Chartcrush 1983 Episode Graphic

1983 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

MTV breaks its Rock format to air Michael Jackson vids under threat by CBS and accusations of racism, and becomes Pop’s new gravitational center post-AM Top40.

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Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we dive deep into a year in Pop music and culture, and count down the top ten hits according to our recap of the weekly Hot100 charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week it’s 1983, the year of Michael Jackson, and the year of MTV.

But at the beginning of 1983? Hard to believe, but MTV wasn’t even playing Michael Jackson. More on that and Michael Jackson later in the show when we play his— not one, but multiple hits in our top ten countdown.

But first to set the stage, MTV. It debuted in August of 1981 with 2.1 million households on just a handful of cable systems with a straightforward concept: AOR radio on TV; AOR short for Album Oriented Rock, the main FM Rock radio format charted on Billboard‘s just-launched Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Topping that chart in ’81, acts like The Who, Tom Petty, Moody Blues, Foreigner, Blue Oyster Cult and The Rolling Stones.

So OK. But one big problem with that right off the bat: MTV was TV, not radio. If a video was boring or low-budget, just the Band or Singer performing live like most vids by AOR acts in those days, it wasn’t going to play the same on TV. And of course if there was no video, MTV couldn’t play it at all. Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” Rush’s “New World Man,” Eric Clapton’s “I Can’t Stand It,” all #1 Mainstream Rock songs in MTV’s first couple years with no video.

MTV co-founder Les Garland told Jet magazine in 2006 that in the early days he was spending 50% of his time trying to convince artists to make videos, and labels to bankroll them.

Now the other problem was the AOR format itself. It was in trouble. The Sony Walkman was killing Top40 on AM as Pop fans craved better sound, so the FM band obliged, and many stations ditched AOR for CHR: Contemporary Hits.

As Billboard Rock editor Roman Kozak wrote in his radio recap at the end of ’83: “the son of once-despised top 40 was actually playing hipper and more exciting music than that being dredged up from the AOR dinosaurs, even with a few New Wave acts grudgingly thrown in.”

And by “New Wave,” he’s not just talking post-Punk New Wave like The Human League, Clash, Eurythmics and Talking Heads. Glam Metal fell under the “New Wave” banner too, groups like Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard, at least until Rock stations chose a path and veered into Modern or so-called “Active Rock” formats, or just stuck with AOR to become Classic Rock.

MTV though was all-of-the-above: stretching AOR to its limits in search of videos, which strongly favored sub-genres like Post-Punk and New Wave with a tradition of theatrics and wild art house visuals that went way beyond the guitar neck closeups and hands-on-keys shots in AOR vids.

One thing MTV wouldn’t do in ’81 and ’82? Branch off into pure Pop or R&B. That, they reasoned, would be a bridge too far for their target AOR demo, still on their Death of Disco victory lap.

But whatever MTV’s calculus was in its first two years, by golly it worked! It wasn’t just that people who already had cable were watching. People got cable just so they could get MTV. “I want my MTV” was what you were supposed to call your cable company and tell them so they’d add it. Only then would you sign up and subscribe. This was millions of people coast-to-coast and by ’83 almost every cable system was carrying MTV. It was cable’s killer app: MTV households up from 2.1 million at launch to 17 million by ’83.

#10 Patti Austin with James Ingram – Baby, Come to Me

But still not as big as broadcast! In 1981 for example, 30 million viewers tuned in to watch an episode of General Hospital, the daytime soap opera on ABC, a show that had almost as big an impact on the charts in the early ’80s as MTV. Exhibit A: our #10 song as we kick off our 1983 Chartcrush Countdown.

The episode was the one where Luke and Laura Spencer tie the knot two years after he professes his love, then rapes her on the floor of the Mafia-owned Disco he manages, thinking he’s going to be killed the next day attempting to assassinate a Senate candidate on orders from his mob boss. Talk about compelling video, right?

And at #10, the song that began a slow five-month climb on the Hot100 once it started showing up as Luke’s romantic theme music on the show. It’d only gotten to #73 upon its initial release in the Spring of ’82, but made it all the way to #1 for two weeks in February, thanks to, no, not MTV—they weren’t playing it—but General Hospital. It’s Patti Austin and James Ingram’s “Baby, Come to Me.”

Adult Contemporary, also evolving in ’83, from a Country-Pop dominated format in the first years of the ’80s to Slow R&B, like Patti Austin and James Ingram’s “Baby, Come to Me” at #10 as we count down the top hits 1983 on this week’s edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.

Separately, both Austin and Ingram continued charting R&B and AC hits through the ’80s, but Ingram got another turn at #1 on the Hot100: his 1990 Power Ballad, “I Don’t Have the Heart,” and before that, his duet with Linda Ronstadt on “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail got to #2 in ’87 and won Best Song at the Oscars.

And speaking of General Hospital‘s impact on the charts, “Baby, Come to Me” wasn’t the show’s only export. The Afternoon Delights’ plot summary novelty, “General Hospi-Tale” had already made the Top40 in 1981, and also, former early ’70s Teen Idol Rick Springfield was Dr. Noah Drake on the show. “Jesse’s Girl” from his first album since the mid-’70s was #1 the same the week MTV launched in August of ’81.

#9 Kenny Rogers duet with Dolly Parton – Islands in the Stream

Now contrary to common perception, The Bee Gees did not disappear after Disco imploded, even if their brand was all but unmarketable after their last #1, “Love You Inside and Out,” in the Summer of ’79. Their 1981 album Living Eyes only got to #41 on the album chart, and its lead single barely scraped the Top40 on the Hot100.

But despite that, the appetite for their distinctive songs and production sheen was undiminished, provided it was someone else’s name on the record. Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love,” “Guilty” and “What Kind of Fool” in ’80 and ’81: Bee Gees songs in every conceivable way except Streisand’s vocals. All top ten hits. Ditto Dionne Warwick’s “Heartbreaker” in ’82: her first top ten in over three years.

Well, for ’83, the Bee Gees teamed with our Singer at #9: Country crossover’s biggest star, looking for his next #1 after his collab with Lionel Richie on “Lady” in ’80. And he got it. And the brothers Gibb, who co-wrote and produced his entire 1983 album Eyes That See in the Dark? Well, after Streisand and Warwick, the Bee Gees were three-for-three in the post-Disco ’80s!

It started out as a solo record, but didn’t gel until they brought in Dolly Parton from down the hall in the same studio and made it a duet. At #9 it’s Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream.”

A duet by two of Country’s biggest stars, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, on a Bee Gees song, “Islands in the Stream,” #9 as we count down the top hits of 1983 here on this week’s edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.

Younger GenXers will recall Mýa interpolating the song on Pras Michel’s “Ghetto Superstar (That Is What You Are)” from 1998.

Now don’t look for “Islands in the Stream” in the top ten on Billboard‘s 1983 year-end charts because it was too late in the year, its chart run split between their ’83 and ’84 chart years. They have it at #56 for ’84. But counting its full chart run in the calendar year it was biggest as we do for every song at Chartcrush reveals it as one of 1983’s top hits: one of the many hits throughout chart history that’ve fallen through the cracks on Billboard‘s year-end charts because their runs, arbitrarily split between adjacent “chart years.”

#8 Michael Jackson – Beat It

So AC hits notwithstanding, as I talked about in the intro, ’83’s big music headlines? MTV and Michael Jackson. Jackson’s Thriller came out in November of ’82, initially with two videos planned. But MTV was still positioning itself as Rock, with almost no Black artists in rotation, and no Disco artists, so it was gonna be tough to get them aired. Michael Jackson, of course, both Black and a Disco artist.

But with MTV already stretching the AOR format playing obscure British and Australian stuff that no American AOR radio station would’ve sought out on their own, and Black R&B star Rick James (“Slick Rick”) out there accusing MTV of racism for not playing “Superfreak,” it was pretty weak for MTV CEO Robert Pittman to exclude those Jackson vids. So in a bold move, CBS president Walter Yetnikov threatened to yank all vids by CBS and subsidiaries if they wouldn’t play Michael Jackson, and MTV relented.

Thriller, already on its way to becoming the best selling album of all time after Michael debuted the moonwalk on NBC’s Motown 25th Anniversary special for 40 million U.S. viewers, many of whom didn’t have cable yet. And of course, once MTV did start playing Michael Jackson, not only didn’t the expected anti-Disco backlash happen, but MTV became the first profitable cable channel, and a legit cultural force.

Now the song we’re gonna hear right now at #8 on our countdown wasn’t the first Michael Jackson vid on MTV, but it was his first to crack the top 20 on the Mainstream Rock chart: the same chart MTV used initially. It’s the third single issued from Thriller featuring a scorching solo by Rock guitar god Eddie Van Halen, “Beat It.”

“Beat It.” Michael Jackson, #8 as we count down the top ten songs of 1983 here on this week’s Chartcrush. That scorching Eddie Van Halen guitar solo: even conservative AOR stations had to play that, and it broke the logjam of Black artists on MTV. Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” both debuted on the Mainstream Rock chart the same week as “Beat It.” And both eventually made the top 20 too.

As for Eddie: partly thanks to “Beat It,” the next year, his band Van Halen crossed over to the Hot100. “Jump” was not only their first top ten Pop hit, it went all the way to #1 for five weeks!

#7 Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart

So at #9 we heard a Bee Gees song that got to #1 sung by other artists, “Islands in the Stream.” At #7 we have a Meat Loaf song that got to #1 sung by another artist.

Jim Steinman was the composer of Meat Loaf’s multi-platinum Bat out of Hell album in 1978, but its ’80s follow-ups Bad for Good and Dead Ringer, also by Steinman, tanked even worse than The Bee Gees even though there wasn’t anything remotely “Disco” about Steinman or Meat Loaf. Dead Ringer‘s only charting single peaked at #81.

So Steinman did exactly what The Bee Gees did: retreated behind the studio glass and scored with another artist out front, in this case, the husky-voiced Welsh Singer whose “It’s a Heartache” was five or ten Hot100 positions ahead of Meat Loaf’s biggest hit, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad,” through most of its chart run in the Summer of ’78. But she didn’t chart again ’til this. At #7 it’s Bonnie Tyler doing Jim Steinman’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Bonnie Tyler teaming up with Bat out of Hell mastermind Jim Steinman for “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1983. Steinman and Tyler teamed up again for her next hit, “Holding Out for a Hero” from the Footloose soundtrack in ’84. That one got to #2 in her native U.K., but only #34 on the Hot100, and Bonnie Tyler faded after that, but Steinman and Meat Loaf finally got their act together and scored again in ’93 with the Bat Out of Hell sequel, Back into Hell and its hit “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

#6 Men at Work – Down Under

Now if you look at 1983’s big albums, three loom the largest. Thriller first hit #1 at the end of February and then the album with the #1 song in our countdown dominated the charts in most of the second half of the year. But our #6 song is from the album that was #1 for 15 weeks over the holidays at the end of 1982 until Thriller reached #1 in February. And this was its second #1 single after the group’s MTV-fueled breakthrough with “Who Can It Be Now?” Originally the B-side of their first Australian single in 1980, they re-recorded it in ’81 for their debut album Business as Usual. It’s Men at Work’s “Down Under.”

Well thanks to that song’s celebration of all things peculiarly Australian, like Kombi’s, Vegemite and chundering (that’s Aussie slang for vomiting), not to mention the term “Down Under” itself, Men at Work had folks talking up an “Aussie invasion” in ’83 to rival the mid-’60s British invasion, with other Aussies like INXS, Midnight Oil and Split Enz lending credence.

But actually, Australians had been charting top ten hits in the U.S. for years: Helen Reddy, The Little River Band, Olivia Newton-John, and more recently Air Supply. They were the top-charting AC act of the early ’80s, and the second top-charting Hot100 act.

But what was new in ’83 thanks to MTV was the absolute dominance of non-North American acts on the Hot100. Five or more of the top ten in 27 of the year’s 52 weeks, by artists from abroad. No other year in chart history even comes close.

Australia and the U.K. had a head start making and airing clever videos. Australia’s Countdown and Sounds; Britain’s Top of the Pops, big pre-MTV music video shows. So when MTV needed videos to fill all that airtime their first couple of years before Americans ramped up, that’s where they came from.

#5 Lionel Richie – All Night Long (All Night)

At #5 as we continue our Chartcrush countdown of 1983’s top ten hits, a Danceable upbeat song from the early ’80s’ top-charting Balladeer, and exclusively a Balladeer for years: “Three Times a Lady” and “Still” in the ’70s with his group The Commodores; “Lady,” written for Kenny Rogers in 1980; “Endless Love,” his duet with Diana Ross in ’81, and “Truly,” his chart debut as a solo act in ’82: all #1s, but all Ballads.

His only charted non-Ballad up to ’83? “You Are” from his ’82 solo debut, which got to #4. But he still had something to prove, and prove it he did when the song he wrote for folks to dance to on vacation topped the chart for four weeks November into December—like “Islands in the Stream,” too late in the year for its full chart run to be factored into ’83, but Billboard has it their #12 Hot100 hit for ’84, counting just its weeks from November 5 on. That full run, though, makes it the #5 song of ’83 by our Chartcrush reckoning. It’s Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night).”

By the end of ’85, Lionel Richie’s 1983 album Can’t Slow Down was RIAA-certified Diamond for sales of ten million. “All Night Long” was its lead single, #5 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1983.

Lionel with a Jamaican lilt to his voice on that, did you notice? And an African chant inspired by the fourth single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Accent and chant, both fake, but no one in ’83 cared.

Richie’s next two hits off Can’t Slow Down were “Hello” and “Stuck on You,” two more Ballads, but he was back in ’86 with another upbeat hit, “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

#4 Michael Jackson – Billie Jean

And speaking of Thriller, at #4, the second single from the album. The first: Michael Jackson’s schmaltzy duet with former Beatle Paul McCartney, “The Girl Is Mine,” which might’ve impacted early sales as fans wondered if the rest of the album is less Thriller, and more filler.

But of course it wasn’t, and that became abundantly clear when this one hit the airwaves in January, and then the famous light-up sidewalk moonwalking video premiered the first week in March, after CBS Records honcho Walter Yetnikov forced MTV’s hand. One of the most iconic videos of all time, here’s Michael Jackson again: “Billie Jean.”

“Billie Jean,” the best-selling single of Michael Jackson’s entire solo career, #1 on the Hot100 for seven weeks, #4 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1983’s biggest hits, and the song that opened MTV up to sounds besides Rock, including the many other Black artists who followed. Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” added the same week as “Billie Jean.”

The Walkman may’ve doomed AM Top 40, not to mention vinyl LP’s (cassettes outsold vinyl for the first time in ’83), but the notion of a gravitational center in Pop lived on for another decade thanks to Walter Yetnikov’s ultimatum and MTV putting “Billie Jean” on the air.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the top R&B single of the year; that honor went to Marvin Gaye with “Sexual Healing.” “Billie Jean” was #2.

Quincy Jones, the Producer of Thriller and it’s six top ten singles, including “Billie Jean.” And he also produced Patti Austin & James Ingram’s “Baby, Come to Me” our #10 song.

#3 Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson – Say Say Say

But back to Michael Jackson. At #3 is the second MJ/Paul McCartney duet in less than a year. “The Girl Is Mine” off Thriller peaked at #2 in January; this one off McCartney’s ’83 album Pipes of Peace got to #1 in December, making it the third song in our 1983 countdown that peaked in calendar ’83, but after Billboard‘s October 29 cut-off for the chart year. Billboard has it as the #3 song of 1984.

On “Girl Is Mine” at the beginning of the Thriller juggernaut, Michael got the cachet of having a Beatle on his record, but on this, the Beatle got an even bigger boost from having Michael Jackson on his. It hit the charts one week after Thriller‘s sixth single, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and went on to become McCartney’s biggest single ever, #1 for six weeks mid-December to mid-January. At #3, “Say Say Say.”

Now “Say Say Say” may’ve hit the charts at the end of ’83, but it was recorded in London in the Spring of ’81, a year before Michael Jackson even started working on Thriller. Beatles producer George Martin helmed the session.

McCartney and Jackson, two of Pop’s biggest stars of all-time, both accused at various points in their careers of over-indulging sappy, mawkish tendencies: McCartney on “Another Day” and “Silly Love Songs,” and Jackson on “Ben” and “She’s Out of My Life.”

Put ’em together and what do you get? Well, on “Girl Is Mine” you get a supremely sappy and mawkish record, exactly what you’d expect. Less so on “Say Say Say,” but in both cases you get massive hits. “Say Say Say” was McCartney’s last #1 but he continued charting on the Hot100 as a lead artist all the way to 2007.

#2 Irene Cara – Flashdance…What a Feeling

Well we’re down to #2 on our Chartcrush Countdown for 1983: the lone Soundtrack single in the top ten. It won Best Original Song at the Oscars for the Singer, who wrote the lyrics in the back of a taxicab on her way to record it. Three years earlier in 1980, she’d been the Singer on another top ten hit that won Best Original Song, “Fame.” But she hadn’t been among the Songwriters, so she didn’t get a gold statue.

This one’s also the title song of the movie, and also like Fame, the movie was a surprise box-office smash that grossed many many times the modest amount it cost to make. From ’83’s cinematic pop culture phenom, at #2 it’s Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeling.”

Irene Cara, “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” the title song from the movie and the #2 song of 1983 here on our ’83 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. The video was all movie footage, as was the video for Flashdance‘s other #1 hit, Michael Sembello’s “Maniac,” and heavy rotation on MTV helped propel the movie’s massive success at the box office: a pattern that repeated many times through the ’80s as soundtrack hits proliferated. It wasn’t just the music biz looking to MTV to create hits, so was Hollywood!

#1 The Police – Every Breath You Take

And that gets us to #1, about which the most astonishing thing I can tell you is: in the year of Thriller, it’s not Michael Jackson. It’s actually the band’s only career #1, but eight weeks on top in the Summer, and since that chart run is all in Billboard‘s ’83 chart year, every week of it counted, and it’s #1 on their official published year-end Hot100 too. And the album it’s on was #1 for 17 weeks. That album? Synchronicity: the band’s fifth and final LP. Here are The Police with the #1 song of 1983, “Every Breath You Take.”

The Police, “Every Breath You Take,” the #1 song of 1983, beating out five singles from Michael Jackson’s Thriller that were on the Hot100 during the year. The Police nearly broke up in the middle of recording their Synchronicity album, with Singer-Bassist-Frontman Sting and Drummer Stewart Copeland actually coming to blows. But fortunately they were able to complete the album and a world tour that went through the Spring of ’84 and was one of the two top grossing tours of the year (David Bowie the other).

Critics at the time were calling The Police the biggest Rock band in the world. They reunited in ’85 to headline a stadium benefit for the human rights group Amnesty International and tried to record a new album, but it didn’t work out and Sting, Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers went their separate ways ’til their lucrative 30th Anniversary reunion tour in 2007. But they never made another album!


And there you have ’em: the top ten songs of 1983 according to our Chartcrush ranking that factors every song’s full run. But the year-straddling hits “Islands in the Stream,” “All Night Long” and “Say Say Say” coming in to our top ten displaces three songs from Billboard‘s year-end top ten, so to be thorough, let’s have a look at those.

#11 Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

At #10, Billboard had a real MTV New Wave hit, and by that I mean: a song that wouldn’t have done nearly as well in the U.S. if not for the wide exposure its edgy, high-concept video got on MTV. The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” was ’82’s top example, our #7 song of 1982; this one though? Pushed to #11 on our 1983 ranking: Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

Eurythmics: Singer Annie Lennox and Songwriter-Producer Dave Stewart: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Their first and biggest of more than a dozen hits before they split in 1990: Lennox to a successful solo career, and Stewart, a top producer in the ’90s and beyond.

#9 Michael Sembello – Maniac

And at #9, Billboard had the second #1 from Flashdance, which topped the Hot100 for two weeks two months after Irene Cara’s six week reign at #1 in early Summer with the title song. We have it at #12 on the year: Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.”

Fun fact: “Maniac” was originally about a deranged killer, not a dancer, inspired by a slasher movie, but the Flashdance Producers wanted it so Writers Dennis Matkosky and Sembello rewrote the lyrics to be about a dancing maniac. Sembello was unable to follow up the success of “Maniac,” so he went back to songwriting and producing behind the scenes.

And finally, Billboard‘s #7 song of 1983 was Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “Maneater,” an ’82 to ’83 year-straddler that we have as 1982’s #8 song, so we won’t be spinning that one here on our 1983 edition of Chartcrush.

But you can hear it on our 1982 episode: the podcast version of which is streaming now on Spotify, along with all our other Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Shows, ’40s up to now. For links to those, head on over to our website,, where you’ll also find full written episode transcripts with copious source links, and other radical extras like our full top 100 charts and interactive line graphs of the actual chart runs of the songs in each episode.

For now, though, we gotta wrap up our 1983 edition of Chartcrush. I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi, and as always I want to thank you for listening. That website again:, and tune in again next week, same station, same time, for another year in another edition of Chartcrush.

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