Something exciting would occur every twenty more or less years in the world of music. The 1920’s introduced blues and jazz to the mainstream. The 1940’s had the Big Bands. The 1960’s, probably the most versatile decade in music, had the teen idols, girl groups, popular folk, the British Invasion, and psychedelic music. The last of these eras occurred in 1980 when New Wave became the standard.
New wave originated between 1978 and 1979 when a change in direction was much needed in music. The early seventies were filled with burnt-out hippies who were finally mellow because the Vietnam War had ended. Sugary pop filled the airwaves with the likes of the Carpenters, America, Captain and Tennille and numerous other forgotten acts. Then came disco and much of the world began yelling “the end is near!” Luckily, punk music was emerging in Europe to contrast the lush disco orchestrations that filled many clubs around the world. Though punk was not at all a commercial music genre, it did spark up the idea to “homogenize” it in both America and the U.K. The result was New Wave.
40 YEARS AGO . . . unbelievable! 1979 was the year that New Wave began showing its face not only in clubs but also in popularity around the world. Of course, England was the frontrunner for this genre with Elvis Costello (since 1977), the Tubeway Army (Gary Numan), and the Clash, to name a few, but the U.S. was also brewing its own version with Blondie, the Talking Heads, and Devo who broke big in 1979 along with the B-52’s. Meanwhile, across the pond, the big names were XTC, the Flying Lizards, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the Boomtown Rats, the Cure, the Buggles, the Records, Gang of Four, the Stranglers, Orchestral Manouvres in the Dark, and the Damned.
However, the term “New Wave” is difficult to define. Many agree that it meant a complete change in musical direction which makes perfect sense. This is especially true when you consider bands that were categorized under New Wave but could have equally been placed in the rock, reggae, or pop bins at the records stores. Bands that fall under this category include the Police, the Records, Sniff ‘n’ the Tears, Nick Lowe, and Joe Jackson. Even acts such as the Cars, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and the Pretenders were considered “New Wave” by the record companies to cash in on the latest craze. New Wave’s popularity increased immensely in 1981 when MTV invaded every household in America.
Another New Wave sub-genre was the “Two Tone” sound or the revival of 60’s ska music. The Specials (AKA) released their very successful debut album in 1979 which opened the door to other ska groups in 1980 such as the Selecter, the Bodysnatchers, the (English) Beat, and Bad Manners.
Alas, New Wave went through a transformation soon after 1982 when terms like “Progressive, New Romantics, and Alternative music” became the “in” thing. Synthesizers, samplers, and sequencers became the most elements in recordings. These bands included Ultravox, Duran Duran, Alphaville, and a whole array of bands that didn’t fit in with the original New Wave blueprint.
New Wave is now 40 years old. Gone are the days when music was fun because, for the most part, New Wave was an early sixties revival without the innocence. Fans would run to the record stores on Tuesdays to see what was new on vinyl. Clubbing was a way of life and threads were as wild as zoot suits. Sadly, as with everything, New Wave became out of style and music, overall, became, once again, mediocre at best. Music’s last hurrah would come just a few years later with the short-lived, Grunge music.