The Year That Was: 1982
Thriller Conquers the World as Rock Comes to a Halt
by Benjamin Ray
It seems so obvious, in retrospect, but 1982 was the year that the big rock acts of the 1970s came to an end and the '80s pop and hair metal scene took over. This is most evident in the immense popularity of Thriller, the best-selling album in the world.
Of course, Michael Jackson's landmark LP spawned seven Top 40 hits, many of which were good, but it's more noteworthy in that it arrived during a year that saw final albums by Supertramp, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Clash, Blondie and The Who. Some of those bands would reform minus a key member later, of course.
Although Zeppelin dissolved in 1980, the short posthumous Coda was their last official release -- oddly enough, singer Robert Plant released his first solo album that year, Pictures At Eleven, and both were of equal quality. Many fans felt cheated by Coda, because it was the only time Zeppelin sounded ordinary, and it was easy to see why some of the songs were considered outtakes. Of course, ordinary Zep is better than many other bands, but still.
Floyd also released their last album with Roger Waters, the mundane The Final Cut, while Supertramp cut ...famous last words..., which did not build on the success of Breakfast In America but was generally solid. The Clash, meanwhile, released Combat Rock and were promptly disowned by punk fans, who could not understand why the Clash City Rockers would record "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The Who also released It's Hard and Blondie cut The Hunter...don't bother with either, though "Eminence Front" remains a sublime song.
In the progressive rock quarters, there wasn't much news. King Crimson cut Beat, which was an inferior rewrite of Discipline, and Genesis released the double-album Three Sides Live, which is their best live album even if most of it is post-Peter Gabriel material. Queen also went disco/pop with Hot Space and Steve Miller recorded his last hit with Abracadabra (featuring the incredibly thought-provoking lyrics "Abra abracadabra / I wanna reach out and grab ya"). The Alan Parsons Project also cut their final great album, Eye In The Sky, while Rush continued their popularity with Signals.
In rock news -- this was a year before Metallica hit the scene -- Van Halen recorded half a cover album with Diver Down and Aerosmith slipped Rock In A Hard Place under the radar, which turned out to be a good thing. Asia, made up of former prog-rockers, also released their debut in April, which went to #1 and stayed there, making them one of the year's success stories and showing the crappy direction mainstream rock would follow for the rest of the decade. Also of note is George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone," Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone," Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" and the Scorpions' "No One Like You."
Also, Bruce Springsteen recorded his acoustic masterpiece Nebraska, while Dire Straits tossed off Love Over Gold and Chicago experienced unfortunate rebirth with Chicago 16. Kiss also tried to come back with Creatures Of The Night, a heavier take on their sound, while Crosby, Stills and Nash experienced Daylight Again. It is also worth noting the first appearance by the Beastie Boys with the dreadful Pollywog Stew; the band would resurface five years later with their first proper album and launch the embarrassing white hip-hop movement.
As far as pop acts, Billy Joel came out with The Nylon Curtain, an underrated effort and one of 1982's most popular albums, while Fleetwood Mac tried to revive the spirit of old with Mirage and Don Henley released I Can't Stand Still. Hall & Oates continued their winning chart streak with H20 and "Maneater" while Marvin Gaye released his final great single, "Sexual Healing." Paul McCartney's Tug of War was his best album since Band on the Run and Steve Winwood's "Valerie" was one of his better (and less overplayed) singles.
Alternative was starting to make its first appearance in 1982, with the Cure's album Pornography and Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom making their appearances. The Misfits bashed out Walk Among Us that year, while Judas Priest began Screaming for Vengeance and Dire Straits cut Love Over Gold, a solid album that gave no hint as to the success they would have a few years later.
Other pop/rock hybrids were ruling the charts, with songs by Duran Duran, Prince, Billy Idol, Dexy's Midnight Runners, INXS and Phil Collins all over the radio. But perhaps the most important cultural album was Grandmaster Flash's The Message, of which the title track is generally referred to as the first real rap song (or at least the first one to effectively say something meaningful). It was the touchstone for the slow rise of hip hop through the 80s, which would explode near the end of the decade with N.W.A., Public Enemy, Run D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique."