The 50 Best Songs of 1983
by Philip Sherburne | April 2, 2014
Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
Funk was everywhere in 1983. And not just any ol' funk, but futuristic funk, full of synthesizers and drum machines and herky-jerky robot moves. Michael Jackson's Thriller led the charge -- although released in late 1982, six of its seven singles came out the following year -- and the pop charts were full of wriggly keyboards and mechanical beats via songs like Prince's "Little Red Corvette," Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue," even Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," which hit No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100 despite being an instrumental.
"Rockit" was just the tip of the electro-funk iceberg, along with Freeez, Cybotron and George Clinton, while Shannon and Madonna were taking similar ideas in a springier, poppier direction. That Liquid Liquid's punky "Cavern" would turn up for the second time that year in Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel's "White Lines (Don't Do It)" shows how rapidly funk was spreading and mutating; even more striking is the way that some of the planet's biggest rock bands (The Rolling Stones, Yes) were suddenly playing around with drum machines, dub delay and Fairlight synths, while the former punks in New Order fired up their sequencers and turned out one of the biggest dance tracks ever ("Blue Monday").
Punk's initial push was still causing ripples. At home, the Violent Femmes and R.E.M. were giving birth to the alternative nation, while Minor Threat and Suicidal Tendencies tested hardcore's harder/faster/louder limits. Across the Atlantic, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths had softened their palette and amped up the drama, making way for a new generation of guitar bands.
All of that is just scratching the surface. Relive 1983 in all its glory with our list of the year's 50 essential songs, including tunes by David Bowie ("Let's Dance"), Bob Marley ("Buffalo Soldier"), Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton ("Islands in the Stream") and more.