Out With the Old in With the New Wave by Jonny Steiner

Posted: August 3, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog
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Where could you go? What could you do if you were a musician trying to make Rock music in the late 70’s and early 80s? Punk’s strangle-hold on the business was so total that it seemed almost impossible to break from the current trends or even try to do something different. Ironic for a style of music that was initially created in order to return Rock into the hands of a less discerning more accepting crowd. If you were Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, you changed your name to a verb present tense, united with Andy Summers and Stuart Copland and created something unique. Something New Wave. The term initially was interchangeable with Punk used by fans and artists alike. It was not until the 80s when Punk’s grip loosened did the term come to mean something more. In the Post- Punk, era there were two types of music. Post-Punk referred to bands like the Talking Heads and Joy Division, bands whose music was avant-garde and challenging but still informed by the ideals of Punk. On the other hand you had bands more interested in exploring Pop Music and there you have New Wave, the subject for this column.
Bursting onto the scene with the super smash Roxanne in 1978, The Police, were one of the first bands to add the title New Wave to their jittery, yet tight brand of Rock. By infusing the music with a heavy dose of Reggae, and some Jazzy tendencies, they were able to fill the simple rhythms of Punk music with a more accessible edge. It was this sound, polished, well written and a little nerdy, that defined the early movement. Another of the early giants of the form was Mr. Nerd himself, Elvis Costello. Hiding his intelligence behind his early Punk compositions, Costello was able to instill his music with a myriad of themes and ideas making his music as intelligent as his lyrics. It is told of his early career that he dumbed down his music in order to get a recording contract, because Punk Rockers were being handed record deals like Skittles. Once he secured that, he was free to expand his music. It is a similar case with The Police, who were far more talented musically than the average Punk.
After the break between New Wave’s modern take on Pop and the more arty Post-Punk, New Wave was adopted as the Genre du jour by the fledgling MTV, and its fortunes began to rise. The influence of music videos made the genre super popular. Some of the early creative standouts of music videos were Aha’s classic “Take on Me”, “Rio” by Duran Duran, and the epic “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys. It was the right place for the new slick sound, and there was seemingly no end to the countless one hit wonders that were trotted out week after week, year after year. Let me give you a short run down. Flock of Seagulls Kajagoogoo When in Rome, these bands were hurled into the limelight one after another, each band catapulted to success by climbing on the backs of those that came before them. In that respect, it is the producers who perhaps deserve the credit for making the sounds so crisp and polished. That is what I love about the music. It is so perfectly formed, crisp, concise, without a note out of place.
The peak of the genre and its style came, on what is my favorite TV show of all time, Miami Vice. Helmed by Michael Mann, the show centered around two Vice cops in Miami. One of the show’s innovations was the obligatory musical interludes that came in each episode, the most famous of which was set to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. It took the music to new moody heights and found a mainstream way in which to bring the music to new fans. In addition, the pastel suits and sockless white shoes became staples of the New Wave style, not matter how cheesy they seem today.
By the middle of the 80s it wasn’t just new acts popping up all over the place that were trying to make their way in the style, older acts were launching big comebacks by coopting the approach in their own ways. Perhaps the most famous is the song “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Yes, it is off “Born in the USA” arguably one of the best Rock albums of all time, but the song’s synthesizer driven throb is more of a nod to New Wave than a throwback to The Boss’s early music. Another artist who fully adopted the style for a while was Rod Stewart, whose 1981 release “Tonight I’m yours “ was not only a full on New Wave affair, but one of Stewart’s last great recordings. It featured the amazing “Young Turks” that sort of sounds like Dire Straits on New Wave, although Stewarts voice is unmistakable. Even Fleetwood Mac got in on the fun with the dark, yet palatable “Little Lies” a dreamy track from their 1987 release “Tango in the Night.” Even Stevie Nick’s classic “Edge of Seventeen” has elements of New Wave in the driving guitar and keyboards.
New Wave music is awesome, and as a fan of Electronic music it was a vital step in the development of the form. Depeche Mode is the first Pop band made entirely with keyboards, and hints of Trance music can be found in the amazing album “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. These days with the way the craze for all things retro has possessed us, music from the 80s has roared back into vogue as though it was too cool for us to really enjoy back then. It is, within that framework, that artists are making music that sound as though it was plucked straight from the80s, although the technology used makes is sound vibrant and current. It was a watershed moment for a music industry recovering from Punk and looking towards the future.
What I am listening to:
Mackintosh Braun: The Sound – A lush album with dreamy sounds and stirring harmonies, this band hailing from Oregon wanted to create an album that was meant to be listened to all the way through. They have succeeded with style

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