As we prepare for our Fourth of July holiday, let’s take a moment to remember the greatest American family vacation movie of all time, National Lampoon’s Vacation, which opened 31 years ago this month, July 23, 1983. What did the Billboard Top 40 look like back then? Slip on your Capezios, hop in my DeLorean, and let’s find out together. I can promise some Cold War paranoia, some stalking, and so, so many vests.
40. “Fake Friends,” Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Though anyone who was 21 or older in 1983 will furiously deny it, the advent of MTV did some really interesting things for pop music: Suddenly, the charts were full of weird British kids with refreshing hairdos. One unfortunate result was that it halted the the ascent of the kind of New Wave–y power-pop that would have been the dominant sound of the time if the Producers, Any Trouble, and Graham Parker had been a tiny bit more photogenic. Joan Jett snuck one such track onto the charts, but even she was no match for the Thompson Twins and mousse.
39. “Slipping Away,” Dave Edmunds
Another New Wave–y power-pop classic, this one written and produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO. Be warned: Whatever feelings of good will Jeff Lynne of ELO earns here, he will waste a little further down the chart.
38. “Tell Her About It,” Billy Joel
In this song, Billy Joel makes the case that for romantic relationships to work, one partner must occasionally speak to the other. I’m not here to discuss the merits of that argument, but I would like to bring a moment from this video to your attention.
What’s the deal here? Why is the bartender so shocked? What are they trying to communicate to him with their kicky, carefree poses? What the hell is happening here?
37. “The Safety Dance,” Men Without Hats
Thanks to Flashback Fridays and Sirius ‘80s on 8, I’ve heard this song at least once a week for 31 years, and I still have no idea what that woman is saying at 0:30. “And sing?” “Gon’ sing?” “Danser?” “Francais?” “Come see?” The world’s lyric websites are in dissent, the band itself has never provided an answer, and then there are the larger questions: What percentage of Ren Faire culture can be traced directly back to this video? Is that really how you play a lute? Is there such a dance as the Safety Dance, and if so, is it just standing there and making an S with your arms? I think we can agree the world would be a much more delightful place if Nancy Grace devoted her show to solving these kinds of mysteries.
36. “The Salt in My Tears,” Martin Briley
I will forever pair this song with Dwight Twilley’s New Wave–y power-pop single “Girls,” which peaked right around here at right around the same time and got the jump on Robin Thicke’s bare-breasts video gimmick by 30 years.
35. “Human Nature,” Michael Jackson
“Human Nature” is Michael Jackson at his absolute best, before his fame and vocal tics swallowed him whole. Here he is performing “Human Nature” just after his fame and vocal tics swallowed him whole.
34. “The Border,” America
Back in the early ‘80s, when a television season ended, every single show on each of the three networks would go into reruns. So if you were 12 in 1983, as I was, your summer Saturday nights consisted of back-to-back repeat viewings of Diff’rent Strokes and Silver Spoons. Here’s Ricky Stratton trying to impress his Hispanic crush Consuelo by sneaking into Menudo’s hotel room. (I bring this up because the blond guy from America has always reminded me of Ricky’s nerdy pal Freddy.)
33. “Pieces of Ice,” Diana Ross
And here’s Diana Ross wearing a glittering fuchsia catsuit in her 1983 Central Park concert, mostly forgetting to lip-synch with some prancing animal-people straight out of an Allan Carr adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. (It’s important to remember that Cats had recently opened, so this is the kind of thing we were doing.)
32. “Human Touch,” Rick Springfield
Rick Springfield rails against the soullessness of drum machines in “Human Touch,” a song that absolutely uses a drum machine. Its video takes place in our post-apocalyptic future, which will evidently look like an especially dusty episode of Solid Gold. (It also takes place in 2016, so if we want to be unfrozen into such a glamorous moment, we’d better hurry up.)
31. “After the Fall,” Journey
In the wake of American Gigolo, the hot moody lighting technique was “through Venetian blinds,” and I think we can all agree that’s a lighting technique that works much better on Richard Gere than it does on Steve Perry.
30. “I’m Still Standing,” Elton John
So, listen: This is an Elton John video shot in the South of France in 1983, so from the jump you know you’re in for something super-gay. But then right away there’s Bruno Fucking Tonioli from Dancing With the Stars, flouncing bare-chested with a gaggle of bellhops. And that’s before Elton walks up to the hotel doorman and tips him a handful of glitter. And the doorman is dressed like one of Vanity 6. And that’s before the 35-second mark. This video achieves “Shepard Smith watching True Blood” gayness levels.
29. “Stop in the Name of Love,” the Hollies
Would you rather hear about the Hollies, or the guy who played Ricky’s nerdy friend Freddy on Silver Spoons? I THOUGHT SO. Okay, so, Freddy was played by a kid named Corky Pigeon, and you can read that sentence as many times as you like; it’s never going to change. According to an interview I found on the internet and want to believe more than anything in the world, Corky Pigeon was supposed to have played Elliott in E.T. — the interview says he found this information out “in a roundabout way,” and the mind simply reels — but he was contractually bound to a sitcom pilot with Dick Van Dyke instead. Alas, ol’ Dick Van Dyke showed up Dick Van Drunk to an important show meeting, so he was replaced with Tim Conway, and the show went nowhere. Undaunted, Corky went on to star in the film Party Camp, and then played drums in a ‘90s pop-punk band that opened for MxPx and Reel Big Fish. I am not kidding when I tell you I want to write and direct the Corky Pigeon biopic.
28. “Lawyers in Love,” Jackson Browne
Aliens in body paint! Cold War imagery! Jackson Browne, the Chris Brown of his time! This is a 1983 time capsule, and if you don’t want to open it, I’m not mad at you.
27. “All This Love,” DeBarge
For me, the summer of 1983 was the summer between sixth and seventh grades, the time when boys and girls, who had mingled on the playground only months before, were suddenly expected to socialize at mixers. This was actually a pretty good development for me, as I have always expressed myself best through the medium of dance. But when it came time to pair off for the slow songs, I lacked the confidence (some might say interest) in asking a girl to be my partner. So as my friends Frankensteined it up — one rigid pair of arms resting on a waist, the other on shoulders — I did some solo work not unlike the fourth DeBarge in this video.
26. “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Taco
I bought this album (this whole album) and played “Puttin’ on the Ritz” over and over in an attempt to connect with my parents and prove that the pop music of 1983 was really no different than theirs. I never understood why they didn’t dig this version, but now that I am their age, I get it: It is awful and terrifying.
25. “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” Culture Club
“I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” raises an important question that we’re still trying to answer in 2014: What are our lesser band members supposed to do in videos? In this case, poor Jon Moss, Mikey Craig, and Roy Hay (from memory, you guys) are saddled with a dance number and some head-swinging solo shots that they’d probably rather have skipped.
24. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King,” ELO
ELO was my first favorite band, because they were British, a little orchestral, and had spaceships on their album covers. But there is still no excuse for this song.
23. “Take Me to Heart,” Quarterflash
Someday, we’ll get into Quarterflash — and this video, in which lead singer Rindy Ross stalks a dude through the lost art of diorama — but for now, let’s allow the mannequins to lead us in a moment of silence for the late Meschach Taylor.
22. “Saved by Zero,” The Fixx
Here’s a picture of Ricky Schroeder and Corky Pigeon, looking like a Bugsy Malone version of Frank Sinatra and Steve Lawrence.
21. “Too Shy,” Kajagoogoo
“You’re moving in circles; won’t you dilate” never really took off as a pickup line. Let’s give it another push this summer.
20. “China Girl,” David Bowie
Was the blackface in Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” not problematic enough for you? Then hurry on over to 1:22 of this video and tell me what’s more troubling: the eye thing, or the condescending 45-degree head tilt just after? Is this column going to have to start coming with trigger warnings?
19. “Rock of Ages,” Def Leppard
The director of “China Girl,” David Mallet, also directed this one, swapping out the weird racial garbage for goofy medieval garbage. By the way, I had no idea what the song-opening “goonter glieben glouten globen” business was all about, but their logo and styling suggested heavy metal so strongly, I just assumed it was Satanic. (According to producer Mutt Lange, it’s gibberish.)
18. “Hot Girls in Love,” Loverboy
“She likes her tapes on 10
It is the same as her anatomy
She’s on a rainbow cruise
All the way to my room”
Loverboy, 1983, who somehow did not immediately receive a life sentence in lyrics prison.
16. “Cuts Like a Knife,” Bryan Adams
Is Bryan Adams attractive? I’m looking at him right now, and I don’t know the answer.
15. “It’s a Mistake,” Men at Work
In contrast to Culture Club, the non–Colin Hay members of Men at Work seem only too happy to mug for the cameras. Check out when their civilian tools turn into instruments of war at around 1:03 in the video; you guys, they cannot believe it. (On an unrelated note, this song has the greatest guitar solo of all time.)
14. “Baby Jane,” Rod Stewart
Is Rod Stewart attractive? I’m looking at him right now, and I don’t know the answer.
13. “Come Dancing,” the Kinks
In the second part of that Silver Spoons Menudo episode, they perform in the Stratton living room and sing these lyrics:
“Wake up an’ get going
Lazy days are over
No more dilly-dally
It’s time to get out of the groove!”
Consuelo is fucking into it. Anyway, it’s nice to see rich white children getting their way.
12. “1999,” Prince
Prince has made it pretty much impossible to find any of his videos online, so while we’re digging deep, why not check out the debut performance from Prince & the Revolution, from right around this time in summer 1983, when they played “Purple Rain” for the first time ever? Check it out right now, before Prince’s minions make it disappear, which they will do in two seconds.
11. “Maniac,” Michael Sambello
Sure, you could watch the actual video for this song, but haven’t you seen that Flashdance footage enough for one lifetime? Instead, here’s Diana Ross in an insecurely fastened glitter-cape, doing a version of it in her Central Park concert with a backup dancer in red cowboy boots and Bill Clinton’s jogging shorts. At one point, I think they actually do the Safety Dance. Come see!
10. “Our House,” Madness
Between Billy Joel, ELO, the Kinks, and Madness, there’s a lot of early-‘60s nostalgia in the songs and videos on this countdown. I remember watching each of these on Friday Night Videos, and from my 12-year-old point of reference, they may as well have been looking back to the Middle Ages. Of course, from today’s perspective, that would be like referencing Clueless OH WAIT. (Incidentally, “Fancy” does not so much reference Clueless as re-create it without commenting on the source material in any meaningful way. We are living in a post-Friedberg-and-Seltzer world.)
9. “Stand Back,” Stevie Nicks
Kids, this will be impossible for you to believe, but I swear it’s true: Nobody involved with this video was any less than 100 percent sincere about it. If someone were to try something like this now, it would be delivered with a wink, as if to say: “If you like this, then we are serious. If not, well then we’re all in on the joke together.” I miss the sincerity, personally. What I am saying is: Keep your hands off this video, Iggy Azalea. (No shade. No, no, no shade.)
8. “She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer
Speaking of Friday Night Videos, I clearly recall seeing this one for the first time on that show, and at the moment when the exhausted, groceries-lugging protagonist came home to find her house ransacked, I said out loud to my empty living room: “I honestly don’t know how much more she can take.” Incidentally, in light of this week’s Hobby Lobby decision, this song might be due for a revival.
7. “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” Michael Jackson
As integral to the ascent of music video as “Thriller” was, its three best tracks (“Human Nature,” “PYT,” and this one) had no videos at all. So let’s watch another Silver Spoons instead. How about the one where Ricky and Freddy try to impress two New Wave girls (with the impossibly rad names of “Beth” and “Carol”) by wearing belts at jaunty angles, saying things like “party hearty,” “red-hot babe,” and “ow,” and generally behaving like the dancers in Stevie Nicks’s “Stand Back” video. Can Carol and Beth convince Fred-Man and the Ricker to dine and dash? There is only one way to find out, and unfortunately it requires you to watch the whole episode. (Let me know how it goes.)
6. “Sweet Dreams,” Eurythmics
“Okay, so, you’ll be in a boardroom, giving a sort of gender-queer presentation about the space program, and then you’ll meditate, and then … well, then I don’t really know, but I’ve reserved us some cows.” —This video’s director, who, again, was not at all kidding.
5. “Is There Something I Should Know,” Duran Duran
This is Duran Duran’s least impressive video by a mile; I guess you can’t always drop everything and go to Sri Lanka or whatever. Also, Roger Taylor is so uncomfortable in his solo at 4:14 — we are talking Roy Hay levels of discomfort here — that it’s no surprise he left the band a couple of years later. (It’s a shame, too, as he was the hottest Taylor.)
4. “Never Gonna Let You Go,” Sergio Mendes
Okay, spoiler alert: The Ricker does the right thing, dismissing Carol (or Beth. Who even knows) with an ice-cold “later days, babe” and paying the bill with fresh skrilla out of his velcro wallet. Edward Stratton’s uptight African-American accountant Dexter Stuffins would have been proud, but Dexter’s streetwise, breakdancing nephew Alphonso (who didn’t show up until season three, and was played by Alphonso Ribiero) would have stopped this foolishness before it even started. (And again: Dexter Stuffins.)
3. “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” Irene Cara
Again, you’ve seen your share of Jennifer Beals welding and then impressing the Dexter Stuffinses of the Pittsburgh Dance Conservatory, so let’s watch Irene Cara’s performance from Solid Gold instead. After I get Corky Pigeon: In a Roundabout Way off the ground, I will turn my attention to the Solid Gold Dancers Broadway jukebox musical you’ve been asking for. (I’m writing myself a small part as Rex Smith, so I can do his signature move: Introduce song, bite bottom lip, place microphone under arm, clap.)
2. “Electric Avenue,” Eddy Grant
Not bad, but much more interesting is Eddy’s 1984 title song from the film Romancing the Stone, in which he acts like “romancing the stone” is a thing a person would say, and also sings the lyrics: “Tonight I’m falling where the peaceful waters flow / Where the unicorn’s the last one at the water hole.” It comes from an album called Going for Broke, and it’s like: Yeah, Eddy, we know.
1. “Every Breath You Take,” the Police
Do you want to watch this video, or would you rather watch the song be interpreted by Solid Gold Dancer Darcel I THOUGHT SO. (I must have Maya Rudolph in the Darcel role, or the project will not go forward.)