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1983 – A+ List

lost you

lost you

1. “Age of Consent,” New Order. Three years after permanent mope Ian Curtis offed himself, New Order effectively established a new post punk sound, sounding a bit like a less attention needy version of the The Cure. An unexpected entry on your “Songs About Jailbait” playlist.

2. “Billy Jean,” Michael Jackson. Retroactively, the Thriller album represents that brief period of time when the self-anointed “King of Pop” was no longer a child and hadn’t become the physical embodiment of a train wreck. Of course, Billy Jean King wasn’t Michael’s lover. She really didn’t like boys. (Feel free to put “Beat It” in this slot if you need Eddie Van Halen to validate your MJ listening experience).

3. “Burning Down the House,” Talking Heads. Is it possible that a group of art school nerds evolved into the funkiest band of the ‘80s? Not that they truly picked up the torch from the Parliament/Funkadelic corporation, but they did know how to develop a more than viable tribute.

4. “Come Dancing,” The Kinks. Proof that you can never discard the great ones; Ray Davies had been doing primarily AOR/arena hack work in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, then released this beautifully nostalgic gem about his sister and the dance halls of their youth. God Save The Kinks.

5. “Every Breath You Take,” The Police. Gordon Sumner sounded pretty convincing as an obsessive creep in this “I’m stalking you out of love” #1 hit. Later appropriated by Puff Daddy in one of the least imaginative uses of sampling this side of “Ice Ice Baby.”

6. “Everyday I Write the Book,” Elvis Costello. Being This Year’s Model was all well and good in 1978, but by 1983 Columbia wanted to move units. Paired up with British pop producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, Declan evolved from bomb thrower to a sweet crooner on this hook filled pop tart. This was Costello’s first Top 40 hit in the States. He would end his career with two.

7. “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” ZZ Top. Hill, Beard, and Gibbons had been rocking the tube snake boogie for over a decade before breaking into the mainstream via MTV and the Eliminator album. ZZ Top was a band tough enough for the bikers, pop enough for Top 40, and clever enough to win over the cynical rock critic crowd. This trio defined Texas cool for over approximately four decades, ending their cultural glory run with the first Duck Dynasty promo.

8. “Gone Daddy Gone,” Violent Femmes. Possible entries from the first VF album include “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” and “Add It Up,” but I’ve chosen the one that rips lyrics from Willie Dixon and includes a xylophone solo. Recent history – after Brian Ritchie sued Gordon Gano in 2007, the band mates didn’t talk for five years, but patched things up when offered a Coachella gig in 2013. This is as good as time as any to note that “Money Changes Everything” is the best song title ever.

9. “Let’s Dance,” David Bowie. Both feeling the pressure for a commercial hit, producer Nile Rodgers took a simple acoustic folk tune that Bowie had written and developed it into a funky, post-disco international smash. A little known Texas musician named Stevie Ray Vaughan got a career boost for his high profile string bending on this number.

10. “Little Red Corvette,” Prince. Prince went to #11 on the pop charts in 1979 with “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” then released the critically acclaimed albums Dirty Mind and Controversy, melding classic rock, new wave sounds, and funk into his own unique brand of pop music. On “Little Red Corvette,” Prince narrates an encounter with a woman that carries her own condom stash and keeps pics of all her former lovers. Wait a second. Did Prince run into a cross dressing Gene Simmons?

11. “Long White Cadillac,” The Blasters. The California roots rockers recap the sad, lonely last ride of Hank Williams on that lost highway. Dwight Yoakam had a minor country hit with his 1989 cover version. I saw the Blasters live in Boston in 2005 and the act more than lived up to their name.

12. “Love Is a Battlefield,” Pat Benatar. I’ve always appreciated the shoulder shaking Benatar for giving me the excuse to type the iconic rock ‘n’ roll name Myron Grombacher. Noted pop tunesmiths Holly Knight and Mike Chapman wrote this teen angst love song, while Benatar’s famous 4.5 octave range gives the proper melodramatic edge to the material.

13. “The Metro,” Berlin. I was skinny tie, new wave synth bopping in 1983, while Terri Nunn was busy hating me for loving her. Join the crowd, toots.

14. “New Year’s Day,” U2. Put this in the “Undeniable Music By Bands I Hate” Category. (This list includes both Sting AND Bono. I feel like I need to go to Johnny Ramone’s grave and repent).

15. “Oblivious,” Aztec Camera. Scottish born Roddy Frame was one of the critical darlings of the year in ’83; the album High Land, Hard Rain was filled with clever songwriting both lyrically and musically. (Check out “Walk Out to Winter,” it sounds like a holiday standard). While Aztec Camera’s commercial hopes quickly blurred in the States, the band went to #3 on the U.K. charts in 1998 with the slickly produced “Somewhere in My Heart.” Frame’s 2014 solo release has six reviews on Amazon – a number that may outpace the number of purchases, since one reviewer admitted to only listening to the album on a streaming service.

16. “Pancho and Lefty,” Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Merle and Willie’s rough-hewn voices on this story of outlaw betrayal suited the material much better than Emmylou Harris and this Townes Van Zandt cover went to #1 on the country charts. It scares me to think about how much booze Townes bought with the royalty checks.

17. “Roll Me Away,” Bob Seger. Seger is an artist I respect/admire more than I listen to, because so much of his music sounds like well constructed mediocrity to me (hey, did Tom Petty just enter the room?). However, “Roll Me Away” makes me want to steal a chopped hog, find a bar slut with questionable life decision making skills, and ride together on the open road until I run out of gas or get a call from a divorce attorney. Really, that’s a good feeling.

18. “Swingin’,” John Anderson. It took Anderson and songwriting partner Lionel Delmore (the son of Alton Delmore of the famous Delmore Brothers duo) approximately five years to finish writing “Swingin’,” a length of time that was probably a blessing in disguise. The duo started the song in 1977, two years before Anderson broke through on country radio with “Your Lying Blue Eyes.” By 1983, Anderson was an established country artist and at the time of its release, “Swingin’” was the top selling country single in the history of Warner Brothers Records. Newfound love has never sounded more euphoric.

19. “Texas Flood,” Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan had spent almost two decades working on his Freddy King/Jimi Hendrix hybrid of blues-rock before releasing his debut album in 1983. “Texas Flood,” a cover of a 1958 Larry Davis single, is a slow paced number that gave Vaughan a chance to show off his considerable chops. Just listen to the solo. Sounds like somebody gave Eddie Van Halen a soul.

20. “Whenever You’re on My Mind,” Marshall Crenshaw. There’s a reason Crenshaw has a reputation as such a stellar pop tunesmith. He earned it.

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