaks that failed to make the year-end list. But anyway. If you’ve heard “On and On” (which I covered in the overview for 1977), you may be adequately prepared for this song. It’s the same kind of treacly acoustic guitar strum-a-long, but with arguably better lyrics and certainly a prettier melody. Bishop aims for less of a 70s AC sound and more 80s country ballad instead, and I think it works better for him. It’s still a bit bland in flavor (makes sense, considering it was written as a theme song for Tootsie), but it’s still sung nicely and goes down rather smoothly.
94. “I’ve Got a Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart” – Eric Clapton: The song title is misleading. Non-Yardbirds Eric Clapton has rarely ever truly rocked, and this song is another example of such. It’s a clunky pop-blues number with a flimsy melody, weak lyrics, and an even weaker vocal performance from Clapton himself. It’s just a big nothing of a song and I feel tired just mentioning it. Let’s move on.
93. “Far From Over” – Frank Stallone: And here’s our second top ten single of the countdown. And of course, it comes from Staying Alive, the critically panned sequel to Saturday Night Fever. I watched Staying Alive fairly recently and… yeah, it stinks. This song stinks a little less, though. It’s got kind of a memorable beginning, with the piano and horns combination promising the training montage of the century. Much like Frank Stallone is the younger brother of the much more successful Sylvester, this song feels a lot like “Eye of the Tiger”‘s younger sibling, with a similar amount of energy but so much less ambition. Stallone isn’t a terrible vocalist, but he’s impressively unmemorable, not a good quality for songs of these types. Overall: meh. It’s worth a listen and not quite boring enough to hate, but also not worth the space on anyone’s 80s workout mixtape.
92. “True” – Spandeau Ballet: Alright, now I’ll confess: one of the main reasons why I’ve been so excited to cover 1983 is because of all the one-hit wonders! I know this is not specific to 1983, but there are fifteen entries on this list that came from artists that never went on to land another pop hit (in the US, at least). Frank Stallone is one, Spandeau Ballet is another. I have no idea what the group were intending when recording this track, but goodness is it esoteric. With its simple smoothness and jazzy vibes, I’m tempted to lump this onto the sophisti-pop boat, but the vocal melodies tease it more along the side of blue-eyed soul or even R&B. The sax solo – with a key change, no less! – makes things even more interesting. Essentially, though, it’s such a beautiful song. Just check out this pre-chorus: “Always slipping from my hands / Sand’s a time of its own / Take your seaside arms and write the next line / Oh, I want the truth to be known”. The earlier musing “Why do I find it hard to write the next line?” makes for a pretty risky move, as it could have been so, so corny – but hell, it works! Honestly, though, the guitar licks and heavenly backing vocals pretty much make this song for me. It’s probably the schmaltziest of schmaltz this side of Manilow, but I love it anyway. It’s just too bad Spandeau Ballet never struck gold again.
91. “Pass the Dutchie” – Musical Youth: And right away, here comes another one-hit wonder, this one a bit less surprising in its flash-in the-pan quality. There are a few qualities of this record that some would dismiss as gimmicky cash grabs, namely that it’s a reggae-tinged pop song featuring a band of kids that largely appropriates Jamaican patois, wrapped in a catchy, oh-so repetitive chorus. It’s the kind of song that you only need to listen to once or twice before it’s stuck in your head all day. Even without this chorus, though, the verses are all decently sunshiney and the backing bass and keyboards are tremendously fun. The kids don’t exactly have the best singing voices (they’re about as good as one would expect from 10- to 17-year-olds), but the ragtag quality of it all is just plain charming. I know this is technically a cleaned-up cover of a reggae tune about marijuana, but I think it’s inadvertently become a bit of a weed-smoking anthem of its own, which is just funny to me.
90. “Photograph” – Def Leppard: I’d like to introduce this song by noting that I once misheard the lyrics as “Cornbread, I don’t want/need you…”, and now I have to fight to unhear it. Anyway, Def Leppard was one of those bands that was introduced to me at a young age by my mom. I’ve listened to a bunch of their singles, but “Photograph” tends to stand head and shoulders above the rest – at least from what I can remember. The intro immediately kicks, especially when the cowbell comes in. Lyrically, it could be interpreted as the speaker literally longing for a magazine model, or as a general statement of desire for an unattainable figure (“So wild, so free, so far from me / You’re all I want, my fantasy”). It follows the same kind of formula that glam metal would come to be known for, but the production and format of the drums, guitars, and vocals somehow remain fresh from listen to listen. It’s just some damn good radio-friendly hard rock.
89. “Human Nature” – Michael Jackson: One other reason I’ve been looking forward to 1983: it marks the release of Michael Jackson’s legendary album Thriller! This album was pretty massive in its time and even today it continues to be the best selling LP of all-time. Seven singles were released from the album, all of which reached the top ten. While only five of them are to be found on this year-end list, the album’s titular track is on next year’s list (although, unfortunately, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is nowhere to be found anywhere). “Human Nature” is probably the most delicate of these seven, greatly benefiting from Jackson’s silky vocals, Quincy Jones’s exquisite production, and poetic lyrics from Toto’s Steve Porcaro. Its soft and dreamy atmosphere simply makes the foundation of the song, and it rides the wave so smooth and effortlessly. It’s not exactly the type of tune for which one would turn to Michael Jackson, but it does the job anyway!
88. “What About Me” – Moving Pictures: Even more unusual than “It Might Be You”‘s peak at #25 comes this song, which peaked even lower – only #29! What’s it doing on the year-end list, then? Well, its astronomical success in Australia (wherein it reached #2 on the country’s own year-end list) led to this one spending a then-unusual 26 weeks in the Hot 100. Turns out 1983 is quite an atypical year in more ways than one. As a song, though, this is just okay. Amidst area rock pianos and guitars, the singer laments on situations where well-deserving people often deserve less than their fair share. Its an anthem for the underdog – although a pretty flavorless one at that. It just kind of zips in one ear and out the other, though the occasional sax tinges are pretty nice. Still, it’s not worth multiple listens.
87. “Lawyers in Love” – Jackson Browne: Browne tries his hand, yet again, at fluffy radio pop. Well, okay, only on the surface is it pretty fluffy – there is a heightened emphasis on keyboards and punchy drums, as well as a sleek bouncy melody that helps the sound go down rather nicely. Lyrically, though, it’s an image-heavy contemplation of the Reagan era, namely of the culmination of Cold War anxieties that had led people to such dire livings. The song is composed of only three stanzas, but there are some pretty good lines in here, a personal favorite being, “Eating from TV trays, tuned into to Happy Days/ Waiting for World War III while Jesus slaves”. I am also pretty obsessed with his Frankie Valli-esque vocalizations in the breakdown, which now sound less like whimsical quirks and more like desperate cries for help. Really, though, the history of pop music has up to this point ran parallel to the history of the Cold War, so it’s fascinating to track these exact moments when liberal pop stars are permitted an outlet to mull over how things have gone terribly wrong.
86. “Dead Giveaway” – Shalamar: And here’s yet another relatively low-charting hit that nonetheless makes this year-end list – this one only reached #22! But anyway, the vibe that this song emits is pretty much the quintessential “80s sound” that has been referenced and parodied countless times through the years. It wouldn’t shock me at all if this were actually the theme song to a film titled – of course – Dead Giveaway! Nonetheless, this track has little else to offer outside of this sound. The bass, synths, and punchy 80s drums are all ridiculously fun in the moment and there’s even a neat guitar solo a little later on! But in the end, the whole thing is lacking in personality and I wouldn’t doubt if most people forgot all about this one once it dropped off.
85. “Try Again” – Champaign: And here we go again… this song only charted to #23 (okay, I’ll ease off these numbers from now on). I thought we had seen the last of Champaign back in 1981 with “How ‘Bout Us” – but then again, I thought the same thing about Shalamar. The backing instrumentals and vocalists flow along rather smoothly and the production is perfectly competent. Still, the song itself is lacking in any real personality and I find it really hard to keep caring at around the halfway point. Not a bad slice of smooth soul, but…. meh.
84. “”(She’s) Sexy + 17” – Stray Cats: Ugh. Okay, so. Stray Cats were probably the most successful rockabilly revival band of the times, drawing influence from the early rock ‘n’ roll sound of Carl Perkins, (early) Elvis Presley, and Eddie Cochran, among others. It should be noted that they absolutely nail this sound – vocalist Brian Setzer really sounds like he’s having a great time and the tune itself makes for a toe-tapping good time of nostalgic shenanigans. But then… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: musicians’ fascination with teenage girls is just plain creepy. I don’t care if it’s from the perspective of a high school boy – the “seventeen” part is a crucial part to her appeal, and that’s just terrible positing of sexualized young girls. Anyway, besides that glaring annoyance, this is okay, I guess. The Stray Cats’ schtick got really old really fast, so it’s best to just stick with “Rock This Town”, which captures this sound to a more successful degree without the explicit lust after teen girls. Yuck.
83. “Take Me to Heart” – Quarterflash: Well… “Harden My Heart” was a pretty cool introduction to Quarterflash. This, however, just sounds a lot like “Harden My Heart” with all of the life sucked out of it. It runs on autopilot for pretty much its entire duration. Even the saxophone solo is boring, which is a damn shame since that was one of the main aspects of the band’s first single that helped make it stand out so well. I guess you can’t win them all.
82. “Steppin’ Out” – Joe Jackson: Apparently this song is one that sums up New York City for a lot of people. Having never been to New York, I’m just going to have to take their word for it. Truthfully, for me, it evokes memories of shopping for groceries with my mom as a kid – I guess this is due to the backing keyboards, which always sounded like the Muzak that accompanied such shopping trips. With this connotation, lines like “We are young but getting old before our time” hold a much deeper relevance. Anyway, the melody played on those chintzy pianos is really quite nice and I can’t say I’ve really heard anything like it. I’m not really too sure what the chorus means (“Me, babe, steppin’ out / Into the night, into the light”), but I like the sing-song quality of it nonetheless – it almost sounds like Jackson is making up the words on the spot, which is kind of funny. The coolest thing about this single, though, is the number of moods it evokes – it’s somehow chill and danceable both at the same time. Whether or not it’s aged well is debatable, but I’d say that it’s aged quite perfectly.
81. “Faithfully” – Journey: And now for yet another sleepy, cheesy power ballad from the pros of the genre, Journey. It evokes strong memories of “Open Arms” and in many ways, both are pretty similar. It’s got the opening piano riff, followed by Steve Perry’s impassioned pleading, and a guitar backing that swells and swells all the way to its climactic finish. While some of the lyrics don’t exactly work (“Circus life under the big top world / We all need the clowns to make us smile”), most of them work pretty perfectly (“I get the joy of rediscovering you”). Unlike “Open Arms”, though, this one does mildly overstay its welcome, with vocalizations after the second chorus that just seem to go on and on and on. For the most part, though, the track is totally solid. Perry is, once again, the ringleader here, and he sings each line with such strained sentimentality, it’s easy to get a little choked up after a couple listens and a couple drinks. A karaoke staple, for sure.
80. “Heartbreaker” – Dionne Warwick: I may have been a bit harsh on Dionne Warwick’s output in recent years, but I’m happy to note that this song is pretty wonderful. It helps that this song was written and composed by none other than the Bee Gees, who are still somehow finding work well into the 80s! I never considered that maybe some classic Gibb melodies are what Warwick needed to get spruced back up, but here we are. The tune is light and breezy, with some exquisite backing instrumentals to illuminate all its best qualities. Warwick has probably sounded better in the past, but somehow her laid-back vocals work impressively well here. It’s quite the fresh, light-hearted pop hit that may be totally inoffensive, but is also a pretty nice listening experience nonetheless.
79. “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy” – Sammy Hagar: I know Sammy Hagar mostly as the replacement for David Lee Roth as Van Halen frontman, but little did I know he also had a bit of a solo career before all this! This is a pretty innocuous though rockin’ love song. The guitars chug along pretty nicely and the synths are a nice touch. Unfortunately, the song’s biggest weakness is its refusal to ride on any other wide other than that of cliche-driven monotony. There’s little I can say that’s outright “bad” about this song (although that “hot, sweet cherries on the vine” line has got to go), but Hagar also isn’t very much of a shining beacon of personality here either. I’ll skip this one.
78. “All This Love” – DeBarge: The tropical percussion and Latin-tinged production of this track is certainly its biggest strength. Other than that, though, it dwells in some pretty safe R&B territory that barely makes much of an impression, at least to me. Lead singer El DeBarge has some interesting androgynous vocals, which is obviously of much interest to me. Unfortunately, while it’s clear he has the range for some true crooning, the song does little to highlight this. It’s easy to see how something that sounds like this would make it big in 1983, but it’s just as easy to figure out how it didn’t stand the test of time, despite it reaching the top 20.
77. “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” – Culture Club: And speaking of androgynous vocals… The third reason I’ve been patiently waiting to cover 1983 in pop music: Culture Club! The band’s debut album Kissing to be Clever was released in late 1982, immediately producing for them three consecutive top ten singles, making them the first group since The Beatles to accomplish the feat. The last of these singles was “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and it’s generally the least celebrated of the three, I think (I’ll talk about the other two later). Sonically, it interpolates a cool Latin jazz-pop vibe with shades of contemporary post-disco and New Wave. Lyrically, it’s all a bunch of nonsense, with lines like “Flowers, showers, who’s got the new boy gender?” and “Junction, function the boy with pop is slender”. I don’t really know what it all means, but it’s definitely got my body moving once that repetitive chorus comes along. It also runs at a bit under three minutes, keeping things short, sweet, and simple – and all the better. This isn’t the best the group has to offer, but it’s still a damn good time.
76. “It’s a Mistake” – Men at Work: And now here’s another song about the Cold War. It should be noted that the 80s were chock-full of a great number of clashing emotions regarding the looming feeling that the world would end in a disastrous nuclear holocaust – most of these feelings negative, of course (hmm, sounds familiar…). Lyrically, this stands on a whole other plane apart from the rest of the pop music on high circulation; it reads more like poetry than song lyrics. It even takes on a different approach than “Lawyers in Love” – though “Lawyers” deals with a lot of the same issues, that one is more heavily imagery-based while this one relies on a lot of vague phrases and contemplation (“Tell us commander, what do you think? / Cause we know that you love all that power / Is it on then, are we on the brink? / We wish you’d all throw in the towel”). This is certainly on a whole other playing field than “Who Can It Be Now?”, but I think that only proves that Men at Work were smarter than the rest of the world really gave them credit for. It’s fiercely political, but craftily so and certainly not obnoxious. Certainly one of the year’s finest moments.
75. “Hot Girls in Love” – Loverboy: Much like “Working For the Weekend”, Loverboy comes at us once again with yet another jazzercise single. The keyboards are pretty dynamic and I can’t totally knock a song that using hi-octane guitars to such an effective level. But the lyrics… oh boy, the lyrics. The chorus alone is worthy of multiple face-palms: “She’s turnin’ on the heat / She’s got the magic touch / She’s turnin’ on the heat / Oh, it’s a little too much”. Once again, there are a number of good qualities to this track and I can’t write it off completely. Ultimately, though, I’d much rather go for “Working For the Weekend” for my shallow AOR fix.
74. “I’m Still Standing” – Elton John: Bernie Taupin returns to writing songs for Elton John and the result is… pretty good. It’s exactly what one would expect from an aging piano rocker trying to get with the times (side-eyeing Billy Joel so hard right now…). In all seriousness, this is probably one of the better of his newer singles, helped by a punchy, upbeat rhythm and a truly sing-a-long chorus. It’s super 80s, but in all the best ways. It doesn’t quite live up to the prestige of John’s 70s material – but considering the paths taken by Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and, yes, Billy Joel in this decade, that may be asking too much anyway. This is fun!
73. “My Love” – Lionel Richie: Hmm. If I’m not mistaken, this sounds an awful lot like “Easy”, an earlier hit for Richie’s group Commodores. Really, if you’ve heard “Easy” or practically any of the past adult contemporary ballads put out by Commodores or Richie himself, there’s no need to waste any time with this one. The lyrics are more insipid than usual, and the whole thing just comes off as dreadfully sleepy. Hard pass!
72. “Heart to Heart” – Kenny Loggins: The songwriting for this jam are credited to the holy trifecta of Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, and David Foster. It’s driven by a delightfully upbeat piano rhythm, elevated further by some neat sax tones, tasty keys, and Loggins’s delectable tenor. The verses are a bit more generic in their sound, but the groove really kicks in once the melody in the chorus comes in – “Does anything last forever? I don’t know!”. It’s at this moment where I’m almost convinced that this is one of the finest pop songs of the year. Truthfully, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a good spin or ten.
71. “Straight from the Heart” – Bryan Adams: Ugh, one of the things I’m really dreading in the 80s and beyond – Bryan Adams. I’ll elaborate more in future entries on why I can’t stand him, but really this first hit single of his should be an immediate indication. Besides the format of this song being a total drag from start to finish, the lyrics ain’t even a little bit good. “Give it to me straight from the heart / Tell me we can make another start” – yep, these are the first two lines of the chorus and it’s pretty apparent that Adams is going for all the easy rhymes here. It’s a just a big nothing of a song, but just inoffensive enough to be a top tenner and lead Adams on his way to hit-making superstardom. And all from a song that never even emits a single shred of genuine emotional rapture that a track of its caliber would require. I just don’t get it.
70. “All Right” – Christopher Cross: Ah, somehow I was under the impression that Christopher Cross just fell off the face of the earth right after the success of “Arthur’s Theme”, but this song proves that he had some more left in him. It’s got an introductory synth riff fit for any badass arena rock anthem… but then quiets down a bit once Cross’s trademark vocals clock in. Although I probably prefer “Sailing” over this one, he succeeds at convincing me that he can pull off bouncy, midtempo fare as well. This is the most 80s that I’ve heard in Cross so far, but I’ve no complaints about it.
69. “I Won’t Hold You Back” – Toto: Let the yacht rock flow! I finally gave a full listen to Tot IV fairly recently, and while I’d hesitate to call it one of the all-time greats, it’s still a pretty tightly woven work and I wouldn’t blame anyone for putting on on their “best of” list of the year. Unfortunately, I found this particular track to be a bit of a low point. Its smoothness is certainly to its advantage, but the slowness feels more druggy than intricate and lovely, which is what they were obviously going for. Once again, the members are all perfectly competent musicians, but this song just drags. Sorry.
68. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” – Michael Jackson: And now for something that doesn’t drag – another stellar single from Thriller! First off, these lyrics are absolutely insane. A brief sampling: “It’s too high to get over / You’re too low to get under / You’re stuck in the middle / And the pain is thunder”… “Someone’ always trying to keep my baby crying / Treacherous, cunning, declining”… “If you can’t feed your baby, then don’t have a baby… Hustling, stealing, lying, now baby’s slowly dying”. And that’s not even mentioning the infamous “You’re a vegetable” bridge, as well as the incomparable outro chanting straight from a Manu Dibango track. Growing up, I always interpreted the title phrase as a positive one, as in “to start a party or something… turns out that’s not the case at all. Jackson and folks intend this song as a kiss-off to both the media tabloids, as well as ordinary people who want to start conflict for no good reason. I can certainly relate to the latter. For the record, though, the music in this one is fabulous – the upbeat synths and bass absolutely kick from start to finish, the horns are terrifically punchy, and Jackson just sounds great. This one just doesn’t get old at all.
67. “Family Man” – Hall & Oates: I’ve never actually listened to the original version of this song by Mike Oldfield, but it’s interesting that something this bouncy and poppy had come from the same person who composed the eerie masterpiece “Tubular Bells” ten years earlier. For a Hall & Oates song, though, this is pretty bland. The duo are pretty good at giving the most out of catchy pop-soul hooks, but the melody here is much looser and doesn’t quite work. Moreover, something about the mixing just seems a bit… off. It would be a genuinely compelling layering of instrumentals had the production not come off so washed up, but alas. I can’t bring myself to hate “Family Man” very much, but I can’t bring myself to care much about the listening experience either.
66. “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” – Air Supply: And now our sappy friends of Air Supply are back to revisit us this year. This song was originally written and composed by Jim Steinman and… yeah, it shows. This song is absolutely dripping with melodrama, even more than Air Supply are already pretty known for. Through the first verse and chorus, the melody is actually quite pretty, even if the lyrics are little more than Meat Loaf-esque heartbreak sap. But of course, the intensity of the song just builds and builds, and with this motion the tight structure that highlighted this beginning is all but lost by the climactic end. Still, the piano is consistently good throughout and Russell Hitchcock’s performance is pretty competent. On the other hand, for as over-the-top it truly is it does go on for way too long, which definitely isn’t a good thing. Meh.
65. “The Other Guy” – Little River Band: Hmm, so here’s another Little River Band single, but it’s the first we’ve come across with a whole new lead singer. This is certainly poppier and bouncier than other LRB singles I’ve come across, certainly following a more clear-cut pop radio format than the others. Besides a nifty guitar riff, there really isn’t much here that pushes this as anything particularly memorable – and even that guitar riff gets awfully boring after a few iterations. Mainly, though, this song is just really pathetic. The speaker is having a hard time with his lover finding romance with someone new and his insistence for her to return back into his life is just plain sad and quite the embarrassing listen. I just don’t see myself ever willingly giving this one another listen ever again – the band have certainly done much, much better.
64. “Promises, Promises” – Naked Eyes: For the most part, this song ain’t anything special. It was a follow-up to a bigger hit by Naked Eyes (more on that one later) and they may had very well been a one-hit wonder had this one not been pushed up into the top twenty as well. They fall perfectly in line with the multitude of other British New Wave acts popping up at the time, and for the most part nothing about them makes them particularly discernible from the others. Still, the synths and guitar in this song are perfectly polished, and although the tune isn’t quite as catchy as it thinks it is, it’s all relatively well-sung and well-played. I can’t see this being anyone’s favorite song; additionally, though, I’m sure as hell not changing the dial whenever this pops up.
63. “Come Dancing” – The Kinks: So, The Kinks’ highest-charting single actually meets at a tie between “Tired of Waiting For You” and… this (both peaking at #6). Okay, it’s pretty different from the raw and real hits of their early career, and even from their more polished works like “Well Respected Man” and “Waterloo Sunset”. But it’s alright. It’s another one of those songs that banks off the nostalgia of the 50s and 60s, notably at the loss that comes with inevitable changes and physical destruction of places and things (“The day they knocked down the pally / Part of my childhood died”). It’s a big subject, and I think it would have been more effectively executed if the sleek bigness of the production were just trimmed down a bit. The strumming guitars are nice, as is the organ motif, but the sudden guitar solo and big band finale are just a bit overkill. I totally get the appeal of the track, but I just can’t bring myself to love it. Oh well.
62. “China Girl” – David Bowie: This is one of those songs that I find myself actually really enjoying… just as long as I pay no attention to the lyrics. Seriously: “China Girl”? I don’t want to get into the layers of casual racism that lie within just that singular phrase alone, but they are certainly there. That’s not to mention the repeating guitar riff, which explicitly sounds like a reference to the dreaded Oriental riff (something that was in a lot of these 80s pop songs, I’ve found). Nonetheless, Nile Rodgers’s production and guitarwork are forces to be reckoned with. I’m even quite a fan of Bowie’s vocal delivery, which is mostly soft and sensual but quickly leaps up to some more passionate stances with the drop of a hat. As cringey as the line, “Visions of swastikas in my head, plans for everyone” is, there’s no denying the goosebumps I get when he sings it. But besides all that, the Orientalism has got to go; that’s the one major thing that’s preventing this from being something kind of awesome.
61. “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” – Laura Branigan: Whoa, I thought this was a Michael Bolton song?? Well, it is. He wrote it, Branigan recorded it first, and then he gave it a shot himself a few years later to even greater success. I still don’t think the Michael Bolton version is as terrible as everyone goes on about, but the major faults of this song are mainly found in its structure and lyrical format anyway. Branigan really tries her best here and she sounds great, but the limp production and passionless instrumentation really just weigh it down. I’d rather listen to her tackle more stuff like “Gloria”.
60. “Don’t Let It End” – Styx: Oh hey, it’s Styx again! Nothing exciting to be found here, though. Although I mentioned in my 1981 post that the contributions from the band that year (“Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Best of Times”) weren’t close to the best of what the band has to offer, at least the two of them have some hear, which is something that really is nowhere to be found here. It’s just so utterly bland, from start to finish, like a rejected melodramatic heartbreak song that not even Manilow nor Air Supply would attempt. The chorus is little more than just the title repeated again and again, something that always peeves me. Even the guitar solo is a bore! This is just pointless.
59. “Solitaire” – Laura Branigan: Hurrah, more Laura Branigan! Well, this isn’t quite as sappy as “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”, so it’s got that going for it already. It was originally written by French singer Martine Clémenceau about a man who played the card game solitaire while the rest of the world descended into nuclear war… but with the help of English songwriter Diane Warren, the song was revamped into a more nuanced heartbreak anthem with the game in question as a metaphor for a desolate love life. The upbeat synths practically rival “Gloria”‘s in pure danceability and the production is polished and fun as well – there’s even a good guitar solo! But really, the record is primarily a showcase for Branigan’s vocals which are working overtime here. Each chorus is erected by a series of octave changes that eventually work their way up to key changes, ending in a climactic final note that is as operatic and cathartic as it is wonderfully poppy. It’s just as cheesy as one would expect, but I dare anyone to hold back from dancing around in their room to this one – at the very least, you gotta tap your toes!
58. “She’s a Beauty” – The Tubes: Before coming across this song, the only other song I knew from The Tubes was their 1976 kitsch single “Don’t Touch Me There”. This song is also pretty kitsch, but in a different way. See, their earlier song exemplified a self-awareness to the silliness, a sense that it had full knowledge that its sloppy horniness came off as exactly that, yet the band just completely rolls with it. As a result, that song is a pretty fun, underrated gem. This one is only kitsch because we’ve come to associate this brand of 80s power pop with the overproduced machine of radio hits from the decade that came at such a high volume. It’s catchy enough and anyone could sing along to it, but it none of this makes it particularly distinct. No harm done, but boy I wish this would have been at least a bit more special.
57. “Affair of the Heart” – Rick Springfield: I kind of wish Rick Springfield’s career had just ended with “Jessie’s Girl”, as it’s clear that he doesn’t bring anything much more interesting to the table. Okay, well, the guitars in this one are crunchier and that tends to work in the track’s favor. Moreover, the synths are also kind of cool, making especially interesting use of the phasing effects. Of course, the one major downside is Springfield himself, who still can’t sing yet still insists on doing so. Then again, this is a song about a sleazy, loveless affair and at least it has the good nature to not pretend that it’s anything grander. I’ve still yet to come across a Rick Springfield song that really does it for me, but this one is probably the best I’ve found so far, if only for pure replayability.
56. “Gloria” – Laura Branigan: I already wrote about this song back in my 1982 list, where it made it all the way to #75 for the year. Turns out that it remained successful on the pop charts for so long that it crept its way on the 1983 chart as well, even higher this time! Go Laura! My opinion about it remains unchanged – it’s still as wonderful as it was with my first listen and every subsequent one thereafter.
55. “Is There Something I Should Know?” – Duran Duran: Duran Duran is yet another 80s pop artist I always associate with my mom, yet another one she introduced to me at an early age. I’ve never thought too much of them, but have been revisiting some of their early singles to great delight (namely “Save a Prayer” and “New Moon on Monday”). Duran Duran had quite the penchant for cranking out catchy synth-laden singles one after another with no end in sight, and this is no exception. The verses in this one are pretty limp, but once that chorus kicks into high gear, so do I. The lyrics make very little sense (“You’re about as easy as a nuclear war”), but the final product is so satisfyingly listenable, it really doesn’t matter all that much.
54. “Overkill” – Men at Work: I’m such a goddamn sucker for melancholia in general, but who’d have thought that Men at Work would be the band to satisfying this craving of mine. “Who Can It Be Now?” had already proved that the group were great at depicting paranoia through poppy atmosphere and catchy melodies, but something about this one just sounds so much darker and certainly to its advantage. The saxophone riff that punctuates the air of this track is so chilling and tasty; I’ve always preferred this one over the “Who Can It Be Now?” riff. The lyrics are also pretty terrific: “I can’t get to sleep / I think about the implications / Of diving in too deep… Day after day, it reappears / Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear”. It doesn’t quite have that certain edge it needs to place this into exceptional territory, but it’s still a damn good record.
53. “Our House” – Madness: And here’s yet another fluffy take on nostalgia and fond remembrances on one’s childhood.Although Madness were a pretty successful singles band in the UK, this song remained their only top ten US hit – and it’s not hard to see why. It’s got the bouncy piano to take us on a ride, accompanied by some entertaining horns and some rather inoffensive talk-singing vocals. Moreover, as I mentioned before, it rides on the coattails of the 50s/60s nostalgia with lines like, “Father gets up late for work / Mother has to iron his shirt, then she sends the kids to school” certainly conjuring up images of domestic life in mid-20th century suburbia. I’m sure that there’s a darker edge here that I’m not quite seeing, but at face value it’s just fun enough to keep its presence in pop radio interesting.
52. “Rock the Casbah” – The Clash: Eh. I’ve listened to this song so many times through my life and my opinion on it is nestled somewhere vaguely in between like and dislike. It’s certainly one of the most entertaining songs The Clash ever released (it’s no surprise, then, that this was their most commercially successful single) and it’s all good fun to mindlessly dance to. I can’t help but feel, though, that the subject matter is subtly Islamophobic, if unconsciously so. A lot of its appeal comes from its lyrics which mash together a bunch of silly, foreign-sounding words that ultimately amount to a whole lot of nonsense. There’s a message in here about the disdain for large governments to suppress speech and expression of others – but I think there are better ways of getting this across than insinuating that this could only happen in the goofy, backwards Middle East. I dunno. Let’s move on.
51. “Goody Two-Shoes” – Adam Ant: This song could live off its instrumental alone, to be honest. Those horns and drums are so infectiously vibrant and I doubt there was anything else on pop radio that sounded quite this freshly retro. In ways, this could almost been seen as predicting the swing revival of the late 90s – it certainly wouldn’t feel all that out-of-place alongside Squirrel Nut Zippers or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The whole thing gets a bit too repetitive and the lyrics are mostly complete nonsense (“Opening their eyeballs, pretending that you’re Al Green”), but Ant packs so much charisma in three-and-a-half minutes, it’s hard not to have at least a little bit of a good time with this one.
50. “Too Shy” – Kajagoogoo: And now for another one-hit wonder. Well, for the US charts anyway – like a lot of Billboard one-hit wonders, Kajagoogoo found much more success in their home country. Also, what the hell kind of name is Kajagoogoo?? Anyway, this is quite inoffensive radio fodder that has some cool backing keys and a chorus that really sticks… but nothing else, really. The lead singer doesn’t even have that great of a voice and seems to just drag his feet through the entirety of the track. There was no reason at all for this to have shot all the way up to #5.
49. “The Girl is Mine” – Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney: And now for a third single from Thriller – this one featuring none other than Sir Paul McCartney! In truth, though, this was the very first single released from the album… and holy hell, was that a weird decision. The production is smooth enough, even containing some smooth tinges of yacht rock – always a good choice. Unfortunately, this song just comes off as a giant ball of 80s cheese… and not even the good kind. Both Jackson and McCartney sound completely out of their element here, amplified more and more every time they sing “the doggone girl is mine” with such oblivious earnestness. It’s a shame because they are both perfectly competent musicians, but once that spoken word outro comes into play (“Paul, I think I told you – I’m a lover, not a fighter”) I can’t help but feel that this is just a huge practical joke. Blah.
48. “Dirty Laundry” – Don Henley: I know I’ve said some unfavorable things about Don Henley in the past… but there’s really not too much bad to be found here. It doesn’t hurt that the biting rhythm and cynicism of this song really makes for some good ol’ fist-pumping AOR, especially with that utterly spiteful chorus (“Kick ’em when they’re up; kick ’em when they’re down”, rinse and repeat). At it’s core, it’s a sharp kiss-off against the American press for prioritizing the sensationalism of tragedy, dehumanizing their subjects in the meantime. I would’ve never taken the lead singer of the Eagles to offer such scathing commentary, but here we are. The keyboard riff really makes this song, and Henley’s vocals, while short in range, are punchy enough to make the words really stick. Hats off to you, Don.
47. “Truly” – Lionel Richie: At last – our very first number-one single of this year! But why, oh, why did it have to be a Lionel Richie song?? Since I’ve just started a new challenge where I write lengthier reviews on the number-one singles, I’ll keep this one relatively shorter. Though that’s half because I’ll have more to say later – and half because I have absolutely nothing to say at all! This sounds like little more than a formless mish-mash of all the other love ballads from Richie and Commodores. “Truly”, “Endless Love”, “Still”, “Three Times a Lady”… I have a hard time believing that they aren’t just all the same damn song. At least this one has a clean finish that is kind of nice to listen to – but it’s so utterly bland all the way until this point. A perplexing number-one single, for sure.
46. “Always Something There to Remind Me” – Naked Eyes: Ah, aren’t those beginning synthesizer chords just blissful? Well, at least I think so. Widely recognized as the better of the two Naked Eyes hits, this song was actually a reworking of a Bacharach-David song from about twenty years prior. Although this means that it falls into the silly 60s nostalgia trend, it does enough differently to shake up the track and keep it from being a mere clone. The band are still relatively amorphous, but there are some interesting drum patterns and synthetic instrumental sounds that give the song quite a lush, unique sound. I could imagine this getting to be incredibly tiresome after five or ten listens, but I haven’t grown fatigued of it yet.
45. “Tell Her About It” – Billy Joel: And the number-one singles keep a-coming… but do they all have to be so bad?! I guess I admire this track for recreating the Motown sound of the 60s so organically, handclaps and horns and backing doo-wop singers and all. On the downside, however, this is 80s Billy Joel, and we saw how well that worked out for his 1980 hits. In this song, Joel is advising a friend of his to express his love for the object of his desire before she slips out of his fingers – lines like, “She’s a real nice girl and she’s always there for you / But a nice girl wouldn’t tell you what you should do” just sound way too ridiculously condescending for this concept to really work all that well. And worst yet, it keeps up its whole retro schtick from start to finish without any real variation, until you grow so sick of it you wish the song were over…but find that it’s only halfway done. At least that’s how I feel. More on this one some other time – all I can do is groan right now.
44. “Stand Back” – Stevie Nicks: Stevie Nicks takes on a bit of a different approach with her solo career in “Stand Back” – namely, now there are synthesizers! Though this sounds like an odd choice from afar, they are thankfully subdued and subtle enough to mesh well with Nicks’s signature smokey vocals. And surprise: the synths are performed by none other than Prince himself! Surely one of the best surprise decisions to come up on this list so far. The end result is some really sweet, sharp poppy goodness. Maybe not quite as immediately iconic as something like “Edge of Seventeen”, but it’s certainly a grower nonetheless.
43. “Allentown” – Billy Joel: Groan! More Billy Joel. At least this one isn’t quite as bad as “Tell Her About It”… it’s just bland as hell. I guess I appreciate Joel’s attempt at solidarity for blue collar workers in a small town is at least slightly admirable, but I also feel like it’s only really half-finished. Some lines really stick out (namely, “The graduations hang on the wall / But they never really helped us at all”) and the productions inclusion of sound effects from factory and steel mill environments is pretty creative at the least. In general, it’s just a bit of a bore to listen to and even Joel sounds a tad unenthused about the topic. It’s not awful and I can see how it would resonate with a lot of people, but #43 on the year-end list seems a bit much… especially since it only charted as high as #17 on the Hot 100.
42. “Stray Cat Strut” – Stray Cats: It’s interesting how I always associate “Rock This Town” with being the most synonymous single of Stray Cats, yet it’s actually only their third-highest charting single. “Stray Cat Strut” is actually their biggest hit (on the pop charts anyway) and it’s not bad! At least not nearly as obnoxious as “Sexy + 17”. Brian Setzer still sounds like he’s having a good time, even if this is slower and slinkier than their other two hits. Headed by a retro-sounding electric guitar and traditional rockabilly stand-up bass, this sounds like something that could have very likely come from the likes of Eddie Cochran and folks. There are even some cool lines thrown in the mix (“I’m flat broke but I don’t care / I strut right by with my tail in the air”, “I got cat class and I got cat style”) Once again, their whole gimmick gets old pretty fast, but for the meantime, tracks like these are fun and innocuous for what they are anyway.
41. “1999” – Prince: Obviously, this song is awesome. It amazes me, though, that it made so little of an impact upon its initial release in 1982, wherein it failed to make the top 40 (it’s rerelease in ’83 went to #12). Listening to this track in hindsight, it’s so clear how important this song – and the album 1999 as a whole – was in carving out the trajectory of pop and funk music of the decade. That synth riff repeats again and again through the whole track with little to no variation, yet it absolutely kicks every single time. Prince’s energy here is absolutely infectious and it’s incredibly easy to see how this song alone could’ve made him a superstar. I have no idea if the Y2K scare had existed this early on, but with lines like, “Two thousand, zero-zero, party over, oops, out of time / So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine”, this feels close to prophetic. Given the social and political tensions brewing at the time, the concept of the song is interesting: “Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day / But before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away”. Sure it’s all a thinly veiled metaphor for unrequited lust/love, but it makes for a truly badass, legendary dance track nonetheless.
40. “We’ve Got Tonight” – Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton: Geez, this is painful. This is a cover of a Bob Seger single that made its rounds back in 1979, and while that track remains one of the few Seger tracks that have really stuck with me overtime, this particular cover has me reconsidering my previous praise for it. The sentimental lyrics and general soapiness are all still there, but this is given the “soft R&B ballad of the 80s” treatment in all the worst ways. Rogers has never really convinced me as being at all charismatic, but he’s definitely phoning it in here. Easton is ever-so-slightly better, but it’s clear that she’s uncomfortable with the material and there’s too much Rogers here to make it at all worthwhile. All of the energy has just been sucked out of this song and results in generic, treacly, bottom-of-the-barrel AC stuff. What a dreadful way to kick of the top 40 of the year.
39. “One on One” – Hall & Oates: The backing synthesizer instrumental in this is pretty nice. Sure, it’s also pretty dated, but it’s minimalist enough to retain a fair chunk of its charms anyway and is, thus, one of the record’s best qualities. Everything else, sadly, just feels like middle-of-the-road Hall & Oates. The lyrics are basically a repetition of the same flimsy sports metaphor (“One on one, I want to play that game tonight”) and the melody is generally one of the weakest to come from a Hall & Oates single. It’s nothing particularly offensive or even bad – just a tad dull.
38. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” – Journey: Okay, so if you haven’t already seen the music video for this one yet, I urge you to check it out immediately for all its dated 80s awesomeness. I’ll wait. Okay, anyway, I now I probably sound like a total fangirl at this point, but this has got to be one of Journey’s best, sharpest singles. It adequately demonstrates the best of what each member of the band has to offer: the kickass guitars, the totally epic synths, some awesome play-along drum patterns, and of course, Steve Perry’s over-the-top vocal delivery. It’s the perfect “pumps you up” anthem, almost to a parodic degree, and I could only imagine how awesome it would be to hear this in a huge arena with giant speakers and a ten-minute guitar solo. It’s total 80s cheese (right down to its ridiculous, cringey video) and yet I love it so much.
37. “You Can’t Hurry Love” – Phil Collins: Wherein Phil Collins attempts to cash in on all the 60s nostalgia… about two or three years too late. I don’t hate Collins nearly as much as everyone else seems to, but this is just so much of a paint-by-numbers cover of the classic Supremes track, I struggle to find any reason for this to exist. The backing instruments are pretty delightful, sure, but they pale in comparison to the lush production of the original. And let’s just say Collins himself isn’t quite Diana Ross. I’ll pass.
36. “Mickey” – Toni Basil: It’s become next to impossible for me to listen to this song while separating it from its truly iconic music video. The video, from what I understand, was a major staple during the early days of MTV and certainly integral to the song’s popularity (it hit #1!). For the record, it’s one of my very favorite MV’s and it still mesmerizes me to this day, certainly more than most videos these days. Anyway, this song is pretty minimal pop goodness with all the right hooks in all the right places. It relies on a number of cheerleader-style chants to keep itself catchy (“Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine / You’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Mickey” being the most infamous), but I think the wonderful backing keyboard is one of the greatest and most under-appreciated aspects of this track, Toni Basil is definitely going for a Debbie Harry vibe and although she doesn’t quite have the voice, she possesses the right amount of charisma and energy to make this ditty more enjoyable than annoying. I can imagine this getting a bit unbearable after the hundredth listen, but for a casual spin every now and then, I can’t imagine myself ever getting sick of this.
35. “The Safety Dance” – Men Without Hats: Men Without Hats is often falsely included in the list of numerous one-hit wonder acts of the 80s; on the contrary, after “The Safety Dance” they also achieved a top 40 hit with 1987’s “Pop Goes the World”. It’s not hard to see why one would lump Men Without Hats in that category, though. “Safety Dance” was quite a huge song throughout the whole year – and it’s also incredibly weird. Even without the bizarre spoken word part in the extended version of the song, the lyrics are frustratingly vague (“We can dance, we can dance, everybody look at your hands / We can dance, we can dance, everybody’s taking the chance”). After some more observation, this is a clear protest against establishments that prohibit freedom of expression (“You can act real rude and totally removed, and I can act like an imbecile”), but without the much-needed context, it’s not hard to see why safe sex was the most common interpretation of the song. Still, it’s a pretty cool synth riff and catchy enough for a listen or two. I don’t regard it as much of a classic like everyone else who grew up with song, but I’m guessing it’s more of a “time and place” thing than anything else. “S-A-F-E-T-Y… safety dance!”
34. “Time (Clock of the Heart)” – Culture Club: And now for my absolute favorite song from Culture Club. I know every word of its contemplative lyrics and I have to consciously restrain myself from singing it loudly every time it plays in a public space (which happens more often than you’d think!). The production here is the loveliest of any Culture Club song I’ve heard, with lush guitars, bells, keyboards, and even a moog synth setting the melancholic romance into high gear. Boy George doesn’t have the best voice, sure, but his wispy androgynous performance just works so perfectly here. And those lyrics? Well, here’s my favorite chunk from the chorus: “Time makes lovers feel like they’ve got something real / But you and me, we know they’ve got nothing but time / And time won’t give me time”. Truly classic – even if “time is like a clock in my heart” is a little bit silly. But anyway, I love this song and everyone else should love it too!
33. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” – The Human League: If I should ever have any doubts about my sexuality, all I have to do is play this song and my immediate dance-along will reveal that I genuinely am gay as hell. The synth riffs (both of them) are super goofy, both the male and female singers totally sound like robots, and this song as a whole is 80s as fuck, but all totally works in its benefit. It doesn’t have quite the instantly replayability as “Don’t You Want Me” and I can imagine this getting more annoying far more quickly, but both lead vocalists play off each others’ energies so well and the layered production is good ol’ trashy fun. What more could you need?
32. “Sexual Healing” – Marvin Gaye: Whoa, a Marvin Gaye single in the 80s? And it’s not from Tamla, but from Columbia?? Scandalous! I could actually imagine that this had been pretty risqué for its time, if only for its title and prominent mention of said title in the song’s lyrics. Musically, though, this is so good. The hi-hats, synthesizers, guitars, drum machine, background crooning… every bit of it is an absolute feast for the ears. And of course, Gaye himself sounds as sensual as he ever did, with a truly fantastic melody that builds and builds but never gets too overblown in its personality. It’s just a great R&B track, certainly one of the smoothest celebrations of one of life’s greatest pleasures.
31. “Puttin’ on the Ritz” – Taco: So, fair warning: the uncensored version of this music video does contain quite a few scenes where blackface is prominently featured. These images caused this film to be rightfully banned from a number of networks, and while I know there’s a safe-for-TV version floating around somewhere, I’m just too turned off by the whole ordeal to even begin to search for it. But anyway. This is just way too distractingly goofy to enjoy, in my personal opinion. While the rest of the world was dwelling in 50s and 60s nostalgia, Indonesian-Dutch performer Taco decided to take it a step further by covering an Irving Berlin standard from the late 20s. The novelty value of it is kind of cool for the first minute or two, but then it just gets tiresome. Taco nails the “old timey radio” quality of his vocal performance, and the synths are kitschy enough to come right back around to brilliance… but once again, this is only tolerable for a listen or two. I wouldn’t blame anyone for finding this charming, as well as I wouldn’t blame anyone else for absolutely hating it. I land somewhere in the middle.
30. “Der Kommisar” – After the Fire: While some would debate whether or not Falco would qualify as a one-hit wonder (“Rock Me Amadeus” is his only US top tenner, but he had several international hits), After the Fire definitely falls in that category. This English-language cover of Falco’s German #1 actually performed much better in the American charts than the latter; still, the band never again had another hit. I’ve little to complain about here, though. Although the rap-singing is a bit much and I’m wary about the English translation as a whole (“She said, ‘sugar is sweet’, she come a-rappin’ to the beat / Then I knew that she was hot”), the new wave instrumental is delightfully catchy, rampant with hooks that make it suitable for radio play. That chorus is also anthemic as hell, with that alone making this well worth a spin. An lone instrumental of this track would be enough to get my rocks off, but as a whole I’m not opposed to this cover at all.
29. “You Are” – Lionel Richie: Somehow with all the slow R&B ballad schlock that Lionel Richie has been releasing in these early years of the 80s, I forgot that he still had the potential to make some genuinely breezy, light-hearted pop fare. Sure, all the lovey-dovey lyrics are still there in spades (“You are the sun, you are the rain / That makes my life this foolish game”), but this smartly swerves past sappy territory by including some upbeat instrumentals with a moog synth, horns, and even some neat disco-era strings. I still have yet to find a Richie single from this era that I can truly declare as completely, 100% worthy of my time, but all else considering, this one comes pretty damn close.
28. “Mr. Roboto” – Styx: Ah, goodness. I know I’ve spend some time on this site defending my appreciation for Styx that sometimes even veers into “love” territory… but jesus, this is a bit much. There’s some cool stuff going on with the drums and synths, and the chord patterns in this one are particularly impressive in their utter unpredictability. Everything in the foreground… oof. It’s so incredibly campy, cheesy, and undoubtedly the moment where the band alienated a ton of listeners with their far-fetched narrative of a robot man who is some kind of savior/hero and reveals his true identity at the end. It’s so ridiculously theatrical and it definitely suffers from the same kind of weirdness that overcomes a song that becomes popular despite its separation from its original source (in this case, a concept album). Still, Dennis DeYoung’s divisive vocals finally serve a proper purpose here and, once again, the instrumentation ain’t all bad! I can’t see myself listening to this one on my own free time, but I can definitely imagine this being a guilty pleasure of sorts, given some time.
27. “Up Where We Belong” – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes: Ah, here we go. So I’ll just say this now: An Officer and a Gentleman sucks. Probably not too scandalous of a statement these days, but whatever. Somehow I always go back to the idea that “Up Where We Belong” is one of the only saving graces of the film… but all I have to do is go back and actually listen to the song again in order to quell these second thoughts. Cocker’s gravelly voice is far too much of a distraction for me to take his stab at a treacly AC ballad seriously at all. This honestly might be much better had Jennifer Warnes recorded this as a solo single, as she actually doesn’t sound too bad. But of course, this is 1983 and love duets are big, so here we are. Truthfully, it’s just another limp one to add to the ever-growing pile.
26. “Back on the Chain Gang” – The Pretenders: Wherein The Pretenders try their hand at some good ol’ jangle pop – and pass with flying colors! But really, how could they not? There are some truly phenomenal lyrics at play here (“The phone, the TV, and the news of the world / Got in the house like a pigeon from hell / Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies”) and Chrissy Hynde sings them all so perfectly, balancing the fluffiness with the tragedy like an absolute pro. The backing instrumentation is also so clean and pretty, adding some real emotional weight to the track in all the right places. I should mention that I first heard this song in Selena’s reworking in her single “Fotos y recuerdos”, so much of the nostalgia I hold for “Chain Gang” could probably be attributed to the Selena track instead. Nonetheless, it’s still quite brilliant.
25. “Little Red Corvette” – Prince: And now for some more legendary stuff from the legendary man himself, Prince Rogers Nelson. Songs that correlate cars with sex aren’t anything new (just take a look at the year-end list of 1964!), but I think Prince takes it to a whole other level here. The lyrics are metaphorically sexual to the point of it being almost satirical (“Move over baby, gimme the keys, I’m gonna try to tame your little red love machine”), but his performance alone makes the whole thing totally convincing, despite the near-bluntness of some of these lines. And that’s not even mentioning the stellar instrumentation at play here, including Prince’s signature synths and some face-melting power chords. The mixing is a bit shallow and weirdly staticky at points, but I think that only adds to the rough realness of the whole record. I don’t know what it is about this one – it’s just plain cool, from the bottom to the top and every inch in between.
24. “Africa” – Toto: As I mentioned earlier, I gave a listen to Toto IV pretty recently. While the album is relatively hit-or-miss as a whole, I think placing this song as the album closer was a great decision, as it ends the whole album on such a blissful high note. It almost goes without mentioning that the chorus alone is one of the best ones to come from any point in the 80s (“It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you!!!”), but it’s worth reflecting upon how well-composed this song is as a whole. The recurrent synthesizer riff is one for the ages, as are the tropical-sounding drums, the backing horns, and the layered vocal melodies that squeeze all the life out of this one – in a good way. The rest of the lyrics aren’t particularly bad either, with “Hurry, boy, she’s waiting there for you” being a particular standout. Oh yeah, and that keyboard solo is great too! Bah, I know this song is pretty much a white dude’s infatuation with an entire continent, treating it as a monolith of sorts in the meantime… but hell, it’s catchy and I love it anyway.
23. “She Blinded Me With Science” – Thomas Dolby: Another reason why I’ve been excited to take a journey through the music of 1983: it’s an insane year! As if this wasn’t already apparent with songs featuring Cold War anxieties, children playing Jamaican pop music, bands emulating old-school rockabilly, and performers who pretend to be robots, cheerleaders, or 1920s gentlemen, we have a synthpop love song that gets its rocks off by repeating iterations of “science!” in our ears. Of course, there are bad metaphors aplenty here, such as “I can smell the chemicals”. Dolby presents himself as yet another lead vocalist from the 80s who just can’t sing, but the purest of wacky energy naturally flows from his performance that is almost impressive in its own ways. It’s catchier than it really has any right to be, but I give this up to its erratic synth backing. Otherwise, I can take this one or leave it.
22. “Electric Avenue” – Eddy Grant: This was one of the biggest songs of the summer of 1983, and with just one listen it’s easy to see why. It’s got a little bit of reggae, disco, new wave, synthpop, and… punk rock? Something like that. And with a cool chorus hook to boot (“We’re gonna rock down to electic avenue / And then we’ll take it higher”), Eddy Grant was destined for worldwide stardom. Unfortunately, though, Grant falls pretty cleanly in the one-hit wonder crowd – turns out that MTV only advertised this song for the sake of racial diversity in their network, and were unwilling to push his career any further beyond this. Oh well. This song is actually named for a real-life avenue in Brixton where high concentrations of unemployment among Caribbean immigrants led to a spike in violent protests; thus, it’s lyrics are actually subtly political (“Down in the street there is violence / And lots of work to be done”). You couldn’t really care beyond funky synths and 4/4 drum beat, though. It’s a good song, sure, but repeated plays haven’t been too kind to this one in my nostalgic brain.
21. “Jeopardy” – The Greg Kihn Band: Hmm, a bit of a change from “The Breakup Song”, that’s for sure. Looks like the new wave bug had certainly taken a generous bite on Greg Kihn, as exemplified by the emphasis on synths and funky bass. This is a pleasant enough pop ditty, but let’s be real – MTV is totally to blame for this song’s gargantuan success. As they say, video killed the radio star, and the video for this one is certainly one for which I could see many requests pouring in. The best thing about this song is that it resulted in one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s best parody tracks from the 80s. Other than that, it’s a decent pop song that I’d listen to with few repercussions, but don’t expect me to be clamoring for Greg Kihn anytime soon.
20. “I Know There’s Something Going On” – Frida: Yes, top 20! Writing this overview on 1983’s pop music has been such an amazing experience, and this has turned out to be one of my very favorite years I’ve covered on the Billboard challenge thus far. And on that note, whoa I had no idea that Anni-Frid from ABBA had a successful solo career for a little while! Of course, “successful” is subjective, as this would be her only hit in the Hot 100. Most unusually, though, the single only ranked as high as #13 on the charts, though it’s also apparently the 20th most popular song of the year. Go figure. Anyway, this song is alright. While Frida is undeniably the lead on this, most of the center stage seems to be given to producer, drummer, and backing vocalist Phil Collins (yep, that Phil Collins), who arranges this track almost to the point of overproduction. Yet despite its bombast and over-repetition of its title, the final product somehow works. Frida sounds great and you certainly couldn’t confuse the backing music for an ABBA track. Something about it seems annoyingly unpolished and even a bit unfinished – but I’ll take it, for the most part.
19. “Twilight Zone” – Golden Earring: Wherein the “Radar Love” guys get just a little bit spooky. Indeed, Golden Earring join the trend of being yet another band who revamp their sound to fit the new wave mania sweeping the nation. Essentially, this has everything a good radio-friendly rock song should have: sharp instrumentals, a nifty guitar line, an ear-catching melody line, and interesting lyrics (“The night weighs heavy on his guilty mind / This far from the borderline / When the hitman comes, he knows damn well he has been cheated”). Even better, this song was written as an intentional homage to the TV program of the same name, and I couldn’t imagine a better tune written in the classic show’s honor (well, besides the iconic four-note theme). In layman’s terms, this is just an impressively well-composed piece of modern rock, and I am glad it exists.
18. “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie: Is it uncool to be into 80s Bowie? I don’t care – this song rules. I’ve never been one to drool over the guy, but he honestly has never sounded sexier than he does on this track. The way he sings, “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” has my ankles melting into the floor, and I’m fairly certain that one climactic bit in the chorus – “If you should fall into my arms and tremble like a flower” – was the cause of my sexual awakening. In all seriousness, though, the true magic of this single comes with the production by Nile Rodgers, who really could do no wrong up to this point. The interpolation of big band horns with new wave synths and guitars is really quite a genius decision, and builds up the atmosphere of the song to astronomical degrees. Sure, it does nothing new that we haven’t already heard a hundred times before at this point, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tight fun, and hella fun to dance to. Certainly a well-deserved second (and, sadly, finaly) number-one single for the glam rock legend.
17. “Hungry Like the Wolf” – Duran Duran: Remember when I said that Duran Duran had a penchant for cranking out catchy, hook-laden singles with seemingly no end in sight? “Hungry Like the Wolf” is practically the definition of this sentiment. And while I hesitate to place so much importance on such a fad band, I’m pretty sure they were to blame from all the pretty-boy new wave that erupted onto the scene from this point thereafter. Anyway, this song is pretty well-crafted but undeniably dated. The arrangement of its synths and guitars are beautifully layered and catchy, but the lyrics are flimsy and nonsensical (“Smell like I sound; I’m lost in a crowd… Mouth is alive with juices like wine”). And… yeah, I’m not gonna pretend that hunting down women like prey is at all sexy, even though I’m positive I know what they were going for. Finally, I just hate the way the lead singer sings “hungry” – simply from an aesthetic level. It’s nothing awful, but I much prefer their follow-up single, “Save a Prayer”.
16. “Never Gonna Let You Go” – Sérgio Mendes: Well, Sérgio Mendes has certainly come a ways since “Mas Que Nada” and “The Look of Love”. Actually, while Mendes is credited on this song and certainly performs the instrumentals, lead vocals were sung by session musicians Joe Pizzulo and Leeza Miller. It’s plain and clear that the two aren’t used to leading their own tracks – both come off clumsy and stilted alongside the background synth keys, which are a little bit yacht rock but mostly adult contemporary schmaltz. Yes, the instrumentals are lush and lovely, but with lyrics like these (“Never gonna let you go / I’m gonna hold you in my arms forever”) the positive qualities seem almost impossible to praise. Hard pass on this one.
15. “She Works Hard for the Money” – Donna Summer: I’m so happy and proud of Donna Summer for her continued success! And riding off the coattails of feminine empowerment anthems like “Bad Girls”, Summer immediately kicks things off with a powerful vocal hook (“She works hard for the money / So hard for it, honey”) that practically holds up the rest of the song all its own. Not that the rest of it ain’t that bad either – although the post-disco sound has run its course, the music is pleasantly high-tempo and energetic enough to welcome itself on an 80s montage playlist or two. Plus, it’s always nice to hear Summer exercising her vocal talents yet again, even though she’s sounded better in the past. Eh, my complaints on this one are relatively few and inconsequential.
14. “Shame on the Moon” – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Bob Seger has achieved sooo many hits on these year-end lists, yet regrettably I can never remember very many of them. This may have to do with my own personal tastes; I’ll take full responsibility on that part. With that being said, though, “Shame on the Moon” pretty much follows along with the same old country-rock ballad schtick that Bob Seger and folks have been chasing their entire career. Not saying that its success wasn’t well-deserved, because its looping guitar riff, mournful pianos, and spooky harmonies in the chorus are all well worth their praises. I’m just wondering why the country was willing to make this reach all the way up to #2, only to all but erase it from collective memory in subsequent years. It’s very peculiar with this kind of thing happens. Anyway, I haven’t actually really reviewed this song though… it’s fine. Let’s continue.
13. “Come On Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners: Imagine this scenario: it’s 1983 and you’re listening to popular radio in your bedroom or kitchen or wherever. After a parade of synths and drum machines and electric guitars and gloomy-sounding lead singers, in comes suddenly a lone fiddle playing something out of a Celtic wedding from the 1880s – only to bust into the happiest, dopiest sounding melody this side of the dial. Let it be known, “Come on Eileen” is a near-perfect pop song, if only for how irresistible its sound is, how unlike anything else it sounds, and how tough it is to recapture the moment one has when listening to this song for the first time – or, in my case, listening to it again after a very long time. Frankly, I’m so afraid of the overplay that others have talked about in regards to this song; much like the lead singer of Dexys to his beloved Eileen, I don’t want the magic to ever end. The second verse is what really gets me, though: “These people ’round here / Wear beat-down eyes sunk in smoke-dried faces / They’re resigned to what their fate is / But not us, no not us / We are far too young and clever”. The hopefulness of this sentiment is also quite sad in its own way, in that there’s no telling what the future holds for these bright-eyed youngsters, who may very well be just as “beat-down” as their parents. But none of that matters in this moment – let us now break out in an impromptu bridge where we all chant at a tempo that accelerates to a final, blissful chorus, certainly a perfect celebration of life in and of itself. “Too ra loo ra too ra loo rye ay…”.
12. “You and I” – Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle: So, a bit of backdrop: overall, I ended up liking Eddie Rabbitt more than I expected too (especially “Suspicions” and “Driving My Life Away”). Additionally, we met Crystal Gayle way back in 1977 with her hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, a tune I found relatively pleasant though ultimately forgettable. And that descriptor would certainly define “You and I” as well, sad to say. I knew I was in trouble once I heard those slow, twinkly keyboards pop in. It does have its good qualities (it’s not particularly egregious and Gayle herself sounds nice), but I just don’t think I’m the audience for this particular style of sleepy 80s love ballad. I don’t expect to revisit this one ever again.
11. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” – Culture Club: Unless I’m forgetting something, this may be the most explicitly gay song I’ve come across on the Billboard challenge thus far. Awesome! It’s interesting how this song was the one that drove the Culture Club to immense popularity, due to how weirdly experimental it is. It begins with a verse in a style and melody that never repeats itself, with the rest of the song in a melody that basically only repeats itself, with a chorus that’s barely a chorus and some heartbreakingly poetic lyrics undercut by a strange electro-reggae breakdown. Phew! Honestly, though, the star of the show here is Boy George himself, who pours his heart out in every single line he emits and even through his constant reiterations of the song’s title. I can’t imagine how subversive this song must have been at the time, but I’m certain that all those heads were turned for the better.
10. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Eurythmics: Top ten! Let’s do this! But first, I should briefly mention here that out of the 100 tracks on this list, only nineteen of them are credited toward women, with five of those being solo women in duets with men and six others being bands or musical groups that feature women as well as men. That leaves only eight(!) tracks that credit a solo female performer by herself – and one of them (“Gloria”) was already present on 1982’s list! Basically, the Hot 100 has a problem with female representation, and while we already knew this well enough it hurts with this year in particular due to how solid and awesome 1983 has been overall. Luckily, talented ladies like Annie Lennox have come along to save the day. First of all, this song rules and not only because of that legendary synth riff, truly the stuff of my dreams. Lennox herself sounds absolutely fabulous, not quite robotic though not quite human either. Both melodies of the tune are some of the best of the year – and, dare I say, the decade. It’s just a simply badass song, with a special kind of rawness few and far between in a year of polished production and pleasant themes. “Who am I to disagree?”
9. “Maniac” – Michael Sembello: The success of this song could almost completely be attributed to the immense popularity of Flashdance. The synth riff is certainly iconic, if only for the fact that it sounds less like a dancing cue and more like an audial signal that the serial killer is just around the corner in its respective horror film. And with lyrics like “In the real time world no one sees her at all / They all say she’s crazy” and “It can cut you like a knife”, it’s no surprise how this song would conjure up such imagery. As a song, though, it’s pretty harmless and even sort of catchy. Michael Sembello had been a pretty successful session musician up until this point and it certainly shows with the creative, unforgettable arrangement of this track. As a singer, though… let’s just say that his personality wasn’t quite enough to gain him another hit in the US. Still, this is pretty cool for what it is, even if it has become remarkably dated.
8. “Baby, Come to Me” – Patti Austin and James Ingram: Quincy Jones does some damn good production on this track – listen to it if only for its magical bass riffs, which practically beg for immediate disrobing by its listener. Everything else, though… eh. Just your basic strand of bedroom soul of which I feel we already have plenty. It certainly didn’t need to reach number-one – much less for two weeks!
7. “Maneater” – Hall & Oates: The 80s have certainly treated Hall & Oates pretty well, and the fact that this single would eventually become their most successful only further solidifies this. This was at the top spot for four weeks! The bassline with the Motown inflections certainly didn’t help, nor did the infectious catchy melody, a staple of Hall & Oates tunes at this point (“Whoa-oa, here she comes / Watch out, boy, she’ll chew you up”). What seals the deal for me, though, is that lush and lovely saxophone solo right before the final chorus. The lyrics are pretty sloppy for Hall & Oates standards and I’d imagine this get tiresome after a couple hundred plays – but that sax just never, ever gets old.
6. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler: Now for another reason why 1983 has been hot on my radar for a while: this fucking song. Yes, it’s Jim Steinman and it’s about as bombastic and over-the-top as one would expect from Steinman… and then some. It’s so kitsch to the point of ridiculousness, but if you’re reading this you probably already know all of this. Then again, it’s one thing to read a review of a song, and a totally different animal to actually listen to it. The words “total eclipse of the heart” alone are almost enough to trigger an automatic eyeroll. Then again, I give it a listen and I find myself unconsciously singing along: “Turn around… every now and then, I get a little bit lonely and you’re never coming ’round”. And the verse continues and continues. Honestly, it’s the upward key changes that really grab my guts and make me feel like I’m a part of my own flashy stage musical. But then, the downward(!) key change introduces the chorus (“Every now and then, I fall apart”), and I’m in total bliss and heaven for the next three minutes or so. Bonnie Tyler was the perfect choice for this tune, and this is a near perfect tune in and of itself. No shame had here.
5. “Beat It” – Michael Jackson: I seriously want to cry over how good of a year 1983 is (okay, not seriously, but still). This song was not just a big part of my discovery of Michael Jackson’s music, but also a big part of my childhood too. I remember dancing to this in my living room, not really knowing what it was about, but not caring at all because Jackson was just a cool dancer and “beat it!” was so fun to sing. The older I get, the more I can appreciate it. In ways, it’s a shunning of hypermasculinity and the assumption that men need to fight it out to figure out who will end up on top. Kind of a risky move, considering how this is one of Jackson’s few straight rock songs and a guitar-heavy one at that. Everyone always remarks on Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work in the song, and while it’s undeniably awesome, I’ve also got to give it up for Jeff Porcaro on drums and Tom Bahler on the legendary Synclavier intro that kicks this song immediately up to fifth gear. And Jackson, of course, sounds appropriately peppy and gives one of his better performances on this particular track. The effect of this track may have dulled a bit over time, but I’m glad I can still appreciate it on a deeper level than I would have as a kid.
4. “Down Under” – Men at Work: It’s so strange that this not only spent four weeks at number-one this year, but that it was also considered the fourth most popular song of the year and, despite its utter oddness, somehow didn’t get written out of the pages of history. I blame the weird, inexplicably 80s music video… as well as the totally peculiar lyrics (“I come from a land down under / Where beer does flow and men chunder”). The flute is certainly a nice inclusion, a sound that continues to buzz in my brain hours after I finished giving this a listen. It’s nice and happy-sounding and certainly important for being one of the few examples of Australian representation in the charts. Still, I think I only enjoy this on a surface level and can’t bring myself to put any deeper thought into this. Nonetheless, I do enjoy it and it does give me a strange craving for a vegemite sandwich.
3. “Flashdance… What a Feeling” – Irene Cara: Once again, another song that owes all of its fame (no pun intended) to Flashdance. On the plus side, this song was written and produced by Giorgio Moroder himself, so at least its got its signature dramatic synths going for it. On the downside, it’s also a track performed by Irene Cara, who I simply cannot love as a musician, as much as I’m sure she deserves it. The song is programmed to be anthemic as hell – and judging by its six week stay at the number-one position, I’d say it succeeded rather well. It’s hardly a painful listen, though. I just wouldn’t give it more than one listen a week, or something. Its time spent at that point is well deserved, but any further than that would just be too much.
2. “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson: Okay, it’s scenario time again. Remember that lame first single from Michael Jackson’s new album Thriller – the one he did with the old ex-Beatle? Now, imagine that it was followed up by this – the legendary “Billie Jean”, with the arguably more legendary music video that broke down MTV’s racial barrier as the first video performed by a black artist. Pretty cool, right? Now imagine a couple months later, Jackson performed this on the Motown 25 broadcast and performed his signature moonwalk that immediately catapulted him to stardom. Early 1983 must have been a crazy time. Anyway, this song still kicks as much as it did the first time. It’s just so mind-bogglingly well-crafted, with a totally competent bass riff and synth licks in all the right places. Jackson is great here, of course, but the chord progression in the bridge (“People always told me…”) is one for the ages, and automatically launches this song permanently into the eardrums of everyone in close distance. Essentially, of course this song is about the denial of having fathered the son of a female fan… but I honestly couldn’t care less about the lyrics in this case. This is all atmosphere, and a truly awesome one at that.
1. “Every Breath You Take” – The Police: Hoo boy. So apparently in the wake of this song’s success, Sting remarked on how his lyrics were being widely misinterpreted by the public, who took it as a straight love song. In his own words: “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly, and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite”. But here’s the thing – popular radio is all about playing the types of songs that make them the most money so they can keep playing songs that make them money. Generally speaking, pop music isn’t meant to be nitpicked and analyzed (ironically, I’ve written almost 30 posts doing this exact thing in great detail, but I’ll digress); it’s only meant to be listened to and enjoyed on a surface level to appeal to the lowest common denominator of listeners. The patterns that emerge from these listening habits tend to determine what types of songs tend to be the most successful – love songs especially tend to make the top ten the most frequently. What I’m saying is that you are not allowed to write a song that you intend on being “sinister and ugly” (with lyrics like “Every single day, every word you say / Every game you play, every night you stay / I’ll be watching you”), wrap it up in lush instrumentals and pretty production, and then get confused when its popularity emerges from a shroud of people misinterpreting your unclear intentions. You did that to yourself!! And yes, the one good quality this song has to offer is its lovely backing bassline, which any number of audio engineers would die to have accomplished. The rest, though – utterly uncomfortable trash that romanticizes the worst fears of anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship (especially women). Seriously, fuck this garbage. What a shitty end to an otherwise great year.
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