Wake Up, Mr. Radio

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(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.

23.  “Delirious”/Prince
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.

5 thoughts on “Wake Up, Mr. Radio

  1. Porky

    Was doing my Billboard research project a year or two ago and found Al’s debut (1964) was on tiny Raynard records, up in your neck of the woods. Because that’s how the music biz used to work in those days.

    1. Porky

      also this tune joins “Morning Girl” by Neon Philharmonic mentioning Cheerios, runner up “Punky’s Dilemma” by Simon and Garfunkel.

  2. Alvaro Leos

    As a kid who grew up in small town America in the 1980s, I gotta ask: what exactly is modern rock? And when did this term stop getting used?

  3. Yah Shure

    I also added “Islands In The Stream” right out of the box, convinced it was an instant smash. KOMA’s listeners, however, didn’t share that assessment. It took about four weeks before they’d cottoned to it enough to kick it into heavy rotation. On their own, Kenny or Dolly would’ve made it there in half the time.

  4. Glad to see Two Less Lonely People…on your list. I was never a big Air Supply fan, and the overplay of their major hits got me sick of them very quickly. Perhaps that’s why this is my favorite song from the group. A peak of 38 does not equate to a lot of airplay…

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