Now that you can potentially get caught up with the series so far, it's time to move right on into 1983.
- You Can’t Hurry Love – Phil Collins – 2 weeks, January 9th to January 22nd
Oh, Phil Collins, is there a name in pop music more mocked than him? He’s been lambasted the world over for his substandard songs, both the sludgy ballads and his feeble attempts to be upbeat. You Can’t Hurry Love, a cover of the song by The Supremes, fits comfortably into the latter category. The problem is not with the music, which is genuinely well done, upbeat and quite exciting. The lyrics are a bit lovey dovey but that was an issue with the original too and aren’t horrible. The song is dragged down by Phil’s lacklustre vocals. Throughout the song, and indeed through much of his musical oeuvre, he sounds very bored with the material, with his vocals being very milquetoast as a result and dragging down what could have been an exciting version to an inconsequential piece of fluff.
- Down Under – Men at Work – 3 weeks, January 23rd to February 12th
Is this song the bane of every Australian on the planet? It might just be as Down Under is perhaps the first thing that anyone would think of when they think Australian music, more so than Kylie Minogue and AC/DC. This is a song so ridiculous that it’s actually impossible to hate (trust me, there were tests). The lyrics make very little sense but are so enjoyably cheesy (“I said ‘Do you speaka my language?’/And he just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich” comes to mind). Colin Hay’s vocals are fittingly over the top to match the crazy lyrics, especially in the gloriously singable chorus, which helps to make the song that much more infectious. Add on an upbeat and chilled out melody, helped by the flute patterns that sound remarkably like Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree (so much so that legal action was taken against the band) and you have one of the most silly but enjoyable number 1 singles of the year.
- Too Shy – Kajagoogoo – 2 weeks, February 13th to February 26th
Kajagoogoo are a band that frequently get made fun of when talking about music from the 1980s. I can see why – their big song Too Shy is an extremely fluffy song that simply passes by without any real positive long term impact upon the listener. The lyrics are rather lightweight, with the chorus being rammed down your throat too many times. The music feels very simpering with the squeaky keyboard riff that doesn’t do much on the ears. And simpering is the word to describe the vocals of Limahl, who is very weak in his delivery. This song overall feels like it was made in a factory, designed as an example of a song that would be churned out in the 1980s without any real enjoyment to it.
- Billie Jean – Michael Jackson – 1 week, February 27th to March 5th
Michael Jackson’s first UK number 1 One Day in Your Life was terrible, a song so simpering and whiny that you couldn’t believe it came from the King of Pop. The disparity between that song and Billie Jean is therefore absolutely staggering. Everybody knows this song and for good reason – it gets you hooked from the very opening drum beat and the slick funky bass line combined with the haunting keyboard line. It’s really on this song where Michael Jackson proved himself to be an excellent singer – his vocals run the gamut of range, from slick and lower pitched to a somewhat frightened falsetto. That vulnerability fits in well with the lyrics that contribute to the darker undertones of the song – after all it’s about a crazed fan who claims that Mikey is the father of her child. Though these lyrics tell a gloomy story Billie Jean is remarkably upbeat and exciting and is one you’ll be moonwalking to all night long. One of Michael Jackson’s greatest songs.
- Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler – 2 weeks, March 6th to March 19th
Jim Steinman may be the king of professional songwriters. Whenever you listen to one of his numbers you’re almost certainly guaranteed to enjoy a complete opus of grandeur, over the top and delivered with such amazing bombast, with overpowering choruses and wonderful vocal performances. All of this can be demonstrated on his very first song to hit the UK top spot, Total Eclipse of the Heart. Beginning with a slow and powerful piano riff this song builds up in how epic it is, finally coming to an absolute explosion with the chorus and the drums entering. Bonnie Tyler meanwhile absolutely sells the song throughout, dealing with the quieter and more restrained verses and the bombastic and loud choruses with amazing skill. With lyrics that are irresistible to sing along to, with the chorus again being an utter stand out, a wonderfully cheesy instrumental and the operatic backing vocals of Rory Dodd, this stands up alongside songs such as Bat Out of Hell and Paradise by the Dashboard Light as one of the greatest compositions that Jim Steinman has ever done, and whether you listen to it in its single version or the 7 minute full length version it never gets dull.
- Is There Something I Should Know? – Duran Duran – 2 weeks, March 20th to April 2nd
Duran Duran are another one of those bands that immediately spring to mind when discussing pop music of the 80s. Though Is There Something I Should Know isn’t their best work it is still an effectively enjoyable pop song demonstrating the bands skills. Simon LeBon’s vocals soar as he proves throughout that he’s one of the better pop singers of the 80s. The instrumentation is also excellent, with a wonderful guitar hook running through the song even though it seems to take a lesser focus as a result of the keyboards. This leads to a song that’s gleefully upbeat in spite of lyrics that concern relationship difficulties and proves how Duran Duran were one of the finest of the 80s pop bands, even if it’s not as great as some of their other singles round this time like Rio or Hungry Like the Wolf.
- Let’s Dance – David Bowie – 3 weeks, April 3rd to April 23rd
Common knowledge would have you think that David Bowie’s career took a stunning nose dive in quality in the 1980s. It is true that the 80s was his weakest time for albums but when it came to singles this was easily his best period. Modern Love, Blue Jean, This Is Not America, Absolute Beginners – all classics that stand up in his pantheon of amazing music. Let’s Dance adds to this legacy, being a track tinged in disco, mainly thanks to the presence of Nile Rogers on the song. Groovy and backed up by a wonderfully infectious trumpet riff, Bowie pushes the song even further with his trademark low pitched vocals that are used both powerfully, especially in the chorus, and in hushed whispers, as seen in the second verse; meanwhile, his delivery of the lines “Under the moonlight, the serious moonlight” in the song’s closing minute is glorious. A guitar solo by Stevie Ray Vaughn contributes to an absolute classic of David that’s another sign of how brilliantly he could write a straight up pop song.
- True – Spandau Ballet – 4 weeks, April 24th to May 21st
5 classic hits atop of the UK charts in a row? No way. I’m pretty sure everybody knows this ballad for its slow and serene keyboard riffs and the vocals in the opening from Tony Hadley. His vocals in the rest of the track are wonderfully earnest and really give the song a great boost. The music is also useful in transforming what could have been a generic ballad, with the haunting keyboard riff working to set a stark mood that complements Hadley’s singing and a saxophone solo in the middle makes the song that much more romantic. Overall it’s no wonder that this is a classic in the slow dance genre as it’s such a charming number.
- Candy Girl – New Edition – 1 week, May 22nd to May 28th
The good times can’t last forever though and we get saddled with this absolute annoyance of a number. First thing to note is that the melody is basically a complete rip off of ABC by The Jackson 5 – listen to the two back to back and you will notice this. The whole song attempts to rip off the style of The Jackson 5, especially with the pushing of squeaky child vocalist Ralph Tresvant to the forefront. And he’s woefully obnoxious in his delivery, making Candy Girl a chore to listen to. The worst part of the song easily comes with the rap breakdown midway through the song, as Bobby Brown and Ricky Bell again squeak along to one of the weakest rap flows of the 80s. Add on an obnoxiously squelchy sounding synth line and you have a really terrible R&B song that’s obvious in its influences but isn’t even fit to lick the boots of the Jackson family.
- Every Breath You Take – The Police – 4 weeks, May 29th to June 25th
Thankfully after that monstrosity we have this absolute classic. The Police were on the verge of collapsing by 1983 but they still managed to crank out their greatest album, Synchronicity, and this track led things off in style. Every Breath You Take has one of the most recognisable guitar licks of all time, one that’ll be caught in your head and have you appreciate the simplicity of it that goes along with the more mellow style of the song. Likewise Sting’s vocals are more restrained in this number, really breaking through to his usual style only a handful of times, most notably in the bridge. This mellowness serves to lull the listener into a false security with the lyrics; a worryingly high amount of people believe this song is a purely romantic one, one that celebrates a positive infatuation with your lover. Those who played this song at their weddings therefore must have been shocked to find out that this song is all about a stalker, which dramatically reshapes your perception on what seems like a light love ballad (and probably caused divorce rates to skyrocket). This isn’t the best song by The Police, not even on Synchronicity (Synchronicity II and King of Pain both have it beat). But it still demonstrates the instrumental and lyrical prowess of Stewart, Andy and Sting.
- Baby Jane – Rod Stewart – 3 weeks, June 26th to July 16th
Rod Stewart is an artist whom I have very little feelings about either positive or negative. I certainly don’t mind a number of his songs (Maggie May and The Killing of Georgie are both great) but I ultimately wouldn’t choose to listen to him if given the choice. Baby Jane is another one of those songs of his that isn’t too bad; the synth line gives the song an upbeat vibe which is accentuated by the saxophone solo later on. Stewart is also not a bad vocalist and he does a decent job here, if not a little one note. The song mostly chugs along and doesn’t exactly excite too much, with the chorus being particularly uninteresting, but it’s not a terrible song overall.
- Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) – Paul Young – 3 weeks, July 17th to August 6th
The original Wherever I Lay My Hat was never one of the most well-known songs by the legendary Marvin Gaye and as such Paul Young manages to make it a good version on his own without the shadow of Gaye hanging over it. The song has a fairly minimalist instrumentation, relying on a simple drum machine pattern, light synths and a very funky bass that manages to work in its simplicity. Young is also a solid vocalist, injecting a good amount of soul into this number. It gets a little long in the tooth near the end but it’s still a very fine number, though it’s easily bought up a notch or two by the excellent bass work by Pino Palladino.
- Give It Up – KC and the Sunshine Band – 3 weeks, August 7th to August 27th
This may just be the most infectiously perky number 1 of the year – right from the outset of the multiple keyboards introduction before the entrance of the disco beat and the trumpets you’ll be put into a good mood with this song. This may seem like another bog standard disco hit at first but the entrance of the vocals by KC push things up a bit as he blasts through the lyrics with great aplomb. The chorus, including the chants of “N-n-n-n-n-n-n-now” are guaranteed to get stuck in your head yet but put you in an infectious spirit, especially in the summer months when this song was big. Add on what sounds like steel drums and you have the ultimate 80s song for partying on the beach. Or watching the world kill each other (if you got that reference, 50 bonus points).
- Red Red Wine – UB40 – 3 weeks, August 28th to September 17th
If UB40 was the reggae song that a person listened I can only be upset for those people for starting off their genre experience with such a plodding and dull artist. Red Red Wine is their most known song but it’s such a snoozer – it tries to be upbeat with its instrumentation but instead it plods along in a dull fashion with such little changes in the music. But that’s not the worst thing about this song; that honour is reserved for the vocals of lead singer Ali Campbell who tries to go for a reggae sounding vibe to his voice but only comes away sounding nasal and monotonous, which makes listening to this song even more of a chore. If you get the version of the song that was a hit in the US that features a rap section by Astro (I listened to both, mind you – be grateful I didn’t slip into a coma) you won’t be enlivened as his rap is also ridiculously dull. Overall, this is a reggae song designed for casuals that will almost certainly chase off budding listeners to reggae because of how tiring it is.
- Karma Chameleon – Culture Club – 6 weeks, September 18th to October 29th, biggest selling song of the year
Going from the downbeat to the upbeat quickly – Karma Chameleon is one of those gloriously cheesy 80s songs that will always be referenced and I can see why, it’s a solid song. Boy George’s vocal performance isn’t particularly amazing, sounding a little unenthused at places, with the backing vocals working hard to boost the song’s excitement in the vocals department. This is most notable in the chorus where the backing vocals deliver the immediately singable lyrics with high spirits to make up for Boy George’s tired sounding delivery. Instrumentally the song is very good, being upbeat and easily danceable with its almost calypso like spirit, with the harmonica serving as a strong hook throughout. This isn’t the greatest 80s pop song ever but it is a fairly fun one in spite of Boy George’s weak main vocals.
- Uptown Girl – Billy Joel – 5 weeks, October 30th to December 3rd
I love Billy Joel. He’s delivered some of the greatest piano based epics of all time, such as Piano Man, Captain Jack, New York State of Mind, The Stranger, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and Goodnight Saigon. So don’t think I take any sort of joy in saying that I really dislike Uptown Girl, and to that end the entire An Innocent Man album. I get what he was trying to do, he wanted to pay homage to his childhood favourites – Uptown Girl is based on the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But I don’t like Valli on his own, with his horrifically yowly singing voice, so trying to see Billy make tribute to him with that voice just doesn’t work for me. The song’s ultimately far too corny and silly for me to enjoy it, sounding like a song left on the cutting room floor from Grease – a movie that I already strongly dislike.
I get why people like this song – it’s upbeat and catchy – and if I were forced to choose between listening to this, Tell Her About It and The Longest Time (the two other big singles from An Innocent Man) I would probably choose this. But it’s just not for me – it’s a mishmash of things that I really dislike that can’t work even when performed by an artist I love, and I find it a damn shame that this is Billy’s only UK number 1 single (as a soloist, anyway). America bloody got It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me to the top, why couldn’t we have been so lucky?
- Only You – The Flying Pickets – 5 weeks, December 4th to January 7th 1984
Of all the songs that reached Christmas number one you wouldn’t expect an acapella cover of a song by Yazzo to be one of the highlights, would you? But that’s exactly what happened as this song by a six piece who supported the miners’ strikes of the 1980s got to the top spot over the festive season and is really great. The acapella backing that imitates the instruments make for a surprisingly haunting number, with the backing vocals sounding often like they came from synthesisers. Their brilliance only becomes clearer with the loud cries of “Ba-da-da-da” following the second chorus, which help with the effectively spooky nature of the song. The lead vocals are soulful and mystical and contribute to a version of the song that may be even better than the original.
Oh, and odd fact; despite the band’s Socialist politics, guess who really liked this song? None other than Margaret Thatcher. Stranger things have rarely happened.
FINAL THOUGHTS - 1983 contained perhaps the greatest streak of number 1 singles of all time. Billie Jean, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Is There Something I Should Know, Let’s Dance, True – all of these absolute classics coming one after another. With other great songs being released this year, such as Every Breath You Take, Give It Up and Only You, 1983 is probably one of the absolute strongest years of number 1s. Sure there was a serious dud or two (Candy Girl, Red Red Wine) but they almost felt insignificant compared to the swath of great songs that this year pushed up. Some faith has been restored for me, who’d have thought it?
- BEST SONG - Billie Jean
- WORST SONG - Candy Girl
Hope you had a good time with this post (I can say for a fact that I did). Comment down below if you agree or disagree with any of my opinions (especially the latter, I'm interested to see if people will defend songs I hate and vice versa). If you want to see more from me, give my Facebook page a like: (https://www.facebook.com/CineCynic1996/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel) and maybe you can throw me a few pennies on Patreon if you really liked my stuff (https://www.patreon.com/CineCynic1996). Join back next time for one of the biggest years in terms of singles in the UK, 1984.