Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1982

If 1981 found pop music in a cocoon, than in 1982 it slowly emerged. (The colorful butterfly was 1983, of course.) MTV was in its first full year, not yet at the cultural forefront but certainly gaining momentum and relevance. After three years under the radar, new wave was suddenly indistingushible from pop; the synthesizers and drum machines that dominated radio for much of the decade planted both feet in '82.  Thanks to Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, you also had two of the most important rap singles of all time.  The singer-songwriter subgenre experienced a short renaissance, courtesy of Bruce Springsteen's first solo album, John Mellancamp's breakout record, and two quarraling Britons (see album #3). Punk gave way to hardcore, and the ashes of disco seeped into soul and R&B.  The only question is, what holds up three decades on?

NOTE: I put the Violent Femmes' first album on my 1983 list two years ago. As such, it is omitted from this list.  My mistake.

1. Thriller, Michael Jackson. You're probably thinking the same thing I am: this album is 30 years old? Indeed it is, and as a pop album this still holds up. Using his 1979 smash Off The Wall as a blueprint, the soon-to-be King of Pop takes the genre-bending and pushes it: harder funk, harder rock, delicate ballads, silky-smooth soul. The centerpiece is the spooky title track, which later became a legendary music video and cultural phenomenon in its own right.
2. 1999, Prince. Speaking of funk, '82 was a breakout year for the little dude from Minnesota that always wore purple. A critics' darling in search of an audience, 1999 put Prince on the map, thanks to hit singles like the title track, "Little Red Corvette," and "D.M.S.R." Side A offers the hits, side B is experimental and challenging; never mind the computers, this is raw talent at full power.
3. Shoot Out The Lights, Richard and Linda Thompson. If Fleetwood Mac's Rumours is the greatest divorce rock album of all time, than this is the British folk tantamount. The irony is that most of the album wasn't written during Dick and Linda's breakup, but two years earlier. Alas, their penchant for songs about domestic squabbles and failing relationships took on a level of immediacy and gravitas the couple had never reached before.
4. Bad Brains, Bad Brains
5. Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello
6. Rio, Duran Duran
7. Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen
8. Night and Day, Joe Jackson
9. American Fool, John Cougar Mellancamp
10. Combat Rock, The Clash. In a just world, this would've been their last album; 1985's Cut the Crap did anything but. Sounding more like a jagged arena-rock act than their long-gone punk contemporaries, Combat depicts a band splitting in two: where Mick Jones is aspiring to be the next Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer keeps the band's DIY/funk/reggae influences in check. Another left-field hit in a year overflowing with them.

Honorable Mentions: The Lexicon of Love, ABC; The Message, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five; Pornography, The Cure; Love Over Gold, Dire Straits; Avalon, Roxy Music; English Settlement, XTC.

"Rosanna," Toto
"867-5309/Jenny," Tommy Tutone
"'65 Love Affair," Paul Davis
"Private Eyes," Hall & Oates
"Gloria," Laura Branigan
"Vacation," The Go-Gos
"I Want Candy," Bow Wow Wow
"Situation," Yaz
"Goodnight Saigon," Billy Joel
"Don't Change," INXS

"Run to the Hills," Iron Maiden
"You've Got Another Thing Comin'," Judas Priest
"We're Only Gonna Die," Bad Religion
"Alpha Romeo," Dangerous Birds
"I Always Call Her Back," The Del Fuegos
"Planet Rock," Afrika Bambaataa
"Sexual Healing," Marvin Gaye
"You Dropped a Bomb on Me," The Gap Band
"Forget-Me-Nots," Patrice Rushen
"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" Culture Club

1. "Hungry Like The Wolf," Duran Duran. The first "big budget" video was also a game-changer, one of several clips to explore the boundaries of music promotion in MTV's early years. Shot in Sri Lanka, "Hungry" evokes Raiders of the Lost Ark and set the template for future globe-hopping videos by Simon LeBon and the boys.
2. "Never Say Never," Romeo Void. One might assume this video was directed by Jim Jarmusch, yet it wasn't. Regardless, this artsy clip is the yin the song's post-punk/funk yang.
3. "I Know what Boys Like," The Waitresses. One of the decades' great two-hit wonders (the other being the seasonal favorite "Christmas Wrapping"), this flirty and playful clip is both dated-looking yet incredibly hip.
4. "The Metro," Berlin. Nonchalantly grabbing eyes and ears in late '82, Berlin's first hit utilizes neo-noir and
homages to 1940s cinema to bolster a song about love and longing.
5. "Mickey Mouse," Sparks. Not a traditional music video by any means, nor was this song released as a single, this is probably one of the most bizarre (and underrated) performances in Saturday Night Live history.

Honorable Mentions: "I Ran (So Far Away)," A Flock of Seagulls; "The Message," Grandmaster Flash.

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