30 Years of Music: 1983

Since we’ve reached the end of my ongoing Alphabet Soup column, I’ve spent some time considering how I might continue to satisfy my musical list-making urges. I wanted something with a nice round number, something that keeps giving me the chance to talk about music I love, rather than what is “important.” Sometimes, love and importance overlap, but above all other criteria, I want to talk about the songs that make me say, “Yesss… This.”

30 years is a nice round number, and conveniently, I’ll be turning 30 in 2013, so we’ll be starting with the year I was born. (Because my music columns also appeal to my sense of vanity, right?)

Let us cum on feel the noize with…


Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

So, 1983 actually was a pretty great year for “important” music, and it’s hard to be more notable than Thriller. I could have talked about the song of that same name, but I’ve always been more into “Billie Jean.” It’s such a darker story compared to “Rock With You” and some of his previous singles. This is also the year that Michael Jackson debuted the moonwalk at the 25th Anniversary of Motown Records, and those sequined socks. Get in. During the ’90s and beyond, with all his craziness, perhaps it became easy to forget how great a dancer he was.

Borderline – Madonna

Madonna’s first album and the moonwalk in the same year? Madness. (Madness, the band, also had an album out in ’83 too, but UK ska bands weren’t exactly known at the same level…) There are several great songs on this album, but “Borderline” is one of my favorites. “Lucky Star” is fine and all, but this one’s more fun to dance to. It is a little bit adorable how wholesome Madonna seems in this video, comparatively. She’s not yet trying to be “Madonna” the Pop Culture Entity.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Eurythmics

I can remember my dad having the cassette of this album, and he’d play it in the car sometimes. With her orange short-short hair, I thought she was just otherworldly. A badass. She still is, really. Seeing her perform at the Olympics was outstanding – a woman over 40 being held up as an example of British Excellence. (On that note, I’m still annoyed that NBC cut Kate Bush’s performance. Unconscionable!)

As far as this video goes, the cow and the frolicking with cellos makes me laugh every time.

She Bop – Cyndi Lauper

Speaking of cassettes my dad had and lady badasses, Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual is a classic. Eventually, I absconded with the tape and had it on regular rotation in my room during a large chunk of elementary school. No, I had no idea what “She Bop” was about then, but you can bet I was still dancing to it. Since newborn-me also had no idea how important the question “Are you a Madonna or Cyndi fan?” was, late ’80s/early ’90s-me could feel no internal conflict over enjoying both. Now, my 8-year-old daughter has the cassette in her room. She seems to find the format delightfully antique.

Radio Free Europe – REM

According to some of my friends, it’s apparently unusual that I had parents who listened to REM when I was a kid. Is it? Any other kids who grew up in the ’90s want to weigh in?

Among my parents’ CDs that were in the living room and not the basement was REM’s Eponymous singles album (along with a few others from the band), and I used to listen to it a lot while having to dust the living room. The song is originally from the Murmur album, and it comes from that legendary time when Michael Stipe still had a head full of crazy hair.

My husband likes to say that REM is a band that bores him, and then I give him major side-eye. Then he’ll say the same thing about U2 (whose album War also came out in 1983), and then I’m tempted to blast songs from both bands and sing along just to be annoying.

I’m Still Standing – Elton John

Oh, this video is some hilarious ’80s camp. France! Studded tiny bathing suits! Body paint! I have pretty much no memory of this video on MTV, but I do remember frequently hearing the song on the radio. Later, when I was in high school and had both a CD burner and a player in my car, I made a mix called “Gay as a Fox!” featuring not-straight artists (I think the title came from some urge to have a ridiculous simile). There were several Elton songs on there (including “Tonight” from The Letter T), and this was the one that my boyfriend at the time mocked. I laughed and kept singing, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…”

What I could have said? “Whenever you bother to get your driver’s license, you can play whatever you want. Until then…”

The Lovecats – The Cure

The stand-up bass is so great in this song. And the mrroww noises in the background! And the piano! And… oh hell, you know. It’s all great. I know there’s an official video for the song, but I have a soft spot for the mimed Top of the Pops performances.

Gone Daddy Gone – Violent Femmes

(I don’t have the original video embedded here because the strobes don’t get along with my brain.)

I think we’ve established that 1983 is about dancing. Perhaps many of my ’80s picks will be. For me, this song is sort of a cousin to “The Lovecats” in that the percussion reminds me of cats. I don’t know why. Picture cats dancing for this one. Humor me.

It would have been more obvious to mention “Blister in the Sun” from the same album, but forgive me, I am a child from the ’90s who associates that song more with My So-Called Life. I had no idea who the band was nor had I ever heard the song until I saw Claire Danes dancing around to it. I know, I know, but we all get our musical education somehow.

Blue Monday – New Order

Well, this just wouldn’t be a Sara-written music column if didn’t involve something from the North of England, now would it? From the ashes of Joy Division, let us dance once more with New Order’s “Blue Monday.” This is the song that basically funded the entirety of Factory Records and The Haçienda in Manchester, and bless them for that.

Recently on Facebook, a friend admitted that he preferred Orgy’s ’90s cover of it. Several of us commented with appropriately shocked gasps. And then my husband agreed with him, which, once again: SIDE. EYE. Not that I dislike the cover – it’s basically the guitar-heavy version of the song, and hey! Guys in makeup! I’m game! – but we all know I’m Ride or Die for the Madchester-era.

Johnny 99 – Johnny Cash

Perhaps this will make up for me saying, “What is wrong with you?” to the mister more than once here, as he is both a Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen fan. For that reason, The Man in Black covering The Boss ever-so-slightly edged out mentioning The Jam’s “Beat Surrender” instead. (Besides, “Beat Surrender” came out in 1982 and Snap! the singles compilation was released in 1983, after the band had already broken up.)

There’s something extra fantastic about Johnny Cash doing a cover song, isn’t there? He has a way of re-imagining the music that makes it seem like it was always meant to be played in that way. His version of “Johnny 99” isn’t so different from Bruce’s original, but their vocal styles are so dissimilar that it can seem that way. Both live within their music, and you can hear it.


So, tell me, what songs from 1983 are among your favorites? If you need a refresher (I did), Wikipedia is extraordinarily helpful.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

31 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1983”

This column is going to result in me making many playlists, since I no longer have the equipment to make mix tapes.

I was eleven in most of 1983, so I was just beginning to decide what music *I* liked, instead of the music my parents liked, and every one of these songs is attached to a personal memory. I am trying not to feel old.

I think we are all really raised on the music of our parents. My dad listened to a lot of new wave when I was young and I have a huge affinity for it even today. Mini was born in 1997, but she has had a steady diet of our favorite music since she was born, so the soundtrack of her early years is all Nick Cave and Elvis Costello and riot grrl.

Wow, ’83 was a good year for music. For me, it would have been all about the Violent Femmes, Prince, and Big Country. (Hush. I contain multitudes.)

“Little Red Corvette” would probably be my favorite song of the year, because I’ve always been unnaturally attached to the Tiny Purple One.

The first time I heard The Lovecats, I was living in San Diego, and listened to a little radio station out of Tijuana that played nothing but punk and new wave.The song blew me away, and is still one of my favorites.

There are so many good songs that came out that year, but here’s one that’s often overlooked (as is the band). For anyone who has seen the Family episode of Yo Gabba Gabba, there’s a line in here that might sound familiar :-D

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