Saturday, July 9, 1983

The Police hit #1 with “Every Breath You Take”: July 9, 1983

Originally posted July 9, 2012.

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This content is taken from the The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999, available at as a standard book or ebook!

If there was an award for misunderstood songs, “Every Breath You Take” would clearly be vying for the prize. Police drummer Stewart Copeland explains, “People often choose their wedding song. They think it’s a cheerful song. In’s a very dark song.’” KL

Dark indeed. Sting, the band’s primary singer and songwriter, penned his very un-romantic song in the wake of his broken marriage to Frances Tomelty. Sting told Rolling Stone that it is actually “‘a fairly nasty song…about surveillance and ownership and jealousy.’” BR1 Ah, nothing expresses wedded bliss like a tale of an obsessive stalker.

Every Breath You Take

Often mocked for pretentiousness, Sting whittled the lyrics for “Breath” down to bare essentials as well. The words are “pulled from the rock & roll cliche handbook” RS500 or “straight out of a rhyming dictionary.” TB The song came out of one of those few-minutes-of-writing sessions in the middle of the night and, according to various claims, was influenced by the Gene Pitney song “Every Breath I Take,” Leo Sayer’s “More Than I Can Say,” and the opening lines of Judith Merrill’s sci-fi short story “Whoever You Are.” WK Structurally, the song thrives on its simplicity. To avoid distracting from the song’s “hypnotic bass line,” RS500 the Police jettisoned an intricate synthesizer piece.

Regardless of where it came from, “Every Breath You Take” became the biggest pop song of 1983. WHC To continue the grand that-song-came-from-this-one tradition, it was memorably sampled in “I’ll Be Missing You,” the chart-topping 1997 tribute to slain rapper the Notorious B.I.G. helmed by Puff Daddy.


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Friday, June 17, 1983

The Police's Synchronicity Released: June 17, 1983

Originally posted on 6/17/2011. Updated 3/9/2013.

Released: 17 June 1983
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) 1. Synchronicity I 2. Walking in Your Footsteps 3. O My God 4. Mother 5. Miss Gradenko 6. Synchronicity II (7/16/83, #16 US, #17 UK, #9 AR) 7. Every Breath You Take (5/28/83, #1 US, #1 UK, #5 AC, #1 AR, sales: 1.0 m, air: 8.0 m) 8. King of Pain (7/9/83, #3 US, #17 UK, #1 AR, #33 AC) 9. Wrapped Around Your Finger (7/9/83, #8 US, #7 UK, #9 AR, #13 AC, air: 1.0 m) 10. Tea in the Sahara 11. Murder by Numbers

Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, 0.3 UK, 16.5 world (includes US and UK)

Peak: 117 US, 12 UK


Review: June 17, 1983: The Police released Synchronicity. In The Review’s 2001 feature on “The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time”, Clarke Speicher called it “the most compelling work of [their] career and one of the signature albums of the ‘80s.”’s Al Massa calls it “a benchmark album from a tremendously influential band [that] will stand the test of time as a genuine classic.”

The album was loosely built around Carl Jung’s synchronicity concept which suggested an interconnectedness amongst seemingly non-related occurrences. The only songs to expressly reference this idea are “Synchronicity I” and “Synchronicity II.” The latter was a top 20 single in the U.S. and U.K. and lyrically told an odd story of suburban life in juxtaposition with the Loch Ness monster creeping from its lake.

However, the songs were loosely tied by their thematic lyrics. As Rolling Stone’s Stephen Holden said, “paranoia, cynicism and excruciating loneliness run rampant” throughout. Ironically, such an agenda didn’t slow the album’s success. The first single, “Every Breath You Take”, was a dark tale of a stalker which has often been misinterpreted as a love song. It was #1 for 8 weeks in the U.S. and rates in the top 10 in the book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.

Every Breath You Take

The album’s staying power, however, was due to its depth. “King of Pain”, a less than joyous look at despair and abandonment, climbed to #3 on the U.S. charts. “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, a study of the suffocating aspects of marriage, was also a top 10 hit in the U.S. and U.K.

Wrapped Around Your Finger

Other standouts include “Murder by Numbers”, an ironically bouncy number about a contract killer, and “Tea in the Sahara”, which Holden calls the album’s “moodiest, most tantalizing song.” The song relays a story inspired by Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky novel. Three siblings wait in the desert for a mysterious stranger with whom they’ve made a deal, but he never returns. Holden says the song could be interpreted as “England dreaming of its lost empire, mankind longing for God, and Sting himself pining for an oasis of romantic peace.”

Of course, the album was far from peaceful and the band was not at peace either. The tension of their working relationship in the studio and a lengthy world tour drove wedges between them. Sting would venture out for a solo career and an attempt to reunite in 1986 was short-lived.

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Saturday, April 30, 1983

“Beat It” becomes Michael Jackson’s second #1 from Thriller

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Michael Jackson “Beat It”

Writer(s): Michael Jackson (see lyrics here)

Released: 2/3/1983, First charted: 2/26/1983

Peak: 13 US, 11 RB, 14 AR, 3 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 5.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): 391.4

Review: Michael Jackson was already a star before 1982’s Thriller, but the 1-2 punch of “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” from that album sent him into the superstar stratosphere. Only a one-week run by Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” prevented “Beat It” from bumping “Billie Jean” from the top of the U.S. pop charts. It was the first time since the Beatles knocked themselves from #1 in 1964 that an artist followed one chart-topper so quickly with another. BR1-571

More importantly, the song “rocked more than anything else Jackson had ever done,” RS500 largely because it “mated the top pop hero of revitalized Top 40…with Edward Van Halen, guitar king of heavy metal.” MA-351 He refused pay for his services, unless one couts the two six-packs of beer producer Quincy Jones brought to him in the studio. SF Eddie told Q magazine in 2009 that he thought, “maybe Michael will give me dance lessons someday” SF and informed Musician magazine, “I didn’t care, I did it as a favor.” BR1-571

That favor gave Michael garnered a rarity for a black, R&B/pop artist – airplay on album-rock stations. The song also snagged a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal. Jackson said, “I wanted to write the type of rock song that I would go out and buy…but also something totally different from the rock music I was hearing on Top Forty radio.” RS500

Also crucial to promoting “Beat It” to iconic status was its video. With “Billie Jean”, the King of Pop broke down the racial barriers of the new video era. With “Beat It”, he became the king of the video, giving viewers a mini-movie version of West Side Story with rival gangs facing off in a choreographed rumble. The dancing drew raves from Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire. BR1-571

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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Muddy Waters died: April 30, 1983

Originally posted April 30, 2012.

McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, was born on 4/4/1915 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Some sources indicate his birth year as 1913, but the bio on cites 1915. He died on April 30, 1983.

Waters ranks second only to Robert Johnson as the top blues acts of all time. Waters was pivotal in the development of the Chicago blues style. He taught himself to play harmonica in the early 1920s and picked up guitar in the early 1930s.

Among his most significant songs are “I Feel Like Going Home” (1948), “Rollin’ Stone” (1950), “Hoochie Coochie Man” (1954), and “Got My Mojo Working” (1957). All have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The latter three and “Mannish Boy” also made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. “Hoochie Coochie” is also in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress and made NPR’s list of the Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century. “Mojo” is also among the RIAA’s selections for the RIAA’s 365 songs of the 20th century.

Hoochie Coochie Man

Best of (1954), Down on Stovall’s Plantation (1966), McKinley Morganfield (aka “Muddy Waters”) (1971), The Chess Box (1972), Can’t Get No Grindin’ (1973), and The Complete Plantation Recordings (1993) are all Blues Hall of Fame inductees. In addition, Time magazine named The Anthology 1947-1972 (1947-72) one of the Top 100 Albums of All Time.

His most celebrated album is At Newport, a live album from 1960. It makes the DMDB’s lists of top 1000 albums of all time, Top 10 Blues Albums of All Time, and the top 50 live albums of all time. It also ranks as one of the 100 Greatest American Albums according to Blender magazine and one of the 100 Essential Albums of the Century according to Vibe magazine.


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Tuesday, April 12, 1983

R.E.M. released its debut album, Murmur: April 12, 1983

Originally posted April 12, 2012.

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“Singer Michael Stipe has often said that the title was chosen because it’s one of the easiest words to pronounce in the English language.” JD Ironically, it is also an apt description of his singing style. AZ “The lyrics and the melodies seem buried, almost subliminal, and even the hookiest songs…resist clarity.” RS “His voice works more as a fourth instrument, complementing the band musically.” PK

“Like all great bands, R.E.M.’s individual parts…are as interesting as the collective sound.” AZ Peter Buck’s guitar playing draws “heavily on the trademark Rickenbackers of the early Byrds, with the occasional burst of Velvets-style feedback and garage-rock fuzz thrown in for emphasis.” JD Mike Mills provides “melodic counterpoints with his ultra-musical bass parts, and [drummer Bill] Berry shows considerable imagination in varying his propulsive backbeats with deft and colorful use of elaborate patterns on the tom-toms. Both also add beautiful harmony vocals.” JD

“Though critics swamped R.E.M.’s 1983 full-length debut with country-rock comparisons to the Byrds, Murmur sounds like no one else.” AZ While “firmly in the tradition of American folk-rock, post-punk, and garage rock, Murmur sounds as if it appeared out of nowhere, without any ties to the past, present, or future.” AMG “The songs on Murmur sound as if they’ve existed forever, yet they subvert folk and pop conventions by taking unpredictable twists and turns into melodic, evocative territory, whether it’s the measured riffs of Pilgrimage, the melancholic Talk About the Passion, or the winding guitars and pianos of Perfect Circle.” AMG We also get ““the amusing perplexity of 9-9 and Moral Kiosk; the soothing wisdom of Stipe’s voice in Shaking Through.” SL “Nearly every song is an unforgettable gem.” PK

“The band made its recorded debut in the summer of 1981 with a song that paid homage to the spirit of the young, independent broadcasters…The tiny Hib-Tone label only pressed 1,000 copies of Radio Free Europe, but the single topped the Village Voice’s year-end critics' poll, and the attention helped the band land its deal with I.R.S.” JD From there, they record the E.P. Chronic Town in 1982. However, by the time of their debut album, R.E.M. left “behind the garagey jangle pop of their first recordings,” AMG “de-emphasizing the backbeat and accentuating the ambience of the ringing guitar.” AMG

Radio Free Europe

“The production, by then-college radio stalwarts Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, is shimmering but never slick, making this rise above the early DIY indie rock dustheap without falling prey to the new wave excesses of the early ‘80s scene.” PK “Throughout the sessions, there was pressure from I.R.S. to produce a hit, but…the band say they tuned the company out and proceeded to craft the sort of finely textured cult album they adored” – Big Star’s Third/Sister Lover, Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album, Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, and Wire’s Pink Flag. JD The “result should have been a complete mess” PK but became “one of the most remarkable, near-perfect debut albums of the rock era” PK and “a founding document of alternative rock, released just as Gen X was starting to go to college.” RS “Truly a must-own album.” PK


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Saturday, March 5, 1983

Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” hits #1

Originally posted January 22, 2013.

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Writer(s): Michael Jackson (see lyrics here)

First charted: 22 January 1983

Peak: 17 US, 16 CB, 11 UK, 9 AC, 19 RB (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.5 US, 0.87 UK, 5.6 world

Radio Airplay (in millions): 1.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 78.98

Review: With its “insanely catchy melody atop an insistent beat,” BB100 “this fabulously funky slice of disco-pop” BBC is “the single that made Jackson the biggest star since Elvis.” RS500 The Thriller album, from which this was the second single, became the best-selling album of all-time with a record-breaking seven top ten pop singles.

Michael sings of a supposedly real life situation in which a woman claimed that he was the father of one of her twin sons. In his Moonwalker autobiography, though, Michael described the situation more as the “kind of thing has happened to some of my brothers.” KL On the surface, the song may have been about a paternity suit, but it hinted at something more – the struggle of a major musical star being a target for the public.

Regardless of its inspiration, the song’s game-changing quality is in what it inspired. The video for “Billie Jean” was revolutionary for breaking the dominance on MTV of videos by predominantly white artists. The head of CBS, Jackson’s label, threatened that there would be no more CBS acts on MTV if they refused to show the video. TB MTV caved.

Not only did “Billie Jean” show how important visual presentation had become in the early ‘80s via its video, but with Michael’s eye-popping live performance of the song on the U.S. TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever. He debuted his iconic moonwalk dance for an audience in excess of 47 million; TB it launched him as the King of Pop.

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