The Only 1983 Playlist that Really Matters: Headbangin' and Slam Dancin'

1983 was a huge year for Heavy Metal, and not only because of Quiet Riot’s soundalike cover of Slade’s 'Cum On Feel the Noize' sending the Metal Health LP to the top of the charts, the first metal band to ever do so.

The four-year cycle was beginning anew and a whole new wave of metal militias were springing from hither and yon, bringing a faster, meaner, cleaner variant of the genre to a new generation of headbangers. 

Meanwhile the top dogs from the previous wave of metal mutation were becoming established acts, pulling in piles of platinum all from across the planet.

Metallica’s first album laid down the ground rules for the second wave of 80's metal: New Wave of British Heavy Metal finesse and precision combined with the speed and grit of hardcore punk. Throw in a heapin’ helpin’ of mallrat piss 'n' vinegar and some slasher flick Grand Guignol and you were ready to roll. 

Few expected a multiplatinum monster to arise from such humble beginnings, but from small seeds mighty redwoods grow.

Judas Priest got their start during the Queen/Aerosmith/KISS post-glitter wave in the mid-70s but wouldn’t find their feet until the ’79-’83 New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which they did quite a lot to inspire with their ’78 LP Stained Class. The Priest blew every other band off the stage during Heavy Metal day at the 1983 US Festival and capped off the year with this classic scorcher. 

Iron Maiden was the other twin titan of the NWOBHM and hit their stride in '83 with singer (and dedicated Thelemite) Bruce Dickinson with Piece of Mind. Maiden and Priest had peaked conceptually by this point — meaning there wouldn’t be any further major innovations on offer — but both would remain the worldwide standard bearers for serious Heavy Metal fans for quite some time to come.

Def Leppard went in the opposite direction, morphing into a power-pop band with light metallic seasoning. The Leppers hooked with Mutt Lange, who’d turned AC-DC into Diamond sellers with the Back in Black album and became the metal band for people who hated metal bands. Which is just another way of saying "pretty high school girls."

After a brief early 80's renaissance, Black Sabbath fell back into their customary chaotic state. Ego-clashing drove Ronnie James Dio from the band and brought in Deep Purple shrieker Ian Gillan as well as original drummer Bill Ward for a one-shot LP, Born Again. It was kind of a laughing stock at the time, but its reputation has been somewhat rehabilitated by dedicated Sabbers since. 

Gillan would leave to reform Deep Purple and Black Sabbath would then be a trade-name for a series of glorified Tony Iommi albums until the original band reformed in the late 90s.

Dio proved yet again that leaving Black Sabbath was a choice career move for metal men. He’d form his own band and storm the charts with their debut LP, since regarded as a high-water point for Eighties metal. And as a bonus, he’d serve up some of the silliest Spinal Tap-tier music videos of the era. Absolute classic cheese. 

Dio would later reform Heaven and Hell-era Black Sabbath under the new name, uh, Heaven and Hell.

Ozzy’s new band suffered a body blow with the death of diminutive guitar whiz Randy Rhoads, but would rebound with a new lineup featuring Jake E. Lee. Who, in classic Metal Musical Chairs fashion, was previously in Dio for about five minutes. Lee soon learned the joys of being royally shafted out of songwriting royalties by Sharon “the Shark” Osbourne, just like the cats who wrote all the songs on Blizzard of Ozz did. 

Motley Crue broke into the big time with their Shout at the Devil set. Their surefire formula— ripping off Sweet’s sound and Kiss’s wardrobe — would pay off handsomely in ’83, though this writer still sees Too Fast for the Love as the essential Crue release.  

I guess someone had to look like Kiss, because the shopworn 70’s superstars (well, half of them, at least) had released their first album without their trademark comic book villain regalia. The novelty got them some notice, since most 80's metal fans weren’t exactly what you call discriminating. But for everyone else — meaning everyone else who wasn’t a freshman at a regional vo-tech school — it only proved why they wore the makeup in the first place. 

It’d be a dog’s age before they put it back on but grateful fans showered the boys with mountains of greenbacks. 

Fellow 70s stalwarts Thin Lizzy were nearing the end of their run as leader Phil Lynott’s addiction issues would soon cost him his life. But they went out with a bang, with future Whitesnake/Blue Murder whizkid John Sykes teaching the old dogs some NWOBHM-type tricks.

Motorhead’s classic lineup had dissolved following the departure of Fast Eddie Clarke, who’d left to form Fastway with UFO member Pete Way and former Clash drummer Topper Headon (who washed out almost immediately thanks to his crippling addiction issues). Lemmy brought in former Thin Lizzy axeman Brian Robertson for an underwhelming LP, redeemed in part by this killer title cut.

I saw them on this tour and it was one of the most deadly boring shows I’ve ever been to. We spent two hours trying to sneak in and finally just walked through the front door when the opening band (Helix, believe it or not) were breaking down their gear. And then everyone just stood there — the band, the fans— like statues in a very small club while the boys went through the motions at tinnitus-inducing volume. Broke my heart.

Before Slayer, before Cannibal Corpse, before Morbid Angel, before The Lords of Chaos, there was Venom. The British trio were the prime progenitors of death metal or black metal or thrash or deathcore or doom metal or extreme metal or whatever minuscule variation on the basic Venom formula is breathlessly declared a separate and unique genre and culture, predestined by the princes of Hell since before the dawn of time.

Black Metal was released towards the end of 1982 but no one paid it any mind until 1983. Either way, Venom had the bright idea of becoming the explicitly-Satanic band that TV preachers were warning you that Kiss or Def Leppard secretly were, and were rewarded by becoming a punchline while thousands of imitators made major bank off their ideas. 

Hey, the Devil plunger-fucks anyone stupid enough to make commerce with him. That's why they call him "the Devil."

Accept were a weird bunch; a German pack of Judas Priest wannabes with a life-size Chucky doll named Udo Dirkschneider on lead vocals. It all came off a bit too weird and Euro for US headbangers, but this catchy little cut got a lot of airplay on rock radio.


After trying in vain to get the legions of cokehead statutory rapists that dabbled as FM radio programmers to play their records, The Ramones decided to get back to basics in 1983. Problem was their “basics” had been appropriated  -- and in many cases, vastly improved on -- by other bands. Still, we got this classic single of it. Even it’s a bit hampered by the drum tracks, which sound like they were recorded in a vacuum chamber.

Were Suicidal Tendencies a band with a gang or were they a gang with a band? Depends who you ask. The correct answer would be “yes.”

SoCal HC got totally over-run by gangs of all types by 1983: Chicano gangs, surfer gangs, Neo-Nazi gangs, you name it. I'd heard a lot of first-hand horror stories at shows from punks and skins who'd been out there at the time. It’s pretty much why the scene was dead by the time this punk-metal classic was unleashed on an unsuspecting public and made famous the following year when it was included on the Repo Man soundtrack.

HC may as well be called HS, as very few kids stuck around the scene after they graduated. Minor Threat had come up with the first wave of GenXers, saw the writing on the wall, and split in 1983. But not before they released their sole LP, of which this riff-fest was my boys’ favorite. Singer Ian Mackaye would continue on with Fugazi.

Bad Brains signed off in '83 as well, but would reform then split and then reform again several times as the years rolled on. Like Minor Threat, the Brains released their LP Rock for Light as a farewell that year, but Ric Ocasek’s production failed to capture the thermonuclear impact of the band in the way the Brains’ first album (originally a cassette-only release) did. Still, a pretty damn good record.

After setting the basic audiovisual template for thrash, the original Discharge had split in 1982 and a new, more metal-leaning lineup released the Warning… EP in ’83. The new guitarist was clearly a fan of Motley Crue’s ‘Live Wire’ and served up a number of variations on it over the new couple of releases, whereas the title track is content to plagiarize Thin Lizzy. Despite the increasing polish (Cal’s basso profundo proto-Cookie Monster vocals had gone up an octave or two), Warning… is still a raging slab of brutal D-beat HC.

Jerry’s Kids were my crew— I was in an early lineup of the band and gave them their name — and they served up the Is This My World LP in '83, filled with the undiluted rage that Braintree HC was world famous for. I still have yet to hear a band play faster than the Kids did on account of I don’t think it’s actually humanly possible to play faster than the Kids did. 

It all just sounds like a blur now but I guess you had to be there. It was a lot of fun at the time.

NYC stalwarts Kraut got noticed after opening for The Clash at their legendary Bonds residency and then for their own ’83 LP, but their outer boroughs brand of cugine/tough guy punk rock was already losing favor amongst an increasingly-extreme wave of skinheads. Still, a nice document of a place and time lost to history.

Last and most certainly the very least, Austinite acid-casualties Butthole Surfers burst onto the hardcore scene just as the first wave was winding down (meaning just as everyone was graduating from high school). The 'Holes became infamous for doing, playing, and saying anything they could to annoy, amuse and perturb, hence this hilarious and epicly-annoying ’83 classic. 

Tragically, the 'Holes eventually became just another also-ran grunge band. I saw them at the first Lollapallooza and it wasn’t even awful. It was just dull and sad and worst of all, soul-crushingly generic.

So what were your top tracks from the loamy fields of 1983 metal and punk? Have at it.


  1. My uncle drove tour buses for a living during that time period including the Born Again Sabbath tour. He said they smoked in the bus all the time, and would drop them onto the carpet and put them out with beer. He had to replace the carpet 3 times on the bus in less than a year...

  2. Udo and friends are still making music: addition of Manuela Bibert keeps me interested...

    Face of a Stranger

    1. Udo looks uncannily like Curly Joe DeRita. Not a bad tune either.

  3. I was wondering if you were going to throw 'Jerry's Kids' in the mix...and you DID! Great stuff, Chris.

  4. Great rundown! I was hoping you'd turn this rock over.

    1. 83 was the year for it, Paul. Lots to choose from.


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