I bought my first radio/cassette player sometime around 1981, using my own money “earned” by recycling newspapers. (Since my dad was the one who subscribed to, read, and neatly stacked our copy of the LA Times, and since he or my mom were the ones who drove me to the recycling plant across town, it didn’t really do much to get that money.) Around the same time, I joined my first music club, Columbia House, using one of their ads inside of the TV Guide. I got my dozen cassette tapes for 1¢–including albums like Journey’s Captured and Escape; Pac Man Fever by Buckner and Garcia; and The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat–and then would buy a handful of albums (at full price) over the next year (things like John Cougar’s American Fool.
It was a time of a lot of music exploration for me. I started to hear a lot of stuff I would have never heard if not for the music club and I started to listen to the radio all the time, exploring the diversity of LA radio and, more often, trying to record my favorite songs on blank cassette tapes (my first of which, I still have).
All this is a long-winded introduction to my own personal 1982, but it’s an important part of my musical context. Vital even. When I look at the list of Billboard’s weekly number 1 singles for 1982 I not only know each of those songs, I can remember really liking them at the time. (Only 15 songs reached #1 that year, at the time the smallest number since 1956.) When you’re listening to radio all the time, of course, you’re bound to hear the hits more than anything else. With that box in my hand, those ear phones on my head, I felt like it was my music.
Here’s five songs from that year…
5. “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor)
The story of this song is interesting enough that it might make any list for this year purely for the pop-cultural-kitsch factor. It’s relationship to the movie Rocky III is also a big part of what made an impression of me. The movie was a big hit (two words–Mr. T!!) but also a big slice of the kind of 80s encapsulated in this song. “Eye of the Tiger” is derivative, indulgent, and intentionally commercial above all else. It should be nothing more than “common” in the final tally. But one of the decade’s best guitar riffs, combined with a group who knew what they were and what they were supposed to do, makes for a rock classic.
4. “Rosanna” (Toto)
Toto doesn’t get a whole lot of respect from mainstream pop culture. If you hear them or their music its usually as some ironic joke. I can understand that. The mainstream sounds of 80s pop were so distinct they can seem a little more dated (and less artistic) than other eras of music. This hit single, which also won the Grammy for Record of the Year, is filled with a lot of those musical markers. But if you dismissed it for all those reasons, you’d be missing out on a song that also has some greatness in it. Drummer Jeff Porcaro’s playing is, perhaps, the best proof of that. His “half-time shuffle” is well-respected in musical circles. Porcaro died really young but recorded with Steely Dan and had a prolific career as a studio musician, in addition to his work as part of Toto.
3. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” (Culture Club)
Boy George the singer would not enter my consciousness until 1983, when I saw the premiere of Culture Club’s video for “Karma Chameleon” on NBC’s “Friday Night Videos.” My friend and I spent much of the rest of the weekend arguing over whether or not Boy George was a boy or a girl. Ah, the sheltered life of Catholic school boys! I first heard Boy George the voice the year before, with the release of this single from their first album. Without the video, there was nothing but the power, smoothness, and irresistible soul of his voice.
2. “Vacation” (The Go-Go’s)
From the band’s second album of the same name, this single was a huge hit in the summer of 1982. I had a thing for Belinda Carlisle starting around this time. How could you not? The band’s all-female line-up was the main sell in the press and, truth be told, in an era of video it didn’t hurt that they were all so good-looking. But they were also so much more than looks. The Go-Go’s made some excellent music. They’re the epitome of LA music in many ways. Post-punk, New Wave, beach and garage, they remain worth a listen.
1. “Love Plus One” (Haircut 100)
This song never fails to make me both happy and nostalgic. I don’t have specific memories of it, to be honest. It was one of a handful of new Wave hits from the time as well as one of the many one-hit-wonders for the decade. I liked it, but it probably meant less to me than “Pac Man Fever.” But I was a kid. The grown-up me likes it more and more. It does a whole lot of things right, and is catchy as all hell. I love the soprano sax, too. A nice change from the typical 80’s horns.