At this point, U2 seem to exist merely to remind us all how old we're getting. After all, there was a time when they were considered a promising young band from Ireland and people marveled at the youthful hubris of its charismatic young singer Bono. That was 25 years ago or more, as the reissues of their catalog remind us. Yes, War celebrates its 25th anniversary this year (as does the live Under The Red Sky).
Bono is now an elder statesman, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and adjusting the economies of war-torn nations and designing superior sunglasses or whatever elder statesmen do on their time off. The band is now more legend than anything else. People who don't know their music go to see them in concert because it's culturally important to them to be there.
So is it possible that yesterday turns out to be even more yesterday than we thought? 1983 doesn't exactly sound like we were just there, but when you look back and you see the videos and hear the songs, it doesn't seem that old. Mostly because unlike the real past, 1983 happened in color. Here we pay tribute to 25 albums that still affect the way we hear and see things today--for better and worse.
Eddie And The Cruisers--John Cafferty And The Beaver Brown Band: This album's release date was 1983, but it didn't really hit until the next year, when anyone who wasn't listening to Born In The U.S.A. could listen to this album by the other Bruce Springsteen. Some people even preferred it. And there were plenty of people who didn't believe you when you told them that this wasn't actually the new Bruce Springsteen album.
24) Texas Flood--Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: The first many of us non-Texans heard of Stevie Ray Vaughan came through courtesy his cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" that appeared on his next album. That was something the conservative FM radio stations were willing to try. Being able to play Jimi Hendrix note for note is an incredible feat--however, SRV was more than just some guy who could mimic other people's guitar licks. He was that rare blues guitarist who could transcend the genre at will and make you stop doing whatever it was you were doing and think "I'm not going to be a professional musician anytime soon." At least that's how I got good at bagging groceries.
The Final Cut--Pink Floyd: I've noted that this album polls as some people's favorite Pink Floyd album and many people's worst. Interesting. Granted, Roger Waters isn't known for writing more than one or two melodies per album and he does seem to obsess on his childhood in a way that suggests he isn't much for happy camping. I've always liked this album. Which probably means you should avoid it. But when he sings "Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?" you have to ask yourself, would Rolling Stone actually buy my story? And what would they do with it? I'm not even sure they'd buy Roger Waters' story at this point. Well, only if in conjunction with the term 'Pink Floyd.'"
22) Here Are The Chesterfield Kings--The Chesterfield Kings: You may have never heard of them. Last I checked they were still at it. You wouldn't have the White Stripes without 'em. The Chesterfield Kings weren't the first group to go retro, but they were among the first to really ape the whole "garage" sound with shameless appropriation. Their first album even came printed on paper glued to cardboard just like old albums. Which in 1983 wasn't necessary, but made them seem more interesting. Funny how this works.
Uh Huh--John Cougar Mellencamp: In a year when Bruce Springsteen was putting together Born In The U.S.A. someone had to fill the void and John Cougar had a hit the year previous with "Jack And Diane," a rather existential piece of Springsteen-like Americana commentary. Since he was eager to capitalize on the sudden fame he finally achieved after years of struggling, Cougar--now with his real Mellencamp surname attached--decided to issue this simple album of no-nonsense, driving rock tunes that challenged authority and championed little pink houses and playing guitar. His timing was perfect.
20) Genesis--Genesis: Not your father's Genesis that's for sure. Provided your dad was into prog rock. No, Phil Collins really did a number on his old band, transforming them into a band that actually sold massive amounts of records with bland pop music that the radio absolutely adored. See, the thing that people who weren't there don't understand is that music like this was everywhere in 1983 and R.E.M. and U2 and all the bands that people now fondly remember were shuttled off to midnight on Sunday nights or to low-wattage college radio stations. These days with a click of a mouse you can rectify the situation, but back in the good old days, you had to sit at work and suffer. Personally, I don't want to hear "That's All" or "Mama" again in my lifetime. But I know I will.
Colour By Numbers--Culture Club: The band with Boy George and their second album includes the song "Karma Chameleon," the song that if sung before the day of a big test will have you sitting there taking that test with this freaking song buzzing in your head. You will fail the test or do less well than you would've had you not had "I'm a man without conviction" buzzing through your head. But Boy George represented the right to dress funny at a time when dressing funny was mostly limited to guys in shaggy hair and stone-washed jeans. George's look was only reason to get beat up. That's how it worked.
18) Suicidal Tendencies--Suicidal Tendencies: "Institutionalized" became such a cult hit that every college radio DJ who worked a request line dealt with a "request" for this song every day of their lives from 1983 through at least 1988. Kids argued over whether or not ST were actually punk. Suicidal Tenderness is what their detractors called them. Other kids argued they were "crossover," which meant that metal and punk kids liked them and there was always a big question over whether or not that was ok. These days I assume kids argue over whether or not something is "Emo," "Screamo," "Grindcore," "Death Metal," and whatever new term and hyphenated crossbreed has emerged. Fact is, it all sounds like noisy crap to your parents. Be content with that and enjoy the music. Labels don't matter.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)--Eurythmics: The title track went on to become one of the most overplayed songs of the year and the next year and the one after that. That's one of the problems with living through an era. Songs that are perfectly fine take on an omnipresent aura that dooms them with overexposure. Like "Staying Alive" by the Bee Gees sounds really nice 30 years later because it's no longer played every third song in the rotation. As David Byrne once said, "Say something once, why say it again?"
16) Eliminator--ZZ Top: The last band on earth that you'd assume would have a career in the 1980s? Close enough. But then, never, never discount the power of the beard. Surely, you laugh. But how else can you explain these Texas bluesmen scoring so strongly in a decade meant for Madonna and hair metal bands? Ten Years After weren't suddenly huge again. Then again, they didn't have beards, now did they?
At War With Satan--Venom: All these years later and we're still at war with Satan. Metal bands still reference the dark one and what sounded like a bunch of misguided pummeling became a genre all to itself. Like unwanted houseguests, some things just never go away.
14) An Innocent Man--Billy Joel: Would an "innocent man" really put out an album with the following songs: "The Longest Time," "Tell Her About It," "Uptown Girl," "Leave A Tender Moment Alone," and "Keeping The Faith"? As someone who had a job that summer where the radio played every one of these songs repeatedly against my will, I sentence this innocent man to listen to these songs for the rest of eternity and think about what he has done. To quote Alanis: "It's not fair."
Sports--Huey Lewis And The News: Another questionable tactic. What band calls their album Sports? Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll somehow turned into Foosball, Darts and O'Doul's? But I will grant you that at this same job where Billy Joel taunted me from a very cheap radio, it eventually got to the desperate point where "If This Is It" was one of the actual high points of the radio playlist. It wasn't "The Heart Of Rock N' Roll" or "I Want A New Drug," two songs that while mentioning "Drugs" and "Rock n' Roll" did little to promote either.
12) Pyromania--Def Leppard: I traded my copy of this album for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and I never looked back. Anytime I wanted to hear something from it, I could always turn on the radio since that's where most of this album landed.
Synchronicity--The Police: The Police broke up after this one. What was left to do? They'd achieved world dominance and "Every Breath You Take" wasn't just everywhere, it was everywhere. Was there a cop show on TV that didn't eventually feature this tune while someone was stalked in a parking garage? I'm pretty sure they used it on Hunter, the preeminent cop show of the era. And I used to have the "Rick Hunter Crime Fighter Wallet" to prove it.
10) She's So Unusual--Cyndi Lauper: Maybe she was too unusual? The smart money said that here was a future star who would reign for decades. She had imagination, a flair for odd fashion, and a voice that could break glass. She knew how to make videos and she had smart record producers who could spot hits in their sleep. Who was going to top her? Madonna? C'mon! Be real.
Let's Dance--David Bowie: So what if this was his least interesting album to date? It's the one that paid for the mountain he bought. And I'm sure he doesn't mind owning a few islands or whatever it is the obscenely wealthy do with all that excess petty cash. I've never put any money into Bowie Bonds but someone did. It's hard to really complain about someone who worked as long and hard as Bowie to achieve this massive success. You just listen to the rest of his previous catalog and wonder why it couldn't have been one of those.
8) Can't Slow Down--Lionel Richie: I love the idea of Lionel Richie calling this album Can't Slow Down. Apparently, he really thinks he's rocking it here, huh? Granted "All Night Long (All Night)" (what is he, Spinal Tap, with the parenthesis?) is a real heart-thumper next to "Hello" and "Stuck On You" but it doesn't exactly throw the heart rate anywhere near the aerobic stage where you actually start to kickstart the metabolism. This is music for slugs.
Seven And The Ragged Tiger--Duran Duran: In 1983, Duran Duran were at the top of their fame with their hits from previous albums finally catching up with the public at large and their good looks ensnaring all the young girls who dreamed of having such hair and make-up applied to themselves. The big bad record company, however, wanted a new album. And since everyone knows you have to strike while the iron is hot--unless you're Bruce Springsteen, then you take a few years to settle legal matters instead--DD, as tax exiles, put together their third album. Except next thing you knew certain members started dabbling in something called the Power Station and things were never quite the same. Until many years later, when they were all old enough to have forgotten why they stopped playing with each other in the first place. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but an aging memory forgets everything.
6) Power, Corruption And Lies--New Order: It was a nice move for the guys in Joy Division to refashion themselves as New Order after their lead singer committed suicide. They could've capitalized on their already established name, but karma and vibes being what they are, it was best to construct a New Order, which they did. This, their second album, is one of those where you have to be careful. It's been issued in different countries with different tracks and while imports are nice, you're best off with the U.S. version because it has "Blue Monday" on it and that's the reason you wanted it in the first place.
War--U2: Yes, they were young once and not everyone genuflected when they released an album. Their videos weren't all over the TV and people found their youthful enthusiasm naïve and charming. That is, until they realized these kids really meant it and then some people got nervous. Rock n' roll was, of course, intended to be entertaining and fun and these guys were turning it into a history lesson.
4) Murmur--R.E.M.: Before they were the biggest band in the world, they were the biggest small band in the world and before that they were a cult band that few people heard of, but because they sounded like "the Byrds on LSD" (like what people imagined the Byrds might have sounded like if Gram Parsons hadn't hijacked them and turned them into country rock) and one of those over-used critic phrases that happens to almost fit in this case) and no one could figure out what the singer was singing, they were embraced by a small cognoscenti who deemed them the rightful heirs to genuine rock music and not whatever it was they were playing on FM radio at the time. Which I sincerely mean to tell you sucked.
Madonna--Madonna: If you were to tell me in 1983 that Madonna would still be making music and still be a newsworthy performer 25 years later I would have assumed your last name was Ciccone. C'mon, Madonna? Some risqué nightclub dancer with a chirpy voice? Sex symbols get old. New ones replace them. She'd have to be one crafty entrepreneur to keep herself in the headlines 25 years later. Turns out she's like the Martha Stewart for the homemaker who doesn't like to stay home. What's this business now with A-Rod?
2) Swordfishtrombones--Tom Waits: We've grown accustomed to Tom Waits being weird. But when this album came out, he was really taking a chance. Modeling your new sound on anything resembling Captain Beefheart isn't exactly what your management team is going to call "win-win." After all, Captain Beefheart grew so disgusted with his lack of musical success that he quit and headed to the desert to paint. Waits, on the other hand, began a whole new career that has forced every other performer who wants to sound "weird" to acknowledge his influence whether they like it or not.
Kill 'Em All--Metallica: Whether these guys will ever make it back from all the therapy they've endured, who knows? But when these scrappy carpel-tunnel syndrome-inducing lads first appeared it just seemed like another metal band kids scrawled on their notebooks that after a few years would be replaced by another band with a funny logo. But these guys got progressively more popular and for a while even did it without videos and, of course, not singing about chicks! And they kept the Satan references to a minimum.