1983: A Year In Your Ear
By Chris Anderson
I was having a conversation with my friend Darren the other night and we started talking about great years in music. Some years that came to mind were 1967, 1972, 1987, 1994, and even 2012, but the one that sparked the most discussion was 1983. That was the year that saw many landmark, career-redefining albums by long-established bands, as well as debuts that completely rocked the music world. While I might not agree that it was the best year in music, it was still a very strong year. The following albums are only the tip of the iceberg…
It’s hard to think of a time when U2 was not royalty but in 1983 they were still a little known college rock band with big aspirations. While their worldwide status would skyrocket with 1987’s The Joshua Tree, War is the album that first broke U2 in the States. Featuring classics like “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “New Year’s Day”, and killer deep cuts like “The Refugee” and “Seconds”, there was no turning back after this.
The Police: Synchronicity
By 1983 The Police was one of the biggest bands in the world, thanks to a long string of hits that are radio staples even today. Synchronicity, their fifth album, wound up being their last, thanks to the kind of band tension that legends are made of. But what a bang they went out with. About half of this album wound up being massive hit singles, including “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, and “King Of Pain”.
While much of the music scene was moving towards glitzy, slick arena rock, around this time there started an underground trend towards lower-key, more clever music. One of the biggest bands to come out of this scene was REM, from Athens GA. While it was still a number of years before they would be superstars, their debut album immediately shook not only the underground but also was Rolling Stone’s album of the year. While this was but the first in a long string of exquisite albums by REM, they never made another one quite like this one.
After spending the 1970s as the biggest band on the progressive rock scene, it had pretty much all dried up for Yes by around the turn of the decade. Enter guitarist Trevor Rabin and hot-shot producer Trevor Horn (who formerly played in Yes) and the resulting album was a commercial smash. Fusing en vogue arena rock styles with the technicality of prog, songs like “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, “Changes”, and “Hold On” brought the band to an all new level.
This was the album that completed Genesis’ transition from prog warriors to pop icons. While they had gone pop years before, and they still hadn’t totally shed the prog, this was where it really all came together for them, like it or not. Songs like “That’s All” and “Mama” were huge hits while other tracks like “Home By The Sea” kept the old fans happy.
Sonic Youth: Confusion Is Sex
Coming out of the ashes of post-punk and new wave, Sonic Youth burst into the scene and created some of the most innovative and unique recordings over the course of almost thirty years. Their first full-length release finds them moving into left field relatively quickly, and experimenting with modified guitars and alternate tunings to create a sonic palette that not only helped create “alternative rock” but immediately brought it to its knees.
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Texas Flood
There wasn’t much of a mainstream scene for blues in 1983 but that all changed when Stevie Ray Vaughan exploded with his debut album. A true Hendrix disciple, it soon became clear that SRV was one of the only guitarists who could really give Jimi a run for his money. Featuring his stellar take on Buddy Guy’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, his own classic “Pride And Joy”, and the title track, this album was some kind of wonderful.
Big Country: The Crossing
After leaving the Skids, Stuart Adamson put together this band which, following in the footsteps of U2 and The Alarm, brought out a fiery fusion of post-punk and Celtic rock. With their guitars-as-bagpipes sound, this album might not have been the commercial smash that it should have been but it is one of those special albums that is flawless, through and through. Songs like “In A Big Country”, “Harvest Home”, “Chance”, and “1000 Stars” are only mere highlights of this stellar release.
Marillion: Script For A Jester’s Tear
Prog was dead by 1983. Or, at least, that’s what it seemed. All the big acts from the 1970s had either broken up or changed their sound dramatically, to appeal to a more mainstream audience. It was up to a new school to take the reins and no one did it more successfully than Marillion. Their first of four albums with original singer, Fish, was a throwback to early Genesis, with a mad flash of punk thrown in, for extra oomph. Songs like “Chelsea Monday” and the title track were the rebirth of prog, while “Garden Party” is still played occasionally by the band.
ZZ Top: Eliminator
By the time their eighth album was released, ZZ Top was well into their second decade together and had enjoyed occasional mainstream success with some of the most classic songs to grace the airwaves. Adding synthesizers to their brand of Texas boogie, this album blew the band wide open, making them one of the biggest bands of the year, thanks to smash hits like “Legs”, “Gimme All Your Lovin’”, and, perhaps their best song ever, “Sharp Dressed Man”.
So there you have it. Ten must-own highlights from one of the biggest turning point years in music. 1984 would go on to be perhaps even stronger, with killer releases by Van Halen, Rush, U2, Bryan Adams, The Smiths, and The Cars. But this was the year that set that up.