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.
Paul Simon hit a creative rough patch following the release of 1977’s Still Crazy After All These Years. His only new studio album over the following eight years was 1980’s One Trick Pony, a companion to his film of the same name, which contained exactly one memorable song: ‘Late in the Evening.’
But 1981 saw a resurgence for Simon in the form of his reunion Concert in Central Park with Art Garfunkel. Following that successful rekindling of their partnership, the two former bandmates started recording a new album.
My #5 album of 1983 is The Police’s fifth, final, and top-selling album, Synchronicity.
This album went 8X Platinum in the U.S., and even unseated Michael Jackson’s Thriller at Billboard’s #1 spot for a spell. It featured the hits ‘Every Breath You Take,’ ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ and ‘King of Pain,’ all of which appear on the album’s stacked Side Two.
If national treasure Randy Newman releases an album, you can bet it’s going to make my list of that year’s best work. And indeed, Newman’s Trouble in Paradise is my #6 album of 1983.
Best known for the minor hit ‘I Love L.A.,’ Trouble in Paradise is a satirical exploration of hedonism and excess, with songs such as ‘My Life Is Good’ and ‘There’s a Party at My House’ showcasing some of the most despicable characters Newman has ever voiced. Of course, they’re also hilarious.
An Innocent Man, Billy Joel’s tribute to the R&P, soul and doo wop music of his youth, is my #7 album of 1983.
A Innocent Man was Joel’s follow-up to the excellent, but under-performing (by his standards), The Nylon Curtain. While Nylon went “only” double-Platinum, this album went 7x Platinum and ties with 52nd Street and Glass Houses as his second most successful album, behind the Diamond-level The Stranger.
Yes, Billy Joel was a freaking juggernaut.