Quality pop rose to the top in 1982 despite homogenized album-oriented radio. For the first time in years soul was a major contender, thanks to seasoned veterans like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin as well as hot newcomers like Grandmaster Flash and Sweet Pea Atkinson. It was also the year a bevy of venerable old-timers -- from McCartney to Cocker to Townshend -- restaked their claims in forceful and dynamic ways. Thoughtful and courageous new acts such as Adrian Belew and Pigbag pointed the way to pop's future, assuring through innovation and risk that it has one. And not least impressive was the renewal of a worldwide exchange of musical ideas.
Some capsule comments about the year's best in popular sound: ALBUMS 1. TRAP DOOR T-Bone Burnett (EP) (Warner 9 23691-1 B). With his Texas drawl and Beatlish good humor, Burnett proves that good things do come in small packages. What Dylan might have accomplished had he not embraced sophistry along with Christianity. 2. NEBRASKA Bruce Springsteen (Columbia TC 38358). Wherein the Boss discovers there's more to America than what's east of the Mississippi and more to the eternal verities than fast cars and pretty women. All this and the perils of anomie, too, and done entirely acoustically on a humble four- track. His best. 3. MIDNIGHT LOVE Marvin Gaye (Columbia FC 38197). A soul-drenched celebration of life, love, sex and faith. Heaven on earth, and you can dance to it. 4. SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS Richard and Linda Thompson (Hannibal). Folkish, fiery and sometimes frightening, this profound treatise on love and death dishes up some stirringly beautiful food for thought. 5. MAN DANCE Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society (Antilles). The drummer for Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and James "Blood" Ulmer steps out with his own band in a riotous parade of Afro-inflected jazz. 6. THE NIGHTFLY Donald Fagen (Warner 9 23696-1). Steely Dan without the steeliness. In a delightful collection of Camelot-era vignettes Fagen shows how even an ironist can wax nostalgic. 7. SHEFFIELD STEEL Joe Cocker (Island IL 9750). Cockers warm rasp was never so welcome, his choice of material never so impeccable. His most mature album, which was to be expected; also his most powerful, which came as a surprise. 8. MUSIC AND RHYTHM various artists (PVC 201). The best compilation of worldwide pop currently available. The emphasis is spelled out in the title, the construct being a richly diverse musical travelogue, well worth the trip. 9. LOVE OVER GOLD Dire Straits (Warner 9 23728-1). Guitarist Knopfler shuns the playlist imperative and achieves his most soaring and intensely personal music to date. 10. THE BLUE MASK Lou Reed (RCA). The seminal rocker put a toughminded band together to make a tenderhearted statement about love, romantic and otherwise. 11. TUG OF WAR Paul McCartney (Columbia TC 37462). Love songs, yes; silly, no. And just when we needed them most. 12. FREEZE-FRAME J. Geils Band (EMI S00-17062). After umpteen also-rans, the Geils Band has put out a studio effort that's as lovable, loud and plain fun as their stage performances. 13. BLASTERS Blasters (Slash SR-109). A melting pot of straightforward rock, raucous and muscular and uniquely American. 14. SECURITY Peter Gabriel (Geffen GHS 2011). Heavily rhythmic, intensely philosophical, this strange and moving work is a thoughtful blend of African and English pop sensibilities that makes up in sincerity what it lacks in accuracy. 15. IMPERIAL BEDROOM Elvis Costello (Columbia FC 38157). Spare, searching and sometimes obtuse, this is his best exploration of love since "Armed Forces." 16. THE NAME OF THIS BAND IS TALKING HEADS Talking Heads (Sire 2SR 3590). Live recordings from the early days on, which means it's a lot less stilted and pretentious and a whole lot more fun. Adrian Belew soars on guitar. 17. THE SECRET POLICEMAN'S OTHER BALL various artists (Island/Springtime ILPS 9698). Part Two of a live compilation recorded at a 1980 Amnesty International benefit. Diamonds in the rough, particularly Sting's sweet acoustic set. 18. MARSHALL CRENSHAW (Warner 9). Don't gag on the label hype: It's fine American rock. 19. ALL FOUR ONE Motels (Capitol ST-12177). Marthe Davis emerges as the sassiest rock vocalist since Phoebe Snow. And it only took three tries. SINGLES 1. THE MESSAGE Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Medium-cool and red-hot. 2. VALLEY GIRL Frank and Moon Unit Zappa. A chip off the old blockhead resurrects Dad's good name. 3. EBONY AND IVORY Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. A gooey, sweet Klondike of a song, and that's the whole point. 4. DON'T YOU WANT ME Human League. Synth- rock made bearable. 5. JACK AND DIANE John Cougar. Stunningly mundane.