1983: The Last Great Year of Pop

2.18.2014

By Mark Simpson

From the gender-bending antics of Eurythmics and Culture Club to the propulsive synthpop of Depeche Mode, New Order, and the Human League, was there ever a more spectacular time for music?

At left: The Cure's Robert Smith by Erika Simmons

And so, essentially, was new wave, banished by a mid-’80s counterrevolution of guitar-led rock. Disco sucked again, and it gave you AIDS. And Bruce bloody Springsteen was the biggest thing on the U.K. charts in 1984. Yes, it’s true that Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s spunktacular dance track “Relax” finally hit number 1 in January 1984, but it had been released in 1983 and was banned by the BBC in 1984. Frankie went on to have more hits that year in the U.K., including, most famously, ‘Two Tribes,” which satirized the threat of the Cold War turning hot, and certainly sold a lot of T-shirts. But for my pocket money they definitely peaked with “Relax.”

My school days ended in the summer of 1983, and with them my exquisitely doomed love affair. Synthpop, as it turned out, was also doomed. So you see, contrary to what the history books tell you, the world really did end in 1983 — but at least I got the Technics SL-7 turntable for my 18th birthday.

I ended up playing the Smiths on it a lot — and their eponymous first album, released in January 1984, complete with young Joe Dallesandro’s naked torso on the sleeve, was very definitely the homoerotic bonanza I’d mistaken Tears for Fears’s The Hurting for, albeit a celibate one.

READ: A Musical Primer to 1983

In a sense, the Smiths were the ultimate new wave/new pop band, one who eschewed synthesizers for guitars, which lead singer Morrissey, an über fan of glam and punk, professed to hate. This turned out to be a smart move that kept them in business until 1987 — and Morrissey, as a solo artist, to this day. But I suspect the Smiths were only allowed to happen at all because, despite their enormous fame today, they were a very well-kept secret in the ’80s, barely troubling the British top 10 and effectively banned from daytime radio airplay.

The Smiths were semi-underground new wave, otherwise known as indie.

LISTEN: SPOTIFY PLAYLIST OF 1983, LAST GREAT YEAR OF POP

Tags: Music
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