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Monday, August 28, 2023

Songs of '83: "True"

My sister had a huge poster of Spandau Ballet, with the word "True" in dark letters printed across the bottom, up on her bedroom wall sometimes in 1983-1984. I wouldn't be surprised at all if at least one other heterosexual female and/or gay male person out there reading this had one as well. I don't recall when I first heard the term "New Romantic"--I'm not sure it really had any currency in the U.S., even in those few cities which had the sort of clubs or college radio stations that paid attention to the multi-racial, gender-bending, post-disco and post-punk New Wave coming from the UK--but when I finally did learn it, there were exactly two faces that came to mind: Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry, and that singer from Spandau Ballet, which Wikipedia informs me is Tony Hadley (who is also, apparently, a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, so hey, I guess it takes all kinds). Using their synths to produce a lush, sweeping sound, "True" debuted on the Billboard charts and American radio 40 years ago this month, beginning a slow climb over the months to come towards a comfortable Top Ten showing, a featured place in John Hughes's Sixteen Candles, and of course, my sister's (and probably many others') bedroom walls. Enjoy the slow dance, everyone.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Songs of '83: "Everyday I Write the Book"

Elvis Costello looms large in my musical memories entirely due to the college radio I listened to during my years at BYU (and the friends I made who directed me towards it). In terms of the history of the musical transformations I've been talking about here in association with the trends which came together in 1983, Costello was a pioneer. One of the most original songwriters and rock performers to come out of the immediate post-punk pop stew which was bubbling across the UK and in certain big cities in North America, every album and single he released from 1977 to 1980 were major radio and critical hits--outside the U.S., that is. In the U.S., his music and its critical acclaim was known, but not by radio-listening kids outside of the college towns and the metropolitan clubs like me. With one exception, that is: this song, his first to make it on the Billboard charts. Deputing 40 years ago today, it was a modest hit: it cracked the Top 40, but not much more than that. Still, it was enough that when friends introduced me to "Beyond Belief" or "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?" or "Radio Radio" (one of my 1978 songs, by the way) I was able to say--oh yeah, that guy!

Costello is one of six artists whose music got my attention and got stuck in my memory in both my reconstruction of 1978 and of 1983: Journey, Jackson Brown, Talking Heads, and The Police are others (with one more yet to come). Of all of them, Costello had the least successful time navigating the Billboard charts. Why did this song make it? Maybe Americans, even by 1983, still couldn't get enough Charles and Diana.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Songs of '83: "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

The unstoppable pop masterpiece/monstrosity known as "Total Eclipse of the Heart," sung by the Welsh troubadour Bonnie Tyler and written by that genius of post-disco overproduction, Jim Steinman (who also gave us "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" and "Making Love Out of Nothing At All"), began its irresistible climb up the Billboard charts this week 40 years ago, eventually making it to #1 and staying there for the entire month of October. What can you say? It's...a lot. In fact it's so much that, as some forgotten genius in the early years of YouTube realized, you really have to take it literally to take it all in. Nominally just a love ballad, it actually does have stuff to say--not coherently, to be sure, but still, it's there--about all the sexual and stylistic transformations changing American radio that year. Too bad we had to wait a few decades before someone figured out to show us that inner truth.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Songs of '83: "Hot Girls in Love"

Not every 1983 hit partook of the racially, technologically, sexually, stylistically cosmopolitan revolutions which broke out of the major cities of Europe and the East Coast and into the mainstream of American radio that year. Some were just bar bands that managed to connect with the right producer and come up with something that lots of people enjoyed playing really loud. In the spirit, welcome Loverboy, the artists responsible for some of the, in my opinion, least interesting videos that ever achieved heavy rotation on MTV and Friday Night Videos. I will say one thing, though, for "Hot Girls in Love," Loverboy's biggest hit up until that point, which hit its Billboard peak this week 40 years ago: it's the only video I can remember seeing broadcast during a church dance being shut down in the middle of its being played. The crotch shots? The cleavage? Nope, it's the fact that the actress clearly (if silently) voices "Shit!" when she realizes her car is out of gas. Standards: they must be maintained.