Every #1 Hit Song From 1983 Ranked From Worst to Best

Featuring Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Bonnie Tyler, Toto and more

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Every #1 Hit Song From 1983 Ranked From Worst to Best

From the start of July through August 2023, we’re ranking every Billboard #1 hit from 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013 from worst to best in each respective year. Last week, we looked at what 1973 had to offer—including anthems and ballads from Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones and Elton John. It was a long list of 27 songs, and that number has greatly shrunk this time around. Today, we’re looking at all 17 tracks that found musical immortality in the 52 weeks of 1983. Eight of the songs held the #1 position for at least three weeks, while two of them ruled America for at least seven.

As is the case with the era these songs come from, there are a few underwhelming entries. But, there are just as many all-time great tracks that have transcended the limitations of any box that the mainstream charts might have once put them in. To score a #1 hit is an achievement that makes your career immortal in some capacity—these artists put in the work and got to the promised land. 1983 offered up a great mix of one-time chart-toppers and rock ‘n’ roll legends. From songs by Billy Joel to Lionel Richie to Bonnie Tyler to Michael Jackson, here is every #1 hit from 1983 ranked. —Matt Mitchell, Assistant Music Editor

17. Michael Sembello: “Maniac”
The first song from the Flashdance soundtrack to hit the list, Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” is one of those compositions that is eternally trapped in the era it was created in. That’s nothing that Sembello could prevent; some tracks are timeless and some aren’t. Perhaps there was a chance for a “Maniac” renaissance when Chris Farley sings its lyrics while doused in mud in Tommy Boy 12 years later, but it was never likely. All of that being said, “Maniac” was destined to hit the top of the charts. It’s catchy, anthemic and has a great replay factor. Too bad it hasn’t aged as well as some of the top songs on this list. But, hey, what can you do? —Matt Mitchell

16. Billy Joel: “Tell Her About It”
As with much of Billy Joel’s ninth studio album An Innocent Man, his lone chart-topper in 1983 was an homage to the soul and doo-wop singles that inspired him to take up the craft of songwriting. And as with the bulk of that LP, the song is pure fluff—a whitewashed take on the Motown sound that loses every ounce of grit and sensuality that made Joel’s forebears so brilliant. He hit the same nostalgic vein that propelled The Big Chill and its soundtrack of ’60s favorites into the limelight, but unlike the film, the staying power of Joel’s was never there. —Robert Ham

15. Men At Work: “Down Under”
Melbourne pop-rockers Men At Work were damn-near inescapable in the 1980s. “Who Can It Be Now?,” “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake” are fabulous pop hits that still sound great—and frontman Colin Hay’s solo, acoustic re-recordings are especially wonderful to tap into. However, “Down Under” is an outlier in Men At Work’s discography. It’s brutally taxing to revisit, as much of the track sounds like a novelty at this point in its lifespan. Hay, of course, sings terrifically here, but the instrumental is outdated and more lifeless than ever 40 years later. But, it did spend four cumulative weeks at #1, so it’s immortal in music history. —MM

14. Lionel Richie: “All Night Long (All Night)
By the early ’80s, Lionel Richie’s ambitions had eclipsed that of his bandmates in the Commodores so he made the bold move of splitting to kick off a solo career. From the jump, he was unstoppable with #1 hits and millions in record sales. The album that this chart-topper was from, Can’t Slow Down, was in the Top 10 for the entirety of 1984. Fueling that was lead single “All Night Long,” a thin slice of calypso pop that sounds less like a party starter and more like the start of the long comedown before last call. It fit the tone of the times as the song bumped “Islands in the Stream” from the top spot before it was eventually pushed aside by “Say Say Say,” two songs with similar easygoing vibes and pleasant attitudes. —RH

13. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson: “Say Say Say”
Here come the pitchforks! Listen, for all the slack that Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson get for their two duets in the 1980s, “Say Say Say” is a pretty damn solid pop song. Of course, record executives making “The Girl is Mine” the lead single off Thriller was an unforgivable mistake, but “Say Say Say” arriving as the lead single from McCartney’s mostly abysmal Pipes of Peace was a genius move. There are some outdated digital components on the track (as is the case with 75% of songs from the era), but McCartney and Jackson had an incredible chemistry together that shines here—and that horn work here is especially slick. Unlike some duets between pop stars, this one doesn’t feel like a Grammy-baiting gimmick. There’s some real firepower in this bubblegum arrangement. “Say Say Say” dominated the charts for four weeks at the end of 1983, and there are many worse ways to end a year. —MM

12. Patti Austin & James Ingram: “Baby, Come to Me”
It took the better part of two years to make this song the hit that it became. And for that, we have to thank a soap opera. The Rod Temperton composition originally appeared on Patti Austin’s 1981 album Every Home Should Have One and was originally issued as a single in early 1982. But once the song was used as the love theme for Luke on General Hospital, it achieved liftoff, cracking the top spot in February 1983. It’s an undeniable, quiet storm ballad that feels nourished by body heat and sweet-nothings whispered over a late night phone line. —RH

11. Bonnie Tyler: “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Most millennials’ introduction to this song was through the hilarious “Literal Video Version” poking fun at the bizarre and melodramatic video for Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler’s biggest hit. But there’s a reason this nearly seven-minute (the radio edit was just four-and-a-half) emotional tour de force connected with listeners in the early ’80s. “Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart,” she sings, her voice alternating between a whisper and a scream. The sweeping, totally dated, Meatloaf-inspired, kitchen-sink production amps up that feeling of devastation we’ve all felt as a promising relationship crumbles to dust. —Josh Jackson

10. Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton: “Islands in the Stream”
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton didn’t really need any career help. They had both eclipsed their country successes and stormed the pop charts by the time the 1980s had arrived. But for that extra push over the top, they could only rely on one source: the Bee Gees. The Australian group were building a tidy side hustle as songwriters and producers and lent their innumerable talents to Rogers’ album Eyes That See in the Dark. And they brought with them this song, originally intended for Diana Ross. Reworked as a duet, the tune and its singers found wings with which to soar, elevating the otherwise insipid lyrics to the level of pop poetry. —RH

9. Toto: “Africa”
A lot could have gone wrong when a white L.A. rock band who’d never even traveled there decided to write an ode to the continent of Africa, but when Toto’s Daid Paich sings that earnest chorus in his falsetto, the result was nothing but good vibes. The song was almost cut from Toto IV, but it quickly became an immediate hit and an enduring soft-rock classic—the song has surpassed 1.4 billion streams on Spotify and is approaching a billion on YouTube. There’s even a solar-powered installation in the Namib desert playing the song on an infinite loop. —JJ

8. Irene Cara: “Flashdance…What a Feeling”
Unlike “Maniac,” Irene Cara’s theme song from the movie Flashdance holds up beyond measure. She won a Grammy and Oscar for this song, and it’s simply marvelous to revisit. Normally, I’m not so inclined to give much attention to made-for-soundtrack songs, unless it’s “If You Leave” or “I Can Dream About You,” but “Flashdance…What a Feeling” doesn’t just encapsulate the film is stars, it solidifies the pop movement in the 1980s completely. “All alone, I have cried silent tears of pride,” Cara sings, “in a world made of steel, made of stone.” Are you kidding me? What a gorgeous, soulful anthem composed by the “Father of Disco” Giorgio Moroder and penned by Cara and Keith Forsey. —MM

7. Hall & Oates: “Maneater”
When it comes to hit-makers who’ve never gotten their full props, the duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates immediately springs to mind. Six #1 hits from 1977 to 1991, including “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes” and “Out of Touch,” it’s hard to overlook what the Philadelphia rock legends have assembled in a 50-year career together. But their lone chart-topper in 1983 is soulful pop treasure worthy of its own immortality. Featuring a crisp saxophone solo from Charles DeChant, “Maneater” is a deliciously groovy track carried by a melody interlocked with Hall’s synthesizer and Oates’ Linn LM-1 drum machine. In the landscape of Reagan-era mainstream music, few acts were as monolithic and captivating as Hall & Oates, and “Maneater” is a commanding, brilliant display of timeless pop language. —MM

6. The Police: “Every Breath You Take”
The biggest, most inescapable song of 1983 was, according to its creator, written in a quick half-hour burst. At the time, Sting was dealing with the collapse of his marriage and the beginning of a new relationship with his soon-to-be ex-wife’s friend. The pain and confusion fed into a spark that allowed the singer-bassist to explore themes of romantic obsession and overbearing desire. After knocking into shape in the studio, it became the anchor for Synchronicity, The Police’s final statement as a band and, when it was released as a single in May of 1983, became an instant smash. To this day, it feels like the Earth’s axis shifts just so when the song hits the airwaves or cycles up in a nostalgic playlist. 40 years later, it still possesses a dark power that songwriters have been trying, and failing, to tap into. —RH

5. Eurythmics: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
Though I think the Eurythmics’ apex was “Here Comes the Rain Again” in November 1983, you can’t deny the starpower of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s most popular song from their initial 10-year stint together as a duo. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is towering, electric and, honestly, haunting. My first interaction with the song was watching it soundtrack a bed-wetter’s walk of shame in the 1999 Adam Sandler film Big Daddy, and the hit has only become more and more singular in my psyche in the two decades since. “Sweet Dreams” is a synth-pop benchmark that solidified Lennox as one of the most powerful bandleaders in the world—and the androgynous style she fully embraced for the single’s rollout broke the mold for queer artists indefinitely. —MM

4. Michael Jackson: “Beat It”
Credit the delicious guitar lick that quickly takes the song to fifth gear. Or Michael Jackson’s frantic vocals that never relent. Or that work-out tempo of 128 beats per minute. Or Eddie Van Halen’s guitar 100-mile-an-hour guitar solo. The energy of “Beat It” is unmatched by anything else on Thriller, propelling it to become the best-selling album of all time. To highlight its anti-violence theme, Jackson enlisted 80 rival gang members from L.A.’s Crips and Bloods for a choreographed masterpiece in the song’s video. —JJ

3. David Bowie: “Let’s Dance”
Pop’s great shapeshifter re-imagined himself once again in 1983 with the release of Let’s Dance, a slick LP produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and featuring the guitar work of Stevie Ray Vaughan. With the former’s help, the title track was taken from its sodden origins and transformed into a synth-funk lava flow that James Murphy would give his eyes and teeth to be able to easily replicate. The resulting single and steamy music video threw a newly blonde Bowie into the global limelight where he surprisingly flourished. The next three decades of his career would never be the same. Thank Christ for that. —RH

2. Michael Jackson: “Billie Jean”
In my imagination, the executive at Epic Records who hedged their bets by releasing “The Girl Is Mine” as the first single from Thriller was quickly fired after the album went supernova following the release of the second single, “Billie Jean.” Inspired by the groupies who attempted to get their claws in his Jackson 5 brothers, the song was already a masterpiece of serpentine synth-funk before Jacko commanded the world’s attention with a brilliant music video and his performance of this song on the Motown 25 TV special where he introduced us to the moonwalk. In both wonderful and disturbing ways, there was no way of escaping Michael Jackson after that. —RH

1. Dexy’s Midnight Runners: “Come On Eileen”
Many of the songs on this ranking don’t hold up 40 years after their release, but that is how the ever-evolving landscape of mainstream music works. You take the good with the bad and embrace the beauty of what has become timeless and what remains stuck in the era it was born into. However, “Come On Eileen”—the lone #1 hit from Dexy’s Midnight Runners—is, arguably, the most timeless song to ever crack open the Billboard Hot 100. What an infectious, dazzling cut of new wave injected with Celtic folk-pop. The modern music world had never seen such a dynamic, soulful song rule the world—which helps make “Come On Eileen” an eternal work of glorious art. That opening fiddle solo, the acappella outro (which was nixed from the single version) and the uptempo horn and mandolin that duet across the track’s bridge—how can you not hopelessly fall in love with the song over and over with each listen? “Eileen, I’ll hum this tune forever,” vocalist Kevin Rowland opines. Thankfully, all of us get to take part in that same, perfect destiny. —MM

Check out a playlist of these 17 songs below.

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