Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Billboard Top Ten May 14, 1983

This is another post in my continuing series whereby I look at the top ten Billboard hits in a given year for the week I am writing in. This month we're going back to 1983, when 80s culture had truly solidified itself.

10. After The Fire "Der Kommissar"

The most revolutionary band of the 1970s didn't come from the United States or the UK, it came from Germany. Kraftwerk's influence on modern popular music might eclipse just about everybody this side of the Beatles and James Brown. In the early 80s, German music had a lot of cachet to it, which explains why one hit wonders After The Fire had their hit covering Falco's "Der Kommissar." This song is such a wonderful relic, from the maladroit "rap" at the start to the stiffly, Teutonically funky riff to the fruity synths. Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?

9. Laura Branigan "Solitaire"

There's a certain group of pop singers who were huge in their time but now largely forgotten, and Laura Branigan has got to be near the top of that list. "Self Control" was one of the most perfect 80s pop songs, but that legacy is lost. This is not at that level, but it has some layered synths and an air of melancholia about it that reminds me of late-period ABBA.

8. Prince "Little Red Corvette"

Seeing this song on the countdown makes me sad, thinking of the great talent we just lost. Prince may have made better songs, but "Little Red Corvette" might his best pop single. It's got groove, longing, and some interesting sounds that don't overpower the song. Prince, who always projected himself as the sexy lovehunter, plays the role of the broken-hearted romantic here, and he actually has me believing it.  Listening to this song after "Solitaire" and "Der Kommissar" is a striking lesson in just how far ahead of his contemporaries on the chart he was.

7. Irene Cara "Flashdance...What A Feeling"

It might sound weird now, but as the Reagan-era was entering its full flower, America fell in love with a movie about a steelworker who did erotic dancing. Despite the attempts of the Moral Majority, the sexual revolution, in the guise of Prince and Flashdance, could not be denied. The film could actually be interpreted as Reagan propaganda. Never mind the destruction of America's industrial towns, you can go on to be a star! This song is also an early entry into two very 80s genres: movie soundtrack songs and "inspirational" songs. I guess we all need a little inspiration to make it through the day in a world made of steel, made of stone.

6. Dexy's Midnight Runners "Come On Eileen"

I LOVED this song back in the spring of 1983. I was just first listening to the radio back then, and when this one came on I always cranked it up. Something about the fiddle riff just grabbed me. It's fun and bouncy, exactly the kind of song that a kid can love. Little did I know it was about lost innocence.  This song nevertheless gets 'em out on the dance floor to this very day; there's a joy here that's irresistible. Perhaps it's because the cold synths are here replaced by warm fiddle and banjo, and metronomic beats with a little bit o' swing.

5. Thomas Dolby "She Blinded Me With Science"

This song is proof that by 1983 the English New Wave bands who grabbed hold of MTV were able to parlay their video success into pop hits. This is a delightfully silly song, what with the old British dude yelling "Science!" and all kinds of wonky synthesizer sounds behind it. This will likely be the first and last synthesizered song about a mad scientist to hit the top ten.

4. Men At Work "Overkill"

It's easy to forget today, but Men At Work's Business as Usual was one of the top-selling albums of the 1980s, going platinum six times over. They combined album-oriented rock with a strong dose of New Wave nerviness, a winning combo in 1983. This song is not nearly as remembered today as "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now," but it still has its charms, including the requisite early-80s sax.

3. Greg Kihn Band "Jeopardy"

Hoo boy, now this right here is a relic. There's a little bit of 70s musk lingering in the electrofunk groove of "Jeopardy," one of the last vestiges of the polyester decade to land on the charts. It's also got a kind of jammy feel to it, very unlike a pop song. Not sure why this song went so high on the charts.

2. David Bowie "Let's Dance"

It's kinda crazy that Bowie and Prince are both on this countdown. On his Let's Dance record, Bowie hired the great Nile Rodgers to produce and decided to leave behind his experimental period and jump head first into 80s pop. While the other pop stuff he produced in the 80s was pure shite, this song is fantastic. Like "Come On Eileen," I delighted when it came on the radio, perhaps a sign that I liked old school, swinging dance rhythms. Bowie had earlier dabbled in soul music back in the mid-70s with "Young Americans," and I actually find "Let's Dance" superior because the sound isn't imitating anything, it sounds uniquely Bowie. This song makes me melancholy, both for Bowie's death, and the fact that he was not able to repeat the success of this formula on his other 80s records.

1. Michael Jackson, "Beat It"

Thriller was the first album I ever owned. When I brought the tape home from Kmart, I rewound side B so I could listen to "Beat It" first. It was the whole reason I wanted the album in the first place. We wouldn't have a boom box until the next year, so I played it on the 1970s portable tape recorder with zero bass my mom had while I ran and danced like a maniac around our semi-finished basement. It's notable that what was arguably the best rock song on the charts in 1983 was sung by a soul music superstar. Pairing Michael Jackson with Eddie Van Halen was the 80s equivalent of Louis Armstrong playing trumpet for Jimmie Rodgers. The tight beat is merciless and the Gloved One gives a tough vocal full of oomph and his unique electricity before Van Halen reels off one the craziest guitar solos ever to make it onto a number one hit.  Thirty-three years later I still love listening to this track.


Unknown said...

This may be the best Billboard Top 10 yet. I love every last one of these songs. --Debbie

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

It's a great list. The spring of '83 is also when I became really really aware of pop songs that I liked, so I guess I came in at a good moment. That Laura Branigan tune and "Jeopardy" are a bit weak, though.

bmi said...

Interesting note: Eddie Van Halen played the solo on "Beat It," but the recurring guitar riff (and also bass guitar) were played by Steve Lukather.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Toto is all over that record, especially "Human Nature," which is basically Yacht Rock with an R&B twist. Also the subject of a great episode of Yacht Rock:

Stewball said...

Talking about Laura Branigan...she was born July 3, 1952 and she was 52 when she died in 2004. Everything else is wrong.