I went to three different schools for third grade. One was in South Carolina, where I spent most of my early years; another in upstate New York, not far from where I’d end up going to middle school and high school; and then finally I finished out the year in Florida.
These days I think of Florida as the place where all the weird news comes from (when it doesn’t come from Germany), but until I moved to California it was hands down my favorite place I’d ever lived. The beach was 10 minutes away. Our house was open and airy with a high vaulted ceiling. The place abounded with wildlife; the invertebrates were probably the worst (the giant roaches they call Palmetto bugs, and wolf spiders as big as your hand), but I adored the reptiles (anoles everywhere, and once a small garden snake on the porch) and thought the toy-truck-sized grasshoppers were amazing. But best of all, the school I ended up at had what they called a “gifted program,” meaning I could be in a small class full of nerds like me doing extra stuff that made school actually fun, as opposed to a boring place with a lot of busy work and bullies.
Youth culture was in full swing by 1983. Video games, cartoons, toys, prime-time science fiction shows like Manimal and Knight Rider, fads and crazes that got so intense that even though my best friend and I were both boys, we actually felt left out by the whole Cabbage Patch thing. And even though it had been on the air for a couple of years, this was when I first got to see MTV.
I can’t fathom what music videos must mean to kids these days, or even to many of my younger friends. Clearly they’re still being made, clearly they still have some currency as promotional marketing. They haven’t even changed that much since, say, the late 80s. It’s no shock that you can put any Madonna video from that era next to a Lady Gaga video seamlessly, since the latter takes so many cues from the former. But for almost every video I can think of, the basic visual language — rapid cutting between three or four lip-synced scenes — is still pretty much unchanged. But in the early days, things were still just a little bit stranger.
That was one thing about Eurythmics: they were made to be seen. That flaming red buzzcut and the suit were instantly iconic, the exact opposite along the axis of androgyny of Boy George’s white rasta kabuki drag queen look. It won’t shock you, if you’ve been reading this in order, that none of this seemed strange to me at all. I think I just assumed this was how pop stars did things: they simply did not look like ordinary people. But I don’t even remember thinking that their specific choices were at all controversial. Though I was a precocious kid in some respects — I still remember the names of all but one of the girls I had crushes on before I turned 8 — there were certain things I’d been sheltered from. I learned the word “gay” as an insult first, and had to have its implication explained to me; I still remember being mildly confused by an interview in which Hall and Oates denied that they were lovers.
The other thing about Eurythmics was that they were strange in an utterly sophisticated way. Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, and a lot of the other popular stuff in 1983 had a goofy, party-time vibe to it (and don’t get me wrong, I loved that), but when it came on the radio you couldn’t help being riveted by Annie Lennox’s voice intoning flawlessly over Dave Stewart’s synthesized and orchestral kaleidoscope. I don’t know that they were my favorite band in 1983 (there was a LOT of competition) but when I look back, I see them all over that year in flaming reds and grays, afire with possibilities.
It helps that they had two albums out in rapid succession. For me this is another Sparks situation; I’ve could just as easily have picked Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) instead of Touch. I like “Here Comes the Rain Again” much better than I like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but I like “Love Is a Stranger” better than “Who’s That Girl?” I like “The First Cut” a little better than “This is the House,” and “Regret” better than “I’ve Got an Angel,” but I like “Wrap It Up” better than “Right By Your Side” and “The Walk” better than “Cool Blue.” Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) is brooding, stately, melancholy, and Touch is extroverted, sinister, bubbling. Sweet Dreams etc. was around for all of 1983 and Touch only arrived at the tail end, but Touch is better-rounded, with more range, maybe more enjoyable as a whole. It’s a coin flip, folks. Eurythmics are go either way.
New Order, Power, Corruption, and Lies
Some of the same post-Joy Division moodiness you hear on Movement lingers on this record, but it also contains some of the wobbly sun-in-your-face wide-eyed undivided joy New Order would put front and center in later albums (e.g. “Age of Consent”). My CD, perhaps most pressings of it these days, also features “Blue Monday” and its shadow “The Beach,” which probably cements its status as my favorite New Order album, at least in 2014.
The Police, Synchronicity
Back when I was 7 or 8, “Synchronicity II” was one of the most deliciously foreboding songs I’d ever heard on the radio. I’m not sure which was scarier at the time — the Loch Ness Monster crawling out of the water to attack some hapless Scottish fisherman, or the dispirited salaryman with the humiliating monotonous job and the horrible screaming unbearable family — but I know which seems scarier now.
Duran Duran, Seven and the Ragged Tiger
Not as solid as Rio, but still one of my favorite Duran Duran albums. “The Reflex” and “Union of the Snake” are pretty skippable halfway through, but “I Take the Dice” is terrific, and “New Moon on Monday” is one of my favorite songs of all time.
- Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
- REM, Murmur
- Tears for Fears, The Hurting
- Depeche Mode, Construction Time Again
- Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
- David Bowie, Let’s Dance
- Bauhaus, Burning from the Inside
- Madonna, Madonna
- Yes, 90125