The Summer of 1983’s 20 Biggest Hits
Two monster albums ruled 1983, but the singles chart told a different story – particularly over the summer.
The Police's Synchronicity was No. 1 for 17 weeks that year, while Michael Jackson's Thriller topped the charts for 22. They were so dominant that there were only four other No. 1 albums in all of 1983. Warm weather arrived with a far more varied musical menu.
Sure, the Police had a huge hit but plenty of others were able to elbow their way onto playlists at radio stations and on MTV. Some were familiar names, others were one-hit wonders, but all of them helped form the Summer of 1983's 20 Biggest Hits.
The Police, "Every Breath You Take"
In more than one sense, 1983 was the summer of Synchronicity. Its success even spawned a line of merchandise for fans to collect beyond the music. Initial momentum was provided by the brooding “Every Breath You Take,” which began a lengthy stay on the singles charts with a No. 36 debut on the week of June 4. By July 9, the Police had arrived at the top spot, ending a six-week run at No. 1 for Irene Cara’s “Flashdance … What a Feeling.” Synchronicity would rise to No. 1 later in July, as “Every Breath You Take” spent eight weeks on top.
Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox made a slow march to fame. Formed out of the ashes of a prior band called the Tourists, Eurythmics had already released one underperforming LP and a string of forgotten singles when Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) arrived in January 1983. The title track provided their long-awaited breakthrough, with hypnotic synths that created a tantalizing musical backdrop for a hot summer night. “Sweet Dreams” went to No. 2 in the U.K. in March but didn't inch its way into the American Top 20 until the early part of July. Eurythmics sat at No. 2 for all of August before battling past “Every Breath You Take” to reach the top.
Michael Sembello, "Maniac"
Michael Sembello may have scored a major hit before his debut album arrived, but he was hardly a newcomer. In fact, he had more than a decade's experience as a sessions musician. Sembello's lengthy stint with Stevie Wonder included work on the landmark Songs in the Key of Life. “Maniac” was the second single from the Flashdance movie soundtrack, and followed Irene Cara’s title track to No. 1 in early September.
Donna Summer, "She Works Hard for the Money"
Donna Summer said she drew inspiration for “She Works Hard for the Money” while witnessing a server hustling at a party following the Grammy Awards. The resulting single should have gone to No. 1. Unfortunately, Summer was facing off against “Every Breath You Take” and “Sweet Dreams,” which held firm. “She Works Hard for the Money” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The energetic single was later nominated for its own Grammy, while finishing as the 15th most popular song of 1983.
Taco, "Puttin' on the Ritz"
Yes, that was his real name. Born to Dutch parents in Indonesia, Taco Ockerse later confirmed in interviews that his first name had origins in the Netherlands. He studied dance and theater while growing up in Germany, then later performed American standards at dinner clubs. So the vintage feel of Irving Berlin's songbook classic “Puttin’ on the Ritz” came naturally. His update was released in 1982, but didn't find its way to the Top 40 until July 1983. Taco finished at No. 4, and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” remains his lone Top 40 single.
Men at Work, "It's a Mistake"
Men at Work had already claimed a pair of chart-topping singles with “Who Can It Be Now” and “Down Under,” then were crowned Best New Artist at the Grammys. They struck a more serious tone on “It’s a Mistake,” which boasted an anti-war message despite its deceptively light musical tone. The single would become their fourth straight Top 10 hit in August 1983, leading to an appearance on Saturday Night Live to perform in front of a national audience. Unfortunately, Men at Work never returned to these chart heights again.
Stevie Nicks continued to have plenty of success outside of Fleetwood Mac with 1983’s The Wild Heart. For “Stand Back,” she drew a bit of musical inspiration from Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Nicks even got him to add keyboards to the song, which also features a guest solo from Toto’s Steve Lukather. The immediately infectious results peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of Aug. 20. “Stand Back” would become a highlight of her solo concerts – and eventually, Fleetwood Mac shows, as well.
The Human League, "(Keep Feeling) Fascination"
Human League took a break after three straight albums and the chart-topping 1981 single “Don’t You Want Me” before issuing their next proper album in 1984. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” helped keep the group in mind with a No. 8 finish on the Hot 100. Human League also became a massive club hit, scoring their first No. 1 on the U.S. Hot Dance Music chart. They'd scale the Hot 100 again in 1986 with “Human.”
Culture Club, "I'll Tumble 4 Ya"
Culture Club was everywhere in late 1982 and early 1983, even though their debut had yet to produce a No. 1 single. Michael Jackson and then Irene Cara proved immovable as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “Time (Clock of the Heart)” both stalled at No. 2. Early July saw the release of “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” the third and final charting single from Kissing to be Clever. Culture Club peaked just inside the Top 10, setting the stage for huge success. Colour by Numbers immediately followed with the No. 1 single “Karma Chameleon.”
David Bowie was in the midst of a phenomenal year after issuing Let’s Dance in the spring of 1983. The chart-topping title track introduced an upbeat new sound created with producer Nile Rodgers and a cast of players that included Stevie Ray Vaughan. Bowie followed that up with “China Girl” in late May, returning to a song he co-wrote with Iggy Pop for the former Stooges frontman’s 1977 solo debut, The Idiot. Bowie paired his update with a similarly slinky video, and “China Girl” peaked at No. 10 near the end of the summer.
Men Without Hats, “The Safety Dance”
Overbearing bouncers helped to inspire “The Safety Dance.” Members of Men Without Hats were dismayed when they saw security in local clubs interfering with those who were pogo dancing, citing safety concerns. They decided to make a counter-argument through music. Released in the spring of 1983, “The Safety Dance” did well in their native Canada, but American listeners didn't catch on until late in the summer. Men Without Hats eventually reached No. 4 but could get no higher during a period dominated by Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Duran Duran had a long run with 1982’s Rio, becoming inescapable on the radio and MTV. They released this one-off single while still in the studio working on their next album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger. “Is There Something I Should Know” was also added as a bonus track for a quick re-release of their overlooked 1981 debut in order to capitalize on Duran Duran's new status as superstars. Released in late May, the single went to No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 4 in America, then became the opening song in the set list on their next tour.
Loverboy, “Hot Girls in Love”
“Hot Girls in Love” had a very lengthy shelf life. Loverboy peaked at No. 11 with this single in June, then hung around the Top 20 until summer was drawing to a close. It didn't hurt that Loverboy was the subject of an MTV contest offering the chance for one lucky fan to star in their next video. (“Queen of the Broken Hearts” became their final single for 1983.). Loverboy’s third album charted in the Top 10 that summer, as well.
“Rock of Ages” became the second consecutive Top 20 single from Pyromania as everything came together for Def Leppard. Beginning with career-making producer Mutt Lange's nonsensical words “gunter glieben glauten globen,” the song boasts an appropriately pub-like feel from working class guys out of Sheffield, England. Released to radio in June, “Rock of Ages” peaked at No. 16 on the Hot 100 and hit No. 1 on the rock chart.
The Fixx would soon have their biggest success with “One Thing Leads to Another,” peaking at No. 4 later in 1983. In the meantime, “Saved by Zero” served as the hooky initial offering from their second album, Reach the Beach. The single was paired with a music video featuring a fun nod to the classic Citizen Kane movie then became the Fixx's first Top 20 hit. “Saved by Zero” would remain a part of the pop-culture landscape, including a memorable appearance in an episode of Breaking Bad.
The title track from 1999 had been issued as a single in 1982, but it peaked just outside of the Top 40. So, he released it again. In the meantime, however, Prince had hit with “Little Red Corvette” – and that changed everything: “1999” went to No. 12 in America. So, he released it again. A 1985 double-A side single with “Little Red Corvette” went to No. 2 in the U.K. “1999” charted yet again after Prince’s death in 2016.
Irene Cara, “Flashdance (What a Feeling)”
Flashdance was part and parcel of the summer of 1983, both as a movie and as a soundtrack. The title song by Irene Cara spent an impressive six weeks at No. 1 and was still on the edge of the top 20 as the season drew to a close. She actually gave way to the second single from the soundtrack when Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” also reached No. 1 – some 22 weeks after Cara’s “Flashdance” first entered the charts.
Rick Springfield, “Human Touch”
The accompanying video for “Human Touch” found Rick Springfield envisioning what life might look like in the year 2016. (Surprisingly enough, he engaged in something that looks awfully close to text messaging.) In the more immediate future, however, “Human Touch” became a No. 18 hit in the summer of 1983, and his biggest-selling U.K. single ever. Living in Oz, which also featured the Top 10 hit “Affair of the Heart,” went platinum as Springfield prepared to take on his first starring role in a feature film, Hard to Hold.
Journey, “After the Fall”
One of Journey's most underrated tracks, “After the Fall” became the third single from Frontiers before being featured in the Tom Cruise movie Risky Business. Co-written by Jonathan Cain and Steve Perry, the single went to No. 23 while serving as the debut of frequent collaborator Randy Jackson. He'd later serve as principal bassist on 1986's Raised on Radio and 2022's Freedom, as well as related Journey solo projects.
Eddy Grant, “Electric Avenue”
“Electric Avenue” didn't break through to the top spot like “Flashdance,” but the single enjoyed a similarly long and fruitful run on the Billboard charts. Eddy Grant’s infectious hit sat at No. 2 for five weeks beginning the week of July 2, kept out by “Flashdance” and then “Every Breath You Take.” Nevertheless, as the summer of 1983 was ending, “Electric Avenue” had spent 20 weeks in the Top 40.