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1983

1983 was my least favourite year of the ’80s, personally and musically. I worked inhuman split shifts throughout the year, leaving no time for a social life in a country I had arrived in only a year before. So I was hanging around with fellow hotel people which means that by the age of 17 I was drinking and clubbing prodigiously.

Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart.mp3
I saw Bonnie Tyler live some years before, supporting Slade. Even then I was suspicious of her housewife rock. But, my goodness, this track is utter genius. Written by Jim Steinman, who was responsible for the pomp of Meat Loaf’s glorious Bat Out Of Hell (as was producer Todd Rundgren), “Total Eclipse” recreates the rock operatic drama, supported by a wonderfully gothic and hilariously camp video (with flying altar boys!). What I like best about this song, though, is the percussive sound of the lyrics.

The Smiths – This Charming Man (Peel session).mp3

1983 saw the emergence of arguably the most important and influential band of the 1980s, the Smiths. U2, who made their breakthrough the same year, might have shifted more records, but virtually every Indie act owes a debt to Morrissey, Marr and pals. “This Charming Man” featured Morrissey’s great yelp, which is still there in this recording from the BBC John Peel sessions in August 1983.

Big Country – In A Big Country.mp3
Scotland’s Big Country were widely considered a poor man’s U2. Ironic, then, that U2 (with Green Day) recently covered “The Saints Are Coming” by the Skids, from whom emerged Big Country. Stuart Adamson’s band had a big, rich sound dominated by guitars that sounded like bagpipes, lending their brand of rock a celtic flavour. This song did worse in Britain than it did internationally, reaching only #17 in the charts. It deserved to do better, if only for the fist pumping “Cha!” shouts and a kick-ass catchy chorus.

Aztec Camera – Oblivious.mp3
When I think of Aztec Camera, I think of Bright Eyes. Like Mr Oberst, so was Roddy Frame considered a bit of a prodigy. Frame’s huge talent never translated into stardom, just as Bright Eyes will never become mainstream (and let’s thank the good Lord for that). “Oblivious” was the hit single from the lovely, utterly exquisite High Land, Hard Rain album, making the British Top 20. It’s the poppiest track from the album, but “Walk Out To Winter” and “The Bugle Sounds Again” are just as great. But in 1983 I didn’t know that; I bought the LP only in 1985.

Malcolm McLaren – Double Dutch.mp3
McLaren is best known as the manipulative svengali who made the Sex Pistols the boy band of punk, paving the way for Tory bastards Busted. As a performing artist, he compensated for his vocal and musical limitations by helping create cocktails of genres which were, if not always great, then consistently engaging and often influential. He (and, more importantly producer Trevor Horn) fused hip hop and African music with pop, popified Madame Butterfly and later introduced the world to disco waltzing and to vogueing well before Madonna did (1989’s “Something’s Jumping In Your Shirt” was quite brilliant). “Buffalo Girls”, which came out in late 1982, brought hip hop into the mainstream before anyone else did. “Double Dutch” “” bizzarely a song about country music dancing “” rode on the sound of South African kwêla music, but used a New York group, the Ebonettes, to provide the distinctive backing vocals in the style of the Mahotella Queens (whom Horn used six years later for the Art Of Noise).

Rufus & Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody.mp3
By 1983, soul music was going to pieces. The Philly Sound was dead, Motown struggled, Stevie Wonder was preparing to record the truly evil “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Luther Vandross was fine, but just too smooth. The even smoother Lionel Richie turned into soul’s biggest name. Despite the revolting “Hello”, you can’t dismiss Lionel (just hear “Love Will Find A Way” on Can’t Slow Down), but soul’s biggest name? OMG! Soul awaited its re-energisation at the hands of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and their likes. In the midst of all that despondency, the amazing Chaka Khan said goodbye to Rufus with one of the mightiest soul tracks not only of the ’80s, but of all time.

Blancmange – Living On The Ceiling.mp3
This song sums up the sound of 1983 for me. If musically that year had any redeeming graces, it was in New Wave: New Order, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Human League, Bauhaus, XTC… But also Kajagoogoo.

Depeche Mode – Two Minutes Warning.mp3
“Everything Counts” was the killer track on Construction Time Again, and “Love In Itself” was close behind. Yet it was this song, with its fantastic chorus, that really stood out for me on an album I totally loved at the time. Why was it never released as a single?

Human League – (Keep Feeling) Fascination.mp3
What an uplifting song, the kind one puts on in the morning to force a good mood. I really like Phil Oakley’s deep voice when he sings: “And then the conversation turned, until the sun went down.”

The Style Council – Speak Like A Child.mp3
And in the unlikely event that “Fascination” can’t lift a mood, then the infectiously cheerful “Speak Like A Child” should. Paul Weller had foreshadowed the Style Council song on some the Jam’s latter tracks, such as “The Bitterest Pill” and “A Town Called Malice”. Now he introduced brass and Talbot’s jazzy keyboards. I like the way Weller emphasises the word “a” in the titular line. I later saw the Style Council live twice, in 1984 and 1985, and very good they were, too. But they did dress like a pair of pretentious idiots.

Heaven 17 – Temptation.mp3
My favourite song of the year probably, and a great companion piece to New Order’s “Blue Monday”. Quite unusually for a New Wave it featured an orchestra, plus the soul beltation (a word I just invented) of Carol Kenyon, who provided backing vocals for Pink Floyd at Live 8. Singer Glenn Gregory looked a bit like a young Christopher Walken “” adorable creatures with unacceptable features?

Culture Club – Black Money.mp3
1980s revivalists tend to regard Culture Club as a bit of a novelty act, thanks to Boy George’s image and the substance-free “Karma Chameleon” (and let’s not even think of “The War Song”). That is a huge injustice. Culture Club produced some of the finest pop music of the decade (“Church Of The Poison Mind”, “Miss Me Blind”, “It’s A Miracle”), and Boy George was a very good singer. This blue-eyed soul track from Colour By Numbers shows Culture Club’s depth, a powerful and sad song about unrequited love, aided by the turbopowered lungs of Helen Terry.

Spandau Ballet – True.mp3
Another ’80s revivalist favourite, Spandau Ballet are another terribly underrated pop band. Yeah, they do look camp now; indeed, they looked camp even then. They were regarded as a teenybopper act in an era when teen favourites were creating some excellent music. Only a fool woul

d deny the masterful pop of Wham!. Likewise, Spandau Ballet merit a thorough rehabilitation. Songs like “Gold”, “Round And Round”, “Only When You Leave”, “Chant No. 1” and this great ballad deserve to be regarded as bona fide pop classics.

Oh yeah, and there was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. You might have heard of it.

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  1. James
    July 20th, 2007 at 13:24 | #1

    Ooh I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the peel session version of this smiths track for a while, so cheers! I agree that True by Spandau Ballet is an awesome tune.Jameswww.tobelostintheforest.blogspot.com

  2. the_peanut
    July 20th, 2007 at 13:27 | #2

    I LOVE this idea of yours, and I love the articles you’ve written as well. Kudos to you for this, many kudos!

  3. Any major dude with half a heart
    July 20th, 2007 at 16:57 | #3

    James, look out for the Peel session version of “How Soon Is Now” in 1984.

  4. Darren
    March 30th, 2008 at 14:30 | #4

    I think you’re being a bit harsh on ’83. (I would say that, ‘cos it was really was the year I became a music freak.)In retrospect, I do have my issues with ’83 because there was such a sharp fall in music quality from the musically seminal years of 80-82, but when you think of the dross of the late eighties it seems like a golden age by comparison.And you do have a cracking selection of tunes from that year on display. ‘This Charming Man’ is in my all time top ten, and ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is not far behind.

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