Monday, June 2, 2008

Just What The Hell Is “New Wave”, Anyway?

The “New Wave”, that most maligned of genres, is usually synonymous with the Flock Of 100 Haircuts set.

And synthesizers.

LOTS of synthesizers.

And the 80’s, primarily.

There are probably close to 1000 compilations out there, and pretty much none of them are representative of the best that decade had to offer, and there were some wonderful bands and some pretty amazing albums.
Was it MTV with their ‘fashion first’ modus operandi that pigeonholed the good bands of the 80’s into the same genre as A-Ha, Naked Eyes and Wang Chung or was it actually the music itself? Knowing what I know about the really great bands of the 80’s I’d have to say no, it wasn’t the music.

During the late 70’s and all through the late 80’s artists such as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Blondie, The Talking Heads, Squeeze, Split Enz, XTC, Tom Petty (!) and many others were labeled “New Wave” bands. In hindsight, these artists were different but not part of that set. Only because many of the above were angry and jittery did they get labeled as such.

I really think that during that time if you released a debut album you were automatically labeled as a “New Wave“ band. Not that there was anything wrong with that, I just think that in hindsight “New Wave” was an over simplistic way of saying “sounds different”. Now the term is kind of derogatory, something to be ashamed of. Truth be told, even back then it wasn’t a term we used.

But the bands that came out of that era were fantastic for the most part. Some were disposable, some were artsy and some had longevity, but the term that I like to remember the 80’s by is diversity. Not since the 1960’s has a decade produced so many different genres and styles. Goth, Electro, Madchester, House, Ska, Hardcore, Experimental Pop (synth and otherwise), Chamber, Grebo and the birth of the late 80’s Alternative movement which is still bearing fruit to this day. Sure, you could argue that those movements were all started in the late 70’s, and I suppose you could go back even further. But even if that is true, I think that they came to full fruition in the 1980’s. That point we’ll just have to leave open for debate, I suppose.

Were there failed experiments? Of course there were, but name me a decade that didn’t have them and I’ll buy you a vintage Atari game console complete with Asteroids and Space Invaders cartridges. But the successes far outweigh the failures, really and truly. I mean, any decade that gave birth to the Smiths couldn’t have been bad.

Here’s my own personal list of the best "New Wave" from that decade. Those that lived through it, chime in. This is by no means a complete list, that's what you're here for!

The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead
The The, Soul Mining
Tears For Fears, The Hurting
ABC, The Lexicon Of Love
Art Of Noise, Who's Afraid Of?
Bauhaus, Mask
Big Audio Dynamite, The Globe
Blue Peter, Radio Silence
Camper Van Beethoven, Telephone Free Landslide Victory
The Specials, The Specials
Elvis Costello, Armed Forces (and many others)
Joe Jackson, Night And Day (and Jumpin' Jive!)
The Cars, Candy O
China Crisis, Working With Fire And Steel
The Clash, Sandinista (London Calling, released in 1979!)
The Cramps, Psychedelic Jungle
The Cure, Head On The Door (I like it better than Disintegration)
David Bowie, Scary Monsters
Depeche Mode, Some Great Reward
XTC, Skylarking (and many others)
Orange Juice, Rip It Up
English Beat, I Just Can't Stop It!
The Fall, This Nations Saving Grace
Gang Of Four, Entertainment
The Fixx, Reach The Beach (come on, you know you like it!)
The FLeshtones, Hexbreaker
The Fuzztones, Lysergic EmanationsSqueeze, East Side Story
The Lilac Time, The Lilac Time
Happy Mondays, Bummed
Pop Will Eat Itself, This Is The Day, This Is The Hour, This Is This!
Hoodoo Gurus, Mars Needs Guitars
The Housemartins, London 0, Hull 4
The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
The Jam, Sound Affects
The Jazz Butcher, A Scandal In Bohemia
Pet Shop Boys, Introspective
Jesus And Mary Chain, Darklands
Joy Division, Closer
Kraftwerk, Computer World
Lloyd Cole, Rattlesnakes
Love And Rockets, Express
Men Without Hats, Rhythm Of Youth (I will fight anyone who disagrees)
Minutemen, Double Nickels On The Dime
Mojo Nixon, Frenzy!
The Monks, Suspended Animation
Nasty Rox, Inc., CASH
New Order, Power, Corruption And Lies (and many more)
Nick Lowe, The Rose Of England
OMD, Architecture And Morality
REM, Murmur
Pixies, Doolittle
The Pogues, Rum Sodomy and The Lash
Police, Zenyatta Mondatta
Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen
Psychedelic Furs, Talk Talk Talk
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mother's Milk
Renegade Soundwave, Soundclash
The Replacements, Let It Be (and everything else they recorded)
Roxy Music, Avalon
Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Flaunt It!
Simple Minds, New Gold Dream
Sisters Of Mercy, Floodland
The Stranglers, Feline
Spacemen 3, Playing With Fire
Style Council, Singular Adventures Of
Talk Talk, The Colour Of Spring
Tears For Fears, The Hurting
Teenage Head, Frantic City
Thomas Dolby, The Flat Earth
Waterboys, Fisherman's Blues
Wonder Stuff, The Eight Legged Groove Machine
Yello, Stella


Sarah said...

What a great list! I was giddy to see Spacemen 3's "Playing with Fire" on there. However, one slight gripe: "Darklands" over "Psychocandy"? Really? Say it ain't so!

Holly A Hughes said...

That is one long list. I'm fond of saying that the 80s were the decade that killed my music habit, but as I look at this list I suspect it must have been something else....

Still, there IS dreck on here, admit it. I'd have pared it down considerably. (Do you really still listen to Tears for Fears and Thomas Dolby? The Cure and Pet Shop Boys, I'll grant you that...) Even Squeeze I can only take in limited doses. And where I ask are the Eurhythmics in all this?

Uncle E said...

You know Sarah, even though I totally understand the importance of "Psychocandy" and enjoy it quite a bit, I really do prefer "Darklands". More melodic, and for pure sonic inventiveness I always throw on "Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine over Darklands...
Holly, Squeeze will always be on Uncle E's rotation. I love 'em! I have never really fully enjoyed the Eurythmics, although whats-her-name has a great voice!

Franko6677 said...

Nice post/list! It's funny, the term "new wave" is so unclear, there are "new wave" bands I detest (really, really synthy/dancey stuff) and "new wave" bands that represent my favorite music ever (the kinda stuff on my blog). Honestly, the only reason I use the term "new wave" is for lack of a better term.

It's funny that the 80s produced so much greatness, yet they mainly play the crap on flashback radio. Then again that's probably what they actually played on the radio back then. I can't say first hand because I was either not born, being born, or too young to remember, depending on which part of the 80s we're talking.

Re: Holly's/your comment above - give Eurythmics lesser-known first LP "In the Garden" a spin. It's unlike anything else they did after and truly one of the special albums of that time, in my opinion.