30 Totally Radical Hits From the Summer of 1983
The summer of 1983 offered something for every type of music fan.
From new artists hitting the big time to bands enjoying a final hurrah to big names going solo to legacy acts embarking on a comeback, the season delivered an incredible amount of memorable songs.
Sure, every year we get the “songs of the summer,” but 1983 was something more. New wave, pop, metal, blues, and meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll - audiences had arguably never seen so much variety enjoying mainstream attention.
The below list of 30 Totally Radical Hits From the Summer of 1983, presented in the order in which they were released, includes singles that came out between May 1 and Sept. 1.
Big Country, “In a Big Country” (May 19)
Contrary to popular belief, “In a Big Country” was not the first song released by the Scottish band Big Country. The group put out two other singles before releasing their namesake track. Still, it was “In a Big Country” that briefly made them worldwide stars. The sprawling, anthemic track reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and No. 17 on the Hot 100, while its music video earned heavy rotation on MTV. Big Country would never again come close to those commercial heights but during the summer of 1983, they were Scotland’s answer to U2.
Stevie Nicks, “Stand Back” (May 19)
Even though “Stand Back” is a Stevie Nicks song, she always claimed it “belonged” to Prince. That’s because the Fleetwood Mac singer and songwriter was inspired by “Little Red Corvette.” "It just gave me an incredible idea, so I spent many hours that night writing a song about some kind of crazy argument, and it was to become one of the most important of my songs," Nick recalled. She even enlisted Prince to play on “Stand Back”: That's him providing the song's synth line. The single reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of the most successful songs of Nicks' solo career.
The Police, "Every Breath You Take" (May 20)
Does it say something about the culture’s psyche that the biggest song of 1983 was about a stalker? We’ll just chalk up the success of “Every Breath You Take” to great songwriting. Sting initially meant for the song to be romantic, but the singer, who was going through some personal issues at the time, subconsciously took things in a darker direction. Fans didn’t catch on. “Every Breath You Take” shot to the top of the charts and even became a popular choice at weddings. "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly, and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it's quite the opposite,” Sting has noted.
David Bowie, “China Girl” (May 31)
Iggy Pop first released “China Girl” in 1977, but it was David Bowie’s rendition that became a hit in 1983. While Pop reportedly had a real woman in mind when he penned the song, Bowie’s version was a veiled drug reference – at least, that’s what producer Nile Rodgers believed. “I figured 'China Girl' was about doing drugs,” Rodgers admitted to the BBC. “Because China is China White, which is heroin, girl is cocaine. I thought it was a song about speedballing. I thought, in the drug community in New York, coke is girl and heroin is boy. So then I proceeded to do this arrangement, which was ultra pop. Because I thought that, being David Bowie, he would appreciate the irony of doing something so pop about something so taboo.” Although it didn’t quite match the commercial heights of Bowie’s earlier 1983 single, “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” was extremely popular and became another Top 10 triumph for the singer.
Def Leppard, “Rock of Ages” (June)
Pyromania was one of the biggest albums of 1983, and “Rock of Ages,” the second single pulled from the LP, proved Def Leppard was in a singular class when it came to arena-rocking anthems. Described by singer Joe Elliott as a “call to arms,” “Rock of Ages” found the New Wave of British Heavy Metal band indulging in call-and-repeat verses, hyping up fans across the globe. The song hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and No. 16 on the Hot 100.
Toto, “Waiting for You Love” (June)
More than a year after the album's release, Toto was still riding high on the success of 1982’s Toto IV. The album had already won three Grammys and been certified platinum by the time “Waiting for Your Love” was released as the LP's fifth and final single. Even though it wasn’t able to climb as high as the celebrated tracks “Rosanna” and “Africa,” both of which also came from Toto IV, the infectious pop hooks of “Waiting for You Love” still found marginal success, giving Toto another entry on the Billboard Hot 100.
Loverboy, “Hot Girls in Love” (June)
The Canadian rock band Loverboy was extremely popular in the ‘80s. So much so, that from 1980-87, they landed nine songs in the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 40. That’s more than Van Halen or ZZ Top across the same time frame. It’s more than Motley Crue has had in their entire career. Still, Loverboy often gets forgotten in discussions about the era’s biggest acts. In the summer of 1983, the band’s “Hot Girls in Love” climbed to No. 11 and spurred their album, Keep It Up, to multiplatinum sales.
The Cure, “The Walk” (June)
Although less commercially heralded than some of the other songs on our list, the Cure’s “The Walk” is nonetheless notable. Released in June 1983, the track was the band’s first single to crack the U.K.’s Top 20. In the U.S. the song stalled just outside the Hot 100, though it did peak at No. 32 on the dance chart. “The Walk” is also one of the few songs in the Cure’s catalog that was released when the band was briefly a duo. Bassist Simon Gallup departed the group in 1982 (he’d return in 1984), leaving Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst as the only members at the time of “The Walk”’s release.
Duran Duran, “Hungry Like the Wolf” (June 7)
While Duran Duran successfully broke through to mainstream success in the U.K. on the strength of their 1981 debut album, they remained little-known in the U.S. Their second LP, Rio, seemed destined to a similar fate, as the band again gained plenty of attention in England but not much stateside. That changed when “Hungry Like the Wolf,” which had been released as a U.K. single in 1981, was released as a single in the U.S. in June 1983. With its synth-heavy sound and catchy chorus, the track soared to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. MTV was also imperative to the song's success, as the cable network made “Hungry Like the Wolf” one of its most played videos.
Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (June 12)
Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler assembled a list of musicians to play on her 1983 album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including drummer Max Weinberg and keyboardist Roy Bittan, both members of the E Street Band, and guitarist Rick Derringer. Songwriting credits on the LP included John Fogerty, Bryan Adams and Jim Steinman, who penned “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The theatrical track was inspired by the classic horror film Nosferatu and conceptualized as a vampire love song - not exactly a typical inspiration for a hit single. Steinman’s powerful songwriting coupled with Tyler’s dynamic voice proved to be a perfect combo. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” reached No. 1 in eight countries, including the U.S., and became the defining hit of Tyler’s career.
Iron Maiden, “The Trooper” (June 20)
Technically, Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” was a B-side, not a single. The song, written by bassist and founding member Steve Harris, was the flipside to Maiden’s cover of Jethro Tull’s "Cross-Eyed Mary." But "The Trooper" became a classic, hailed as one of metal’s most beloved tracks from the era. With a blitzkrieg of guitars and the unwavering vocal attack of Bruce Dickinson, the song quickly cemented its place among metal's mightiest tunes.
Eurythmics, “Who’s That Girl?” (June 27)
After the success of their sophomore album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), which was released in January 1983, Eurythmics quickly returned with new material later in the year. “Who’s That Girl?” was the lead single from their third album, Touch. The song’s lyrics were about a man cheating on his partner. Annie Lennox admitted she was “rather desperately in love at the time” she wrote it and that “unrequited love” was a central theme. “Who’s That Girl” reached the Top 20 in eight countries, but missed out in the U.S., where it peaked at No. 21.
Stray Cats, "(She's) Sexy + 17" (July)
During a brief stint in the '80s, 1950s-style rockabilly made a comeback. The fad was spearheaded by Stray Cats, who scored a trio of Top 10 hits in the early part of the decade. “(She’s) Sexy + 17” was their final huge single. Frontman Brian Setzer sang about his “Little Marie,” a “little rock-roll queen” who “acts a little bit obscene” over a classic '50s-style rhythm. Maybe the lyrical content – and the rockabilly revival in general – hasn’t aged all that well. But in 1983, it was a certified hit.
Asia, “Don’t Cry” (July)
The ‘80s were an era of arena rock, and Asia’s “Don’t Cry” firmly belongs among the period’s best. The supergroup – made up of King Crimson singer and bassist John Wetton, Emerson, Lake & Palmer drummer Carl Palmer and Yes members Steve Howe and Geoff Downes – found huge success in 1982 with their self-titled debut. They followed a year later with Alpha; “Don’t Cry” was the LP’s lead single. With lyrics about romance, passion and devotion, backed by soaring guitar and some timely synthesizer, the track checked every box for a 1983 hit. It reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but Alpha didn't live up to its predecessor's successes. Asia would never have another song in the Top 20.
Robert Plant, “Big Log” (July)
Robert Plant’s solo career began in 1982 with the album Pictures at Eleven, and even though a few of its songs found moderate chart success, the LP was unable to spawn a certifiable hit. That finally arrived for Plant in the summer of 1983 with “Big Log,” the first single from his second solo album, The Principle of Moments. A moody, heartfelt track that likened love to a long drive on the freeway, the song struck a nerve with listeners. “Big Log” became Plant’s first solo single to crack the Top 40, peaking at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House” (July)
It seems borderline criminal that a hugely influential band like Talking Heads scored only one Top 10 hit during their career. Their only song to achieve such heights, “Burning Down the House,” was released as the lead single from Speaking in Tongues in July 1983. The track was inspired by Parliament-Funkadelic, whom Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz saw in concert. The P-Funk audience was encouraged to chant “Burn down the house,” a phrase that caught Frantz’s ear and was subsequently handed to David Byrne.
ZZ Top, “Sharp Dressed Man” (July)
ZZ Top was already a popular band in the early '80s, but Eliminator, released in March 1983, took them into the upper stratosphere of rock acts. The album had already surpassed gold sales when its second single, “Sharp Dressed Man,” was released in July. With its chugging rhythm and distinctive riff, the track quickly became a favorite. Still, it reached only No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100 - a bit surprising considering how it's now regarded as one of the most identifiable songs of the era. It was at MTV where the song truly left its mark, where the accompanying music video – a sequel to the previous single “Gimme All Your Lovin’” – became one of the network’s most popular clips.
Culture Club, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” (July 2)
Culture Club turned a lot of heads upon their arrival, thanks largely to the androgynous appearance of singer Boy George. The group’s debut album, Kissing to Be Clever, came out in October 1982. The third single, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” followed in the footsteps of predecessors “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “Time (Clock of the Heart),” all of which were Top 10 hits. "'I'll Tumble 4 Ya' is about wanting to do anything to be the next big thing,” George admitted at the time. “We were very much a 'downtown band' at the time I wrote those words. In general, I think my basic ideas come across."
Elton John, “I’m Still Standing” (July 3)
The early ‘80s weren’t all that kind to Elton John. After the singer had enjoyed a long run of hits in the ‘70s, John began the new decade with a dry spell. His 1983 single “I’m Still Standing” returned the singer to prominence, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s theme seemingly supported his comeback story, even though its inspiration was far simpler. “I think people see it as an anthem based on Elton’s strong sense of survival in the face of adversity,” lyricist Bernie Taupin admitted. “Which, believe me, is perfectly fine by me – and in fact it’s probably infinitely more interesting than what it was originally written about. Which, if my memory serves me correctly, was a sort of kiss-off to an old girlfriend. You know the sort of thing: ‘Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be perfectly fine.’”
Depeche Mode, “Everything Counts” (July 11)
Depeche Mode tackled greed and corruption with their 1983 single “Everything Counts.” And while the subject matter marked new territory for the band, they didn’t change their penchant for catchy, synth-heavy tracks. “Everything Counts” was the lead single from Depeche Mode’s third album, Construction Time Again, and was notable because their two singers – Dave Gahan and Martin Gore – share vocals for the first time (Gahan on verses, Gore on the choruses). “Everything Counts” reached No. 6 in the U.K. and No. 17 on the U.S. dance chart, though it failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100. Regardless, the track became a fan favorite and has been a set list mainstay over the years.
Quiet Riot, “Cum on Feel the Noize” (July 11)
The English rock band Slade scored a hit in the U.K. in 1973 with their song “Cum on Feel the Noize.” Response to the track was milder in the U.S., but that changed when Quiet Riot covered the song 10 years later. Released in July 1983, the metal band’s version climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped spur Quiet Riot’s Metal Health album to multiplatinum sales. Even though the members of Slade have said they were happy about the cover’s popularity, Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali suggested otherwise. “I think [Slade] were a little bitter about our success with their song,” Banali suggested in an interview with Ludwig drums. “They had a hit with it in other territories but not in the US, and later our version overshadowed theirs worldwide. Any real success in the US always seemed to elude Slade, so Quiet Riot having a major hit with ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ was bittersweet for them.”
Frank Stallone, “Far From Over” (July 12)
Frank Stallone scored the biggest hit of his short career in the summer of 1983 with “Far From Over,” which propelled the Staying Alive soundtrack. While the film, a sequel to Saturday Night Fever, turned out to be a critical bomb, the song became a major hit, reaching No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe but lost to Irene Cara's "Flashdance ... What a Feeling."
Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It” (July 17)
Billy Joel’s 1983 album, An Innocent Man, was a tribute to doo-wop from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The first single, “Tell Her About It,” was released that July, roughly a month before the album arrived. The song’s style was inspired by the Supremes, with Joel envisioning himself as a male Diana Ross. The singer and songwriter had recently started dating model Christie Brinkley and their deeply personal conversations influenced the lyrics to “Tell Her About It.” The single became a chart-topping hit, and An Innocent Man later received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
New Order, “Confusion” (August)
Formed from the ashes of Joy Division, New Order began releasing songs in 1981. In 1983, they scored a massive hit with “Blue Monday,” and anticipation was high for their follow-up single. “Confusion” arrived in August, complete with trippy synth patterns, periodic dual vocals and a chorus that included the shout of “confusion!” Although less accessible – and less mainstream – than its predecessor, the song still found an audience, especially in the U.K., where it climbed to No. 12.
Dio, “Holy Diver” (August)
Following his first stint in Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio decided to start a namesake solo band. The group’s first single was the title track from their debut album, Holy Diver. In an interview decades later, Dio described “Holy Diver” as “a religious song,” based around a “Christ-like figure” who dies for the sins of others on a faraway planet. As the Holy Diver figure prepares to go to a different planet to help even more beings, people beg him to stay. “It was meant to show just how selfish humanity is,” the singer explained. While some of those heavy themes may have been lost on listeners in 1983, the song’s powerful chorus and big guitars were not. “Holy Diver” hit No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 12 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and helped propel the album of the same name to multiplatinum sales.
Jackson Browne, “Lawyers in Love” (August 2)
The title track from singer-songwriter Jackson Browne’s seventh album was a veiled political satire. Browne has explained that "Lawyers in Love" was based on the belief that the world would be a better place if there were no Russians around. The concept was lost on most listeners, as even Browne would admit. That didn’t stop “Lawyers in Love” from becoming a hit. The track climbed to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 4 on the Mainstream Rock chart.
Twisted Sister, "You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll" (Aug. 12)
Twisted Sister was still emerging out of the clubs of New York when they released their sophomore album (and major label debut) You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll in 1983. The LP’s third single was its title track, a propulsive onslaught of chugging guitar and scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs vocals. Even though it received only marginal airplay, the song introduced audiences to Twisted Sister. The song set the stage for the band’s full invasion of the mainstream that came the following year.
Prince, “Delirious” (Aug. 17)
In 1982, Prince released 1999, a critical and commercial success that remains one of the defining albums of the ‘80s. In the summer of 1983, “Delirious” became the third single released from the album, following in the footsteps of “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” Inspired by rock’s earliest stars like Elvis Presley, Prince used a rockabilly foundation for "Delirious." Because this is Prince we’re talking about, he completely reinvented the sound, adding synths and layered vocals. And “Delirious” became the second Top 10 hit of his career, peaking at No. 8.
Rainbow, “Street of Dreams” (Aug. 19)
True to its name, Rainbow’s “Street of Dreams” came to singer Joe Lynn Turner while he was sleeping. “I wrote it in a dream,” he explained in 2009. “I woke up, wrote things down, sketches, then woke up the next morning, put it all together and it was the song. The whole thing, the reincarnation stuff. We were all dabbling in magic and everything else at the time, but this was absolutely true. That was a magical song.” The ballad showed Rainbow’s softer side, a departure from their hard rock foundation. Released as the first single from Bent Out of Shape, “Street of Dreams” reached No. 3 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 60 on the Hot 100.
Genesis, “Mama” (Aug. 22)
Genesis’ 1983 single “Mama” was, in the words of Phil Collins, “about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him.” This is hardly the kind of subject matter you’d expect to find on the pop music charts, but Genesis, enjoying mainstream stardom with Collins behind the mic, somehow made it work. Released as the first single from their 1983 self-titled album, “Mama” hit No. 4 in the U.K., No. 5 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart and No. 73 on the Hot 100.