Very often in music, characteristics of different genres spawn a new genre. Nowhere is this more apparent, perhaps, than for the new wave of pop and rock that appeared in the late 1970s/early 1980s, aptly titled "new wave". New wave drew on the "in your face" punk attitude, but toned it down a bit by placing more emphasis on melody and lyrics than punk did. It drew on the over-the-top showmanship, fashion, hair styles, and makeup of glam rock, but with less of an emphasis on creating an alter ego (such as David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust). If the rock and roll of the '50s through the mid-'80s (think of Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Bill Haley through Journey, Foreigner, and Styx) was the "classical" period of pop music, new wave was definitely the "romantic" or "impressionist" period, comparable to those periods in classical music or art. When most of that "classic rock" was made by guitar, bass guitar, drums, and occasionally a piano, new wave used those instruments, but also used electronic instruments – drums programmed on a computer to create complicated rhythms that couldn't physically be played by one drummer, synthesizers creating all kinds of sounds that don't sound like typical instruments (which also created the other names for new wave -- "electronica" or "synthpop"), and bass guitars with the volume turned up to "eleven" (to borrow a phrase from the movie This is Spinal Tap) so that you could feel the beat literally hit your body as you danced to it in a club.
There are three main sections of new wave: the new romantics, new wave alternative (sometimes also called "post-punk"), and power pop. Each of these sections will be discussed more in depth later in the chapter. A quick note about the subgenre titles, though -- since music is subjective, meaning different people can interpret music differently, some of the acts that are considered new wave solidly fit the characteristics of the genre that are outlined above. Other acts are more on the fringes of new wave. Devo straddles the line between new wave and punk. The Smiths are somewhere between new wave and alternative rock. Squeeze's music is somewhere between new wave and pop, with a heavy dose of reggae.
Many of the acts in the new wave genre gained international fame because promotional videos for their singles were shown on MTV and in dance clubs in the US. This was certainly true of the Pet Shop Boys, the Eurythmics, and Duran Duran. One of the other ways that these bands broke into the US market was through movies and their soundtracks, particularly teen movies written or directed by John Hughes. Hughes was a fan of music in general, but especially British new wave of the early and mid '80s. He knew that the right music can set the right tone for a movie, and that music can tug at heartstrings or punctuate the absurdity of a situation in a way that written dialogue or narration can't. The movie Pretty in Pink was named for the Psychedelic Furs' song of the same name. The soundtrack for that movie also featured Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (sometimes abbreviated "OMD") and their song "If You Leave", written specifically for the movie, and Spandau Ballet's "True" and Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't it Be Good", which Hughes just liked. The Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here" was used for the final romantic scene of Sixteen Candles. The title track for the movie Weird Science was written by Oingo Boingo's frontman, Danny Elfman, who would later compose the theme song for The Simpsons and go on to compose the soundtracks for many Tim Burton movies. Perhaps the best known use of a new wave song for a soundtrack, though, is Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me", written for the final scene and closing credits of Hughes' teenage masterpiece The Breakfast Club.
One of the hallmarks of John Hughes movies is often characters who don't quite feel they fit in with the rest of society. Many of the acts in the new wave movement were the same – social misfits who didn't quite fit the mold of a "typical" or "normal" person. However, in many cases, instead of being ashamed of being different, they embraced the differences – dressing in "outlandish" clothes, wearing make-up (for both boys and girls), and generally having a "do what you want to do, be who you want to be, live and let live" attitude towards others. The one area where this didn't quite hold true was for sexuality. Even with the open-mindedness of the new wave genre, gay, lesbian, and bisexual artists mostly remained "in the closet", since it was still considered a stigma that would lead to people not buying records if an artist came "out of the closet". (The one major exception to this would be David Bowie, who came out in the 1970s as bisexual and it didn't seem to hurt his career.)
BAND-AID and LIVE AID
Besides movies, one of the other ways that new wave music made a splash in the United States was via Live Aid, a one-day charity concert for famine relief. The concert was the brain-child of Bob Geldof, who had been a member of the Irish punk band the Boomtown Rats, and James "Midge" Ure, who had been a member of Dublin-based rock band Thin Lizzy and the British new wave band Ultravox.
Geldof and Ure had co-written the charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in 1984 as a way to bring attention to widespread famine in Ethiopia and raise funds for famine relief. The single was performed by Band-Aid, a supergroup consisting of members of many of the most prominent bands of the year, including Phil Collins from Genesis; Sting from the Police; George Michael from Wham!; Adam Clayton and Bono from U2; Boy George and Jon Moss from Culture Club; most of Kool & the Gang, the Boomtown Rats, Heaven 17, and Ultravox; and all of Bananarama, Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet. Recorded in one day on November 25, 1984, and released on December 3rd (a mere eight days later), the single entered the charts at the number one spot. It went on to be the fastest selling single in UK history until it was outsold by Elton John's remake of "Candle in the Wind" in 1997 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. In total, the single raised the equivalent of over twenty-four million dollars for famine relief.
Because of the success of the single, and because Geldof and Ure were determined to make a bigger impact for famine relief, Live Aid was organized for July 13, 1985. The concert was held at two venues – Wembley Stadium in London and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia – and each act was scheduled to play for about twenty minutes. Due to the time difference, acts started at Wembley first, but, as the day went on, the festivities began in Philadelphia, too. Musicians were staggered so that, as one group was setting up on stage in one of the venues, another would be performing at the other location. In all, over fifty acts performed throughout the day, including Phil Collins who sang and played drums with Sting at Wembley before taking a helicopter to Heathrow Airport, where he boarded the Concorde for New York, where he hopped another helicopter to get to Philadelphia and became the only person to perform at both venues.
At the time, the event was the largest satellite TV broadcast ever attempted. It was broadcast simultaneously on the BBC in the UK, MTV in the US, and via syndication through ABC and its affiliates in the US and in other countries worldwide. Although only 172,000 people attended the concerts in person, an estimated 1.9 billion people watched at home, which would have been a staggering 40% of the world's population at the time.
Throughout the concerts, phone numbers were shown on the bottom of the screen so people could call in to make donations for famine relief. It's estimated that about two billion dollars (in 2018 dollars) was raised directly because of the concerts.
The new romantics were fashioned after the romantic period in literature, which spanned approximately 1800 to 1850. In England, that meant poetry by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, and Shelley. The new romantics borrowed parts of the poets' wardrobe, with frilly "poet shirts" (also sometimes called "pirate shirts") or plainer peasant shirts, and vaguely military-style jackets, pants, and boots. The clothes were colorful, with lots of purples, blues, pinks, and greens adding dramatic flair. Makeup in the same color palette looked exotic, sometimes with African or Asian inspiration, and was used by men and women alike, creating androgynous individuals with a dash of mystery.
The lyrics for the music added to the mystery. Many times, the words didn't make literal sense, but were written in such a way that an overall impression of a situation was conveyed, or that a vague mood was created. Many LGBTQ artists added to the vagueness, choosing words carefully so as to be ambiguous as to the identity of the romantic interest they were singing about.
The videos for the songs continued the impressionistic themes, using contrasting light and shadows, soft lighting, slightly blurry images, and other interesting visuals that sometimes told a story, which may or may not have had anything to do with the actual lyrics.
The music used lots of synthesizers, programmed to sound like many other instruments, but used "standard" pop/rock/blues instruments as well – there were still saxophone solos (think Duran Duran's "Rio"), guitar riffs (the intro to Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" is a prime example), harmonica fills (as found in Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon"), and typical percussion of drums and tambourines (such as those found in Split Enz's "I Got You").
The first group to be considered poster children for the new romantics is Duran Duran. Their first album was released in 1981 and they had their first hit with the single "Planet Earth". That was followed by the hits "Girls on Film" (which garnered attention because its accompanying video was banned by the BBC and edited for content on MTV), "My Own Way", "Save a Prayer", "Hungry Like the Wolf", and the title track from their second album, "Rio". Duran Duran's third album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, had hits with "Union of the Snake" and "New Moon on Monday" and gave the band their first number one hit, a Nile Rodgers (from the group Chic) remix of "The Reflex". The band continued having hits throughout the '80s and '90s with various iterations of the lineup, as well as having members go on to side projects such as Power Station and Arcadia.
Perhaps the second-best known group of new romantics is Culture Club. Fronted by Boy George (born George O'Dowd), with Jon Moss on drums and percussion, Mikey Craig on bass guitar, and Roy Hay on guitar and keyboards, the band chose its name because they realized they represented diverse groups – George was of Irish descent and gay, Craig was black, Moss was Jewish, and Hay was a fair-haired Englishman. They had their first hit single with the reggae-influenced "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me", pushed tremendously by having the video on rotation on MTV and because of the word-of-mouth buzz created by Boy George's androgynous style. Their second album, Colour by Numbers, gave the band their biggest hit, "Karma Chameleon", which became the bestselling single of 1983. Due to internal conflicts, including a complicated relationship between George and Moss, as well as George's drug addictions, the group effectively disbanded in 1986.
Other groups and artists that fit into the new romantic subgenre include Human League, known for their hits "Fascination", "Don't You Want Me", and "Human"; Thompson Twins, best known for their hits "Lay Your Hands On Me", "King for a Day", and "Hold Me Now"; Cyndi Lauper, notable because she was American, with her hits "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", "True Colors", and "Time After Time"; one-hit wonder Flock of Seagulls, with their song "I Ran (So Far Away)"; and Spandau Ballet, whose biggest hit was "True".
NEW WAVE ALTERNATIVE or POST-PUNK
This subgenre is slightly "heavier", musically-speaking, in comparison to the new romantics. There's still lots of synthesizers, but there's more bass, either from drums, synthesizer, or bass guitars, sometimes mixed inordinately loud compared to the rest of the song, which made the music perfect for playing in dance clubs where the feel of the pounding beat was as much a part of the experience as the flashing lights, the adult beverages, and sometimes, cages for featured dancers. Twelve-inch club mixes of songs created by local club DJs or by nationally- or internationally-known DJs allowed for wider dynamic levels on the records, which let the bassline come through loud and clear, with particular emphasis on "loud". These would usually be longer versions of the "radio edit" or "single version" of a song, often with leading or trailing beats to allow club DJs to smoothly segue from one song to another without a noticeable break in between.
The subject matter of romance is less prominent than in the music of the new romantics, with darker themes and more emphasis on physical relationships than emotional ones at times. Also missing are the colorful clothes, with artists opting instead for lots of black (particularly black leather, black plastic, and black velvet), lots of Doc Martens boots, an assortment of body piercings, and clothing that could be considered "lingerie" or "fetish" fashion, such as corsets, chaps, codpieces, camisoles, stiletto heels, and garters.
Formed in the early '70s and going through many line-up and band name changes before settling on The Cure, the "Goth" group first gained prominence in 1985 with the release of their sixth album, The Head On the Door. The album contained the single "In Between Days", an upbeat tune with an infectious bass line written by Robert Smith, the one band member who remained constant throughout the group's timeline. The follow-up single, "Just Like Heaven", reached the US top forty. The next album, Disintegration, would be the group's highest selling album, with the singles "Fascination Street", "Lullaby", "Pictures of You", and "Lovesong". Their next studio album, Wish, contained their biggest US hit, "Friday I'm in Love". Four more albums followed Wish, and the band continues to tour occasionally to this day.
The best known group that fits into the new wave alternative or post-punk genre is probably Depeche Mode. The band's first hit, "Just Can't Get Enough", is a synthesizer- and bass-heavy song with a catchy refrain. The song has been widely used by UK football (soccer) teams as a stadium chant/song and was even used by Walmart in an ad campaign. Some of their other hit singles include "Get the Balance Right!" and "Everything Counts", which feature sampled every day sounds repeated to give the music an industrial feel; "Personal Jesus", which was controversial when it was released; and "Somebody" which is considered their greatest love song. The Depeche Mode song that has perhaps been the most influential worldwide is their 1984 single "People Are People", with its an anti-hate message. It has become an LGBTQ anthem, used in pride parades and festivals and still played regularly in clubs.
The ironically named the Smiths (ironic because no one in the group had that last name) formed in Manchester, England, in 1982. The band included Morrissey (born Steven Patrick Morrissey) as the lead vocalist, guitarist Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke on bass guitar, and Mike Joyce on drums. Although the band did use a synthesizer in its work (for instance, to play a strings section for "Girlfriend in a Coma"), the band primarily relied on effects pedals for the guitars to make some of their iconic songs, such as the reverb found on "How Soon is Now?". In general, critics (and listeners) either loved or hated the Smiths. Their lyrics were considered either inspired or the babblings of posers looking for attention. Morrissey was either a genius or a whiny, uncompromising jerk. Although their singles only ever charted in the UK and their albums never broke the top fifty charts in the US, the Smiths are still considered one of the most influential bands of the '80s. Four of the band's albums were listed on Rolling Stone Magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003, including three of their four studio albums and a compilation album.
The new wave alternative group that made the biggest foray into "mainstream" music was probably the Eurythmics. They garnered a lot of exposure through MTV, as videos from their second album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), were played as part of the regular rotation in 1983. Consisting of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, the band was known for strong synthesizer basslines, complicated harmonies, and dramatic videos featuring Lennox and Stewart as any number of characters. Their hits include "Here Comes the Rain Again", "Who's That Girl?" (not to be confused with the Madonna song of the same name), "Would I Lie to You?", "There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)", and a duet with Aretha Franklin, "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves", which became a feminist anthem.
Devo is somewhat unique in that they were an American post-punk band. The core band was made up of two sets of brothers – Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Gerald and Bob Casales – and a drummer, Alan Myers. In 1976, the group appeared in a short film, The Truth About De-Evolution, which was noticed by David Bowie, who worked to get them a contract with Warner Music Group. Neil Young asked the group to appear in his movie Human Highway; it would prove to be the first soundtrack scored by Mark Mothersbaugh. (Mothersbaugh would later go on to establish a commercial music production studio and compose music for TV and movies, including Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Rugrats, and The Lego Movie.) The group was known for interesting outfits, which were very often neon in color, and included oddly shaped hats and large, thick-framed sunglasses. Although they only had one major hit, "Whip It", their look and industrial sound influenced many other artists.
Other bands falling into the subgenre of new wave alternative or post-punk include Dead or Alive, who had hits with "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and "Brand New Lover"; New Order, who have the best-selling twelve-inch single of all time for their song "Blue Monday", but who are probably best known for their hit "Bizarre Love Triangle"; and Adam Ant, who had a solo hit with "Goody Two Shoes" in 1982 and charted again in 1995 with the more acoustic "Wonderful"
This section of new wave pulls liberally from the other two subsections, but occasionally throws in things inspired by other musical influences, too. In general, these bands placed less emphasis on the "look" of the band and placed more emphasis on music and lyrics than new romantics, although some bands, like the Pet Shop Boys, were still well-known for outlandish, almost avant-garde art outfits and highly stylized videos. Despite the careful crafting of lyrics that were more clever than cryptic, these bands still knew how to write a pop music "hook" – a memorable melody with lyrics that either got stuck in your head as an "earworm", made you want to sing along, or both.
The Pet Shop Boys are the longest lasting group in this subgenre. Their first hit was "West End Girls" in 1984. Since then, they've had a string of other hits including "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)", "It's a Sin", a duet with Dusty Springfield titled "What Have I Done to Deserve This?", a cover of the Elvis Presley/Willie Nelson hit "Always on My Mind", a cover of the Village People's "Go West", and many others. The duo is known for their "smart" lyrics, some of which were inspired by a quote by Zelda Fitzgerald ("Being Boring") and a novel by Anthony Trollope ("Can You Forgive Her?"). They've worked with a veritable "who's who", including Elton John, Kylie Minogue, David Bowie, Robbie Williams, Take That, the Killers, Trevor Horn, Harold Faltermeyer, Boy George, Tina Turner, Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Rufus Wainwright, and Lady Gaga. Well into their fourth decade of music, the duo is still recording and touring regularly, while occasionally working on side projects.
Erasure is another synthpop band with staying power. The duo formed in 1985, with Andy Bell on vocals and Vince Clarke, formerly of Depeche Mode and Yaz/Yazoo, as songwriter and on keyboards. Although they may not be quite as prolific as the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure still managed to put out eighteen albums between 1986 and 2018, including Chorus, ABBA-esque (covers of ABBA songs), Wild!, I Say I Say I Say, and Loveboat . Their biggest hits, "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect", were off of their third album, The Innocents, in 1988. Known for lavish, layered arrangements and soaring vocals with dozens of harmonies created by multi-tracking Bell's unmistakable voice, the duo has created both lush ballads and highly danceable club music for over thirty years.
The main members of the band Squeeze consisted of Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook, Jools Holland, and Harry Kakoulli. The first single, "Take Me I'm Yours", off of their self-titled debut album, starts off with a guitar lick that sounds like it's straight out of a James Bond film and features both Tilbrook and Difford singing the melody, but with Difford singing it an octave lower than Tilbrook. This arrangement of dual melodies is found in other Squeeze hits, including "In Quintessence", "If I Didn't Love You", and "853-5937". Throughout the years, there was a revolving door of other band members. Perhaps the best known was Paul Carrack, who sang lead on their biggest hit, "Tempted". Some of their other hits include "Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)" and "Hourglass".
There are numerous other examples of power pop, including Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance", the Knack's "My Sharona", Elvis Costello's "Veronica", Crowded House's "Something So Strong", and Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight". Many can still be regularly heard on classic top forty rock and pop radio stations around the country.