Wikipedia: “New Wave is a broad music genre that encompasses numerous pop-oriented styles from the late 1970s and the 1980s. It was originally used as a catch-all for the music that emerged after punk rock, including punk itself, but may be viewed retrospectively as a more accessible counterpart of post-punk.
Although New Wave shared punk’s DIY philosophy, the artists were more influenced by the lighter strains of 1960s pop while opposed to mainstream “corporate” rock, which they considered creatively stagnant, and the generally abrasive and political bents of punk rock.”
New Wave was arguably the last great rock movement prior to the so-called “grunge” period of the 90s. Not saying that there wasn’t good rock during the ’80s but that seemed to be a period of great synthesizers, over-production, and – to these ears anyway – no real musical movement of any sort.
But boy did I love the New Wave era. FM radio was still great, still able to break bands. I seem to recall that I was taking some sort of night course when I would drive around and hear “Roxanne.”
And let us not forget that more traditional rockers like Tom Petty were coming on the scene, Springsteen was touring and Pink Floyd were still very much a viable band. Add to that the fact that you had bands like Steely Dan who managed to push jazz-influenced tunes on the radio and you had quite the fervent period for music. I look back on that era with a mixture of great fondness and no small measure of sadness that it’s gone, never to return.
I’ll highlight six or perhaps a half-dozen here and then add in a few goodies on the inevitable Spotify playlist. (The very idea that something like Spotify would exist back in this prehistoric time was unimaginable. You either bought the album or you didn’t hear it. Unless you borrowed it from a friend and never gave it back.)
Well, since I mentioned the Police, let’s start there. Easily not only one of my favorite bands of this era but of all time. We saw Sting a few years back but never the full band. They are all still very much with us. One more reunion eh, guys?
These guys weren’t punks – they were well-trained musicians who just rode the punk train. And I’m glad they did Otherwise I would be “So Lonely.” I wound up doing all “live” YouTube versions, drawn as much from that era as I could.
Whereas the Police came from the UK, Blondie grew out of the fervid New York City scene of Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. “inspired by the burgeoning new music scene at the Mercer Arts Center in Manhattan guitarist, Chris Stein sought to join a similar band.
He joined the Stilettoes in 1973 as their guitarist and formed a romantic relationship with one of the band’s vocalists, Debbie Harry, a former waitress, and Playboy Bunny. They started a band and the name Blondie came from, of course, NYC truck drivers yelling “Hey, Blondie” as Harry walked down the street.”
Blondie were unusual in that they were as influenced by dance music like disco as much as they were by rock. As a general rule, I hated disco. But the ones that Blondie did were not mindless Village People shit but rock songs with a disco-inspired beat (like the Stones “Miss You” or the Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”)
In fact, “Call Me” was composed by Italian disco producer Giorgio Moroder whose name you can’t think of without thinking of Donna Summer. It was the main theme song of the 1980 film American Gigolo. Moroder had asked Harry to write the lyrics and melody which she did from the perspective of the main character in the film, a male prostitute.
Elvis Costello is another of my favorite New Wave and all-time artists. In fact we saw him just a few years ago. Alas, he has decided he has now gone the Bob Dylan route and it appears he’s now a crooner. Guess you can’t wear the “angry young man” shirt forever (He said his early songs were based on “revenge and guilt.”)
I’ve written about EC a couple of times and there isn’t much more to say about this great performer/songwriter/musicologist. If you haven’t heard his first three albums, you missed something.
Of “Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes,” Elvis says, “I wrote it in 10 minutes on a train out of Liverpool — the whole song in one gulp. … And then there was the whole comedic thing of getting it down.
Nowadays you can demo things on your phone. I had to block it out in my mind. Then I had to get off the train, get to my mother’s house, grab an old guitar I had there and play the song until I imprinted it in my memory. I had no tape recorder. I had no way other than repetition to drill it into my head so I wouldn’t lose it.”
The Cars sprang out of what was once an exciting, fairly eclectic set of bands in the Boston area. I did a post on them a while back that will give you the history. Alas, two of the original founders of the band, Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr have left us. But they have left a legacy of great New Wave/pop rock that still stands on its own. Turn on a classic rock station for five minutes.
“Just What I Needed” is probably as typical of their sound as anything else. I love what Billboard said about this tune: “Yes, The Cars wrote countless Perfect Pop Songs. But there’s Perfect Pop Songs, and there’s pop songs that deserve a Nobel prize. ‘Just What I Needed’ undoubtedly falls under the latter camp:
For its stupefyingly simple and brilliant stop-start intro, for its addictive post-verse synth whine, for its full-release chorus rush, for its first two lines summing up toxic romance better than any entire song has in the 40 years since (“I don’t mind you coming here, and wasting all my time/ ‘Coz when you’re standing oh so near, I kinda lose my mind.”)
When I think New Wave, I automatically think Talking Heads. I’ve written about this band perhaps too often. Have I? I’m not sure. Maybe not often enough.
At the suggestion of my music-loving chiropractor the esteemed Dr. Jean-Marc, I read – or listened to – the Audible version of drummer Chris Franz’ autobiography. It’s a great look at how the band came to be. And let’s just say that David Byrne is perhaps not his favorite person of all time and leave it at that. Let’s just enjoy the incredibly fucked-up but great, “Psycho Killer” just in time for Halloween.
Ce que j’ai fait, ce soir-là
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir-là
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire,
Devo’s biography will tell you that they originally came from Akron, Ohio. But to these eyes (and ears), they are unquestionably from the planet Weird, just west of planet Zappa. (Chrissie Hynde – another Akronite – played in a band with Mark Mothersbaugh at Kent State in the early pre-Pretender days.)
“The name DEVO comes from the concept of de-evolution and the band’s related idea that instead of continuing to evolved, mankind had begun to regress as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. (Clearly, they were onto something – ME)
I ask you, has there ever been a more motivational, inspirational song than Whip It? Of course there hasn’t
Now whip it
Shape it up
Try to detect it
It’s not too late
To whip it
Whip it good!