Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1983

1983 is the first year in which I find myself really stretching. The following albums are all quite solid, a couple of them positively excellent. But outside of the five listed, there are a) relatively few records from 1983 I’ve actually cared to listen to in their entirety and b) even fewer that might potentially qualify for inclusion in a Top 5. Many of the records that tend to top the various online lists I’ve seen–Murmur (R.E.M.), Power Corruption & LiesĀ (New Order), Synchronicity (The Police)–fail to sustain my interest beyond a handful of tracks (for instance, U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is riveting – would that the rest of War were as well). At what point did my taste depart so markedly from the critics’, when in past we seemed so in synch? Perhaps it has something to do with my inveterate love of Billy Joel.

5. GENESIS (Genesis)

Genesis

“That’s All” and “Illegal Alien” might lead you to believe that Genesis had finally and irrevocably made the transition to pop. But that wouldn’t adequately explain the edgy atmospherics of “Mama,” the 11-minute “Home by the Sea,” or the unpredictable, percussion-heavy “Silver Rainbow.” The former songs lost them a lot of old fans and won them many new ones; the latter proved that they were still far more adventurous than their detractors claimed.

4. FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF NIGHT (Bonnie Tyler)

Faster than the Speed of Night

You may not have noticed yet that I’m a big Jim Steinman fan. He only writes two of the songs here–the epic title cut and the even more epic “Total Eclipse of the Heart”–but his fingerprints are all over this album, from the cascading keyboards (Roy Bittan again!) to the overdriven rock & roll choirs. Bonnie Tyler is still the star of this show, though, with her heart-stopping, raspy vocals.

3. LAWYERS IN LOVE (Jackson Browne)

Lawyers in Love

In the wake of “Someody’s Baby,” Lawyers in Love finds Jackson Browne in a pop-rockier mood than had been his wont, trading in his trademark introspection for upbeat guitars and radio-ready keyboards. He hasn’t lost his knack for a great lyric though. “Lawyers in Love” may be funny, but it’s also sharp as hell; likewise, “Tender Is the Night” features one of the pithiest descriptions of a crumbling relationship I’ve ever heard: “You win, I win, we lose.”

2. SCRIPT FOR A JESTER’S TEAR (Marillion)

Script for a Jester's Tear

In 1983, Genesis were “Taking It All Too Hard,” Yes were the “Owners of a Lonely Heart,” and Asia were caught up in the “Heat of the Moment.” Meanwhile, Marillion were busy writing a Script for a Jester’s Tear. Fish has so fully integrated Peter Gabriel’s vocal mannerisms that I had difficulty telling them apart on first listen, while the band’s inspired synth leads and Floydian guitar dramatics gave birth to a whole new sub-genre: neo-prog.

1. AN INNOCENT MAN (Billy Joel)

An Innocent Man

What does it say about me that my favorite album of 1983 sounds more like 1963? In any case, the valentine to 60s pop that is An Innocent Man is one of the strongest sets Billy Joel ever released. It’s definitely the sweetest, as songs like “Tell Her About It” and “The Longest Time” bask in the double glow of nostalgia and his then-new relationship with supermodel Christie Brinkley. Chuck Klosterman once (lovingly) described Billy Joel as the ultimate hapless (and thus perennially identifiable) loser. Well, to quote another great songwriter, even the losers get lucky sometimes. The relationship wouldn’t last; An Innocent Man most certainly has.

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