This Week In 1983: July 31, 1983
There were some fantastic songs released in 1983, but the single that ended up as the year's biggest hit in Australia wasn't a song at all.
Outperforming the likes of "Gloria", "Billie Jean" and "Total Eclipse Of The Heart", the number 1 single of 1983 in Australia was a pun-packed spoken-word record by a stand-up comic who'd started performing just two years earlier.
The song that ended the year as Australia's second biggest single was still at number 1 this week in 1983. "Flashdance... What A Feeling" by Irene Cara stayed on top for a third week.
Off The Chart
Number 96 "The Animal Song" by The Europeans
Peak: number 96
This was the astonishing debut single by British new wave band The Europeans, who are not to be confused with Europeans, a late '70s band from the UK with just as limited success.
Number 95 "My Love" by Lionel Richie
Peak: number 93
The third and final single from Lionel Richie's self-titled debut album was another US top 5 hit, but the "Easy" soundalike, which features Kenny Rogers on backing vocals, barely dented the Australian top 100.
Number 92 "Mornin'" by Al Jarreau
Peak: number 82
Unlike Lionel, fellow soul/R&B singer Al Jarreau only reached the ARIA top 100 twice - once with this track from his Jarreau album and again in 1987 with the theme to Moonlighting.
Number 85 "Ship To Shore" by Chris De Burgh
Peak: number 75
Chris De Burgh had visited the Australian top 5 earlier in the year with "Don't Pay The Ferryman" but found the waters less welcoming with his next nautically themed release.
Number 47 "Come Dancing" by The Kinks
Peak: number 36
Between their 1964 debut with "You Really Got Me" (an Australian number 8 hit) and 1970's "Apeman" (which reached number 5 here in early 1971), The Kinks had enjoyed a string of 11 top 50 hits locally. Despite continuing to record throughout the '70s and early '80s, nothing the band released during that time had troubled the chart. This single, which had originally flopped in the UK in November 1982, might not have charted in Australia either had it not unexpectedly become a top 10 hit in the US in mid-1983. A return to The Kinks' earlier sound, "Come Dancing" was written by Ray Davies as a tribute to his sister Rene, who'd died from a heart attack at a dance hall in the late 1950s. It'd be the band's final ARIA chart appearance.
Number 46 "It's A Mistake" by Men At Work
Peak: number 34
They'd enjoyed a flawless start on the Australian charts - with two number 1 albums and five consecutive top 10 singles - but Men At Work's dream run came to an end with the unfortunately titled "It's A Mistake". Interestingly, the song, which is about the Cold War potentially leading to nuclear warfare, received a much warmer reception in the US, where it peaked at number 6. Men At Work would be back in the Australian top 10 later in 1983 - but with one of their previous hits.
Peak: number 45
Here's another band who usually performed better on the Australian chart - well, at least they had in the late '70s when they notched up seven top 40 hits. But, it had been three-and-a-half years since they had a number 1 single with "Please Don't Go" and this track from All In A Night's Work was hardly their best effort. In fact, I'm puzzled why "(You Said) You'd Gimme Some More" was even released at this point when they had a much better song waiting in the wings - a song we'll see restore the disco/funk group to the top 5 in the coming months.
Peak: number 13
Not all previously successful bands were having a tough time of it on the Australian chart in 1983. Even though band members were starting to abandon ship, ELO landed what would be their last big hit with this lead single from the ambitious Secret Messages album. As its title suggests, "Rock 'N' Roll Is King" eschewed some of the more modern sounds the band had experimented with on previous releases for a straightforward rock feel, complete with a surf guitar intro, a boogie woogie piano and that "whamalamabamalama" lyric. The throwback track would give ELO one last hurrah on the Australian singles chart, with only one minor top 50 entry to follow.
Number 23 "Australiana" by Austen Tayshus
Peak: number 1
There was nothing novel about novelty records in 1983. Australia had even had a chart-topping comedy single as recently as the summer of 1980/81 when "Shaddap You Face" stayed at number 1 for eight long weeks for Joe Dolce Music Theatre. But there was something about the debut single from stand-up comedian Austen Tayshus (real name: Alexander "Sandy" Gutman) that really appealed to the Australian public.
Written by Billy Birmingham, who'd become quite familiar with number 1 singles and albums in his guise as The Twelfth Man, "Australiana" took the form of a story incorporating a series of plays on words. Words like kookaburra, platypus, waratah, Nullarbor, Great Barrier Reef, Eureka Stockade and Vegemite - all true blue stuff. The puns came at a fast and furious pace, and it's interesting listening to the live audience on the record - there's everything from appreciative laughter to groans at the more on-the-nose gags to delayed reactions when it takes a second or two for the cleverer jokes to sink in.
I remember my eight-year-old self being amused by "Australiana" at the time. A lot of the more adult material went straight over my head, but it was a clever routine that actually did stand up to repeated listens. And so, people went out and bought the 12" single (the only format it was available on) in droves, and listened to it over and over again. Then quoted it to each other.
"Australiana" spent eight non-consecutive weeks at number 1 in Australia - its run at the top interrupted due to it being banned for a week in Victoria (on account of B-side "The Comedy Commando") and dipping down to number 7 for that week. The record ended 1983 as Australia's top single, but like all year-end charts before 1988, that's based on an aggregate of chart positions rather than sales.
Nevertheless, "Australiana" is regularly cited as the best-selling Australian single of the '80s and even of all time. With reported sales of over 200,000 copies, "Australiana" was likely the highest-selling single by an Australian artist during the '80s, with "Locomotion" by Kylie Minogue its closest rival. Whether or not international hits like "We Are The World" or "Never Gonna Give You Up" outsold "Australiana" is unclear.
Outside the '80s, many singles by local and international acts have outsold "Australiana", with the highest-selling single of all time in Australia still Elton John's 14 times platinum "Candle In The Wind '97/Something In The Way You Look Tonight".
Listen to every top 50 hit (that's on Spotify) from the second half of 1983 on my playlist:
Next week: the second big solo hit by a member of one of the top-selling bands of the 1970s, plus another hugely successful artist from the '70s scores his biggest single.