The really great thing about music is it is free. What is just is good is that in 1983 you could get basic cable for under $19 per month. So, 1983, when you were single and you did not spend too much on clothes, shoes and going to clubs, you could use your raise to purchase cable every month which came with MTV. The dream of every unmarried 20-something in 1983 was probably to be able to have MTV in your home or apartment, enough pocket change to go to a local bar for happy hour on Friday night, and a pool nearby so that on the weekends during the summer you can work on your tan (having a tan was very, very “in” in the 1980’s, if you don’t believe me watch any 1980s television program like Dallas or Falcon Crest). Despite my measly wages, I had MTV on my old black and white television, enough pocket change to buy about 2 beers at happy hours each week and a pool at my apartment complex. It felt like I had it made!
A lot of other things were looking up. Economically, things were still terrible—high unemployment (we use this for our benchmark in our current recession), high interest, etc. But, there were general signs of hope. In the business world where I had been spending hours coping with a “memory typewriter”, which stored about 8 pages of typed data that showed up line by line on a digital band on the front of the typewriter, and paper ledgers, Lotus 1-2-3 (an early spreadsheet) and Word were introduced to relieve us from hours of toil and White Out fumes. Even the world looked more positive. Star Wars-Return of the Jedi was at theatres-showing us the good guy can still win. War Games showed us that somebody somewhere might actually figure out that nuclear world obliteration might be avoided by simply recognizing that the whole idea was foolish and stupid in first place—and later that year a soviet officer was smart enough to realize that he was seeing a false alarm and did not, in fact, push the launch button. Although all seemingly little things, it did seem like there was something new coming around the bend after many years of difficult economics and little change since the mid-1950s.
The music was pretty exciting in 1983 in my opinion. This probably just proves that a lot of good inspires more good and a lot of bad, inspires more bad.
As far as great albums there were several great debuts: REM-Mumor, Tears for Fears-The Hurting, and Madonna-Madonna were all firsts. There were great second and third albums as well which launched several groups into stardom: U2 War, U2 Under a Blood Red Sky, Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, Culture Club-Colour by Numbers, and Police Synchronicity. I am almost glad I did not have money for albums because where would one start—by the way, I did buy Police Synchoroncity. And then there is the Top 100—look at these great singles:
- Every Breath You Take » Police
02. Billie Jean » Michael Jackson
05. Beat It » Michael Jackson
10. Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) » Eurythmics
11. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me » Culture Club
13. Come On Eileen » Dexy’s Midnight Runners
17. Hungry Like The Wolf » Duran Duran
18. Let’s Dance » David Bowie
23. She Blinded Me Withh Science » Thomas Dolby
26. Back On The Chain Gang » Pretenders
34. Time (Clock Of The Heart) » Culture Club
41. 1999 » Prince
42. Stray Cat Strut » Stray Cats
46. Always Somethmg There To Remind Me » Naked Eyes
51. Goody Two Shoes » Adam Ant
52. Rock The Casbah » Clash
53. Our House » Madness
55. Is There Something I Should Know » Duran Duran
62. China Girl » David Bowie
63. Come Dancing » Kinks
64. Promises, Promises » Naked Eyes
68. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ » Michael Jackson
77. I’ll Tumble 4 Ya » Culture Club
84. (She’s) Sexy + 17 » Stray Cats
89. Human Nature » Michael Jackson
92. True » Spandau Ballet
99. Breaking Us In Two » Joe Jackson
So, I acknowledge that by putting forth this line up as a great year of music, one might suggest that I was quite the New Wave punker or maybe that I had some bad taste in music. Not true. And, at the time, I was not the fan I would become of new wave music. But, once you see where some of this stuff lead—alternative, techno pop, synthpop and modern jazz (yes modern jazz), you cannot deny it is and was good stuff. And it was fun, exciting and surprising. Adam Ant and Prince were strange, of course, wearing 1600s and 1700s military coats; you don’t see that every day. Boy George was androgynous wearing heavy make-up, big hats, and long robes. And then there was Annie Lenox who showed up dressed as a man, Mozart, and Marie Antoinette. One had to have MTV to take it all in—you never knew what any one was going to do next. That kept us all watching morning, noon and night, 24-7.
Madonna probably had the most influence. Her songs-You Must Be My Lucky Star, Borderline, and Holiday were popular particularly with teens. This was pop dance video at its best; I think that the videos pushed the music to the top of the charts as the music itself was catchy but not that remarkable. In particular, Madonna’s new and sometimes shocking sense of style was edgy and wild for the time. You could not help but notice her videos. Although mildly sexually suggestive, these were some of the first videos featuring a solo artist who knew what to do in front of the camera. The dancing was different too—less choreographed and more free. Madonna also stole the spotlight by introducing a new way for teenage girls to dress. Suddenly the junior departments at department stores became full of layered skirts, fingerless and lace gloves, head bands, heavy belts, huge necklaces and bracelets, and bustier and teased, blunt cut hair (like just got of bed hair) became the rage. After the more perfectly styled hair and clothing of the disco age, this certainly was something new and rebellious.
Of course, I was a working girl by now and one can only imagine the reaction I would have gotten coming to work dressed like this. Frankly, despite the stereotypes of the early 1980s, this was a looked marketed to the high school kids. But the general ideas did trickle into adult fashion and so I remember crop tops; short straight legged jeans; and large earrings and jewelry.
I think the Culture Club was most remarkable. Although once again the lyrics were not particularly great-the group pulled from different genres of music, incorporated different instruments and Boy George does have a terrific voice. However, it took several months for my friends and I to sort through whether he was a he or a she when we first saw him singing “Do you Really Want to Hurt Me.” The group was colorful and fun to watch and dance to.
Thankfully, all of these changes resulted in some great dance music just about the time I was old enough to actually go out dancing. Tulsa began to get some of its first clubs also, including one with a strange, disco light up floor (which really seemed behind the times in 1983). When we all had a few bucks, we would pony up the cover charge for a club and go dancing.
But, at the end of the day, dance music gets you through Saturday night and then there are the other six days of the week. For the most part, my favorites remained the same. I think Synchronicity is the best album from the Police. As usually, the album is inspired by philosophy—this time Carl Jung—and the concept of synchronicity which addresses the experience of two or more events not necessarily by causality, but by meaning or conscious and unconscious influence. It also touches on extra sensory perception. These are all concepts which some of the progressive rock bands of the early 1980s had also touched on. Synchronicity is considered one of the better rock albums. The album itself features songs which juxtapose images and stories of seeming unrelated things—like Walking in your Footsteps. Every Breath You Take is probably one of the Police’s most famous songs. Despite the more upbeat music, the song is actually about someone who is essentially stalking; the words when you listen carefully are creepy—a duality of love and sinister intent. The other tracks-Wrapped Around your Finger and King of Pain are equally interesting and though provoking. I loved to listen to this stuff and look up the references made in the songs, like Scylla and Charybdis in “Wrapped Around your Finger”, and think about the meaning. The Police, I think, were my connection to my college pursuits in literature. I am not sure how many others thought about these references; many, I think, simply accepted the music as popular top 100 hits. That is unfortunate, there was so much to discover underneath the sound of the music. Unfortunately as this great album came to be, the group, like so many before them, was falling apart. Anyway, just listen to the words in Wrapped Around Your Finger—definitely classic Sting songwriting:
In the meantime, I also became acquainted with U2, a group that lives and thrives today. REM, like the Police, was one of the early alternative bands. Both groups often featured deep, personal and meaningful songs. REM and U2, for a while in the late 1980s and early 1990s became, in popular music at least, the last of the real rock bands. Their music stood in deep contrast to the soft, easy listening solo performance of that later period just as it did in 1983 when contrasted with groups like the GO-GOs and Culture Club. I cannot imagine that I will not mention these groups again in later blogs—they remain, like the Police, personal favorites.
Finally, there was Annie Lennox who was no Madonna. Annie Lennox was half of the duo called the Eurhythmics, a word which notes the therapeutic purpose of music. Annie Lennox has an incredible voice—deep, female vocals that are clear and distinctive. The songs are often poetic, personal and questioning. Everything Madonna was not during this period—at least in my opinion, Annie Lennox had and still has. Although her equally edgy style caught attention and, like the Police, I think many listened to the music simply because it was top 100, the music and the artist are far more complicated. It is hard not to admire both Lennox and Bono of U2 as both also put their talents and fortunes to work by becoming activists in Africa, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and AIDS awareness. I remember that Lennox, at the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert featured an AIDS awareness T-shirt which said in bold letters “HIV Positive,” not because she is HIV positive but simply to de-stigmatize AIDS.