1983 playlist

The games of 1983 I played, Lode Runner aside, did have a pretty pronounced throughline: “cinematic” qualities. Games had been riffing on the movies since Spacewar [1962], so I already have a tag for it, but they had not yet really tried to ape movies formally. Obviously, Dragon’s Lair made this its whole hook, but Portopia Serial Murder Case was even more convincingly like a movie to me despite its still image presentation, down entirely to scripting. (Theoretically combining those two games brings you ever-closer to the works of David Cage.) Ant Attack was presented in grayscale widescreen, and Lifespan is clearly indebted to abstract Video Art like you can find digging in the MOMA archives. This preoccupation, needless to say if you know the broad strokes of video game history, will become even more prominent over time, metastasizing, especially as people grow concerned with proving that games are art. Looking at my list of games to play, what starts here really boils over in 1998. (Film criticism had a similar infatuation with realism and bookishness circa the 1940s, but thankfully for everyone, the medium collectively got over that minor spell in fairly short order.)

1983

  1. Fred Lane – Fun In The Fundus
    Gotta kick things in with some blown-out fanfare! There’s something Dr. Demento about the Swing-era-pastiche vibes here, but it goes beyond the Novelty confines: its sense of humor is far more oblique and implacable, firstly delighting in error and second in hostility. It’s also clearly of acquaintance with Free Jazz, as the solo indicates.
  2. The Microscopic Septet – Mr. Bradley/Mr. Martin
    Oddly, that wasn’t even the only Free Jazz Swing Pastiche release of the year. (This isn’t the best example of that, but it’s the only song off their Take The Z Train album on YouTube.) This band takes it far more seriously.
  3. Takeo Moriyama – 竹 (Take)
    It’s Takeo Moriyama again, because for once we picked up one year’s playlist in the same ballpark as the last one ended! I think this track has a lot more character to it, with its zany xylophone runs and driving hi-hat runs.
  4. Dadisi Komolafe – Speak No Evil
  5. Willie Colón – Vigilante
    Sweeping strings, soloing horn, and samba rhythm meet up for an epic ballad.
  6. Nate Morgan – Mrafu
    I love the ascending chord progression, the bass tone, the inventive drumming…
  7. Billy Bang – Outline No. 12
    Here we dive into the avant-garde, all scraping strings, but stick with it, this track has a lot of different parts.
  8. Iannis Xenaxis – Shaar
    When it comes to musical taste, the word “accessible” is ridiculous. I find the abrasive Xenaxis far more “accessible” than composers that are often bandied about as entry-level; Bach is absolutely impenetrable to me, managing to not stir my soul, body, or mind. I could say that this is an “accessible” Xenaxis, even, but who am I to presume that for someone else? What I really mean by that is it’s not very long but it’s very compelling, full of events and scraping otherworldly sounds.
  9. Tera de Marez Oyens – Ambiversion for Bass Clarinet and Tape
    An exploration into an ocean of haunting sound.
  10. Holger Hiller – Blass Schlafen Rabe
    Lots of dissonant ideas sprinkled around a driving beat, until it’s not.
  11. Renaldo And The Loaf – A Critical Dance
    Renaldo And The Loaf also did a collaboration with The Residents in 1983. Boy, he sure does sound like a The Residents collaborator!
  12. Negativland – Theme To A Big 10-8 Place
    A Big 10-8 Place is really the “first” Negativland album. It’s not got the single-topic satirical throughline of their post-Escape From Noise [1987] material, but the sound and the quirky sense of humor is finally in place, with this track serving as the announcement of the aesthetic. Very stupid!
  13. Severed Heads – Dead Eyes Opened
    1983 was the year Industrial genre turned from weird aggressive sound collage noise type stuff to dark synthpop dance music. (Well, okay, Einsturzende Neubauten kept the faith, as did others.) As such, this is a surprisingly catchy classic.
  14. Pink Industry – Time For Change
    Nothing sounds like this, the tremendous onslaught of the blown-out beeps and stop-start drumming mixed with the vaguer, slippery qualities of the fretless bass, breathy vocals, and long-held synth strings… some Shoegaze band should take cues here.
  15. Krisma – I Must Know Your Name
    Something more clinical.
  16. Nona Hendryx – Transformation
  17. Cabaret Voltaire – Animation
    Case in point about Industrial, there’s suddenly not much daylight between Cabaret Voltaire and mainstream pop music.
  18. Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
    I was born in 1995, but I know I’m a Millennial and not the generation after that, because I remember when I was a very young child my parents had a mixtape on cassette that I would listen to. It had, as best as I can recall, Kool & The Gang’s Celebration [1980], some children’s cod-reggae that I despised simply because even at age 4 I felt indignant at the condescension of children’s media, and this song, in its synthy gothy nonsense glory, which I loved the most on that mixtape. This is pretty much as close as you’re gonna get to an origin story for my musical tastes.
  19. New Order – Blue Monday
  20. Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)
    This one thrums like flight.
  21. The The – This Is The Day
  22. Billy Joel – Uptown Girl
    One thing I think is interesting about the music of the 1980s is the reconstruction of pure Pop music. In the 1970s, the pop-chart landscape of America was more (to me) obviously fragmented by genre conventions like Disco and Soft Rock and such, with little I feel immediately inclined to call Pop, no adjectives. 1980s Pop mostly reformulated itself from the ooze of clubbing music, but also from a dash of zeitgeisty, reactionary 50s/60s-pre-Psychedelia aesthetics — remember, Tainted Love [1981] was a cover. Billy Joel became essentially a professional nostalgist in the 1980s, and was heavily rewarded for it. This is from a whole album of retro Pop pastiches, but its staunch adherence to the old-school actually demonstrates by contrast how far Pop of the 80s had strayed from Brill Building fundamentals.

    The upside of this traditionalism, though, is a studied classicism: Billy Joel songwrites the hell out of Uptown Girl, outdoing The Four Seasons at their own game. The thing is a hook machine that comes off so naturally as if he didn’t create this singalong song so much as discover it, already existent in the leylines of the populace heart. It uses those hooks to slip in an excessive amount of key changes for such an ostensibly-simple 4/4-clap ditty, which turns the affair into a swirling narrative Pop epic, readymade for Act I of some jukebox musical that’s riffing on Grease [1971]. The music helps tell the story, foreclosing in its triumph the possibility that the narrator’s pining is not reciprocated.
  23. David Bowie – Let’s Dance [4 Minute Cut]
    Now, Bowie sprinkles in elements of the retro pastiche, especially that intro, that baritone sax, and those background singers, but at heart this is all new-fangled machine funk of stabs and empty space, brought to you by Niles Rodgers of Chic. To me, the song “Let’s Dance” is not really a sell-out — the vocal performance is too harried and it’s too uncompromisingly itself — but a cash-out, the final form of the once nakedly-imitative Funk pastiche Bowie had been incubating since 1984 [1973].
  24. Midnight Star – No Parking On The Dance Floor
    Meanwhile, more straight-up funk like this is a dying breed in 1983, if you put aside the pop superstars Prince and Jackson.
  25. Marcos Valle – Estrelar
    Apparently, according to the YouTube comments here, this became a big song in some corner of TikTok. I found out about it in turn by YouTube recommendation. I suppose that’s the best-case scenario for our current media ecosystem, sudden championing of obscure hidden gems like this. I like the cover, the bright pastel party drinks counterbalanced by the desperately sad eyes on a scraggly, unshaven face wearing a flat expression.
  26. Kajagoogoo – Too Shy
    The introduction to this song is magical, but then every element added after the bassline detracts from the song’s quality until it just full on takes a nosedive into a plink-plonk 80s wasteland.
  27. Letta Mbulu – Normalizo
    So here’s a song that exists entirely in its laid-back 80s groove. (If you’d like, you can imagine inserting Burnin’ Up [1983] as the bridge between the last song and this one.)
  28. Lustt – Pillow Talk
    A more uptempo groove but with even more of a gliding vocal line and the steady one-two of the drums working halftime against the arpeggiation, so that the affect is roughly the same as the previous track.
  29. Jean-Luc Ponty – Computer Incantations For World Peace
    Jean-Luc Ponty just repeating the basic formula of synth arpeggiation against jazz violin over and over again rules.
  30. Mark Shreeve – Angel Of Fire
  31. Mito – Droid
  32. The S.O.S Band – Just Be Good To Me
    Absolute monster of a beat.
  33. Kraftwerk – Tour De France
    My favorite Kraftwerk track.
  34. Cybotron – Clear
  35. International Music System – An English ’93
  36. X-Ray Connection – Replay (Space Mix)
  37. G-Force – Feel The Force
  38. Herbie Hancock – Rockit
    Both Bill Laswell and Rockit will be making later appearances in this same playlist.
  39. The Rock Steady Crew – Hey You!
    This seems like the ultimate object of “when Hip-Hop was outwardly wholesome and fun” nostalgia, a breakdancing theme song with absolutely empty but maddeningly catchy lyrics, down to the Electric Boogaloo.
  40. Meco – Ewok Celebration (Club Version)
    I partially put this here to stand as a foil to Sucker MCs later, a demonstration of all that it stood against. It has Duke Bootee, only a YEAR after the lyrically-groundbreaking The Message [1982], doing some probably bootleg kids-movie promo where, minutes and minutes into this idiotic song with a sunshiney singalong chorus, he raps literal Ewok gibberish. It’s also on this list because it’s a decent song despite all its best efforts.
  41. Captain Rapp – Bad Times (I Can’t Stand It)
    Okay, okay, enough of the nonsense. Have some real lyricism. Captain Rapp here more properly takes the torch from Duke Bootee’s Message and drops probably the best verses of the year! Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis even turn in a beat that, uncharacteristically in my opinion, rules! (They also gave Ice-T his start this same year, but he was yet to become himself.) All told, a strong early showing from the West.
  42. Fantasy Three – Biters In The City
    The “biter” can often seem like the cryptid of old-school Hip-Hop as documented on the vinyl tablets, a mythic rhetorical construct that everyone can oppose and thus shore up their own normative orginality against. But this is a diss track to the Crash Crew for On The Radio [1983] obviously recycling the beat to Fantasy Three’s It’s Your Rock [1983]. Neither of those are included on this playlist because this song is better, with a similar but better beat, ferocious energy, and an infectious hook. Silver Fox, one of the rappers here, was a mentor to preteened LL Cool J and Kool G Rap, the latter of whom you can really hear in his pioneering use of internal rhymes.
  43. Fresh 3 MC’s – Fresh
    The bassline and drum groove are all knotted up, punctuated by the stabs, and it’s amazing. Probably beat of the year!
  44. Kool D. Ultimate MC’s – Free Style
    9 and a half minutes over a pretty minimal groove means their rap delivery has to carry the song… and it does. A better midway point between Electro and the harder-edged beats to come than the awkward hybrids Run-DMC were able to conjure.
  45. Jimmy Spicer – Money (Dollar Bill Y’all)
    Essentially the swan song of Disco Rap, as far as I’m concerned.
  46. Caution Crew – Rhythm Rock (I Like It)
  47. Rammellzee vs. K-Rob – Beat Bop
    It’s tradition to view this as capital-a Art rap, experimental and avant-garde and so very New York City, but I think it’s more like stoner rap, a laid-back slippery disco groove and nonsensical, casually-deployed rhymes.
  48. Double Dee & Steinski – Lesson 1 (The Payoff Mix)
    An enormously important song for me personally, serving really as my odd in-road to Hip-Hop. Sampling is the coolest instrument. Really picks up around 2:16, when they really figured out what they were doing as they were doing it and get braver in flipping through the samples while completely disregarding the skeleton of the track they were ostensibly remixing.

    Delightfully, I only found out just as I’m writing this that Double Dee & Steinski have reunited!
  49. The B-Boys – Two, Three, Break
  50. B+ – B-Beat Classic (Instrumental)
    This breakbeat spinning could not feel more Hip-Hop, a suitable bridge to the even-more stripped-back Sucker MCs, and yet, it’s actually a tribute to Disco DJ Jim Stuard — the opening of his Sessomatto remix [1976] looped and ran through a compressor then given some handclaps.
  51. Run-DMC – Sucker MCs (Krush Groove 1)
    Wrote 3000 words on this one.
  52. Test Dept – Compulsion
    Percussion to percussion.
  53. MLD – Perpetual Motion
  54. Sonic Youth – The World Looks Red
    This is kinda a revisit of The Burning Spear [1982] but faster.
  55. Swans – Freak
  56. The Stalin – 虫 (Insect) [Live]
    The blown-out noise quality of this videotape bootleg, and the live energy, really enhances it beyond the studio version where it suddenly feels way more traditional.
  57. Napalm Beach – Come Down
    This is either Grunge or Proto-Grunge, but either way this band’s whole style sticks out from everyone else. It’s just so self-assured and… not laid back but pulled back. Enchanting. The baritone vocalist’s half-mumbled vocals are key, as are the guitar lines and drums being way low in the mix.
  58. The Ex – Bouquet Of Barbed Wire
  59. The Fall – Eat Y’Self Fitter
    I don’t like the album this kicks off, but this is one of The Fall’s best songs and virtually encapsulates the band’s whole approach. I feel it’s also their most quotable, somehow getting only moreso the further and more obscurantist it gets into the song. I mean, as long as “quotable” doesn’t mean it has to actually make sense to deploy in any conversation with another human being ever. THE CENTIMETER SQUARE! SAID IT PURGED FEAR!
  60. Mofungo – Hunter Gatherer
  61. Chaos UK – Farmyard Boogie
    Pretty sure this uses the same exact chicken sample as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Repise) [1967]. The “joke” of this track wears out pretty fast, but it does have a good groove.
  62. Dead Hippie – Manic Masquerade
  63. The Red Krayola – Cafe Twenty-One
    This 60s prog band made essentially the same turn as King Crimson did around the same time, but to much less notice… probably due to their chosen quirky Post-Punk personnel association is with Pere Ubu instead of the more popular and straightforward Talking Heads. Due to the lyrics, I could probably use this as the track for Disco Elysium [2019/2021].
  64. Minutemen – 99
  65. R.E.M – 9-9
    This track feels pretty exactly cut down the middle between the scratchy Post-Punk of the early 80s and something that feels much more R.E.M. You’re not going to see a lot of R.E.M on these lists: I use the release of this, their debut album Murmur, as part of a loose cut-off point for when and why I lose interest in Rock.
  66. Rain Parade – 1 HR ½ Ago
    The whole “Paisley Underground” thing and other such 60s pastiches in 1983 underground Rock (to a certain extent including R.E.M) which seems to mirror the retro fascination of the Pop overground really worries me: Only 5 years out from the grand back-to-basics revolution of Punk, we already retreat back to basics again, seemingly afraid of what has grown after the first slash-and-burn? But even further back, and more soft and cuddly?
  67. Bauhaus – Slice Of Life
    Bauhaus ends up sounding pretty Pink Floydy here.
  68. X – I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
    A great singalong, getting faster and louder at will.
  69. 100 Flowers – California’s Falling Into The Ocean
    Tremendous, unheralded song, finally surpassing this band’s work as The Urinals. Great lyrical concept. Scratchy rhythm guitar and a yelpy vocalist, Post-Punk meat-and-potato staples done very well, and then the song launches into a second part, building through a driving enigma to catharsis.
  70. Sisters Of Mercy – Temple Of Love
    This bassline has Transmission [1979] all over it.
  71. Martha & The Muffins – Several Styles Of Blonde Girls Dancing
    Danseparc is one of the finest Remainalikes there are. The song is great, and then it becomes amazing after it resets back to the beginning in the middle to take another run at itself without all the nervous nuttiness, proceeding instead with a simple but irresistible beat, circling lyrical line, and moving melody.
  72. → ↑ → – Pop Art
  73. Charly García – Nos Siguen Pegando Abajo (Pecado Mortal)
  74. The Gadgets – We Had No Way Of Knowing
  75. Amos & Sara – Bossa Kings Of Rhumba
  76. EP-4 – Broken Bi-Psycle
  77. The Lines – Tunnel Party
  78. Pylon – Beep
  79. ESG – Parking Lot Blues
  80. Sexual Harassment – You Are My Sexual Connection
    This kind of lo-fi, sparse slap-bass slap-dash disco workout would only become chic again in the 2000s. Here in the 80s, it’s much more honest and dirty, a straight line from “connection” to “erection” and back.
  81. Liquid Liquid – Scraper
  82. Bill Laswell – Upright Man
  83. Savant – The Neo-Realist
    Both of the last two tracks are fat grooves with spoken word samples about the odd world of American Christianity. There’s something about that subject that kept sound collagers coming back to it — I think it’s an ethnographic stance but in your own backyard, and in the early 80s especially it was at once politically ascendant to the mainstream and yet remained mysterious and exotic to city folk. Double Dee & Steinski in their Lesson 4 [2018] actually bring us all the way back to this tendency.
  84. The Golden Palominos – Hot Seat
    This is also Bill Laswell.
  85. Zazou, Bikaye & Cy1 – Mangungu
  86. Michel Banabila – Marilli Track A2
  87. Von Zamla – Hopeful
  88. Bacamarte – UFO
    This is really a great example of “Progressive Rock” that hasn’t moved an inch since the 70s. That flute! The synth sounds! Good song though, the drums cut through everything.
  89. Zebra – Tell Me What You Want
    As you probably know by now I usually don’t go in for this type of song, and I don’t mean Metal. Call it Cock Rock, big haired bombast. But this one really gets me going! I could not intelligibly tell you why, it just grabs me harder and harder as it goes! Helps that I don’t ever hear it except if I want to hear it.
  90. Cocteau Twins – Musette And Drums
    For now, a class all their own. Simply so far beyond what anyone else was even aiming for at this time… such a gigantic sound.

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