Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1983
It's hard to imagine now but in 1983, when you heard a song on the radio, on Top of the Pops or saw a band perform on The Little and Large show, you either had to tape it on a cassette/video or go to the shop and part with actual money to own it and play it when you wanted to. This spotify-less age meant mix-tapes ruled your days and a lot of songs disappeared into the ether. You'd probably never hear them again save the 'Forgotten 80s' radio show on Absolute Radio on Sunday nights. Even then, that song you use to love but forgot even existed might be played once a year and you wouldn't be listening at the precise time it was on.
So imagine my joy when the internet started to contain all those forgotten songs that I had no hope of ever hearing ever again bar a visit to a local vinyl fair at the leisure centre, trawling through hundreds of singles to pick one out and go - 'how did this go again'? then part with a couple of quid, get it home, pop it on the record player and go 'ah yes, didn't like it did I?'. The internet has now given me access to every single song I can remember and every one I've never heard of. This list of best singles of 1983 would have otherwise been made up of the songs I remember. As it is, it's made up of songs I totally remember, some I couldn't quite remember but do now and some I'd never heard before. Bless the internet.
I've done a top 60 because there were 20 songs I couldn't possibly leave out of the count down. 1983 was mint.
(60) Toto - I Won't Hold You Back
The lesser known of the three hits Toto had in this period. The others being 'Rosanna' and 'Africa' of course, but this one is just beautiful. Roger Sanchez revived it in the early 00s and did a good job but this original is up there with anything Fleetwood Mac ever did with this romantic atmosphere.
(59) Michael Jackson - Wanna Be Starting Something
As you'll see, Michael didn't manage to free up any of the budget he spent on the Thriller video to spend on single covers. I have to admit, I've never seen him in jeans, though I'm not sure these are actually jeans, maybe jeggings? Anyway, whatever it was that was 'too high to get over' and 'too low to get under' had me thinking about this song long after it had finished and still rotates on my Spotify playlist of greatest songs ever, so something went right here. This was the fourth single to be taken from the album so it was quite something for it to reach number 8.
(58) Duran - Union of the snake
This was just before Duran's decline from the very highest peak of pop stardom you can achieve. They were well produced on their third album 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger', in fact, the songs on this album sounded a lot better than the last two even if the songs weren't actually better, they sounded the best they'd ever (and would ever) sound here. The video for this song was something special too but, Wild Boys aside, their video quality would match their place in the pop world going forward with each one a little cheaper to make than the last.
(57) Irene Cara - Flashdance...What A Feeling
This was the last we saw of Irene in the charts, though after last year's 'Fame', she left with two absolute dancefloor classics. There are probably earlier examples (like the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever) but song and movie tie-ins were becoming much more frequent. The power of the music video meant it could be used as an advert for something else. This song was taken from 'Flashdance' and, with no disrespect, without this song or 'Maniac' by Michael Sambello, I'm not sure this would have been a hit at the box office. For me, it was a dull affair of someone wanting to be a dancer or something but the video for this brilliant tune gave it more gravitas than it deserved. It was the backdrop for the set-piece dance routine where she has to 'wow' the judges to let her into college or something (loving the research I've put into this). That scene has been parodied numerous times since and you could even call it 'iconic' even though it's not. The bit where she dumps a load of water on herself is also iconic for some reason.
(56) Heaven 17 - Crushed by the wheels
Great bass guitar here and, probably, a heavy message about the plight of the working 'man'. Not Heaven 17's greatest hour though - that would come later in the year.
(55) Nick Heyward - Whistle Down The Wind
Oh sweet lord, what a tune. I had the privilege of seeing Nick perform this song at Bents Park in South Shields in 2004 and he was note perfect. This was his first solo single since leaving (and having a court battle) with the rest of Haircut 100. Nick's lyrics were always abstract (or random, not sure which) but here he really speaks to the sentimental side of you, if you've got one.
(54) Phil Everly & Cliff Richard - She Means Nothing To Me
The Everly Brothers were probably just as important to the base-rock of popular music as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry or Little Richard. There are hundreds of 60s, 70s and 80s acts who were massively influenced by 50s music, certainly those who crafted their vocals or played actual musical instruments when they went into the studio. It was pleasing that Phil and his mate Cliff were able to sell records in 1983 and probably not just to people in their early 40s who grew up in the 50s and 60s listening to their music. I was 8 and loved this as much as I loved Joan Armatrading or Howard Jones. I'm not sure what my point is however. This got to number 9 and gave Phil Everly his first top ten hit for 18 years.
(53) Elton John - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
I've never been able to work out if Elton John is an angry man with diva-ish qualities who treats people badly or if he's a cheeky scamp who likes to dance about in massive glasses being everyone's best friend. Probably both. He'd released a string of awful songs in the 70s with the odd gem scattered amongst them; here, he broke free of that and started releasing some of the absolute best songs of all time. Not sure what changed or what influences in his life had come and gone, but if he could have bottled the inspiration he was having in this period, I'd like a few litres please. This got to number 5.
(52) Prince - 1999
Here he is everyone, he's arrived finally. His previous 'hit', the number 41 peaking 'I wanna be your lover' was ahead of it's time and ahead of everyone who heard it's readiness for such raw energy. '1999' only got to number 25 because, again, the American invasion hadn't quite happened properly yet. Michael Jackson was probably the only exponent having massive hits. This 25 peak wasn't quite the end of the story for this song though because in 1985, it was reissued with 'Little Red Corvette' on the B side and got to number '2', the highest he ever managed bar 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'. Stupidly, it was reissued again in January 1999 - I saw it on the counter at HMV in Edinburgh and thought, 'eh?', it's about New Year's Eve 1999, not January 13th 1999. Never mind, it got to number 10 then anyway.
(51) Rocksteady Crew - Hey you
Nothing says 'We use synthesizers' like saying the word 'digital' four times in the introduction to your song. You could tell this was written the first day their keyboard player got a new synth, it's got that 'ooh, an echo setting' vibe all over it. This song sparked my love affair with the 'Now that's what I call music' series. The first ever album had this on it along with 14 other songs in this top 60 count down. At primary school we had a day when we could bring a Vinyl album in and play it whilst doing work, craft projects I think. My best mate brought in 'Number of the Beast' by Iron Maiden which made me question his ethics and morals. I brought in Duran Duran's first album and someone, I forget who, brought in 'Now that's what I call music 1', though it was just called 'Now that's what I call music'. This was the first time I heard this song and by 3pm I was singing 'Hey You, the rocksteady crew, Bee Boy Blah Begga-lecka boogaloo'. I've just Googled it and the lyrics are actually 'B-Boy breakers electric boogaloo'. Nope, me neither.
(50) Wang Chung - Don't be my enemy
This is a cheeky little song which probably nobody remembers but you should definitely give it a spin. It's quintessentially what the early 80s were all about and perfectly produced.
(49) Human League - (Keep Feeling) Fascination
Even Phil Oakey admitted the other two blokes who sing on this were better vocalists than him - although, I can't actually tell which of the singing parts are Phil and which aren't, apart from when Joanne and Susan sing of course. The video for this was ground-breaking, like a lot of videos made in the early 80s (because none had really been made before, they were all quite pioneering in some way). They actually painted a house and street red so from above it looked like a big red dot. They room they're performing in is derelict too and I think that street was actually demolished not long after the shoot. This slowly climbed to number 2 in the chart but once there, fell out of the 40 sharpish, it was only on the chart for 7 weeks. The production was really weird - it wasn't until I heard the digital version of this that I realised my record player wasn't playing up during the intro. It does sound like the belt on the player is slowing down and speeding up. The little tinkers.
(48) Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse Of The Heart
The video for this was quite spooky, choirboys with glowing eyes and Bonnie being chased through a wet stately home. Jim Steinman penned this song for a Vampire musical he was writing and you can just hear Meat Loaf singing it - but it suits Bonnie's voice perfectly. She'd not even hinted at performing songs like this before so either she begged her record company to let her realise her potential as a vocalist or it all happened by accident. Whichever, the result is a song that will always get the blood pumping and a lesson to all those weakly 'talented' idiots we're lumbered with in the charts these days. There'll never be music like this in the charts ever again - let that slowly sink in like spilt jam on a cardigan.
(47) Kajagoogoo - Too Shy
Produced by Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes, this was as good a debut hit as you're likely to hear. They had two more hits, the band fell out, Limahl was fired, he went on to have some solo success, Kajagoogoo then had two more hits without him and then saw their last week on the chart ever, less than a year after this hit number 1. Nick Beggs was on lead vocals for some of their best work regardless of chart positions though, it's a mystery why all he seems to do these days is follow Howard Jones around playing weird shaped bass guitars.
(46) The Police - Wrapped around your finger
I completely missed this first time around. I definitely wouldn't have got it anyway - the subject matters of Police songs weren't the type of thing an 8-year-old would be interested in anyway. This was about having an affair with a much older woman, 'Every breath' was about stalking, 'Don't stand so close' was about a 'teacher-pupil' situation and 'Invisible Sun' has elements of war and poverty. The album 'Synchronicity' is titled after a Carl Jung philosophy. I have to admit, I was more drawn towards the theme tune to Inspector Gadget at the time. These days though, 'Wrapped around your finger' has more emotional depth than Inspector Gadget and a little more gravitas than the theme tune to 'Rainbow'.
(45) Toto - Africa
Just in case you didn't know what shape Africa was, Toto have drawn it on the wall behind them, helpfully including Madagascar in case you were in doubt that it was part of the continent despite being an island. They're not in Kansas any more, but in the song they do say that 'Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus' using a mountain as a metaphor for a mountain.
The structure and instrumentation on this song is as good as you'll hear in 1983, and the result is a song that'll endure forever, probably.
(44) Thompson Twins - Love On Your Side
Joe is giving Allanah a foot-up over Tom's back-garden wall so they can steal his apples. At least, I think that's what's going on, on the cover. What a bad idea to include the lyric (Rap boy rap) on the cover. It's like they wanted to ride the slipstream of the zeitgeist but they didn't need to - they were doing just fine doing their own brand of pop music. One of the best moments in pop music occurs on this song when Tom sings 'I played you all my favourite records' and then plays an excerpt from their earlier minor hit 'In the name of love' like product placement or when YouTube interrupts what you're watching to tell you about some new self-folding trousers.
They had nine successive top 40 hits, some brilliant and some rather less so ('We are detective'????) The legend goes that their record company demanded that they write 'Hold me now' two, despite their protestations that you can only write what you feel like writing next.
(43) Joe Fagin - Breakin' away
I'm not sure if it's nostalgia or whether this is a great single but I absolutely loved Auf Weidersehen Pet, still do in fact, I watched all four series back to back last year and enjoyed every single second, all over again. This was the song that played over the introductory credits and put me in mind of the theme tune to the likely lads. 'Oh, what happened to you, whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be?' - that's such a sad lyric and one I only 'got' much later in life. Similarly with this song, 'Breaking away', it didn't have much effect on me in 1983 but these days, 'Don't want tomorrow to be like today, Until the good times roll around again, Auf Weidersehen'.
(43) Fun Boy Three - Our Lips Are Sealed
After the Specials had hit the top with their seventh hit 'Ghost Town', Terry Hall departed to form 'The Fun Boy Three' which I'm sure was a sarcastic reference to the look on his face most of the time. This was TFB3's seventh single, and by far their best. It was co-written by Jane Wiedlin, of the Go-Go's and 'Rush Hour' fame. It got to number 7 here and the Go-Go's had a top 20 hit with it state side.
(42) Men At Work - Overkill
To me, it seemed everyone looked at Men at Work as a novelty comedy band. When the video to their song 'Down Under' came out, it was played for laughs and kind of undermined the talent behind what they were doing. Madness got away with it because they represented a movement, a style, an identity - it wasn't all about the music, but Men at Work just came over as a group of physical comedians who had a 'Baron Knight's' style song about Veggie Mite sandwiches. 'Overkill' is a fabulous song but only got to number 21. Colin Hay appeared on US sitcom 'Scrubs' singing it acoustic-style before Dr. Cox takes his guitar and smashes it against the wall. Iconic.
(41) Lotus Eaters - The First Picture Of You
The greatest mysteries of all time include the Loch Ness Monster, who shot JR/JFK and how this song only got to number 15. They didn't chart again either. It's such a well written, produced and crafted song - it belongs in a museum - this one in fact!
(39) Paul Young - Wherever I Lay My Hat
Paul took this old Marvin Gaye B-side all the way to number 1. It's not the most politically correct song of all time but Paul's voice turned it from gentle bland faire to true soul classic. I bought the parent album 'No Parlez' on vinyl last year and the whole thing still sounds fresh. It's criminal that 'Behind your smile' wasn't on the album.
(38) Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
See previous comment regarding Michael's single covers. This is the song which launched the already pretty famous Michael Jackson to cosmic stardom. He performed his little moonwalk (a move he nicked from Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar) on the 25th anniversary Motown concert here
At the time, everyone thought the song was about Billie Jean King, one of the greatest Tennis players of all time. It wasn't though, it was about fans who claimed their children had been fathered by one of the Jackson 5, but they would go on to say, 'But the ched is not my son'.
(37) UB40 - Red Red Wine
One of my sister's friends said to me, at the time this song was in the charts, 'it's such a sad song, it makes me cry'. I didn't have the foggiest clue what she was on about - as I said above, the true gravitas some of the songs in the charts had didn't hit me until I'd gone through some 'things' and seen other 'things' in the course of my life. Of course, I've had my own 'Red Red Wine' moments now so I totally get why it's so sad - however, my sister's friend was 13 at the time so I'm concerned as to how she'd understood the message of the song to the point it had such an emotional impact.
(36) Prince - Little Red Corvette
I was introduced to this song in the late 80s when a school friend gave me a mixtape of various music from the Minneapolis stable. Safe to say, I never looked back - this song is so smooth and representative of what Prince did best, oozing with personality and atmosphere.
(35) China Crisis - Christian
China Crisis are definitely the best group you've never listened to. Criminally underrated and ignored by the mainstream, their back catalogue is littered with wonderful tunes, if not the most exciting ones, they're quirky, melodic and gently soothing. This song calms me right down and always makes me happy when I hear it. This got to number 12 in January and they wouldn't follow it up until the following year when Wishful Thinking got to number 9 in January 1984.
(34) Tracey Ullman - They don't know
Purists will cite Kirsty MacColl (one of the greatest humans to ever exist) 's version of this song as the best and original (she wrote it after all). However, Tracey was having a great start to her career on TV and now in music, so anything she released was getting attention. There's a note in the middle after the solo where it goes 'Baby!', which was too high for Tracey to sing so Kirsty stepped in to do it for her (or it was copied from the original vocal take on Kirsty's version). Getting your hands on the original MacColl version is quite difficult as at the time, she told Stiff Records that she didn't want to extend her deal with them so, out of spite, stopped printing the single and stopped promoting it so it didn't have a hope of charting.
(33) Michael Jackson - Thriller
The song is great but as previously mentioned, tie-in a song and a movie and you've got gold for both. People who like movies will hear the song and people who like songs will see the video and become aware of the movie, doubling your audience for both!
The 'Thriller' video was, in all respects except length, a movie and the visuals definitely brought the public's perception of the song up from where it would have been without the video. I recorded the video off the telly and learned the dance. There's a bit where three zombies turn to look at the camera half-way through the dance, and I never knew what to do at that point - it still annoys me to this day. Then they released 'The Making of Thriller' on VHS which I rented from the local video rental shop about four times and watched at least three times on each rental period. Safe to say I was obsessed and looking back, I can see why - the 80s was littered with these big events. Wham's video for 'Last Christmas' was a massive deal as was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Two Tribes', there was Band Aid and Live Aid of course, and a lot of what Madonna was doing in both music and movies dominated the landscape. If there's one period in history I'm grateful to have existed it's between 1983 and 1986 - add in the release of Tears for Fears 'Songs from the Big Chair' and it pretty much underlines that small section of history as one of the greatest in pop culture. Whatever you think of Michael Jackson, he was absolutely one of the greatest pop stars in the history of history.
Ed Sheeran? LOL!
(32) Rod Stewart - Baby Jane
Red pleather aside, this song is the perfect vehicle for Rod's voice. His heyday was coming to a close and he'd soon be joining the stable of other 70s pop stars who were still capable of having hits but weren't lighting up the record collections of us under 18s like Wham! and Duran Duran were. This song had mass appeal though and hit number 1 without much effort. He managed to outstay all those young pretenders like Adam Ant and Limahl, and he's still releasing records these days!
(31) Men without hats - Safety Dance
We can dance, We can dance, everybody look at your pants. This song was a protest at the fact people were told to stop 'pogoing' on dance floors because they were bumping into people, standing on people and knocking drinks out of people's hands. So the 'safety' dance was one that was much gentler and kinder on people's toes. This got to number 6 and the band didn't trouble the charts ever again. The video is very very strange too.
(30) Ryan Paris - Dolce Vita
If you've read my commentary on my top 40's of the late 70s, then you can add this song to the list of those in my formative years that attached themselves to the part of my brain that absorbs unique sounds. The keyboard sound on Racey's 'Lay your love on me' will always take me back to 1978 - likewise the keyboard motif on this number 5 peaking hit. It's just so sonically pleasing - it makes my brain happy.
(29) Icehouse - Hey Little Girl
Talking of sonically pleasing, this is quite a unique sounding single and as far as I know, the only one of the 1980s that fades in rather than out (there's bound to be more but I don't know of any). I don't know if the lead vocalist was trying to sound like David Sylvian or Bryan Ferry or David Bowie or whether he just sounded like this - maybe he was doing an impression of David Sylvian doing an impression of David Bowie?
(28) U2 - New Year's Day
U2 weren't very well known at the time but it was probably The Edge who carried the band at this point of their career. If you listen to the parent album 'War', there's lots of interesting stuff going on, bombastic drumming, enthusiastic bass guitar and lots of Bono yelling and not quite hitting top notes, but it's in the Guitar layers and textures that the album really lives. It wasn't until 'The Unforgettable Fire' when they started to really gel and well, by the time 'The Joshua Tree' came out, they'd all reached a place where they were all contributing as much as each other. 'New Year's Day' is a favourite among U2 fans and it's easy to see why, bar Bono's shouting.
(27) The Kinks - Come Dancing
Probably the saddest song I've ever heard. Ray Davies sister died of a heart attack whilst dancing at one of the old-time dance halls (The Lyceum). This song isn't specifically about that though, it's a fictional tale of a young boy whose sister goes dancing at the Palais dance hall on Saturday nights. The reason why this song is so sad is not only because of the inspiration behind it which is tragic in itself but it's that moment in your life when you realise parts of your own life have gone forever. My old primary school was demolished about 15 years after I left it. Seeing a gap where it used to stand was devastating. It wasn't that I wanted to go back there or anything but a lot of my most important memories and friendships were made there. Most of the songs in this list remind me of there too - the song 'Come Dancing' is sung from a time when the Palais has been knocked down and since then a bowling alley, supermarket and now a car park stand on the site. So when Ray Davies sings
'The day they knocked down the palais
My sister stood and cried
The day they knocked down the palais
Part of my childhood died, just died'
you really feel it. There are parts of your life that just ended and you didn't realise until years later when a totem to those times disappears. It makes people go 'why are they knocking that down' when really, its practical use these days is zero, it's just a reminder of when times were different, simpler, better - but only because we were young and all that mattered was dancing, drinking and dating.
(26) Limahl - Only for love
It was actually the best thing for Limahl when he was kicked out of Kajagoogoo, especially when he had a hit pretty much straight away with this and (see previous comments about song-movie tie-ins) 'Never-ending Story'. 'Only for Love' appeared on disc 1, side 1 of 'Now That's what I call Music' and 'Too Shy' appeared on disc 1, side 2. Not sure if any other artist has had two entries on the same volume, can't be bothered to check, but it's a good pop quiz question nonetheless.
(25) Paul Young - Come back and stay
Another single from 'No Parlez', this time an up-tempo affair which showcased the talents of his backing group 'The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts' who were Maz Roberts and Kim Lesley who were instrumental in giving the album its unique signature along with Pino Palladino on bass and the Simmons drum machine. In fact, it was the 'tarts' who made sure this single worked, without them, it wouldn't have been up to much. They featured on the next album 'The secret of association' and again elevated 'I wanna tear your playhouse down' with their unique sound but then faded into the background for the rest of the album, or, more likely, were absent. Shame.
(24) Spandau Ballet - True
This is one of those songs you recognise from one note. It was massive at the time but I don't think time has been kind. It's a bit boring and not as good as the much more dynamic 'Gold'. This was the third single from the album and if they'd released it a bit earlier, we would probably have already forgotten all about Renee and Renato.
(23) Altered Images - Don't Talk To Me About Love
Don't talk to me about love and don't talk to me about drawing people's heads in proportion to their bodies. This was the only decent single from the album - which was a bit more grown up than their earlier efforts but then, it was the playful fun vibe that people liked about Claire Grogan and the gang. They'd released two albums and six singles in six months! Because they weren't turning any work down at all (it had taken so long to get any at all, they were flying to Europe for interviews, back to the studio and back out to Europe without a break) they were fresh in the radio station exec's minds - this single was played about ten times in the week before it was released - which was unheard of!
(22) Grand Master Flash - White lines
Now that's what I call music 3. I had the cassette version and I remember on Sunday afternoon with my Walkman and orange sponge headphones curled up on the settee, listening to the whole thing. This is the track that stood out - I'd not heard it on the radio for whatever reason but here it was in all it's glory. It reminded me of those videos you were shown in school about not talking to strangers - only this one was cool people telling you not to do drugs.
I was once on the bus with my wife going to work and there was a bloke on the front of the bus listening to his Walkman, which everyone could hear. He was listening to 'Two Tribes' and from my time listening to 'Now that's what I call Music 3' so many times, I always expect 'White lines' to follow it. So when it was about to finish I said, 'I bet he listens to 'White Lines' next.' As predicted, 'White Lines' came on. My wife was freaked out. It was just a guess that he was listening to NTWICM3 but now I knew he was, here was my chance to freak out everyone sitting near me too. 'I bet 'Free Nelson Mandela' comes on next', I said loud enough for the people around me to hear ... ... ... 'Freeeee-heeee Nelson Mandela!' Hilarious!
I had to get off the bus before the next song came on - I couldn't remember what the next one was anyway - probably Love Wars by Womack and Womack, which nobody remembers.
(21) Spandau Ballet - Gold
You've got the power to know, you're indestructible!
Great video, great voice and an iconic song to be played whenever anyone wins at the Olympics.
(20) Eurythmics - Who's That Girl
The soundtrack to my summer this. The 6 weeks holidays from school, down the seaside, going on fairground rides, playing on arcades, wading in the sea up to the bottom of your turned-up trousers. The video had various cameos in it like members of Bucks Fizz, Kiki Dee, Hazel O'Connor, Kate Garner (of Hayzi Fantayzee) and Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama, the latter of which later married Dave Stewart!
(19) Michael Jackson - Beat It
More Jackson in Jeans but this time completely overshadowed by the quality of the song. Probably his best ever, and with the West Side Story themed video, a masterpiece of pop music. The opening growl is played on a Fairlight - it got me thinking that in the early 80s when this sort of technology was emerging, you really had to seize those new noises. I was writing a song a few years ago and I've got a Fairlight plug-in, which is a software emulation of the original and I came across the instrument that does the opening note for 'Beat it'. Obviously, I can't use this sound in any of my songs because it's already associated so strongly with 'Beat it', it'll never find it's own signature or personality. It's like that for a lot of the new sounds emerging in the 80s, groups had to get the new kit, find all the new cool sounds and get them in their songs sharpish before someone else came along and used it first. Like the synth brass on Van Halen's 'Jump' or the opening to 'Take on Me'. Anyway, the guitar solo on 'Beat it', speaking of Eddie Van Halen, is stupidly good.
(18) Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
Probably the most iconic 80s song ever. It's the one Absolute '80s plays whenever they've had a technical breakdown, like its their screen saver. Dave Stewart came up with the bass line when the thing he was playing wasn't working so he played what he'd written, backwards. That sparked the rest of the song. Annie's voice here is just head and shoulders above anything else that you'd heard before, if you'd grown up in the 80s that is. It hit number 1 in the US but only managed a measly number 2 here.
(17) Belle Stars - Sign Of The Times
I was really disappointed with the rest of the output from the Belle Stars because this song is superb. The rest of their singles were ok - which often happens I suppose. Bands like this unfairly get labelled as one-hit-wonders when in fact, they had one massive song and a few others that entered the top 40 but weren't given much air-play so the casual music lover would never be aware they even ever released any other music. Their other notable hit was 'The Clapping Song' which was a novelty cover-version. 'Sign of the times' got to number 3.
(16) Depeche Mode - Everything counts
I liked this song originally because it has a Melodica in it. My teacher at school at the time, Mr Dowson, used to have one in his top drawer and would whip it out whenever we listened to 'Singing Together' on Radio 4. We'd sing songs like 'Green Grow the Rushes 'O' and 'Cockles and Mussels'. I loved it and always wanted a go on his Melodica - but never did because it was full of his saliva. Anyway, Depeche Mode came to my attention because their album was named after a toy I always wanted but never asked for, for Christmas, for some reason, the 'Speak and Spell'. This tune is particularly invigorating and stands out because of all the 'found' sounds that Martin Gore used as percussion and the like. It enjoyed a number 6 peak in the UK.
(15) The Thompson Twins - Hold me now
I liked this at the time but didn't buy the single. It was in 1999 when I was watching the Adam Sandler film 'The Wedding Singer' when one of the scenes was preceded by this song that I thought, 'Oh yeah, I loved that song'. Still a few years away from YouTube and even more away from Spotify, I bought the soundtrack to the movie on CD in order to get my hands on a few forgotten gems from the 80s I hadn't heard in over 10 years including 'How soon is Now' by The Smiths.
This was the Thompson Twins' biggest selling single, entering at number 31 it peaked at number 4 and stayed on the chart for 15 weeks. On the later Thompson Twins albums you can hear some of the melodic motifs from their hits being repeated, and not very well - which just makes you want to go back and listen to this again instead.
(14) Nik Kershaw - I won't let the sun go down on me
There was a girl I liked at school and I thought I'd impress her by singing the lyrics to this, directly to her face one playtime. She looked like she was enjoying it until I got to the bit where he says 'Old men in stripy trousers', at which she burst out laughing, said 'I love that bit' and then wandered off. I used to know all the lyrics to all the songs in the top 10 at the time but this song had particularly unusual lyrics so I found them fascinating. 'Here in our paper houses stretching for miles and miles' and 'Pinball man power glutton, vacuum inside his head' were wonderful word patterns to an 8 year old. It started my love affair with Mr. Kershaw (not in that way) and he's now the artist I've seen live more than any other.
This didn't crack the top 40 when it was first released but after 'Wouldn't it be Good' and 'Dancing Girls' had both been hits, it was re-released and got to number 2!
(13) Howard Jones - New Song
Howard had a great look in 1983 didn't he? His sound was so different to the other synth solo artists and his voice really carried over the glassy twinkling. This song has a resemblance to Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel but it's just a passing resemblance. It reached number 3 and launched his career. Howard is the artist I've seen the second-most live - even if I'm terrible at grammar.
(12) KC and the sunshine band - Give it up
Summer sun, playing catch in the park, feeding the ducks, lazy Sunday afternoons. That's this song for me. It's so catchy and up-beat and classic and surely finds its way into most people's top 100 of the 80s. If you want to see someone dancing to this as if they've been told their dog's just died, watch the video for the song. Harry Casey looks like he's being told he won't be fed unless he performs the song for us.
(11) Lionel Richie - Running with the night
For me, this is Ironing Board Face's best song. It only reached number 9 in the UK and if you listen close you can hear Richard Marx on backing duty. The string stab in the chorus was the first time I was aware of it anywhere outside of a slasher-horror movie and it works so well. The guitar solo from that bloke out of Toto rivals that one from Eddie in Beat it.
(10) Tears For Fears - Pale Shelter
How someone 18 years old can write a song with this much depth is beyond me. It doesn't matter how you dress it up, this wasn't a single - it wasn't a hit single - but it was and it did. It's the opposite of what you should do to sell records - it's dour, depressing, inward, moribund and claustrophobic. However, it's such a brilliant song that the record buying public showed they could be impressed by someone that wasn't dressed up as a chicken or someone with a fake Italian accent.
As a spooky kind of serendipity or synchronicity, the bedroom on the back of the single cover looks exactly like the bedroom I had when I was 4 years old. The bed up against the window looking out onto the road outside with Superman wallpaper! That could even be me on the bed - I'm not sure how they got that pic but, I'm sure that's me.
(9) The police - Synchronicity II
Speaking of Synchronicity, this has one of the best starts to any pop song ever and for once Sting's voice isn't weedy and whiney. Well it is a bit, but it's not as annoying as it normally is. This is one of those 'story' songs which makes you listen just to find out what happens next. Full of energy and atmosphere - this is one of those songs on The Police's last album that made you sad they'd split up. Especially when you heard Sting's solo work, which lacked the energy of Stewart Copeland's drumming and the inventive chord work and rhythms of Andy Summers.
(8) Elton John - I'm still standing
How good is this? It's complete electricity from start to finish even if these days, Elton sings 'I'b dill dan dig'. I've played this live on more than one occasion and it always goes down well at an 80s night. Elton was well and truly back from his late-70s doldrums.
(7) Duran Duran - Is There Something I Should Know
What a single this is. Some of the best guitar you'll hear on a pop single, marry that with the glossy production, Nick's wonderful choice of synth sounds, Simon's powerful vocals, John's coupling with Roger's drums and you've got yourself a worldwide smash pop single.
It was the Duran's 8th release and their first number 1. It was a 'between' albums song (in that it didn't feature on either 'Rio' or 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger') which probably contributed to it selling over a million copies. Take that in for a moment - over one million copies! Ed Sheeran recently 'outsold' the rest of the top 30 alone by selling 11,000 vinyl and 19,000 downloads. That's 3% of the performance of this single. Yes, people don't buy physical music any more but it gives you a clue as to why the music industry is little more than an underground industry these days.
(6) Howard Jones - What is love
A number 2 peak for this convoluted pop record. Only a piano player with immense skill could have written this, such are the chords in some of the inter-bridge and linking parts. It's the reason I bought 'Human's Lib' which remains to this day, one of the greatest ever albums in pop history.
(5) Frankie goes to Hollywood - Relax
I'm surprised Trevor Horn survived the production process on this. The original version of this song which Frankie debuted on 'The Tube' is quite good if a little simple. When you hear the sonic trickery on the final released track, especially the bass sound and rich synth sounds, you can really appreciate how long it took to perfect. It was recorded by members of 'The Blockheads' before being rejected for not sounding modern enough. Then re-recorded with the genius behind 'The Art of Noise' J. J. Jeczalik. None of 'Frankie' appeared on the record except lead singer Holly Johnson. Horn stating that the band he'd seen on 'The Tube' weren't exactly the band they appeared to be. The record didn't become a hit straight away - it took Radio 1's Mike Read to express a dislike for it and a refusal to play it to bring it to mass attention, make it sell and end up at Number 1 in the first week of 1984. Top of the Pops just showed a still of the band when it was announced and then played a different song. It was at the top for five weeks, fell down the chart and then climbed back up to number 2 when Frankie released their follow up, 'Two Tribes'. The video for the latter was a huge deal with a late-night special dedicated to its release - such was its controversial content.
(4) Yazoo - Nobody's Diary
Vince doesn't seem to put much effort into Erasure's records these days (their last 3 albums have been turgid affairs) but back when he had the bug of creativity biting him in the back of his brain, this was the kind of magic he was capable of. It was the only single from Yazoo's second album and peaked at number 3. Although the song was recorded with 'dated' technology, it hasn't aged a day - it still sounds fresh - and the lyrics are some of Alison Moyet's best work.
(3) Heaven 17 - Temptation
When I first heard this song I thought music couldn't get any better. I thought, this is it, this is the best song of all time. I taped it off the radio and listened to it over and over again. Carol Kenyon's vocals are just fantastic. (She also sang backing on Tears For Fears' album 'Seeds of Love'). The song actually has a 60-peice orchestra! It reached number 2.
(2) Police - Every Breath You Take
This song was born out of Sting's affair with Trudy whilst married to her best friend, arguments amongst the band and disagreements on the arrangement of the song. How then this sounds as good as it does is a mystery. Often mistaken for a sweet love song, it's actually from the point of view of a jealous lover. Quite dark really. In the end, it's Andy Summers Béla Bartók style riff that makes the song what it is. Without it, it could have been an empty Billy Preston-esque organ song or even a pseudo-reggae song in the style of 'Walking on the Moon'.
(1) Bananarama - Cruel Summer
Quite simply one of the best crafted pop songs of all time. The fact the members of Bananarama never sounded like they were singing the same note even though that was the intention, gave them this kind of achordal resonance that made their vocals nice to listen to. The guitar work is sublime as is the 80s production - but add this to the hot hot summer we had in 83, and the song jumps out of the speakers. 'Trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry'. Its inclusion on the soundtrack to The Karate Kid (see my previous comments about movie tie-ins) helped it up to number 8 and gave them success in America.
If you want to see my blog about 1980 click here, or if you'd like to dip into the 70s, click here