1983 Mix

Thirty-five years later, it is easy to forget that 1983 was an awful year. In the UK the far-right Thatcher government won re-election. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and then invaded Grenada seven months later. A suicide bomber in Beirut killed more than 300 people, including 241 US troops. Saddam Hussein deployed chemical weapons in Iraq’s ongoing war with Iran. A Soviet fighter shot down a Korean Airlines jet, causing the death of all 269 passengers and crew. The possibility of nuclear war was a real concern; when ABC broadcast a TV film, The Day After, about the aftermath of Soviet nuclear strikes in Kansas and Missouri, more than 100 million people watched.

Given this atmosphere, it is no surprise that a lot of the music from 1983 reflects anger, tension, and dread. In a song like “My City Was Gone” or “Pills and Soap” the anger is unmistakable, but “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” is just as angry, just more subtle and cloaked in pastoral music. “In a Big Country” sounds anthemic and gains energy from guitars manipulated to sound like bagpipes, but the lyrics portray a narrator looking desperately for something to hold onto in the face of disappointment and betrayal. “Making Flippy Floppy” has a goofy title, but the lyrics are about as dark and cynical as Talking Heads ever got: “Business and pleasure lie right to your face.” A cruel summer, for sure.

Even in a lousy year, bands continue to grow and evolve. Some performers seem to emerge fully formed from the beginning of their career. Examples of this include Ramones, Billy Bragg, and, to a degree, R.E.M. Others struggle early in their career to find their own voice, perhaps copying their heroes or experimenting with different styles until they find something that clicks for them. In retrospect, I see three important bands that fully came into their own in 1983. New Order had an amazing 1983, releasing their finest album, Power Corruption & Lies as well as two iconic singles, “Blue Monday” and “Confusion”. U2 released their third album, War (note the title!), which first exhibited the combination of political activism and stadium-ready sound that would make them superstars. Finally Hüsker Dü released the Metal Circus EP, which solidified their identity, both from a songwriting and sonic perspective. 

Part 1: I’m Not Expecting to Grow Flowers in a Desert

  1. My City Was Gone – The Pretenders
  2. In a Big Country – Big Country
  3. Racist Friend – The Special AKA
  4. Pills and Soap – The Imposter (Elvis Costello)
  5. Love on a Farmboy’s Wages – XTC
  6. This is Not a Love Song – Public Image Ltd.
  7. 25 Reasons – Red House
  8. A New England – Billy Bragg
  9. Time Wounds All Heels – Nick Lowe
  10. Cruel Summer – Bananarama
  11. Bedward the Flying Preacher – Prince Far I
  12. Your Silent Face – New Order
  13. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs – Minutemen
  14. Institutionalized – Suicidal Tendencies
  15. Real World – Hüsker Dü
  16. Color Me Impressed – The Replacements
  17. She’s in Parties – Bauhaus
  18. Talk About the Passion – R.E.M.
  19. Genetic Engineering – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  20. Going Home – Mark Knopfler

Part 2: We Sing in the Darkness

  1. Making Flippy Floppy – Talking Heads
  2. Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
  3. Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  4. (Keep Feeling) Fascination – The Human League
  5. Borderline – Madonna
  6. New York, New York – Nina Hagen
  7. Tour De France – Kraftwerk
  8. Two Hearts Beat as One – U2
  9. Rockit – Herbie Hancock
  10. Here Comes the Rain Again – Eurythmics
  11. Moody (Spaced Out) – ESG
  12. 99 Luftballons – Nena
  13. Living My Life – Grace Jones
  14. An Ending (Ascent) – Brian Eno