Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year

(for a previous 1983 list, click here)

This was one of the best years in rock music history. In fact, my original list (the one I start from each week) had over 90 songs that I was considering for this week (I usually have about 40). The year started with the official completion of the migration of the ARPANET to TCP/IP. Later this month, Lotus 1-2-3 officially hits the shelves, bringing in a new way to create spreadsheets on computers. The early part of 1983 also brought the end of the Klaus Barbie trial and of M*A*S*H, the longest running sitcom on television. The final 2-hour episode becomes the most watched show in history.

In March, President Ronald Reagan makes his initial proposal to develop technology to intercept enemy missiles. The media dub this plan "Star Wars". Two weeks later, an Islamic terror organization, The Islamic Jihad, kills 63 people when they set off a bomb at the US Embassy in Beirut. This was the is seen by some as marking the beginning of anti-U.S. attacks by Islamist groups. Just a few months later, simultaneous suicide truck-bombings destroy both the French and the United States Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. servicemen, 58 French paratroopers and 6 Lebanese civilians. Two days later, American forces invade the Island nation of Grenada. The ensuing way resulted in a restoration of its constitutional government.

In September, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 is shot down by a Soviet Union jet fighter near Moneron Island when the commercial aircraft enters Soviet airspace. All 269 on board are killed including U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald. In response, Reagan ordered the U.S. military to make the developing Global Positioning System (GPS) available for civilian use so that navigational errors like that of KAL 007 could be averted in the future.

In November, Resident Reagan signs a bill creating a federal holiday on the third Monday of every January to honor American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. A week later, the Rev. Jesse Jackson announces his intention to run for President. The immunosuppressant cyclosporine is approved by the FDA, leading to a revolution in the field of transplantation. This drug has been kst responsible for my survival these past 9 years.

Burning Down the House -- Talking Heads (lyrics)

With a lot of help from MTV, who gave the video a lot of play, this song became Talking Heads biggest hit. It received a get a great deal of radio play at the time and has endured as an '80s classic and is often used in movies and TV shows, including Gilmore Girls, 13 Going on 30, Six Feet Under, Revenge of the Nerds and Someone Like You. Talking Heads also performed it in their 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz is a fan of Funk, and it was a P-Funk show in New York City that inspired this track. When he heard the crowd imploring the band to "Burn Down The House", he got the idea for the title. As he explained in a 1984 interview with National Public Radio (NPR), he and Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth, who is also his wife, created the original track in a jam, then took it to the band where they refined the groove. To form the lyrics, they picked words that fit the rhythms, which is why the words don't make a lot of sense. This is common practice in the world of Funk, where you don't want the lyric to get in the way of the groove on a feel good song.

I Won't Hold You Back -- Toto (lyrics)

Toto IV received six Grammy Awards including Record of the Year for "Rosanna", Album of the Year and Producer of the Year for the band. It reached number four on the Billboard Pop Albums chart shortly after its release in 1982. The single "Rosanna" reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, while the album's third single, "Africa", became the group's only Hot 100 #1 hit. Both songs were smash hits in the UK as well, reaching no. 12 and no. 3 respectively. "I Won't Hold You Back" came next and reached the top 10 in the US and the top 40 in the UK. With the success of "Africa", the album climbed back into the top 10 in early 1983. While the band realeased a few mire albums, and had some additional chart success, including the AC #1 "I'll Be Over You" (in 1986), this was the band's apex. While struggling to recreate their earlier successes, the band still recorded. However, their efforts did not recreate any real enthusiasm in the band and in 1992, one of the founders of Toto, drummer Jeff Porcaro suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 38. The band, though, continued and even though they disbanded for a couple of years (following their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009), the band reformed and reunited for a brief tour of Europe in the summer to benefit Mike Porcaro Jeff's brother and also a founding member), who has ALS.

Family Man -- Daryl Hall and John Oates (lyrics)

The song is about a chance meeting between a prostitute and a married man who is not interested in having sex with her as he's a family man. She lowers her price and flirts, he is tempted but fortunately by the time he was ready to succumb she'd gone. No one took the idea of MTV more seriously than the duo, who used the medium greatly to their advantage. In 1987, Daryl Hall commented that if not for MTV, it was very likely their career would have been over after "Sara Smile." Today, the two are still very much in the music world. John Oates has recorded with a number of bands in the past few years and Hall is the host of a popular webcast, titled "Live from Dayrl's House." In it, he interviews and performs with guests from all over the rock and roll spectrum. He has also performed live on PBS' Soundstage program and American Idol, as a guest host. This past September, Hall released his 5th solo studio album, Laughing Down Crying. It was his first collection of new material in 15 years.

I Know There's Something Going On -- Frida (lyrics)

Frida is Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a former member of Abba. This was her first and only US chart hit after the group broke up in 1982. This song was written by Russ Ballard, who was lead singer of the band Argent. At this time, he was a much sought after producer and was the man responsible for America's comeback the year before (he co-wrote "You Can Do Magic" with Gerry Beckley). However, this song was also co-written by Phil Collins, who was becoming a superstar in his own right. Collins also plays the amazing drumming on the track, as well as singing backup. The lyrics are about a woman who is convinced her man is cheating on her. Lyngstad has spent many years engaging in charity work - environmental protection in particular. In 2005, she stated in an interview that she had no interest in ever returning to a music career. She currently lives in Zermatt, Switzerland.

Mr. Roboto -- Styx (lyrics)

The album title, Kilroy Was Here, is a phrase that was graffitied all over the place in the 1940s. It went along with a drawing of a creature with a big nose peering over a wall. No one is sure what the phrase means or where it originated, but it was seen in most of Europe and even in Japan during World War II. This slogan was painted in areas that the Allies occupied during the defeat of Germany and Japan. "Kilroy" is the main character of the album. He is a famous Rock Star who is sent to prison by a group called The Majority For Musical Morality. In jail, workers have been replaced by robots, and Kilroy escapes inside a robot costume (thus, Mr. Roboto). This song is about his escape from jail, and makes a statement about the dehumanizing of the working class. Their 1983 tour was a stage production based on the album. The band members wore costumes and had dialogue. However, because of the animosity between band members over the direction of the band (and the departure of sanity for making the band members dress up as if in a stage play), this (along with the single "Babe" a few years previous) began a rift the band was unable to overcome. Eventually, lead singer Dennis DeYoung was fired from the band and ensued a solo career. In 2009, DeYoung released One Hundred Years From Now in the U.S., his first full collection of new songs in some time. His former bandmates, however, still perform live. In November of last year, in what obviously is a slap in DeYoung's face, his name was removed from the history section of Styx's official website. Seriously.

The Smile Has Left Her Eyes -- Asia (lyrics)
John Wetton wrote this about bandmate Geoff Downes. In a 1983 magazine interview, Wetton said: "He was going through a complete emotional turmoil over a girl about a year and a half ago, and I identified so strongly that I went home and wrote the song in 5 minutes. Boom! Sat right down at the piano and there it was. If anything's straight from the heart, that song is." The band began upon the demise of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. However, it was not until 1981 that Geffen Records requested they begin writing new material. Through the popularity of MTV, this supergroup received heavy rotation on Music television - as many as 5 times a day. Furthermore, Billboard named the Asia debut as album of the year. In October 1983, Wetton was forced out of the group on the heels of the comparatively disappointing sales of their 2nd LP, Alpha. The band stated that Wetton quit and there is no universally agreed upon version of what happened. Wetton later revealed one factor may have been his alcohol dependency. In any event, the next leg of their 1983 US tour, scheduled for the fall, was abruptly cancelled, reportedly because of low ticket sales. Ex-King Crimson and ELP front man Greg Lake replaced Wetton for the highly publicized "Asia in Asia" concert at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan on Dec. 6, 1983, which was the first concert broadcast over satellite to MTV in the US and later made into a home video. Some of the songs had to be played in a lower key to suit Lake's voice and he read most of the lyrics from a teleprompter. This event spelled the end of the band. Even though they continue to record and release new material, They have never been able to recreate even a modicum of the success their first two albums created.

Overkill -- Men at Work (lyrics)

This was the first single from Men at Work's second album. Their first album, Business As Usual, was a huge hit and helped earn them a Grammy for Best New Artist. The band quickly went from a local Australian group to a worldwide success. Lead singer Colin Hay wrote this song and told us: "It was a song about what was happening at the time, the experience we were going through of stepping into the unknown. It's about having a fear about that, but also knowing that what was going to happen was inevitable. Leaving behind where you are and stepping into something which is out of your control to some degree. That's what it felt like at the time." He added, "That was the first song I wrote where I thought I might make a living as a songwriter. I was very happy with that song."
In 1984, the band took a long break as members pursued other interests and recovered from the two years of constant touring they'd done in support of both albums. However, upon releasing their next LP, only one song charted in the US, and that only at #47. By early 1986, the band was defunct and Hay was working on his first solo album. Colin Hay maintains a successful solo career and plays with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. Original band member Ron Strykert lives in Los Angeles, continues to play music and released his first solo album titled Paradise. He has expressed some resentment towards Hay, mainly over royalties. Saxophonist Greg Ham has remained musically active and currently plays sax with the Melbourne-based group The Nudist Funk Orchestra. Bassist John Rees is now a music teacher in Melbourne and Jerry Speiser plays drums for the band The Afterburner.

Promises, Promises -- Naked Eyes (lyrics)

Naked Eyes consisted originally of childhood friends from Bath, England: Pete Byrne on vocals and Rob Fisher on keyboards. The two had formerly played in a band called Neon with future members of Tears for Fears. Naked Eyes were one of the first bands to make significant use of the Fairlight CMI sampling synthesizer on a recording. Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush had used the instrument on prior efforts, but the usage had been far less than Naked Eyes would employ on their debut effort. The debut album Burning Bridges was produced by Tony Mansfield, along with the follow-up album Fuel for the Fire, which also featured two titles produced by Arthur Baker. Their second and third singles, "Promises, Promises" (which appears in an episode of the TV series Knight Rider, and the 12" mix of which features vocals from Madonna) and "When the Lights Go Out", were also hit singles, mainly in the U.S. and in Canada. However, their second album Fuel for the Fire and the single "(What) In the Name of Love", were not as well-received, and the group broke up soon after its release. Fisher sadly died in following surgery. However, Byrne put a new band together and continues to record under the Naked Eyes name. On 2007, they released Fumbling with the Covers, an acoustic album which consisted of covers of Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Elvis Costello songs, along with with his own hits. Currently, the band is finishing work on Rapid Heartbeat. The album is to be released in the summer.

Suddenly Last Summer -- The Motels (lyrics)

This is quite a mysterious song - one that leaves us wondering what exactly happened last summer. According to Motels frontwoman Martha Davis, it was not a specific relationship that inspired the song, but something more complex. She explained in Beyond Race magazine: "'Suddenly Last Summer' woke me up at 3am one morning. It seems that it is a time travel tune because it conjures up images as far back as when I was 12. I believe the song to be about irrevocable change, the loss of innocence, the melancholy associated with not being able to go home again. When I was still living in Berkeley, in my early 20s, I remember sitting in the back yard of the little house I bought after my parents died. It was the end of summer. From down the street, I heard the sound of the ice cream truck with its haunting little song. As I lay there, the first cold wind of autumn started to blow and I knew I would not see the truck again that year, and that summer was over. That incident resonated with me and I think the bells from that truck became the concept for repeating melodic line that runs through 'Suddenly.'" This song ties with their previous hit, "Only The Lonely," for The Motels' highest-charting single. However, it is also their only #1 hit, albeit on the Mainstream Rock chart. The Motels came out of the burgeoning Los Angeles Punk scene and released their first album in 1979. They went through several member changes, and in 1987 they broke up when Martha Davis started her solo career.

I'm Still Standing -- Elton John (lyrics)

The video went over very well on MTV, which helped propel the song up the charts and introduce Elton to a younger audience. With lots of scantily clad and painted people, the colorful video made this Elton's first MTV hit, and showed he was ready to embrace the format, something not every established star was willing to do. It helped the Elton is from England, where videos were popular long before MTV went on the air in 1981. With lyrics by Bernie Taupin, this song is directed at a former lover, as Elton sings about how he is still standing strong without this person. It's most likely not based on personal experience, but conveys a universal theme of finding confidence after a difficult breakup. It's a very uptempo song with some harsh lyrics: "You'll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use." Taupin and John initially ended their songwriting relationship in 1977. However, they began to collaborate again starting in 1983 (although he did contribute a few songs to Elton's releases during the break). It isn't a coincidence that the reconnection ushered in a major comeback for John.


Why Can't it Wait till Morning -- Phil Collins (lyrics)

This song was from his second solo album Hello, I Must Be Going! It was the fifth single released from the album and was only released in the UK. At the time of this LP. Collins had already begun to make a name for himself as a solo artist in his own (as opposed to as a member of Genesis). The album was his second wildly successful one and featured the top 10 hit (#1 in the UK) "You Can't Hurry Love" - a cover of the Supremes' 1966 #1 hit. Following that album, Collins moved into a more adult-contemporary songwriting style, which - while alienating many Genesis fans, earned him superstardum in pop music circles. However, his continued involvement in Genesis enabled him to stay in their good graces. Personally, this has always been my favorite song of his.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

I think 1983 was the first year that my head actually left the 1950s behind and got up to speed with the rest of my peer group. Really, who SHOULD be singing "Would you like to swing on a star?" under their breath while walking down the halls of their highschool if they haven't seen Hudson Hawk? And since no one saw Hudson Hawk no one would have been singing it except me.
But then there came 1983 & a burst of new wave music. Love Promises promises, so I am glad it made the cut. But helloooooooooo..... Sting and the Boys aren't here? Ahem! Synchronicity was a chart buster.
I do love Still Standing. Oh... and I guess because of Valerie Bertinelli's thing for Elton john via One Day at A Time I DID know about him. =]
Thanks for the list & the walk down memory lane. When we get to 1985 I hope Love is the 7th Wave will make the list. best song on Stings debut solo album. Just sayin...