New Wave was a catchall term for new music bands in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Like Rock’n’Roll, there were no rules and it didn’t have a distinct sound. It seemed like anything new was considered New Wave even if it wasn’t, and plenty of musicians scoffed at the term. And while there were quite a few one-hit wonders that came out of this scene, some have endured for decades.
Number One: Culture Club. The band’s debut single “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” was praised by critics and fans alike. However, the video puzzled the majority of us as it was unclear if the singer was a man or a woman. Boy George certainly caught everyone’s attention, and the band has been called one of the most influential groups to come out of the Second British Invasion. Besides George’s unconventional style, the band was a universal hit as they delved into such genres as reggae, American soul, calypso and even country. The band’s second release, Colour by Numbers sold 10 million copies worldwide and has been certified triple platinum in the UK and quadruple platinum in the US. It yielded such smash singles as, “Karma Chameleon,” “Miss Me Blind,” “It’s a Miracle” and “Church of the Poison Mind.” In ’84 the Culture Club was nominated for and won several awards including, the Brit Award and a couple of Grammys. However, the public can be fickle and the band’s subsequent releases were generally panned by the critics. Besides George’s addiction to heroine, there was trouble in the band that played out in the media. Boy George was in love with the group’s drummer, Jon Moss, but Moss wouldn’t publicly admit to their affair. George went on to a solo career and released several critical successes. While records weren’t flying off the shelves, he did manage to score a hit with Bread’s “Everything I Own” and “The Crying Game.”
Number Two: Echo and the Bunnymen. While they began with a cult following, Echo and the Bunnymen have gained mainstream status as they continue to record and tour nearly four decades after they formed. Lead by the haunting voice of Ian McCulloch, the band’s debut, Crocodiles, was met with critical praise, and their follow-up, Heaven Up Here, was equally assessed. However, the band’s third LP would prove them to be a formidable force in the New Wave scene. Porcupine was released in 1983 and housed the top 10 single “The Cutter.” The hits kept coming on Ocean Rain with “The Killing Moon,” “Silver” and “Seven Seas.” McCulloch had one more album in him, simply called Echo and the Bunnymen, that would prove to be the band’s last album with their frontman at the helm. After a brief stint as a solo artist following the untimely death of friend/bandmate Pete de Freitas, McCulloch returned in 1994 to initially work with guitarist Will Sergeant on a project called Electrafixion. Soon, they were joined by Echo’s bass player, Les Pattinson, and scrapped the new name.
Number Three: Talking Heads and New Wave. With a mix of worldbeat, post punk, art punk and funk, the Talking Heads were one of the most famous new wave bands to come out of the New York scene of the late ’70s. With the awkward David Byrne as frontman, they were also one of the unlikeliest bands to emerge out of CBGB. Formed in 1975, the groups first gig was opening for the Ramones at the infamous club. That same year, the band was signed to Sire Records and began work on their debut, Talking Heads:77 on which “Psycho Killer” was found and charted. In ’78, they teamed up with Brian Eno to record More Songs About Buildings and Food, where they would find even more chart success with a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” Eno’s explorations continued on 1979s Fear of Music, which housed the track “Life During Wartime.” In 1980, Eno took the band even further into uncharted waters as he introduced them to afrobeat and world music. The result was Remain in Light on which “Once in a Lifetime” was found. Once the Heads released four albums in four years, they put out a live album and toured extensively. Back in the studio in ’83 the band recorded Speaking in Tongues to critical and commercial praise. The single “Burning Down the House” would prove to be the groups only top 10 hit in the states. Three more studio recordings would follow, but in ’91 the band announced Talking Heads would be parting ways. While the band did reunite in ’96 to complete an album, Byrne was burnt out and continued his solo career. While the band would never get back together, there influence is still felt today and bands such as R.E.M., Primus and Radiohead all site Talking Heads as making a major impact on them. In 2002, Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.
Number Four: INXS. With a pleasant play on words, INXS rose to the top in the early 80’s with their sophomore release Shabooh Shoobah,which housed their breakout single, “The One Thing.” The band would enjoy even more praise with The Swing featuring the song “Original Sin.” Lead by the charismatic Michael Hutchence, the group would go on to release such work as Listen Like Thieves, X and Kick,which contained hits like “Devil Inside,” “What You Need,” “Suicide Blonde,” “Need You Tonight,” and “New Sensation.” The ’90s would find the band’s star power diminishing in the US, but in the UK, the band remained a forced to be reckoned with. Sadly, Hutchence was found dead in his hotel room in 1997. The suicide was a shock to longtime fans and his girlfriend, Paula Yates who died of a heroin overdose three years later. The remaining members of the Australian group tried to keep the band going with guest singers including John Stevens who would officially replace Michael in 2002. In 2012 they announced that they were done performing. While the band never received an award in the US, they were given multiple awards in their homeland.
Number Five: Duran Duran. At the height of their success, Duran Duran was one of the most popular bands to ride in on the second British Invasion. With their androgynous looks, their records were favorites in the clubs and were embraced by gay culture. However, they were also adored by legions of teenage girls. Formed in 1978, they would go on to sell an estimated 70 million records. While Simon Le Bon wasn’t the band’s first choice, he turned out to be the right choice. Like Madonna, they fused fashion and music into one and the designer band placed 14 singles in the top ten UK charts and 21 in Billboard’s top 100. Dubbed the Fab Five, the group enjoyed success with such singles as “Girls On Film,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio.” By 1983, Duran Duran were given a license to do whatever the hell they wanted by Capital Records and they did just that on their third release Seven and the Ragged Tiger. The music was more geared towards the dance scene and less on the pop scene as “The Reflex” had an even more synth-driven vibe than the band’s two earlier records. While the band did splinter off with side projects – Le Bon and Rhodes’ Arcadia,and John and Andy Taylor joined forces with Robert Palmer to form the Power Station – Duran Duran was their home base. However, Ragged Tiger would be the last album featuring the original line up, and in the ’90s, the ride was all but over. In 2010, EMI released a boxed set, and while the band has been unsuccessful in topping the success they obtained in the ’80s, they are back recording and touring.
Number Six: New Order and New Wave. Originally called Joy Division, New Order was one of the first commercially successful synth pop bands to emerge from the Manchester scene. Following the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, the remaining members of Joy Division pressed on, and with the addition of keyboardist/guitarist Gillian Gilbert, the band changed their name. With a cocktail of post-punk and electronic dance music, the group released Movement in ’81, and while New Order was still immersed in the dark wave sound of their previous band, they managed to get a single out. “Ceremony” was one of two songs left over by Joy Division. The album did not fair well with critics or fans, however the groups next album, Power, Corruption and Lies, would find New Order in uncharted territory as the 1983 single “Blue Monday” went on to be the best selling 12 inch of all time. From there on out, the band was a hit-making machine and such songs as “Shellshock,” “Thieves Like Us,” “The Perfect Kiss” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” would all chart. In ’87 the band released a retrospective disc, Substance to critical and commercial success.
Number Seven: The Smiths. While not universally tagged New Wave, the Smiths are said to be the most influential band to emerge out of the UK in the 1980’s. At the forefront of the Smiths were Morrissey and Johnny Marr who would go on to write some of the greatest songs you’ve never heard. After signing to Rough Trade Records, the Manchester band released their first single, “Hand in Glove” which was followed by “This Charming Man” and “What Difference Does it Make?” While all three would go over respectively, the new wave group remained hungry. The self titled debut, The Smiths, reached number two on the UK charts, but it was the non album singles that would make the band famous. “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” would secure a spot on the charts in the top ten. The band ended 1984 with Hateful the Hollow which consisted of B-sides, demos and out takes. In ’85 the Smiths offered up Meat is Murderwhich contained a more political stance and while the album hit the number one spot on the UK charts, it went unnoticed in the U.S. The ’85 followup was entitled The Queen is Dead which again featured excellent guitar riffs by Marr as Morrissey crooned through such tracks as “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Cemetery Gates.” The release would only reach the number two spot on the UK charts. The Smiths’ would release “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and yet another compilation in 1986 entitled The World Won’t Listen which showed Morrissey’s frustration over the lack of commercial success. Other frustrations were stirring the pot and by the time the band’s fourth release Strangeways, Here We Come, the Smiths were no more. Even though the band only released 4 studio albums, they would impact generations and bands such as the Stone Roses and Oasis credit the Smiths as major inspirations.
Number Eight: Depeche Mode. One of a handful of ’80s new wave bands who are still active, Depeche Mode have dodged the “Spinal Tap” stereotype as the continue to record great music. Formed in 1980 without a drummer, the band would release Speak and Spell in 1981 to mixed reviews and did not represent the groups latter work. In 1982, they tried again with A Broken Frame, but now without their principle songwriter, Vince Clark (who left to join Alison Moyet to form Yazzo) the album was rather weak despite the single “Leave in Silence.” Clark would eventually be replaced by Allen Wilder (drums and keyboards) who made his debut on the non-album single “Get the Balance Right.” They changed direction for the release of Construction Time Again which found the band in a more industrial mood and they would never be compared to Kraftwork again. In March of 1984 DM would find worldwide acclaim with the single “People are People” as they finally found their sound. The single was adopted by the LBGT community and spurred on the gay pride movement. Now considered a formidable act, DM released their follow up, Some Great Reward which cracked the top 10 on Billboard for the first time as the group adopted a “Goth” feel. Subsequent albums such as Music for the Masses, Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion would find DM packing stadiums around the world. To date, they have sold 100 million records worldwide, have had 13 albums in the top ten spot on the UK charts and 50 singles chart in the UK. Their latest, Delta Machine was released in 2013 and sparked a world tour to sold out arenas across the globe.
Number Nine: The Cure. Despite Robert Smith’s look of heavy makeup, black clothes and crazy hair, I never saw the Cure as a “goth” band as they delivered pop friendly songs unlike Sisters of Mercy. The debut, Three Imaginary Boys was well received by the critics and speared the hit song, “Boys Don’t Cry.” Formed in 1976, the Cure successfully merged post punk with an up tempo New Wave sound and were credited with inventing the goth scene. The groups second offering, Seventeen Seconds, in 1980 and while the album was a bit dark and didn’t set well with critics, but went on to chart at 20 in the UK and contained the single “A Forest.” Their follow up, 1984s Pornography, wasn’t a critical success, but fans were delighted and that same year the band released the single “Let’s Go to Bed.” While Smith was a bit skeptical about abandoning the groups gloomy sounds, he soon jumped on board and began writing radio friendly tunes. By ’87 the band had established themselves in the UK, but stateside success was still elusive. With the release of the double LP Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, the Cure were finally on Billboard charting number 35 in the magazines top 40. The album had four predominant tracks, “Just Like Heaven,” “Why Can’t I Be You,” “Catch” and “Hot, Hot, Hot!.” With worldwide acclaim, the pressure was on and Disintegration delivered with such hits as “Lullaby,” “Lovesong,” “Pictures of You” and “Fascination Street.” In ’90 the Cure released a compilation of there hits which were remixed for club appeal. That same year, they gave us Wish which housed the hit “Friday I’m in Love.”
Number Ten: The B-52s and New Wave. Formed in Athens Georgia in ’76, the B-52’s had a unique sound that was both familiar but brand new as the group fused together ’60 surf rock with a New Wave flavor. Fred Schneider was backed by 2 amazing female voices – Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson who not only sang, but we’re multi instrumental. With the girls signature Beehive hairdos, the band released their first single in 1978, “Rock Lobster” after which they were invited to play at the infamous CBGB as well as Max’s Kansas City. By ’79 the band was ready to sign some papers and get the party started and they did just that with their self-titled debut. The B-52’s was a fun recording full of danceable tracks such as “Planet Claire” and a rerecorded version of “Rock Lobster” and got high marks from critics and fans. The groups second release, Wild Planet, was met with equal praise as the band offered up three minute pop songs as “Strobe Light,” “Party Out Of Bounds” and “Private Idaho.” On a roll, the B-52’s released a compilation disc, Party Mix! which took tracks from the first two records and gave them a makeover. Rumor has it that John Lennon said that “Rock Lobster” inspired his comeback. They collaborated with David Byrne of the Talking Heads on the EP Mesopotamia which was a bit more experimental than previous releases. They got back on track with Whammy! which housed a couple more hits, “Legal Tender” and “Whammy Kiss!.” Cosmic Thing was released in 1989 and would be the band’s best selling album to date as it featured four top ten hits, “Channel Z,” “Love Shack,” “Deadbeat Club” and “Roam.” Thanks for reading!
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