Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1983

by Benjamin Ray

I have been looking forward to writing this Year That Was because it is the year that I was born. I figured it would be interesting to see what was popular 30 years ago, what people were listening to while I was spitting up milk.

Turns out there were some pretty darn good records, both in mainstream rock and the burgeoning alternative movement, along with the expected dose of crap consistent with most of the 1980s. Among the biggest was the Police's final outing, Synchronicity ("Every Breath You Take," "Wrapped Around Your Finger"), Van Halen's excellent 1984 ("Jump," "Hot For Teacher," "Panama") and ZZ Top's Eliminator, which reinvented the trio's sound and resulted in MTV-ready hits "Sharp Dressed Man," "Legs," and "Gimme All Your Lovin'."

One of the best albums of the year was Stevie Ray Vaughan's debut Texas Flood, which brought blues rock back into the public consciousness in a big way. Almost as good was Metallica's debut Kill 'Em All, an early thrash metal classic that combined speed and power with actual melody and a strange sort of beauty. Bryan Adams issued the popular Cuts Like A Knife, Def Leppard hit big with Pyromania ("Photograph"), Motley Crue had their finest moment with Shout At The Devil and Journey offered Frontiers, featuring the band's best song, "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)."


In the alternative scene, a little-known band from Athens, Ga. quietly released the low-key, barely audible Murmur, and all of a sudden R.E.M. was the hot underground college rock band, surviving by word of mouth and the airplay of "Radio Free Europe" on certain hip stations. Other key alternative releases were Violent Femmes ("Blister In The Sun"), Meat Puppets II (an influence on Nirvana), the Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away," Talking Heads' "Burning Down The House," New Order's Power, Corruption And Lies and U2's War, a sparse post-punk rock album that broke the band to a wider audience with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day."

On the lighter side, David Bowie put out Let's Dance and scored with the title track, "Modern Love" and "China Girl." Genesis offered Genesis ("That's All"), Duran Duran had Rio, Lionel Richie had "Hello" and Tears For Fears offered up the dark, brooding The Hurting, one of the more difficult albums of the year. Madonna made a splash with her self-titled debut ("Borderline," "Holiday," "Lucky Star"), Yes tried to score a new audience with 90125 and "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" (which worked, briefly) while Pink Floyd got rid of its remaining fans with the dull Final Cut. The Moody Blues also put out their last decent album, The Present.

Other rock songs of the year included Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," the Rolling Stones' "Undercover Of The Night" (from the otherwise disposable Undercover), Robert Plant's "In The Mood" and "Big Log" from Principle Of Moments, John Mellencamp's "Crumblin' Down," Dio's "Holy Diver" and the Romantics' "Talking In Your Sleep." Also, Billy Idol had "White Wedding," Todd Rundgren had "Bang The Drum All Day" and Styx embarassed themselves with "Mr. Roboto."


Oh, but then there were the one-hit wonders and goofy, terrible synth pop songs (avert your eyes unless you have a strong stomach): "Karma Chameleon" (Culture Club), "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" (Eurythmics), "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "Time After Time" (Cyndi Lauper), "True" (Spandau Ballet), "Safety Dance" and "Down Under" (Men At Work), "Our House" (Madness), "I Melt With You" (Modern English), "It's Raining Men" (Weather Girls), "Come On Eileen" (Dexy's Midnight Runners), "Electric Avenue" (Eddie Grant), "Flashdance" (Irene Cara), "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" (Bonnie Tyler), "She Works Hard For The Money" (Donna Summer) and, of course, "Maniac," also from Flashdance.

Country music didn't have much to offer in 1983. The year was absolutely dominated by Alabama, whose two albums The Closer You Get and Mountain Music held the top spot in the charts for most of the year. Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson's collaboration Pancho & Lefty was a success and Kenny Rogers had a hit record at the end of the year with Eyes That See In The Dark, which included the Dolly Parton duet "Islands In The Stream," a #1 pop and country hit.

And that, friends, was the Year That Was in music.

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