(Pictured: Al Jarreau on stage, 1985.)
For several years in the early 80s, I kept my own personally ranked lists of the best songs of each year. I went looking for them the other day and was disappointed to find only the one for 1983. I wrote it up as an annotated countdown, although I’m not including all of the annotations. It includes 27 songs because of course it does.
27. “Two Less Lonely People”/Air Supply. Air Supply’s last gasp of innocent sweetness before hooking up with Jim “Try It Again, You’re Not Screaming Loud Enough” Steinman.
26. “Don’t Run”/KC and the Sunshine Band
25. “Penny for Your Thoughts”/Tavares. This isn’t as good as “It Only Takes a Minute” or “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,” but possesses enough hypnotic soft soul to merit inclusion.
24. “Islands in the Stream”/Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton. The most burnt-out record of 1983, and one of two records I added totally out-of-the-box at KDTH this year. I predicted it would be #1 the first time I heard it.
22. “Stop in the Name of Love”/Hollies
21. “Promises Promises”/Naked Eyes
20. “I’m Still Standing”/Elton John
19. “Tokyo Joe”/Bertie Higgins. This guy is trying so hard to write and record a song that will be remembered as a classic in 50 years that he gets carried away with silliness sometimes, but this record is a good example of something that will sell to people who have never been more than 50 miles away from where they were born. (Rarely does the young asshole I used to be come back to me so vividly, and in my own words. This is a remarkably stupid and bad and nonsensical remark, and never mind the inclusion of this godawful record on the list for some reason I can no longer remember.)
18. “Take the Short Way Home”/Dionne Warwick. If we can’t have the Bee Gees, Lord, then let us have records like this. (That’s a distinction without a difference, sonny.)
17. “Spice of Life”/Manhattan Transfer
16. “Time (Clock of the Heart)”/Culture Club
15. “Break My Stride”/Matthew Wilder. It’s like Men at Work meets somebody—but I don’t know who.
14. “Every Breath You Take”/Police. They can quit now. They’ll never top this. From the writing to the performing to the production—this is perfect.
13. “Try Again”/Champaign
12. “Suddenly Last Summer”/Motels. Quite intelligent for a band some call “modern.” “Modern rock” is a red flag to me, which signals “beware—three-chord techno-pop stupidity ahead.” (Lo, the disdainful, ill-informed older brother of the MTV generation is heard from.)
11. “True”/Spandau Ballet. Another record defying its “modern rock” label. The last minute or two of this are the best musical minutes of the year.
10. “Come Dancing”/Kinks. If anyone is qualified to reminisce, these old geezers are. Includes one of the hardest gee-tar solo breaks this side of Quiet Riot, who, you shall note, are absent from this survey. (“Geezers.” Christ.)
9. “All This Love”/DeBarge. Well, maybe they do make ’em like they used to.
8. “Come on Eileen”/Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I never thought his would make it, not in a million years.
7. “Our House”/Madness
6. “Heart and Soul”/Huey Lewis and the News
5. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”/Human League. The only song on the best of ’83 list that I first heard/saw on MTV. So much better than “Don’t You Want Me.”
4. “Billie Jean”/Michael Jackson. Frighteningly good. If I really have to die, I want to hear a record so good it kills me. I damn near bit the weenie with this one. An epic. On Epic, even. (Oh, shut up, Jim.)
3. “Electric Avenue”/Eddy Grant. There are some sounds on this that I’ve never heard anywhere before. A great record for annoying the neighbors.
2. “Jeopardy”/Greg Kihn. Another great record for annoying the neighbors. Made me keep believing in rock and roll when Thomas Dolby was in the Top 10, woof woof.
1. “Mornin'”/Al Jarreau. Jarreau never seems to take himself too seriously (how could you with a line like “mornin’, little Cheerios”?), the music jumps right out of the radio, it’s bright, happy, funky, and sweet. I liked it a little, yeah.
Oddly enough, I played “Mornin'” on the radio the day after Al Jarreau died, only to find this list, with “Mornin'” on top of it, three days later. I wouldn’t rank it as the best song of 1983 if I were ranking them now. It’s far more likely that #1 would be “Billie Jean,” “Jeopardy,” “Electric Avenue,” “Come Dancing,” or even “All This Love.”
As for the young man who ranked these songs, he was a work in progress who’s somewhat wiser now, thank the gods.