1983 was a year marked out by rising tensions between America and Russia due to the Cold War. But it was also a significant year for music which included the debut of the Now That’s What I Call Music albums, the CD was launched as a new music format in the UK and ZTT Records was founded. 1983 also saw the formation of new acts which included Bronski Beat, The Dream Academy, Fiction Factory and The Cult.
Here, we feature some of the standout singles from 1983.
CHINA CRISIS – Christian
Released as a single from their 1982 debut album Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It’s Fun to Entertain ‘Christian’ captured the band’s talent for pastoral pop. Part of the song’s appeal is the unusual sliding bass line, played on a fretless bass by Landscape bassist Andy Pask.
‘Christian’ marked the band’s first major success on the UK Singles Chart, reaching No. 12 in February 1983.
EURYTHMICS – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
The title track of their 1983 album of the same name, ‘Sweet Dreams’ became Eurythmics’ breakthrough hit. Aside from the bold synth-pop style of the single, its music video was also memorable for Annie Lennox’s androgynous look, which saw the singer styling it out in a business suit and cropped orange hair.
The single hit No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart and made No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – The Cutter
The second single from the band’s 1983 album Porcupine, ‘The Cutter’ is one of the Bunnymen’s most memorable songs.
The composition embraces a distinct psychedelic instrumentation, which makes it unusual but memorable. Will Sergeant had approached Indian musician Shankar if he knew ‘Mathew and Son’ by Cat Stevens, which led to the song’s distinctive intro. Meanwhile, Ian McCulloch’s knack for cryptic, profound lyrics helped to boost this composition into a rousing anthem.
SOFT CELL – Numbers
Taken from their second album The Art of Falling Apart, Soft Cell’s 1983 single offered a more laidback quality than previous songs by the synth-pop duo. The song was a “cautionary tale” inspired by the writer John Rechy, whose novel of the same title deals with the emptiness of anonymous sex. Phonogram’s attempt to market the single by bundling it with ‘Tainted Love’ resulted in Marc Almond and Stevo storming the label offices and smashing things up.
TEARS FOR FEARS – Change
Tears For Fears had entered the 1980s struggling to get recognition, something which 1982’s ‘Mad World’ delivered in style. The follow-up, ‘Change’, boasts a smart use of instrumentation and rhythmic flourishes and delivered another chart hit for the band. ‘Change’ featured on the band’s debut album The Hurting and also managed to help the band crack the lucrative US market. The single also proved to be an international success, reaching the top 40 in several countries.
NEW ORDER – Blue Monday
New Order’s signature tune made shrewd use of available technology at the time, which included an Emulator 1 and Oberheim DMX drum machine. The distinctive sequenced melody and bassline are wrapped up in a composition that draws influence from Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Sparks and Ennio Morricone.
The single was also notable for its unique ‘floppy disk’ sleeve design. All of this contributed to ‘Blue Monday’ becoming one of the most defining synth-pop tunes of the 1980s.
OMD – Genetic Engineering
OMD certainly surprised critics and fans alike with the challenging Dazzle Ships album. Yet lead single ‘Genetic Engineering’ shows a band pushing the envelope. From the inspired sampling ideas through to the Eno-esque guitar riffs, ‘Genetic Engineering’ was as far from the choral synths of their Architecture & Morality period as you could get. But the song still features catchy hooks and rhythms and delivers an unusual, yet upbeat pop single.
ALTERED IMAGES – Don’t Talk to Me About Love
Having established themselves as purveyors of quirky, catchy pop, Altered Images changed gear on their third album Bite, aiming for a more sophisticated approach. ‘Don’t Talk to Me About Love’ still captured that essential sound of the band, but certainly showed a more mature direction. The single reached No. 7 in the UK (the band’s last major chart success). Bite would also mark the final Altered Images studio album until 2022’s Mascara Streakz.
DAVID BOWIE – Let’s Dance
The lead single from Bowie’s album of the same name ‘Let’s Dance’ became the biggest selling single of the musician’s career, topping the charts in numerous countries, including the UK and the US. Co-produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic, the song benefits from his input, which included the distinctive bassline and the rising vocal (apparently inspired by The Beatle’s ‘Twist and Shout’). The song also employed then-unknown guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who added a blues-edge.
ULTRAVOX – Visions In Blue
Ultravox’s third single release from their Quartet album, ‘Visions In Blue’ maintained the band’s talent for stylish synth-pop.
Always focussed on the fact that change was an important element of the band, Ultravox pulled in the talents of George Martin on production duties for the Quartet album. “I think George Martin did a lot on the vocals” commented Billy Currie, “but he also influenced us quite a bit on one or two of the musical arrangements.”
DURAN DURAN – Is There Something I Should Know?
Duran Duran had already been on an upward trajectory on the strength of their 1982 album Rio. The band’s eighth single release, the pure pop of ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’ arrived in 1983 as a stand-alone single. At the time, Smash Hits was dismissive in its review, critiquing “an overly-strained chorus”. This didn’t stop the single’s success and it became the band’s first UK number one record.
SPANDAU BALLET – True
The title track from the band’s third studio album, ‘True’ was apparently written by Gary Kemp to express his feelings for Altered Images’ singer Clare Grogan. Kemp had wanted to bring more soul influences into the band’s sound with ‘True’ drawing from the likes of Marvin Gaye and Al Green. The single became Spandau Ballet’s signature song and reached No. 1 in the UK. It also became their first song to reach the US Billboard Hot 100.
BLANCMANGE – Blind Vision
Having already established themselves as a formidable synth-pop act, the lead single from Blancmange’s second album Mange Tout, also benefited from the talents of veteran producer John Luongo. The emphatic pace of ‘Blind Vision’ incorporates a brass element into Blancmange’s palette of sounds, alongside a more muscular percussion.
‘Blind Vision’ also demonstrated an evolving band with a more bass-heavy approach and funk guitar fills. The single reached No. 10 in the UK charts on release.
YAZOO – Nobody’s Diary
Yazoo had already carved out chart success on the back of singles ‘Only You’ and ‘Don’t Go’. ‘Nobody’s Diary’ marked the only single release from Yazoo’s second (and last) album, You and Me Both. The track had originally been penned by Alison Moyet at the age of 16, back when she was playing in bands in South London. The song’s combination of melodic hooks and angsty lyrics proved to be another chart success, reaching No. 3.
CULTURE CLUB – Karma Chameleon
‘Karma Chameleon’ continued Culture Club’s fortunes via a catchy pop tune augmented with some smart harmonica elements. It also delivered Culture Club’s biggest hit (which also later topped the US Billboard Hot 100).
Quizzed about the song’s enigmatic title, Boy George commented “It’s about trying to suck up to everybody. Basically, if you aren’t true, if you don’t act like you feel, then you get Karma-justice, that’s nature’s way of paying you back.”
DEPECHE MODE – Everything Counts
Perhaps one of Depeche Mode’s most distinctive single releases, with its lyrical themes of corporate greed and corruption wrapped up in an exemplary synth-pop sheen. As featured on their album Construction Time Again, part of the song’s appeal is the interesting instrumentation, which included the use of a xylophone and a melodica (which added a wistful quality to the track). Subsequently, ‘Everything Counts’ gave the band a No. 6 chart position.
HEAVEN 17 – Temptation
Taken from the band’s second album The Luxury Gap, ‘Temptation’ was a chart smash for Heaven 17. Martyn Ware had originally been inspired to write a song about sex. “So the song is about rising sexual tension; it has chords that keep going up like an Escher staircase and in the end there’s this big release.” Carol Kenyon provided guest vocals on the song which also featured a 60-piece orchestra.
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES – Dear Prudence
The release of this cover came at a difficult time with guitarist John McGeoch leaving the band and Robert Smith acting as a temporary replacement. “It was an insane period for us” suggested Siouxsie , “extremely busy”. The ethereal nature and gothic sensibility that the Banshees delivered on this single seemed to breathe new life into a classic composition. It also became the band’s biggest UK hit, reaching an impressive No. 3.
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – Relax
If there was one song that stood out in 1983, it was ‘Relax’ which paved the way for the success of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The single’s sexual-loaded lyrics led to a ban by the BBC (which simply helped draw attention to it). Drawing on Hi-NRG and rock influences, ‘Relax’ also benefitted from a variety of 12” mixes and the marketing gem of producing T-shirts (‘Frankie Say Relax’) which made a big cultural impact.
THE CURE – The Love Cats
Released as a stand-alone single in October 1983. ‘The Love Cats’ gave The Cure their first Top 10 hit. Part of the song’s appeal is its perky pop approach. The single’s promo video was also supposed to feature live cats, but this proved to be a difficult undertaking and stuffed cats were used instead. The song is far from Robert Smith’s favourite: “composed drunk, video filmed drunk, promotion made drunk. It was a joke.”
FICTION FACTORY – (Feels Like) Heaven
Scottish band Fiction Factory certainly made an impression with the understated angst of ‘(Feels Like) Heaven’, taken from their debut album Throw the Warped Wheel Out. The single has an effortless charm to it, in part due to singer Kevin Patterson’s laidback vocal. It proved to be a hit single in the UK and abroad, but the song also proved to be something of an albatross as Fiction Factory never matched the single’s success.
This feature originally appeared in issue 8 of Blitzed. Order here: https://blitzedmag.com/product/blitzed-issue-8-pre-order-on-sale-4th-of-may-2023/
Order the latest issue of Blitzed here: https://shorturl.at/mwyT8