Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1984

by Benjamin Ray

A year of change for many artists, 1984 boasted a handful of absolute smash albums. With alternative still lurking underground and hip-hop the privilege of a few, it was up to the big names to deliver, and they did in sales, if not artistic success.

The biggest album of the year was Born In The U.S.A., which saw Bruce Springsteen pull a 180 from Nebraska to record a booming, catchy and heartfelt album that spawned many hits ("Glory Days," the misunderstood title track, "Dancing In The Dark"). Not to be outdone, Prince offered the soundtrack to Purple Rain, which put him on a level with both Bruce and Michael Jackson, whose Thriller was still one of the top-selling albums of the year.

U2, having mined post-punk for a while, grabbed producer Brian Eno and created a more expansive, esoteric and original sound for The Unforgettable Fire, their best album of all time ("Bad," "Pride (In The Name Of Love)". And in other big names, Madonna offered Like A Virgin and made a name for herself, and although today the hit singles ("Material Girl," the title cut) are a bit dated and goofy, the album stands as a whole, which was rare in the ‘80s.


Disposable new wave and pop singles were still the rage, though the music seemed to be getting more corporate and serious even as the sound got wimpier; witness Kenny Loggins' theme to Footloose, Nena's "99 Luftballoons," Wham's entire debut ("Careless Whisper," "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"), Bananarama's "Cruel Summer," the Ghostbusters theme, "Caribbean Queen" from Billy Ocean, REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling," Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is," Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and Stevie Wonder's saccharine Hallmark-card-worthy "I Just Called To Say I Love You," which won an Oscar, which should tell you a lot about the state of music this year. The Bangles also released the decent All Over The Place, the Cars had Heartbeat City and Eddie Murphy's movie Beverly Hills Cop spawned a hit soundtrack as well (plus the single "Axel F").

In rock music, Metallica turned in the raging Ride The Lightning, still one of the best albums of its career, the Pretenders went in a new direction with Learning To Crawl, Deep Purple briefly reunited with Perfect Strangers and Ratt had "Round And Round." Bon Jovi also offered its debut, Bryan Adams had the decent "Run To You," the Scorpions had Love At First Sting and Stevie Ray Vaughan, having shocked 1983 with Texas Flood, offered the solid follow-up Couldn't Stand The Weather.

But for other established artists, things were pretty grim. David Bowie followed up the smash Let's Dance with the dull copycat Tonight, King Crimson ended its third incarnation with Three Of A Perfect Pair (their worst album ever), Lindsey Buckingham stepped away from Fleetwood Mac for Go Insane, Don Henley offered his semi-annual supply of irritating, condescending, faintly liberal smug with Building The Perfect Beast and Rush continued its downward slide with Grace Under Pressure, although "Red Sector A" is a darn fine song. Even David Gilmour (on hiatus from Pink Floyd) and the Alan Parsons Project couldn't muster enough excitement to make their albums worthwhile.


Having made a splash on the underground in 1983, R.E.M. offered the sophomore Reckoning, an improvement on Murmur that offered more sophistication, heart and melody than most of what was on the radio this year. The Red Hot Chili Peppers also debuted, attempting a hybrid of punk and funk that wasn't successful but was at least interesting, while Run-DMC served up pretty much the only rap album of the year, Run-DMC, which blew open the doors for what was possible in rap. The tradeoff in vocals between the duo and the more aggressive approach (in sound, not lyrics) rewrote the rules of hip-hop, paving the way for what would become a major cultural force.

And, of course, 1984 was the year the first CD factory opened, in Indiana, cranking out (what else?) Born In The U.S.A. as its first mass-produced disc.

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

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