Monday, May 22, 2017

Rank and File: New Wave Acts, UK edition

Redartz: Greetings all! For today's discussion, we tackle the first part of a planned two-part subject: New Wave music! And to honor the integral role UK acts had in originating and popularizing the trend, we will give them the first shot. Soon to follow: New Wave, US edition; so you can start formulating your lists.

And as to those lists: the term "best" is so subjective, and dependent upon many variables. So to keep it simpler, we will list our "favorite" acts. So if your favorite was Wham!, no further explanation is necessary.

My Fave Five, in random order :

1.  Depeche Mode- producers of some of the most intense, dynamic, powerful synth music ever. The mind reels back and forth between their lyrical and melodic wonders. They bring to my mind the 'wall of sound' made famous by Phil Spector in the 60's. And the Mode can truly put on a SHOW. Saw them in Chicago; best concert I've ever seen. Phenomenal. Here: "Everything Counts"

2. The Police- One of the earliest tastes I had of the 'new music', when the meaning of "Regatta de Blanc" was a mystery. Sting was incredible; some of the most literate songwriting you can find. Loved the hints of World music in their repertoire. And they scored infinite points in my book with the lyrics to "King of Pain"; great imagery: "There's a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall". Ok, it appealed to the paleontologist within me. Here they are sending you a "Message in a Bottle":

3. ABC-  The "New Romantic" appellation is most apt here. Their "Lexicon of Love" was a lush, sophisticated, heavy brew of musical richness. Martin Fry felt those emotions. No, he ached those emotions. That debut album will be on frequent rotation in my head forever. Check out "Poison Arrow"...

4. Thomas Dolby- Thomas Dolby might have made my list solely on the strength of his hit single "She Blinded Me With Science". I was hooked on the song from the first time I heard it. Buying the 45 wasn't enough, I picked up the lp "The Golden Age of Wireless" and heard many more reasons to love Mr. D. Imaginative , technological lyrics, very catchy tunes, great synth work, the album offered so much. And his follow up "The Flat Earth" was equally solid, from the manic "Hyperactive" to the picturesque, haunting "Mulu the Rain Forest". For your musical enjoyment: "Windpower"...

5. Duran Duran-  They found great popular success in the USA. And deservedly so, imho. First encountered them on video screens at a new wave club in Indianapolis (they showed videos on Friday nights, still several years before MTV). Seeing "Girls on Film" and "Planet Earth" got me interested. By the time of "Rio", they were my favorite band. Pop music at its' best. And like Depeche Mode, they have shown some staying power, keeping active well into the 21st. Century. Here they are with "Save a Prayer", my favorite cut from "Rio".

Honorable Mention: Ultravox, Human League, Thompson Twins

Now the stage is yours- which acts were the 'top of the pops' for you?


Steve Does Comics said...

New Wave is such a huge field, covering such a variety of sins, that it's hard to know where to begin or end. But, regardless, I'll go for:

Elvis Costello. The moment I hear the phrase, "New Wave," I instantly think of him, marrying Punk aggression to a more sophisticated Pop sensibility and some of the strongest lyrics ever written.

The Jam. Yet another combination of aggression, sophistication and pointed lyrics.

The Specials. They didn't last long before Terry Hall and his friends quit the band to form The Fun Boy Three but they banged out a superlative run of singles before they split.

Siouxsie and the Banshees. A string of unimpeachable singles throughout the late 1970s, the 1980s and into the early 1990s. And they basically invented Goth along the way.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They're easy to overlook these days but they were another band with a seemingly endless string of great singles.

Madness. A veritable hit-making machine for about five years in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Probably one of the cleverest bands ever. And, just when you think they're dead, they always come back again.

I'll also give honourable mentions to Soft Cell, the Human League, Graham Parker, Squeeze, early Kim Wilde, the Teardrop Explodes, Dexys Midnight Runners and the aforementioned Fun Boy Three. Also the Pretenders who had a foot on both sides of the Atlantic.

I'll also give an honourable honourable mention to the Boomtown Rats, who were Irish, so don't qualify for either the British or American list. They tend to be derided now because of Bob Geldof not being overly popular but, at the time, they were huge in Britain and they did make great singles.

I've just realised that this list consists entirely of me going on about singles. Which either means I'm shallow and prefer singles, or that New Wave lent itself to singles more than albums, or that I'm just clueless.

Mike Wilson said...

I don't know if I was aware of the term "New Wave" back then, but I was (and still am) a fan of some of the bands mentioned. I always liked the Police, though their sound changed over the few years they were putting out albums. I tend to go for heavier stuff, so of the bands Steve mentioned I like The Jam, Elvis Costello (the first five albums, anyway), Squeeze, and Siouxsie & the Banshees.

What about Adam & the Ants? Are they considered New Wave? I like a lot of their early stuff. Nick Lowe had some cool songs too.

And of course, there are plenty of American New Wave bands I liked: The Cars, The Pretenders, Blondie, Devo, Missing Persons.

Redartz said...

Steve- guess everyone else slept in today!
You're right, "New Wave" is a very big catch-all for many types of music. From punk to ska to synthpop to retro rockabilly and more, the new wave carried the tide of fresh sounds. And it was good.
And you have some nice picks- OMD was one of my favorites too. And Madness- you cannot hear them and keep still.
Oh, and nothing wrong with singles. 3 1/2 minutes of cool sound is still good sound!

Redartz said...

Oh, Hi Mike! Adam & the Ants? You bet they count as New Wave! Saw them on Tom Snyder and HAD to get the album.
Good call on Nick Lowe, both solo and with Rockpile...

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Ha! Some may be sleeping in but some may still be toiling!

New Wave – hard to define perhaps but you know it when you hear it!

I love the Thomas Dolby recall! Got his vinyl! Still occasionally play it. Supposedly MTV was in a “make or break” situation and asked him to write “Blinded Me with Science” expressly with the idea of it being a video? And the song / video was extremely popular and “saved” MTV? Anyhow, that’s what I thought I read in Rolling Stone or something, back in the day.

One of my fav New Wave bands, as I’ve probably stated too many times, is Heaven 17 who were relatively unknown in the USA and originally part of the Human League. “Luxury Gap” is quite the album and whenever I played it at the frat house (college) or in Germany (military) I quickly won over converts! (Steve Does Comics is expert on these Sheffield UK bands!)

Singles: many of these bands like Heaven 17 and Human League released their biggest hits on those 7” singles as I recall!

Lastly, let’s not forget two of the biggest New Wavers from Europe: Culture Club (and I’m trying not remember the movie The Crying Game!) and Kajagoogoo!

Btw this subject needs to be revisited many times!

Anonymous said...

To me, New Wave will be forever best defined by it's first huge act here in the States:
A Flock Of Seagulls

Crazy outfits? Check
Insane hairstyles? Double check
Echoed guitars? Check
Over-the-top chessetastically cheap video? Triple check
Awesome hypnotic synths? Deci-check

I defy anyone to challenge this assertion.


Charlie Horse 47 said...

Yo yo... we must have been having a mental mind merge sometime in the past few hours b/c I was going to suggest that (in agreement with your criteria) the Police are not new wave. I mean, they played their own drums for crying out loud.

Fred W. Hill said...

The Police were the first of the "new wave" bands I got into, although by the early '80s I preferred Elvis Costello and by the late '80s had gotten into Depeche Mode, XTC & R.E.M., among many others.

RayAtL said...

I got to see the Police a few times during their heyday and one of the consistent opening acts was 'the Fixx' who were an MTV staple at the time and had a wealth of catchy, poppy rock songs... they were pretty good

I loved Thompson Twins though they seemed to fade quickly...

I think Culture Club had a huge impact on the music scene of the day and it still being felt today ...

And though based in America, Berlin was considered new wave at the time and I followed their albums until they split up.

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