Best Songs From 1983

People who grew up in the 1980s know firsthand about all the good music from 1983 and other years. As we continue living in a world besotted by nostalgia, the retro craze keeps bringing 80s music back again, which Gen Xers are thrilled about. Need a guide? Here are some of the best songs from 1983.

1. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police

Song Year: 1983

It was the most-played song in the history of radio. It was also not a love song. People swooned over “Every Breath You Take” as being so romantic, but Sting’s narrator is a possessive, obsessed stalker.

Andy Summers’ iconic, added-2nd guitar riff helped lodge the song in everyone’s ears long after 1983 was in the rearview, and despite the band selling more than 100 million albums, “Every Breath You Take” was the band’s only song to hit number on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Sting’s brooding good looks, shown off to great effect in the video, surely boosted the band’s appeal.

2. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics

Song Year: 1983

Another earworm from halfway through the Reagan era, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” had the driving synth-pop sensibilities of the era, but its minor-key setting and Annie Lennox’s haunting vocals gave the song an underlying unsettled feeling.

Like “Every Breath You Take,” it is often interpreted incorrectly. Rather than being about how great life is, it’s more accurately asking, “Is this what the world has come to?”

3. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler

Song Year: 1983

Originally written for MeatLoaf, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” represented a dying art at its time— the hugely overproduced pop song that unabashedly sought to yank the heartstrings and get people to belt the chorus along with Bonnie Tyler with abandon.

We’d see the last dying gasp of this type of pop single with Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “November Rain” a decade or so later, but that has not had the staying power of “Total Eclipse.” Then again, Will Farrell didn’t sing “November Rain” in “Old School.”

4. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1983

Even if “Billie Jean” weren’t a great song, it would go on a list of great things about 1983 because of Michael Jackson’s performance of it on a TV special called “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” It was the first time most people saw the moonwalk.

“Billie Jean” won two Grammy awards and was just one of seemingly thousands of mega-hits off Jackson’s album Thriller.

5. “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie

Song Year: 1983

David Bowie showed up with a new persona when he released Let’s Dance in the spring of 1983. The album gave us “Modern Love, “China Girl,” and this instant classic.

“Let’s Dance” also featured an unknown Stevie Ray Vaughan on that killer solo. It was to be Bowie’s last number-one in the States, though he continued making terrific music until he died in 2016.

6. “1999” by Prince

Song Year: 1983

The Purple One was still a year away from becoming a household name via “Purple Rain,” but the apocalyptic, nihilist undertones of “1999,” coupled with that iconic keyboard lick at the top woke the world up to what it was about to experience from Prince.

The song is vintage Prince, melding superlative musicianship with inescapable hooks. It’s also another song from the early 80s that seemed like a good time while having dark undertones.

7. “Faithfully” by Journey

Song Year: 1983

Journey had dabbled in ballads as they evolved from their San Francisco jazz-rock roots, but “Faithfully” was a full-on power ballad.

As if Steve Perry’s soaring vocals on the tag weren’t enough, Neil Schon wailing away on his guitar pit this one over the top.

The video made its splash, too, as it was an early adopter of using amateur video shot by the band and tour personnel to create a sort of video diary of life on the road. It also showed Perry shaving off a mustache he’d grown. Said mustache was the bane of existence to many fans, so maybe showing its demise in the video was a way of telling the fans that the band had heard them.

8. “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

Song Year: 1983

At the time, it seemed like the weirdest idea for a crossover hit ever. “Islands in the Stream” borders on campiness, but honestly, the utter joy you can hear in both singers’ voices made this tune an instant classic. Can you think of a single person who doesn’t love this song? Or at least like it?

The song was written by the Bee Gees and may hold the distinction of being the only pop hit ever to have been inspired by a posthumous collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories.

9. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper

Song Year: 1983

Many people greeted their first encounter with Cyndi Lauper by asking, “What’s up with this girl?” But “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was an enormous hit and made the Brooklyn native a household name. It peaked at number two, but that came in 1984, as the song’s first chart appearance came in December of 1983. So it’s technically a song from ‘83, even if you remember it differently.

Viewers have streamed the video more than a billion times, so this isn’t one of those songs that got left behind at the close of the Me Decade.

10. “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran

Song Year: 1982

New Wave pioneers Duran Duran had already begun revolutionizing the nascent music video industry with “Rio” and others, but “Hungry Like the Wolf” was arguably the beginning of the band’s superstardom. It was released to no acclaim in mid-1982, then re-released in December, so when it took off, it did so in 1983.

Simon Le Bon was the face and voice of these upstart British Invaders, but John Taylor’s slap-and-pop baselines made this hit, in particular, a driving force in pop culture. There was also guitarist Andy Taylor (no relation), who brought a hard-edged, overdriven tone to the band, which kept them from going completely over into being a synth-pop band.

As late as 2013, John Taylor admitted in an interview that he had no idea what “Hungry Like the Wolf ”actually meant, but who cares? What a great piece of music.

11. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson

Song Year: 1983

Of course the King of Pop makes another appearance on this list. In the wake of Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time, he ruled the world.

Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work was a new wrinkle for any song involving MJ, and the use of real gang members in the video— an idea looking to unite rival gangs and curb rising street violence— made headlines aside from the song’s reign in the number one spot on the charts and its two Grammys.

12. “Flashdance…What A Feeling” by Irene Cara

Song Year: 1983

Few movies have a song on the soundtrack sung by an actor from a similarly themed film. Fewer still have those songs win Grammys, Oscars, and Golden Globes.

Irene Cara took the world by storm as Coc Hernandez in “Fame,” but then “Flashdance… What a Feeling” made her a household name as it spent time in the number-one spots on charts worldwide.

13. “Photograph” by Def Leppard

Best 1983 songs

Song Year: 1983

Taking British rockers with a handsome frontman and throwing them at American audiences was formulaic. That doesn’t mean Def Leppard wasn’t awesome.

“Photograph” showed the band’s unique approach to having two guitarists. Rather than a lead and a rhythm player, Steve Clark and Phil Collen played two distinct guitar parts, creating an intricate sound instantly identifiable as Def Leppard, Joe Eliot’s distinctive vocals aside.

14. “She Blinded Me With Science” by Thomas Dolby

Song Year: 1983

“She Blinded Me With Science” was so quirky that it was almost a novelty hit (and would render Thomas Dolby a one-hit wonder), but it was everywhere in 1983. Dolby was an electronic music pioneer, so the song is rife with synthesizers and hi-tech wizardry. This translates to the video, which had Magnus Pike, a British scientist and TV personality, shouting, “Science!” periodically.

Since then, it’s remained ubiquitous, appearing in various commercials and TV shows for decades. It was also temporarily the theme song for TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.”

15. “King of Pain” by The Police

Song Year: 1983

The second hit from The Police’s smash hit (and final) album Synchronicity, “King of Pain,” perhaps more than any other song, showed the scope of the band’s evolution from New Wave kids mashing up punk and reggae into sophisticated songwriters.

It was also a pretty personal look at songwriter Sting’s state of mind at the time— he was divorcing his first wife and feuding with fellow band members, so he was generally unhappy with his lot. It’s a sad song.

16. “Is There Something I Should Know?” by Duran Duran

Song Year: 1983

“Is There Something I Should Know?” occupies an odd place in the history of Duran Duran in that it wasn’t included on any album. These days, it’s packaged as part of the band’s self-titled debut album, but in 1983, it was a stand-alone single that came out shortly before the band released Rio.

The video makes a point of acting as a bridge between albums, intercutting footage from videos from the first and second albums with images of the Fab Five singing in a white room. With matching ties.

17. “Union of the Snake” by Duran Duran

Song Year: 1983

So 1983 was kind of a banner year for Duran Duran, with singles flying up and down the charts seemingly monthly. In November of that year, the band released its third studio effort, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, and dropped this lead-off single a month earlier.

Like many Duran Duran songs, it’s hard to say what it’s about, but with videos as cool as these and the harmonies these guys put over their stellar songs, who cares?

18. “Delirious” by Prince

Song Year: 1983

Prince’s third single from 1999 was “Delirious,” and it became his second top-ten hit. Like many Prince songs, it was highly sexual in content, but since he sang about sex using metaphors and innuendo, it slipped by censors and uptight parents.

How they all missed the meaning of the baby cooing at the end of the song is anybody’s guess.

19. “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant

Song Year: 1982

Released near the summer of 1982, “Goody Two Shoes” had a long life as a single, climbing charts for a full year before falling off, so it qualifies as a song from ‘83. It was Adam Ant’s first solo single after stepping away from punk outfit Adam and the Ants.

The song’s chorus came from the questions the press kept lobbing at him: “Adam, if you don’t drink or smoke, what exactly do you do?”

He was handsome and had a bad-boy persona. So we can all guess what he did.

20. “99 Luftballons” by Nena

Song Year: 1983

That keyboard was to die for. A cute German girl singing lord knows what in a language we yanks don’t understand? Yes, please. A version with English lyrics went nowhere, but audiences worldwide lapped up the German original.

Nena was only foiled by Van Halen, whose “Jump” occupied a number one spot that “99 Luftballons” never could get to.

21. “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant

Song Year: 1983

Eddy Grant had a few hits in the 1960s with The Equals, a reggae outfit. But when “Electric Avenue” dropped in 1983, the song owed its success as much to the song itself and its oddly captivating, obviously low-budget video as to David Bowie.

Bowie was, at the time, loudly complaining that MTV was only playing white artists. In response, the network scrambled to find videos by Black artists so they could say, “Nuh-uh.” Eddy Grant was one of the artists they found.

22. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” by Journey

Song Year: 1983

Frontiers, Journey’s 1983 album, showed a new side of the band, as it rocked a bit harder than their older stuff, at least in places.

Before “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” they’d been something of a feel-good band. This number-one single wasn’t the belt-it-in-the-shower fare like “Any Way You Want It” was, but as band evolution goes, it was a pretty cool step.

23. “Little Red Corvette” by Prince

Song Year: 1983

On paper, “Little Red Corvette” was a bigger hit than “Delirious,” but its hook is lesser-than. Still, what a song. Like most songs on 1999, it has a drum machine driving the action, which seems weird for a multi-instrumentalist like Prince to use. Then again, it gives the songs on the album a distinctive sound, and “Little Red Corvette” has it, too.

It never made it to number one, but it was still a smash hit and remains one of Prince’s most-recognized tunes.

24. “Mr. Roboto” by Styx

Song Year: 1983

“Mr. Roboto,” perhaps more than anything else, drove Styx to a breaking point that led to guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young to leave the group, and eventually the whole outfit fell apart.

Still, it was a huge hit (and the basis for perhaps the greatest car commercial ever in 1999 (Volkswagen)). But it represented a concept shift and a move to more electronically driven music that keyboard man Dennis DeYoung wanted, but that Team Tommy did not enjoy.

25. “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John

Song Year: 1983

It didn’t hit number one in the States, but “I’m Still Standing” in other markets, and it was a massive hit for the Rocket Man.

Intentional or not, the song’s title seemed to refer to the changes in the industry Elton John had to weather. He was a worldwide superstar in the 1970s, but as the 80s began changing the entire world, he had to adjust what he was doing and how he did it.

Since he had a number-one hit in 2022 with Dua Lipa, he’s obviously still standing.

26. “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot

Song Year: 1983

Can we call this “safe metal”? “Cum on Feel the Noize” was Quiet Riot’s cover of a Slade song, and it went to number five, but the band never had the hotel-room-trashing success of Motley Crue and others. Though the band wound up as a one-hit wonder, you have to have a hit in the first place to earn that moniker.

“Cum On Feel the Noize” was a top-ten hit, with much greater success in the States than Slade had with it.

27. “Heart and Soul” by Huey Lewis and The News

Song Year: 1983

This band wasn’t the hardest-hitting of its day, and they had no lasting impact on pop culture, but the 1983 album Sports spawned five hits (of a total of nine tracks on the album), two of which reached number one.

“Heart and Soul” was one of those number ones.

Top Songs From 1983, Final Thoughts

When evaluating good music from 1983, there’s just too much to choose from to include it all. But keep in mind that some of the biggest hits of the year weren’t necessarily the best songs of 1983 (we’re looking at you, Men Without Hats). But these songs show the staggering amount of great music from that year.

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