If 1984’s the year when new wave completes its mutation into new pop, its predecessor reveals just how much the former could evolve before being superseded by the latter. Across this spectrum, you have postpunk stalwarts such as The Cure and Siouxsie at their most accessible to-date and old souls like Tom Waits and Joan Armatrading at their spikiest and most contemporary sounding.
And yet, much of what’s included here comes from artists making their debuts: Violent Femmes and R.E.M. representing new regional Americana, Billy Bragg reinventing electric folk for the post-Dylan era, Heaven 17 and The Blue Nile adding soul and atmosphere, respectively to synth-pop, The Smiths and to a lesser extent The Three O’Clock kicking off the ‘60s revival through slightly askew lenses and of course, Madonna basically updating what would’ve been called disco a few years previously (now under the safer guise of “Dance Music”.)
In some cases, I chose the less obvious hits: “Modern Love” (despite renewed interest in it due to stuff like this) instead of “Let’s Dance”, “Church of the Poison Mind” but not “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, “Love Is A Stranger” over “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, etc. While there’s nothing by The Police, Michael Jackson or one-hit wonders Nena, Kajagoogoo and Eddy Grant (I would’ve included “Electric Avenue” if the original hit version was on Spotify), I still made room for the immortal “Time After Time” (a hit in ’84 but first released on She’s So Unusual in ’83) and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (RIP Jim Steinman), which you’d want in a time capsule for future generations to effusively understand what the year sounded like at its loudest and most expensive.
As for 1983 at its weirdest, look no further than “Shiny Shiny”, which asks the question, “What’s more inexplicable, the band’s name or the song?” (Answer: its music video.) For those seeking a little extra substance with their style, you can’t go wrong with The The’s “This Is The Day”, which grafts jubilant fiddle and accordion onto an electro-exoskeleton and sports a melody that blooms and resounds with each passing minute—an anthem both melancholy and bright that feels neither faceless nor cheap.
My 1983 Playlist:
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