Welcome to 1982: the year that invented pop music as we know it today. One of the most experimental, innovative, insanely abundant music years ever. Hip-hop takes over with “The Message” and “Planet Rock.” New Wave synth-pop invades the Top 40. Disco and funk have a high-tech boom. Indie rock takes off with R.E.M. and the Replacements. Prince claims his throne as the Coolest Man Alive. Madonna dances out of Detroit. Thriller drops. New stars, new beats, new noises explode every week on MTV. So do some of history’s most tragic haircuts. Synthesizers. Drum machines. The Walkman. After 1982, music will never be the same.
Sure, you can go to the movies and see E.T. or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Or hit the video arcade to play Pac-Man. But the real fun is happening on the radio, where crazy new sounds are mutating and evolving at warp speed. Every style of music is booming. The kids are taking over. 1982 kicks off the cross-cultural mix-and-match future we’re all living in now.
That upstart network MTV has 24 hours a day to fill, so it’s forced to play these art-fop weirdos nobody’s heard of, since they’re the ones making videos. Except music video accidentally makes stars out of New Romantic provocateurs like Duran Duran, ABC, and Culture Club. Radical ideas about art, gender, race, sexuality are in the air. The old stylistic boundaries collapse. All over the world, rebels are checking each other out on the airwaves and plundering each other’s tricks.
The veteran stars realize it’s time to either evolve or die, so legends like Marvin Gaye, George Clinton, Lou Reed, Stevie Nicks, Aretha Franklin get inspired to make their boldest music in years. African music goes global via King Sunny Ade. Beatmasters get their hands on new toys to play with—the 808, the DMX, the Linn LM-2, the Jupiter-8. Rush go electro. Metal speeds up. Hardcore punk takes a huge creative leap. Toto bless the rains down in Africa. There’s go-go, ska, country, reggae, hi-NRG, goth. A Flock of Seagulls? They happened.
So let’s break it down: the 100 best songs of 1982, 40 years later. The hits, the flops, the flukes, the deep cuts. This list is full of all-time classics, still sung around the globe: “Don’t You Want Me,” “Billie Jean,” “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Little Red Corvette.” There’s also buried treasures, cult favorites, one-hit wonders. Some of these tunes are influential works of art. Some are awesomely sleazy pop scams. And one is by Billy Idol. But every single one is excellent, and every single one helped invent the pop landscape we inhabit. So here’s to one of music’s greatest years. As Modern English would say, the future’s open wide.