The Pop Queen’s Start, a Promising New Compilation…and a Lot of Hair!
IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna photoed in 1983/PHOTO CREDIT: Deborah Feingold
1983: A Rather Colourful and Interesting Year for Music
I would not normally write about 1983...
IN THIS PHOTO: Spandau Ballet photographed by Michael Putland in London, May 1983
in terms of its music but, as I am another year older on Thursday, it has got me thinking back to the year I was born. In terms of musical events, there were a few things happening then. From the controversial – David Crosby was sentenced to time in jail for drugs and weapons possessions – to the cool – C.D.s went on sale in the U.S. on 2nd March -; there was some big stuff happening in 1983. It was in 1983 when Michael Jackson’s Thriller hit the number-one spot on (26th February); it would remain there for thirty-seven non-consecutive weeks and would go on to become one of the best-selling albums in history. Luckily, there were some events of 1983 that are best left unremembered! It was a year when New Romantic bands like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran came along and reigned. The day I was born, 9th May, saw Spandau Ballet’s True get to the top of the singles charts. Considering Jacko was starting his regency and there was a lot of different stuff bubbling in music, it was quite an interesting year! One can argue that, in Pop terms, things were pretty great back then. There were some naff New Romantic bits happening but it was a new movement that sort of evolved from Punk. It would not hook everyone in but a lot of the music was actually pretty decent.
As I never back off of a chance to mention Kate Bush; 1983 was a year when big changes informed her best work. She had moved from London and set up a home studio in the countryside. After The Dreaming was released in 1982, she put on weight and was feeling the strain of critical disinterest. There were some great reviews but, after that album was released, there was a tough period that called for reaction. In 1983, she had moved and started putting together motions that would materialise in 1985’s Hounds of Love. If one music treasure was continuing her progress, another was just beginning: Madonna released her debut in 1983. The eponymous album was busy with bounce and juvenile glee and, whilst she would later dismiss the album as being too fluffy and insignificant, it was a fantastic debut. On 27th July, 1983, Madonna’s debut was launched and with it songs such as Borderline and Lucky Star. She would go on to release bolder and more confident albums but there were few artists who sounded like Madonna in 1983. Other great Pop coming out in the year included Culture Club. They released their second album, Colour by Numbers, in October and it spawned the huge hit single, Karma Chameleon. The single came out in September and, to date, it is the thirty-eighth biggest-selling U.K. single ever. It is an infectious burst of Pop and has one of the catchiest choruses ever!
One can bemoan a lack of spark and colour in modern music but, look back to 1983, and there is ample energy and memorability. If we hear an early track from Culture Club or Madonna on the radio, it brings back great memories (for those old enough) and instantly hooks you in. On 14th April, David Bowie released the album, Let’s Dance. It would become Bowie's biggest commercial success, with over ten-million copies sold worldwide. It was one of the last big Bowie albums of that time and he would struggle to find a similarly-popular album in his arsenal for over a decade. Other big albums of 1983 included R.E.M.’s Murmur and Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones; Tom Waits gave us Swordfishtrombones and there were releases from U2 (War), Talking Heads (Speaking in Tongues); Yes (90125) and Yazoo (You and Me Both). There were a lot of great albums released in 1983 and I do not think the year gets the credit it deserves. Tears for Fears, Sonic Youth and Roxy Music were kicking; so too were Elton John, The B-52’s and Stevie Nicks. There were a lot of great and varied sounds forming and it wasn’t just about the New Romantic Movements and great Pop from the likes of Madonna. Bon Jovi, Bronski Beat; The Flaming Lips and Del Amitiri were formed in 1983. Conversely, The Carpenters, Sly and the Family Stone and The Who disbanded – although we know they are Gang of Four (who also ‘split’ in 1983) are still together.
New Order’s Blue Monday and Prince’s 1999 were big singles that did sterling business in 1983 and, thinking about the range and quality of the year, it makes me think it is a time for music that many overlook and do not take too seriously. So much of the music I was raised on as a child came out in 1983. Included are Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl and Elton John’s I’m Still Standing. One of the most exciting beginnings, sadly, that started in 1983 was the compilation album, Now That’s What I Call Music! Actually, it is not that tragic at all: the first instalment arrived on 28th November and featured hits from the likes of Phil Collins, Heaven 17 and The Cure. I am a huge fan of the compilation series and have followed it for years. I was too young, obviously, to remember the first edition but the first I bought was Now That’s What I Call Music! 24 in the 1990s. I have always gravitated towards the series and think it is a great way of collating all the best music from the year. It is strange looking back some thirty-six years and seeing the music world I was born into. Although the first contemporary sounds I remember were from about 1987, I look back at 1983 as hugely important. If one thinks of 1980s music as a bit rubbish, they’d do well to look back on certain years and realise there was a lot more brilliance out there than they recall.
The fact Madonna released her debut and there was this really interesting time for Pop appeals to me. Some truly big albums arrived and it was a rich period for music in general. Maybe 1983 does not rival 1989 in terms of its genius but it has been good looking back and discovering all the terrific stuff that arrived the year I was born. I know it might be a bit pretentious and self-serving to mark my birthday with this glance back but, actually, how many people look back at their birth year and dig deeper into the music that was around then? In a wider sense, seeing what was happening in the world when you were born is pretty interested. I tend to listen to more music from the late-1980s and 1990s but I kind of neglect the earlier parts of the 1980s. It is fortunate the horrors of Spandau Ballet passed me by but there was a lot of really great music then. I feel it is important knowing what was happening in music the year we were born and the fact I have done so this year sort of relates to the music I listen back to. I am listening back to older songs a lot and wondering whether there was a particular sound/sensation that captured my young mind. Although I was too young to recall the first time I heard the great albums and songs from 1983, I have spent a lifetime listening back and understanding what was making the charts and selling loads all that time ago. It is amazing, really, and makes me a little less worried about hitting thirty-six. Although, as I say, there were bigger and brighter years of the 1980s…as it happens, 1983 was a pretty damn good year…