Friday, 10 August 2012

The Best Of 1983 - part 1

JUMP TO: 40-31 II 30-21 II 20-11 II 10-1

These yearly recaps have been getting bigger and bigger, so now seemed as good a time as any to increase it again... to 40 songs. It works particularly well for 1983 since there are a few artists with mutiple entries in the upper reaches, and this means I get to spread the love instead of just talking about the same acts over and over.

1983: androgyny was in, subtlety was out

At the time, 1983 was a big year for a lot of reasons. In pop culture, it was all about Return Of The Jedi and the Moonwalk. Well, pretty much anything Michael Jackson did, really. In sports, suddenly everyone was interested in sailing, with Australia winning the America's Cup and Prime Minister Bob Hawke encouraging the nation to chuck a sickie. And on a personal level, I went from infants school to primary school.

Let's get this super-sized recap underway by counting down numbers 40 to 31...

Starting things off at number 40 is "Say Say Say" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. And as superstar duets go, they don't get much bigger - especially in 1983 when Michael was hotter than ever thanks to the Thriller album and Paul's post-Wings career was ticking along nicely. This was the second duet for the singers, with "The Girl Is Mine" released as the lead single from Thriller at the end of 1982 (despite the fact that "Say Say Say" had been recorded first). But unlike "The Girl Is Mine", there was actually a music video, featuring the pair as travelling con artists and cameos from Linda McCartney and LaToya Jackson.

At number 39 is "Why Me" by Irene Cara, who'll be back a little later on - OK, a lot later on - with her theme from Flashdance. "Why Me" was the follow-up single, which became her third and final top 5 hit in Australia.

The first of 1983's "gender bender" hitmakers can be found at number 38: "Calling Your Name" by Marilyn, who, together with frenemy Boy George, caused quite the stir. I must confess I wasn't too concerned with all the hoop-la (so what if they liked to wear women's clothes and make-up?) and was more interested in the song, which is a great pop tune. "Calling Your Name" reached the dizzy heights of number 3 in Australia, and although Marilyn released a few more singles, none shone as brightly. Before long, unfortunately, the only time we'd be hearing about Marilyn would be in relation to the singer's drug problems.

From what I consider to be his best album, number 37 is "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John. I seem to recall Elton once saying his 1980s music wasn't that great, since, what with all the drug-taking and general debauchery, he wasn't in peak condition, but to my mind the Too Low For Zero album still sounds pretty good. It was packed with hits - in fact four singles from the album reached the ARIA top 30, Elton's most consistent strike rate in about a decade.

At number 36 it's "Church Of The Poison Mind" by Culture Club, the group led by the other (but much more successful) "gender bender" of the time, Boy George, who was given a run for his money on this track by backing singer Helen Terry. "Church..." was the first single from second album Colour By Numbers, which had a much bigger hit up its sleeve...

It's one-hit wonder time at number 35 with "Break My Stride" by Matthew Wilder, who was sporting a rather fetching outfit as he bounced his way through this performance. Matthew would reach number 6 with "Break My Stride" - a song that would return to the ARIA top 10 in 1996 for another one-hit wonder: Unique II. The mid-'90s were a very profitable time for Matthew, who produced No Doubt's breakthrough album, Tragic Kingdom

He's back on his own this time at number 34 - it's "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, the title track from the biggest record of all time. I actually prefer Bad as an album, and was never as into tracks like "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" as much as the rest of the world, but I did love "Thriller" and its landmark music video. After "Thriller", each new MJ clip was greeted with much fanfare (and a Molly Meldrum or Richard Wilkins-hosted premiere airing), and although the likes of "Black Or White" and "Smooth Criminal" are great, there's really no beating "Thriller". There's a link to the full 13-minute clip in the song title, the edit is below.

At number 33: "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats, a song that could not be more '80s if it tried. It's even about pogoing, a New Wave dance style that involved - yep, you guessed it - jumping up and down like you were on a pogo stick. Then there's the video: a may pole, a dwarf dressed as a jester, a singer who looks like he's stepped out of a kids' storybook... I guess if you're going to only have one hit (except in the US, where 1987's "Pop Goes The World" cracked the top 20), you may as well go all out.

There's another one-hit wonder (at least, in Australia) at number 32: "IOU" by Freeez, who'd actually had a prior hit in the UK with "Southern Freeez" two years earlier. "IOU" was quite a different song all together, merging the sounds of synthpop and breakdance music, which was massive in 1983. "IOU" got to number 3 in Australia, but Freeez was never heard of again on these shores.

Rounding out this batch of songs at number 31 is "White Wedding" by Billy Idol, the sneering, fist-pumping, leather-clad, peroxide fan who'd started his career as a member of punk band Generation X. The good thing about Billy was that for all his rock god posturing, he didn't seem to take himself too seriously. "White Wedding" actually first came out in 1982, but wasn't a hit anywhere until 1983 (and not in the UK until 1985, oddly).

See what '80s joy we would've missed out on if I'd only discussed my top 30? Coming up in the next 10, we have possibly the most stylish of the New Romantics groups, a trio of solo male hitmakers who began their careers in the '70s and Australia's own synthpop exponents.

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