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In Rotation: The New Wave Music Revolution

How did I get here? How the New Wave music movement changed everything and all of us. And we’re not speaking in tongues.

New Wave Albums

I was barely out of diapers when the Velvet Underground and New York Dolls took the stage for the first time. David Byrne and the Talking Heads played Toronto for the first time in 1978 when my Solo haircut was just starting to get scruffy looking. New wave music shook me to my core. Vaporizing the disco garbage my parents forced us to listen to. 

New wave music changed everything. How we dressed. How we danced. It influenced a generation of teen movies, television series, and became the soundtrack to experimentation with alcohol, drugs, and sex. It produced some of the greatest bands of all-time and pushed a generation of kids into smaller clubs and dank music venues where we danced in cramped quarters pushing back against the second generational migration into the suburbs.

Do you remember when it began for you? I remember ditching my bell bottoms and Han Solo haircut for a subway token and a ride down to Sam the Record Man. Pushing my way through adults flipping through the records and cassettes on the first floor. And I found myself stuck between the Pavarotti and the back door. And I found myself in a beautiful room, with a beautiful girl named Jaclyn listening to Blondie. And I asked myself, “Well…how did I get here?”

Devo – Freedom of Choice 


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The merger of synth-pop and guitars finally felt complete on this 18-track album from the most famous band from Akron, Ohio. No – not the Black Keys. Strip away the dissonance, and social commentary, Devo matured as a band on Freedom of Choice. “Whip It” became a huge hit, but the album’s strongest tracks “Gates of Steel,” “Girl U Want,” and “Freedom of Choice” demonstrated a maturation of their musicianship and songwriting. While not as revolutionary as their debut album; a record that would have driven the woke cancel culture mob off the deep end in 2021 because they lack the intelligence and introspection to understand the album’s social commentary, Freedom of Choice felt more cohesive and accessible. Devo were ahead of their time but sadly unable to keep up with the bands that would soon follow. – Ian White

Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues


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Because you should be ashamed if you don’t own Remain in Light which changed everything. Their transformative release that blended synth-pop, African music, funk, rock, and anything else producer Brian Eno could toss into the mix. Fast forward a few years (1983) and David Byrne and his bandmates released this less revolutionary mix of synth-pop, dance music, and rock that found its way onto the charts, and into Tom Cruise’s Risky Business – the band can be heard during the infamous party featuring rich white kids from the Chicago suburbs, Lana’s prostitute friends, a Princeton interview, and Guido the Killer Pimp. “Burning Down the House” would emerge as the hit single but “This Must Be the Place: (Naïve Melody)” became an anthem for those of us who never got invited to all of the cool parties and had to crash and pretend to fit in when we clearly didn’t. Speaking in Tongues was the first record that I ever purchased at the age of 13 and it remains as relevant to me now at 50 as it ever did back in 1983. – Ian White

Tears for Fears – Songs from the Big Chair


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I was going to pick the Cure’s Disintegration, but then I made the mistake of paying $200 to watch them perform it live a few years ago and that nixed that idea forever. Sometimes, your favorite band from the 1980s doesn’t quite cut it playing a three-hour set in NYC that felt like one continuous track. Not in a good way. It was with some trepidation that I agreed to see Hall & Oates play in New Jersey a few years back (huge mistake because they are fantastic live), but imagine my surprise when I found out that Tears for Fears were opening. If you were a teenager when Songs from the Big Chair was released, it was one of those synth-pop records that blew you away on the first listen. 

The duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were already stars in the U.K. when they hit worldwide gold with their second release (The Hurting belongs in any serious new wave collection). Everyone knows “Shout,” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but it’s the brilliant synth work that makes this album so iconic. Orzabal and Smith were (and still are) talented musicians who had different long-term visions for the band. I stood when the duo emerged at the Prudential Center and closed my eyes to focus on the synthetic beat that made their music so memorable. The years were not kind on the vocal chords, but the musicianship was still there. They did rule the world for a short period of time and it’s a record from the period that one must own. – Ian White

Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True

As a new wave newb, I was surprised to see Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True show up on so many “Best New Wave Albums of All Time” lists. I’m not incredibly familiar with Costello’s discography, and hadn’t thought of him in the same category as Talking Heads, New Order, and Depeche Mode. Now that I have a better understanding of the genre, I get it. With its punk rock attitude, pop melodies, and country tinges to boot, My Aim Is True brings a killer blend of sound that understandably kicked off a giant career for Costello. As this album was my intro to him in a full album format, I can definitely recommend it as a great starting point for getting into Costello’s music. – Lauren Halliday / Buy from Amazon

The B-52s – The B-52s

The B-52s Album

When I think of new wave, I always think of The B-52s. Their self-titled debut is one of the most iconic new wave records and album covers ever released. The B-52s is also one of the quirkiest and most fun albums that I have ever heard. I can only imagine how different the album must have sounded back in 1979 when it was released. Tracks like “Rock Lobster” and “Planet Claire” set the vibe for this perfect party record. Rhino Records released a reissue a few years ago that I regret not picking up. Snag this on vinyl when you can. – Lauren Halliday / Buy from Amazon

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

I have to admit, for most of my life Devo have been those guys with the red hats who sang “Whip It.” Simultaneously, I’ve been a fan of Mark Mothersbaugh because he composed the music for my favorite childhood TV show, Rugrats, as well as some of my favorite Wes Anderson films. It was only recently that I realized that Mothersbaugh was in Devo.I’m ashamed of myself as well. Don’t feel bad. I took an introductory dive with Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and instantly fell in love with the music. The influence on the next generation of bands that I am more familiar with was loud and clear through my speakers. Produced by Brian Eno, Devo’s debut laid the groundwork for this new age of creative composition, both on and off-stage. – Lauren Halliday / Buy at Amazon

Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring

Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring

My four year-old son started in person preschool for the first time this week. Today, March 3rd 2021, was actually the end of his second day. It was his first time seeing and meeting “new” humans his size within the confines of a socially defined educational structure. “Joy be written on the Earth and the sky above” sings the children’s choir’s first stanza of “Happiness is Easy.”

The importance of educating our youth with purpose rooted in the future while acknowledging the atrocities of the past. “Jesus, star that shines so bright. Gather us in Love” the children exclaim in their second stanza. This is not a religious review. It’s one that is bringing to light the complexity of human existence that is constant in societal change. All through the lens of Talk Talk’s “Happiness is Easy” which is simply side one track one of “Colour of Spring”. In my opinion, that’s “New Wave”. – Mitch Anderson / Buy at Amazon

Flash and the Pan – Lights in the Night

Flash and the Pan – Flash and the Pan and Lights in the Night

Believe it or not, Australia was a bit of a hotbed for new wave bands: Men At Work, INXS, Crowded House, The Church, Divinyls, Midnight Oil, Hoodoo Gurus, Hunters & Collectors, Eurogliders, and more. And thanks to pretty significant airplay on Toronto FM radio station CFNY 102.1, Flash and the Pan not only made my Aussie list, but vaulted to top of the charts. For me they’re pure nostalgia, with their debut and sophomore efforts, released a year apart, creating in my mind a stylistically cohesive double album. Lots of catchy hooks to melody. 

Some interesting facts about the band: The two leaders, Harry Vanda and George Young, wrote two ‘70s John Paul Young hits, “Yesterday’s Hero,” and “Love Is In The Air.” George is the older brother to Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC. 

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Favorite tracks: “Lights in the Night,” “Hey, St. Peter” and “Walking in the Rain.” – Eric Pye / Buy from Amazon

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream

Simple Minds’ 5th studio album, and arguably the one that earned them critical and commercial success after many years. The band became new wave legends with their iconic single, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” which was featured in The Breakfast Club, but New Gold Dream showcased the band at the high point of its creativity. Lead singer Jim Kerr said of this effort: “Every band or artist with a history has an album that’s their holy grail. I suppose New Gold Dream was ours.” From start to finish, there is energy and confidence.

The album was also beautifully recorded; rich, layered, and powerful sounding. It didn’t have the art rock glam of Roxy Music’s Avalon, but the two were some of the best recorded albums of the period. Simple Minds were not aiming for a dance album, but that’s how many interpreted the music. After many years, it’s definitely one to admire for its instrumentation, strong melodies, and the cohesiveness of the music. Jazz legend, Herbie Hancock, joins the band with a synthesizer solo on the track “Hunter and the Hunted.”

Favorite tracks: “Someone, Somewhere in Summertime,” “Promised You a Miracle,” and “New Gold Dream.” – Eric Pye / Buy from Amazon

Yaz – Upstairs At Eric’s

Yaz - Upstairs At Eric's

The 1980s were a period of experimentation. Even in the era of Ronald Reagan. Musicians crossed lines and started new bands with rivals just to spite other musicians. Some new wave musicians collaborated to blend different styles of music because they had an inkling that it would create something that would stand the test of time. The combination of Depeche Mode alumnus, Vince Clarke, and Alison Moyet would be prove to be an international sensation. Clarke’s brilliant instrumentation and songwriting created the foundation for an album that would spawn the hit singles “Don’t Go,” “Only You,” and “Situation.”

Moyet’s bluesy and powerful delivery combined with Clarke’s ingenious synth-pop created a mixture of dance tracks, and somewhat paranoid sounding electronic music that can lose focus at points but it’s a brilliant recording that has remained popular for decades. The album’s darker tracks “Winter Kills,” and “In My Room” possess a hypnotic charm that only work with a singer like Moyet. Clarke would move on to form Erasure, and the Assembly, cementing his legacy as one of the movement’s most creative and prolific songwriters. – Eric Pye / Buy from Amazon

Depeche Mode – Catching Up With Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode – Catching Up With Depeche Mode

Not a lot of bands would release a “Best of…” collection only five years into their run, but Depeche Mode were not an ordinary band. Released in 1985, the album covers as one would expect – the first 5 years of their music and includes two of their most important tracks; “Shake the Disease,” and “The Meaning of Love.” The best from this band was yet to come but an early taste of their best music makes this one for fans and new listeners alike. – Jeremy Sikora / Buy from Amazon

Martin L. Gore – Counterfeit e.p.

Martin L. Gore - Counterfeit e.p.

Released in 1989, this 6-song E.P. from the songwriting genius behind Depeche Mode feels somewhat mandatory if you love the band, but also other synth-pop bands from the period. Martin Gore’s solo debut is a 25-minute set of cover songs including “Compulsion,” which was originally written and recorded by Joe Crow, and “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” which was originally recorded by Sparks. – Jeremy Sikora / Buy from Amazon

Electronic – Electronic

Electronic Album

Sometimes you combine two key people from two very successful groups, and results are all over the place. There were high expectations for this album which combined Bernard Sumner from New Order, and Johnny Marr from the Smiths – and the results from this album released in 1991 are somewhat mixed. As a fan of both groups, I’m a huge proponent of the sound. I do think there are a few moments where it’s hard to tell if Electronic are trying to be the Smiths or New Order. The addition of Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys certainly helps with some of the tracks. Where the album shines is the synth work that takes you back to the best of both groups. When live music resumes post-pandemic, Johnny Marr is likely to tour again and expect to hear some of Electronic’s best tracks as part of the set. – Jeremy Sikora / Buy from Amazon

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Fred

    March 4, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    Great list! Was hoping to see Joe Jackson’s first (or second) album on this list or maybe Oingo Boingo. Over the last few years, I have rekindled my love for this genre and stumbled into Hoodoo Gurus only last year.

  2. Joe Pop

    March 5, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    Yes I remember. For me it was Talking Heads appearing on SNL in the late 70’s and “Take me to the River” with David Byrne’s strange stare. And Devo’s performance of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and “Jocko Homo” with the boys ripping off their rubber jumpsuits down to their skivvies. Everybody was talking about those performances at my high school on the Monday morning after the show. It was revelatory for me in the Detroit area where the radio stations were stuck on the arena rock format (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Areosmith…). It all led me to Lili’s in Hamtramck, MI. And we can’t forget the impact had on the New Wave scene. They played videos from bands that would never get any airplay on our local radio stations.

    • Joe Pop

      March 5, 2021 at 3:09 pm

      Meant to say we Can’t forget the impact MTV had on the New Wave scene. Back when they played videos.

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