I was certainly aware of Culture Club back in 1983. The singles ‘Karma Chameleon,’ ‘It’s a Miracle,’ and ‘Miss You Blind’ were hard to escape, and the previous year’s hits ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ and ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ were still kicking around.
But I never owned or listened to Colour By Numbers, the album on which those first three songs appeared. This album spent six weeks at #2 on the U.S. albums chart, behind (you guessed it) Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And, having listened to it for the first time this week, I have to say it definitely slaps.
In terms of album sales, 1983 belonged to one man: Michael Jackson. Though his Thriller was technically released in late 1982, it picked up steam in the early months of ’83 and became an unstoppable juggernaut by March. Thriller dominated the albums chart all year, stepping aside occasionally to allow other artists a brief moment in the sun.
The Police, too, had a hell of a showing. Between them, Synchronicity and Thriller owned the #1 spot in 38 of the 52 weeks. In third place was Men at Work’s debut album, Business As Usual, which was released in the U.S. in June of 1982 but spent 15 weeks at #1 between late ’82 and early ’83. Fourth… Lionel Richie, whose Can’t Slow Down claimed the top spot for three weeks at the end of the year.
‘The Name of the Game’ is the first single from ABBA’s fifth studio album, titled ABBA: The Album. It spent a month at the top spot of the UK charts, and made it to #12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
The song’s opening riff was apparently inspired by the Stevie Wonder song ‘I Wish,’ which appeared on Songs in the Key of Life a year earlier. It was sampled by The Fugees, quite effectively, on their 1996 track ‘Rumble in the Jungle,’ the first time ABBA allowed another act to sample their music.
This offbeat track appears on The Zombies’ classic 1968 album Odessey and Oracle. It tells the story of a World War I battle through the eyes of a beleaguered soldier.
Given the time of its writing and recording, this song was widely interpreted as a comment on the Vietnam War, and released as an unlikely single for that reason. It was backed by the far more accessible (and a favorite song of mine) ‘This Will Be Our Year.’
My favorite album of 1983 is maybe my fifth or sixth favorite album by the band who recorded it. But R.E.M. is so great that their fifth or sixth best album is sure to be better than just about anything else. And that’s the case with Murmur.
The band’s debut album has all of the hallmarks that would make them the godfathers of the alternative rock movement. Jangly guitars, indecipherable lyrics, minor key melodies, soaring choruses, and those wonderful Michael Stipe vocals with just the right combination of earnestness and indifference.
My second favorite album of 1983 is the fifth album by one of my favorite bands, Talking Heads. Speaking in Tongues followed the critically-beloved Remain in Light and became the band’s top-selling album to date.
In opening track ‘Burning Down the House,’ Talking Heads enjoyed the only Top Ten hit of their career, but this nine-track album boasts many more treasures. Writing for Rolling Stone, David Fricke made the spot-on observation that Speaking in Tongues “obliterates the thin line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk.”
These songs are at once deeply weird and thoroughly groovy.
[Note: I am forgoing my usual April Fools’ Day post this year, in part because I’m in the middle of a Decades countdown and in part because the world seems to have turned into a giant, cruel prank without me needing to pile on.]
Elvis Costello’s Punch the Clock followed what may be his best album, Imperial Bedroom, by just a year, and in that context it can’t help but be a bit of a letdown. But it’s plenty good enough to land at #3 on my list of the best albums of 1983.