1984 was the year of the blockbuster album in America, led by such multiplatinum smashes as Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain, and Madonna’s Like a Virgin. And Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which actually came out in late 1982, was still racking up sales and further asserting its dominance. Meanwhile, colorful pop music in Britain remained at its commercial peak during that year and — in some cases — achieved success across the pond. As 2024 is still new, here, in no particular order, are some notable albums turning 40 from several U.K. acts
Make It Big
Wham!’s second album was appropriately titled as it became the biggest record for the duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, especially in America. It yielded four unforgettable hits that made Wham! for a brief time the biggest pop act in the world: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper,” “Everything She Wants” and “Freedom.”
David Bowie had a hard task in following up the massive success of the Let’s Dance album released the year before. That subsequent album, Tonight, didn’t exactly burn up the charts or rack universal acclaim, but its single “Blue Jean” (accompanied by its eye-catching Julien Temple-directed video) became a Top 20 hit. Other notable cuts from Tonight included “Loving the Alien” and “Dancing With the Big Boys,” one of several songs co-written by Bowie and Iggy Pop.
Into the Gap
The Thompson Twins made inroads on both the U.K. and U.S. pop charts in the early 1980s with their brand of upbeat New Wave music. With the Twins’ fourth studio album, Into the Gap, the trio of Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway reached their commercial peak thanks to the hit singles for the sublime “Hold Me Now,” “Doctor, Doctor,” and “You Take Me Up” along with their accompanying videos
Some Great Reward
With new member Alan Wilder brought into the fold on their previous album, 1983’s Construction Time Again, Depeche Mode truly arrived with Some Great Reward—combining scintillating synthpop and moody lyrics that have formed the backbone of the Basildon’s group sound. This classic album contains some of Depeche’s brilliant songs in “Blasphemous Rumours,” “Somebody,” “Master and Servant” and “People Are People,” the group’s first U.S. Top 40 hit.
‘Duranmania’ peaked in 1984 when the Birmingham band played the world during their Sing Blue Silver tour as captured on this live record highlighting some of their biggest and beloved hits at the time—among them “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Is There Something I Should Know,” “Save a Prayer” and “Union of the Snake.” For this release, Duran Duran also recorded a new song, the hard-rocking Nile Rodger-produced “The Wild Boys,” which peaked at number two on the Billboard chart and became another beloved band classic.
The debut album from the Manchester band fronted by Morrissey and Johnny Marr kicked off a legendary career. The quartet’s alt-rock music – a contrast to the shiny, colorful pop of the times – still resonates with generations of hip yet disaffected youth. In addition to Marr’s jangly guitar sound and Morrissey’s biting lyrics, this masterpiece contains a treasure trove of classics: “Hand In Glove,” “This Charming Man,” “What Difference Does It Make,” and many more.
Waking Up With the House on Fire
The follow-up to Culture Club’s 1983 hit album Colour by Numbers, Waking Up With the House on Fire didn’t scale the same commercial heights as its predecessor. But the record still generated hits for Boy George and Company with “The War Song” and “Mistake No. 3,” as the band still continued to be a popular act throughout 1984.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Welcome to the Pleasure Dome
Through their hit songs and clever marketing, Frankie Goes to Hollywood became the pop phenomenon of 1984 in the U.K. (remember the “Frankie Say” T-shirts?)-although that didn’t translate to wider success in the U.S. For a moment, however, Frankie took Britain by storm with three number ones: the very controversial “Relax,” “Two Tribes” and “The Power of Love”—all of which appeared on their debut album Welcome to the Pleasure Dome.
Amid the bombastic rock and pop that dominated the music scene in 1984, Sade’s debut album ushered in the era of U.K. sophisti-pop: smooth pop music with soul and jazz influences. Led by its sultry-sounding namesake singer Sade Adu, the group was a resounding success through Diamond Life. With the notable songs “Smooth Operator,” “Your Love Is King” and “Hang On to Your Love,” Diamond Life launched an acclaimed and massively popular career.
The Psychedelic Furs
Beginning with 1982’s Forever Now record, the Psychedelic Furs transitioned from the post-punk sound of their first two albums towards mainstream appeal. Mirror Moves continued in that direction with positive results, yielding a number of Furs classics in “The Ghost In You,” “Heaven” and “Heartbeat.”
Spandau Ballet became one of the biggest bands in the U.K., alongside Duran Duran and Culture Club, following 1983’s smash album True. The follow-up record, Parade further, confirmed the British quintet’s stardom in their native country (even if it didn’t significantly move the needle in the U.S.) with more hit singles in the vein of soul-boy pop; highlights included “Round and Round,” “I’ll Fly for You” and “Highly Strung.”
Body and Soul
With Body and Soul, Joe Jackson truly shed the angry-young-man/New Wave persona of his earlier albums and took his music toward sophisticated jazz-pop influenced by the New York City scene. Jackson’s seventh studio album yielded a Top 20 hit with “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” along with other standouts like “Happy Ending” and “Be My Number Two.”
Howard Jones’ brand of synthpop was the opposite of the moody electronic pop of his peers since it blended both state-of-the-art technology and humanistic, introspective lyrics. His debut, Human’s Lib, set the template for his now-four-plus decades in music thanks to such songs as “ What Is Love,” “New Song” and “Pearl in the Shell.”
Four years after the death of his father John Lennon, Julian Lennon emerged with his debut record Valotte, which became a commercial success via the reflective title song and the ebullient hit “Too Late for Goodbyes.” The album was proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that the younger Lennon is a talented singer-songwriter in his own right.
Alison Moyet released her solo debut album Alf following the breakup of Yazoo, the synthpop duo she co-founded with Vince Clarke (late of Depeche Mode and prior to the formation of Erasure). Fusing her songwriting and soulful voice with the hit-making production team of Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, Moyet’s first record was a hit in the the U.K and generated the singles “All Cried Out,” “Invisible” and “Love Resurrection.”
Learning to Crawl
The Pretenders’ third album marked a transitional phase for the Chrissie Hynde-led band: it was the first record to feature new members guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Butler following the death of James Honeyman-Scott and the departure of Pete Farndon. Despite the personnel changes, Learning to Crawl turned out to be a bonafide hit with many now-popular Pretenders songs including “Back on the Chain Gang,” “2000 Miles,” “Thumbelina,” “Middle of the Road” and “Show Me.”