Episode 12 – Songs from 1983
Welcome to New Wave Beat. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio. We are going to flash back to the year 1983 with some great new wave songs. Before that, though, let’s talk about what has been going on in the new wave world.
0:00 – New Wave news
5:11 – Songs from 1983
New Wave News
Cyndi Lauper Sells Home
Cyndi Lauper recently sold a mansion that she owned in Stamford, Connecticut for about $800,000. Unfortunately it was well below the initial $1.25 million asking price. It is on 1½ acres and the house looked pretty nice based on the pictures I saw. The house must hold a lot of memories for Lauper, as she bought the house in 1986, and wrote many of her songs in it. Lauper figured since her and husband Dave Thornton now live in Manhattan, and their son is in college, it was time to let the house go. Lauper will soon be touring with Rod Stewart which will be hot tickets.
Reasons to Be Cheerful
With all of the negative articles about the state of the world, David Byrne felt like he should make a website that brings out the positive in people. It is called “Reasons to Be Cheerful”, and promises articles in diverse areas like health, culture, economics, and so on. This was coupled with a “Reasons to Be Cheerful” talk tour that took place in New York City and elsewhere. He is in the middle of taking that tour to Europe for 5 dates. And of course there is the massive music tour that he will start this spring to support his new album, whose shows have repeatedly sold out in minutes. Busy busy busy!
Suggs from Madness
There was an intriguing article in the Mirror about Suggs, the lead singer from the Madness. In it, he says that his family helps keep him grounded, He has been married to the love of his life for 36 years now and has 2 daughters in their 30s. Not resting on his laurels, Suggs is going to soon embark on a 1-man tour where he will perform, and talk about his experiences in the music industry, and life in general. There is also a Suggs film called “My Life Story” which talks about his life, including a rough childhood. He is giving David Byrne a run for his money in the busyness department.
An annual throwback festival, summer appropriately named the Rewind Festival, has some new wavers on the bill. In its 10th year, Kim Wilde is set to perform as she did last year, and gave some glowing remarks about the Festival. Other acts will include Midge Ure, Heaven 17, Howard Jones and many more new wavers and other wavers. That’s a lot of star power but unfortunately for me it is quite the distance from Chicago. The festival will be a series of 3 3-day shows in each of Scotland, Northern England and Southern England. There are also a bunch of ancillary activities, like camping, fireworks, and karaoke.
Mark E Smith Passes Away
Singer Mark E Smith of the experimental post-punk / new wave band the Fall passed away earlier in the week. The cause of death was not released, but Smith had some medical issues causing him to cancel some shows last year. Mark E Smith soon started the Fall after being inspired by a Sex Pistols concert. While the Fall never had any major hits, they still have a strong cult following. Their musical styles throughout the decades were quite eclectic to say the least. An interesting fact about the band is that they did not like to pay old fan favorites. Mark Smith will be missed indeed.
Talk with Howard Jones
The San Francisco Chronicle recently caught up with Howard Jones and spoke with him about music and fame. Jones was pretty funny with some of this reponses. The Chronicle asked “You were so far ahead of your time in the ’80s that your songs finally make sense now.” to which Jones replied “I was playing the long game”. On a more serious note, Jones mentioned that he wanted to write songs that would boost and lift people. For example, “Things Can Only Get Better”. Indeed, a lot of his songs discuss things like being open-minded and special. Give this article a read!
Austrian new waver Falco would have been 60 last year, but sadly he died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic 20 years ago. Last summer there was a huge Falco tribute concert featuring many musicians. Austrian television will air this concert on February 2, the 20th anniversary of his passing. Red Bull TV also had a 13-minute movie short titled “Reworking Falco” where various musicians had 48 hours to create remixes of his various songs. As it stands, Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” is the only German-language song to hit #1 in the US charts, though Nena’s 99 Luftballoons came quite close with a #2 peak.
Songs from 1983
1983 was the year where the US Billboard Year-End Charts were really peppered with some great New Wave hits. There is also more of a departure of sound from new wave’s punk roots, and the synthesizer (much to my liking) was king. Be sure to check out song and video playlists for some of these songs on my website newwavebeat.com.
Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
Let’s start our 1983 retrospective with Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon”, which was released as a single late that year. Fronted by the androgynous Boy George, Culture Club had a strong debut in 1982 with a couple of hits, and their sophomore album “Colour By Numbers” the following year that really made even more popular. This album included “Karma Chameleon”. A harmonica is featured prominently in “Karma Chameleon” and is arguably what identifies it to the casual listener. Boy George’s vocals are smooth and has the right inflections in this song. Indeed, he knows to hit the right notes in the right places. Also, the rhythm section and keyboards are underrated in my opinion. Based on what I read, I think the song is about a relationship that Boy George was having with the band’s drummer. I sensed some tension in the relationship with strained lines like “You’re my lover, not my rival” and a slightly sardonic “You Come and Go”. Because of this, I believe the term “karma chameleon” is meant as a pejorative. In my opinion the narrator is not happy with himself because of the relationship, calling himself “a man without conviction”. Despite not following the theme of the song, the video is one of the most memorable of the ‘80s; it is a reimagining of Mississippi shortly after the Civil War. There is a diverse cast of people in sharp attire having fun by the river. Halfway through they board a riverboat where they are partying some more. And towards the end they, as playful as possible, make an onboard thief walk the plank. Karma Chameleon was Culture Club’s biggest hit, though “Do You Want to Hurt Me” beforehand was almost as big. A few years later, Boy George embarked on a solo career and still tours to this day.
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams
Next up is “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by Eurythmics. This band was a duo consisting of singer Annie Lennox and instrumentalist Dave Stewart. They were dating each other, and were together in a band called the Strangers. Soon the band broke up and their romantic relationship ended, and then interestingly they formed duo dubbed Eurythmics. Their debut album in 1981 did not fare so well, but in 1983 they broke through with the album “Sweet Dreams”, with the title track becoming a big hit. The songs starts off with a sleek, violin-sounding synth melody that is instantly recognizable. It repeats throughout most of the song. Annie Lennox’s voice is soulful and captivating. In Sweet Dreams she usually sings in a lower register than some of Eurythmics’ other work, and when she goes higher it makes for great emphasis. I would say the song is a short blueprint for life, at the risk of making the song seem grandiose. Lennox is warning the listener that some people out there will use and abuse you in your quest for the good life. But ultimately she says you should “keep your head up, movin’ on”, I am assuming in response to the use and abuse. The video is pretty surreal, which makes sense given the song title. It has the duo meditating inside what looks like a record company’s board room, playing cellos in renaissance-wear, and some cows are featured as well. Lennox is more prominent in the video than Stewart thanks in part to a for-the-time androgynous look and bright orange hair. Overall, the imagery is distinctive and is memorable even 35 years later. Eurythmics went on to record quite a few albums and score more than a few hits in the ‘80s. They recently got nominated to the Rock Hall of Fame, a testament to their fame and influence in the new wave world.
Men Without Hats – Safety Dance
Third on my list is Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance”. Men Without Hats were a Canadian-based synth-pop band spearheaded by 2 brothers, Ivan and Stefan Doroschuk. Their debut album in 1982 contained Safety Dance, which did quite well in the charts the following year. There are 2 versions to “Safety Dance” that are neck-in-neck in popularity on Spotify. I am going to talk about the shorter single version as opposed to the longer album version. The single version was also used in the video.Ivan Doroschuk has quite the quirky voice; I would describe it as a commanding, aloof baritone. The song kind of has a carnival sound to it without delving into caricature. It is quite danceable,, but considering the title, it better be. Toward the end of the song Ivan’s vocals become increasingly more high-pitched and over-the-top, ending the song with a bang. I had thought “Safety Dance” was a clarion call for people to be themselves on the contemporary dance floors. This fits well with the DIY ethos of punk and new wave, and the encouragement to do things differently musically. Wikipedia has a more detailed explanation from Ivan himself; he said that the song is about protesting the banning of dancing a certain way (pogoing) at clubs with new wave music.The video kind of has a Renaissance Fair theme to it, what with the outfits of most of the individuals. In it, Ivan is rallying the village to dance with this dance moves, sort of like the Pied Piper with his flute. Toward the song’s climax dozens are dancing. Men Without Hats had a more modest hit with “Pop Goes the World” in 1987 but only recorded sporadically after the ‘80s. Ivan still tours as Men Without Hats with a new backing band; I went to one of their shows a few years ago and it was a blast!
Naked Eyes – Always Something There to Remind Me
Next up is “Always Something There to Remind Me” as covered by British synth-pop duo Naked Eyes. This song was originally written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in the ‘60s, and sung by DIonne Warwick in a demo. A top 10 hit in the United States, “Always Something There to Remind Me” came off Naked Eyes’ debut album. Pete Byrne (no, not the Dead or Alive frontman) manned the mic while and Rob Fisher set up the synths. The intro and right before the 2nd verse have a jubilant synth that hooks you in right away. Fisher actually uses an at-the-time innovative synthesizer to craft his melodies, so credit is due there. The military-style drums at times interestingly have a similar triumphant effect, albeit more subtle. In my opinion Byrne kind of sounds, and maybe even looks, like Morten Harket, if you are familiar with A-Ha. The song is about a guy who cannot stop thinking about his ex-girlfriend. Everywhere he goes, like cafes and city streets, he is reminded of her. In the choruses, he states that he will never be free of thinking about her. Perhaps because of the upbeat melody and to some extent Byrne’s vocal delivery, I think that the narrator doesn’t seem bitter or lamentful, but is just recalling the sweet memories he had with his girlfriend. The well-done video largely follows the lyrics. In it, Fisher is marrying Byrne’s ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, Byrne is running around what appears to be London. He is watching her and Fisher being harassed by paparazzi, the feisty photographers adding an additional angle to the story. He also has visions of him still being with her. The band would have another hit with “Promises, Promises” which still gets some radioplay, and one more album to boot. However, they quickly dissolved.
Kajagoogoo – Too Shy
Let’s conclude our 1983-fest with Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy”. Kajagoogoo, fronted by Limahl, debuted in 1982 with the album White Feathers. The slice of bubblegum heaven dubbed “Too Shy” hit the charts big the following year, topping the UK charts, while being #5 in the States. Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran produced “Too Shy”. Yes, Duran Duran were very busy in the early ‘80s. But back to “Too Shy”, the half minute intro features a warm synth melody and then Limahl enters the fray. Overall, Limahl’s vocals are well-enunciated, catchy and full of hooks. The section right before the choruses with the high-pitched synth and where Limahl sings “hey girl, move a little closer” is probably the main hook of the song. The chorus uses rhyming and repetition to good measure, cementing its status as an earworm. The bridge has the doo-wop-esque “do-do-do-do-do-dos”, which Duran Duran liked to do too. The lyrics don’t need the assistance of Freud; I believe the song is about the singer wooing a woman who he feels is not being forward enough. The narrator is asking her to try a little harder, I am assuming to be more assertive in their courtship. Considering the straightforward lyrics and Kajagoogoo’s bubblegum image, the video is surprisingly a little trippy. In it, a waitress at a club has visions of Kajagoogoo performing at parties representing different time eras. For example, the end of World War 2 and the early ‘80s. She is really checking out Limahl, but unfortunately she is too shy to do anything about it. Unfortunately Kajagoogoo sacked Limahl after only 1 album, and got a singer that was a good deal less competent. As it stands, the band didn’t have any more substantial hits, though Limahl as a solo artist had one with “The Neverending Story” theme.
Thank you for taking a spin with me through 1983. This is Jason D’Orazio wishing you a great week from New Wave Beat!