Let’s simply get to the music today.
John Cougar Mellencamp – Uh-Huh (1983). This is when Mellencamp took back his name AND found his sound, kind of a Stones stuck in the middle of America sound. Everything about this album screams Midwest, down to the language and syntax of his lyrics. Today, John is more of a troubadour in the vein of Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger, but back in 1983, he was the rock & roll hero of Middle America, and specifically Indiana.
Journey – Frontiers (1983). Journey solidified its hold on America with their AOR sound that incorporated light touches of R&B. Former Babys keyboardist Jonathan Cain really exerts more of an influence on the music than he did on Escape which pushed the band further into the pop realm. As usual, Steve Perry’s unparalleled vocals were the true star here. No matter how many vocalists the band thinks can replace Perry, there is just something missing in them that Perry possesses. For some reason, I can hear the difference, and I’m tone deaf.
Lionel Richie – Can’t Slow Down (1983). There was a moment in time, from around 1977 to 1986, during which Lionel Richie could do no wrong musically. The guy was everywhere, and this album was his most complete solo album. Honestly speaking, I still enjoy his Commodores stuff more, but this album remains a pretty tasty LP. By the way, I remember telling my wife back when we were first dating that “Stuck on You” was about us. And, for some reason, she thought I was making some sort of sophomoric perverted joke when I was being serious. Too funny!
Madonna – Madonna (1983). Initially, this album was bought by club-hoppers and aerobics instructors. Then, the mainstream heard it, and the rest is history. No matter how many great albums she would release in the future, none would compare to the earthshaking quality of this album on a college campus.
Marshall Crenshaw – Field Day (1983). Okay, I was very skeptical when I heard that Crenshaw hired Steve Lillywhite to produce this album because I felt Lillywhite, who was known for his drum sound on U2’s first couple of albums, would squeeze out Marshall’s pop sensibilities as he almost did to XTC on English Settlement. And, while his emphasis on the muscular drums are still there, Crenshaw’s songs were so good that I don’t think anyone could have ruined them. Still, I wish he had gone with a more sympathetic producer to make this album, such as Mitch Easter and/or Don Dixon who had just produced R.E.M.’s debut album.
Mötley Crüe – Shout at the Devil (1983). The times were a-changing quickly. New Wave was cresting at the time, and in its wake was coming a sleazy, glam mix from Sunset Strip that is now called glam metal, or derogatorily hair metal. Perhaps, the best band on the Strip was Mötley Crüe. Their mix of Aerosmith raunch, Kiss theatrics and Van Halen pop metal was perfect for the times. I remember being annoyed by the freshmen down the hall in the dorm blaring “Look That Kill” every day at 1 PM. Still, the album did rock.
New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies (1983). From the ashes of Joy Division rising like a Phoenix was New Order. The rest of the band picked up where the former band left off, only emphasizing the electronic pulsing sound of synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines to create the dance sound of the Eighties. And, instead of the self-obsessed lyrics of the now deceased Ian Curtis, New Order ironically went after the power structure of Eighties economics and relationships.
Quiet Riot – Metal Health (1983). Trivia question: What metal act was the first to have a number one album on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart? It was not Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow or solo Ozzy. It was the first Sunset Strip band to hit it big, Quiet Riot. That’s right! These guys hit paydirt on their debut album behind their rockin’ version of Slade’s glam classic “Cum on Feel the Noize.” This was the right album at the right time. Just ask the two idiots who lived next door to me in the dorm who played this album over and over.
R.E.M. – Murmur (1983). As quietly and nondescript as possible, R.E.M. burst onto the college rock scene to up end the status quo. Hailing from the college town of Athens, Georgia, who also spawned The B-52’s, R.E.M. paid their dues while developing a sound that relied equally upon a reverence for the jangling guitar sound of vintage Byrds and the CBGB sounds of Patti Smith and Television. These guys were obviously talented musicians who spent most of the spare moments in a record store soaking in all the favorite sounds of the clerks. Mix in the art vision of the mumbling lyrics of Michael Stipe, who view his vocals to be just another instrument in the band’s sound, which took the band to a whole other level. This began the whole alternative rock underground scene across the whole. After R.E.M. came through, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Camper Van Beethoven and the rest followed.
Run-D.M.C. – Run-D.M.C. (1983). In rap history, there was rap being built upon the foundation of disco and funk. Then, there was rap after Run-D.M.C. built their beats upon rock, specifically metal. And instead of spittin’ rhymes in a laidback manner that went with the flow of the music, Run-D.M.C. came out like lions, their voices roaring trading not just verses, but words AND syllables in a verse in a manner that only punctuated the sparse by emphatic beats. This was the revolution homing in on the now obvious connection between the two extremes of music, rap and metal. And, nothing was the same again.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of 1983 coming to this blog soon. Peace.