I could have also titled this post: 'Why Brandon Ebel questions my musical tastes,' but that’s probably too inside. Most music fans have a certain period of time when music really influenced them. Where it helped form their overall tastes. In general, this usually happens during your high school years. For those that were in high school during the early 70’s, the music that was coming out at that time is usually a favorite for them and influences their current tastes. For many people in my age bracket it was the 80’s. For me it was the early 80’s in particular. Now, I won’t deny that if we are really talking about true root influence on my music tastes it begins with my mom’s 45’s of Beatles and Beach Boys tunes. But the period I love and often find myself going back to is the early 80’s.
Many people like to write off the 80’s as a musical wasteland, especially from an artistic standpoint. That’s too bad because they’re missing out on some great music. They throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. For me, one of the greatest decades for new music was 1979 thru 1989, and really, the first five years of that.
So what was great about 1979 and the early 80’s? Well, this is where I got my love of quirky pop. This is the era and dawn of truly quirky, new wave music. 1979 thru about 1985 covers the best of that. I’m not saying there was nothing like it before or since, but this is when the greatest output of it happened, and where it really came into it’s own as a music form. Sparks were probably doing quirky new wave before almost anyone, even though I didn’t discover them until after 1979. New Wave really kicked off in 1979. I guess it was the official death of Disco, finally, and the more artistic and pop versions of punk.
There are certain musical elements that became prominent during that time that I absolutely love, and these are the things I still look for in music. The joy I get from finding new bands incorporating these elements is second to none. The primary elements of which I speak are staccato guitar (early Cars albums, DA, etc.), quirky keyboards (Devo, Cars, etc.), rolling bass lines (The Buggles, Suburban Lawns, DA, etc.), wavering vocals (Ric Ocasek of The Cars), and most importantly, pop hooks. Not all of my favorites from the 80’s had these elements but most had at least some of them.
The Best of 1979 thru 1989
Suburban Lawns – Suburban Lawns and Baby
This IS new wave. You hear it here perfectly. The musical elements found in early Devo, Cars, B-52’s etc. are all here for your enjoyment. Love it! Flying Saucer Safari is excellent. This is one of my favorite bands from the early 80’s, and they’ve never been released on CD. What gives?!
Daniel Amos – The Alarma Chronicles (all 4 albums)
This is one of the those bands, these 4 albums specifically, that encompass and incorporate everything that I like about that early 80’s sound. This is my favorite band of all time, so I won’t go on and on, but the interesting note is that three of the 4 albums in the Alarma Chronicles are pure new wave at it’s finest…Alarma, Doppelganger and Vox Humana. If you’re a fan of early 80’s new wave ala Cars, Talking Heads, etc. do yourself a favor and track down these three albums.
The Cars – Candy-O and Panorama
If I had to pick one band to define new wave, the best example is without a doubt, The Cars and the albums would be Candy-O and Panorama. Fans and critics alike have dismissed the often over-looked Panorama, but fans of new wave know it’s a classic. Give it another listen.
Devo – Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists
I don’t think I need to write much about this band, except that the often-overlooked “New Traditionalist” album is my favorite. Best song: Beautiful World. It’s dripping with sarcasm. Can’t hear it without laughing. Their song ‘Whip It’ pretty much defines the new wave genre and is considered by many to be one of the quintessential new wave songs.
Talking Heads – Little Creatures
What a great band! Most of their output falls into this time frame, although they were going a bit before the curve. This one is their best and that’s really saying something. I love it. And She Was! They only had one bad record, ‘Naked’, but it was really a David Byrne solo album, so we’ll forgive them for that one.
Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party
This is another one of the great bands of the 80’s. Best known for their hit Weird Science from the movie of the same name, they had much better songs than that on all their records, from Only A Lad to Boingo. In my opinion, their brand of odd, quirky new wave worked best on the Dead Man’s Party which is musically fun yet lyrically dark. Their first CD Only A Lad is a great place to start, and their final masterpiece Boingo is also a must.
Yes – Drama and 90125
Their two best albums came out in the early 80’s…surprise, surprise. Drama was Yes and the Buggles combined, so it’s like the best of both worlds for me. Although I would have loved to have heard Jon singing on this one. But hey, that’s why those of you that don’t like Yes because of Jon’s high tenor voice should love this Drama. Then there's 90125. Released in 1983, my senior year of high school. It went on to become my favorite record of all time and still is. Great songs, great production. I love it. It's not new wave, it's not power pop, it's not really even prog rock or arena rock...but some mix of prog-pop that worked perfectly. Most bands that tried to emmulate it sucked. One of the more successful attempts at capturing the 90125 sound was another great album of the 80's, 'Tales of Wonder' by Whiteheart. The only album of theirs that I can still listen to.
Split Enz – True Colours and Time and Tide
The song ‘I Got You’ is an 80’s new wave staple, as it should be. But the band peaked with the more lush Time and Tide album.
Swirling Eddies – Outdoor Elvis and Let’s Spin
This is really another incarnation Terry Taylor and Daniel Amos. Outdoor Elvis is one of my top ten albums of all time. It slips into this category with a 1989 release. Let’s Spin has more of an 80’s sound, but the songs are better on Outdoor Elvis. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s all good.
Suburbs – Credit In Heaven
This local Minneapolis band almost made it big. They got signed to A&M and their major label debut with the semi-hit 'Life is Like' bombed. This earlier double album on Twin Tone is so much better anyway. Very new wave, from the vocals to the guitars. This is one of my favorite album titles of all time.
Buggles – Plastic Age and Adventures in Modern Recording
Two great albums from two great guys…Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes. God Bless ‘em. These are two of my all-time favorite records. Keyboard heavy quirky new wave with hooky pop and rolling bass lines.
After The Fire – ATF
The US compilation that sported the Falco cover hit ‘Der Kommisar.’ The rest of the album is even better in my opinion. Very keyboard driven. If you like ATF, you should hear 'Decent Beat' by the group "Quickflight." A very obscure release from the mid 80's that sounds a lot like ATF, but sadly never released on CD.
Steve Taylor - I Want To Be A Clone
This is the only truly new wave album Steve did, and I still think it’s his best, though most give the nod to his 90's release 'Squint.'
ELO – Time and Secret Messages
I would have included Out of the Blue, because that’s one of their best as well, but it still had more of that 70’s sound, while these two albums were pure early 80’s with quirky new wave influences. Cool! I love ELO and I love Jeff Lynne, so imagine them doing synth-heavy new wave influenced records with lyrics that sound like the script for Blade Runner. Sounds lik Heaven!
Sparks - Angst In My Pants
Actually, the best new wave albums that Sparks ever did were easily 'Kimono My House', 'Propaganda' and 'Indiscreet'. However, these albums were really pre-80's and before 'new wave'. How they did that, I'll never know. The term "ahead of their time" doesn't even begin to describe it. Thanks to Dave Danglis I redescovered these incredible albums which I had somehow overlooked. They came out a bit before I got into Sparks. They still managed one of the best new wave albums of the early 80's with Angst In My Pants. Another one of my all-time favorite album titles!
The B-52’s – The B-52’s and Wild Planet
These two albums play like a 50’s sci-fi movie and are up there with Devo and The Cars as classic new wave.
Surf Punks – My Beach
Quirky new wave is the recipe for fun with the Surf Punks. Love it! Those who don’t appreciate humor and novelty in music can just skip this one though.
Barnes and Barnes – Spazchow, Voobaha, Soak It Up, Amazing Adult Fantasy & Sicks
The most unusual group on the list, and that’s saying something considering the company. Written off by most as a novelty group, these two freaks churned out some of my favorites in the 80’s. There’s a certain genius in the song Fish Heads. Again, those who don’t appreciate humor and novelty in music can just skip this one.
U2 – October and War
These are easily their best. I know, I know…many will argue, none will convince. When is the last time you listened to these two records all the way through? Give them a chance, they’ll grab you and show you an energy that the band has never achieved since.
Roger Waters – The Wall, The Final Cut, Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and Radio KAOS
Okay, so The Wall and Final Cut officially came out as Pink Floyd albums, but we all know that these are all Roger Waters records. I love them all. Where’s the new one Roger? The closest we get to new wave is probably Radio KAOS, but they’re all good, and all from this time period. I like to refer to Roger as “Mr. Happy.” I think Roger needs a hug.
Cheap Trick – One on One
Cheap Trick does a new wave Beatle-esque power pop rock record. What’s not to love? They’re a great American rock band, and the Beatle-esque hooks combine with an early 80’s vibe for their best record.
Rush – Moving Pictures and Signals
By far, and I mean FAR their best two albums. They never even came close before or after. Weird. But the planets aligned and these two albums are great. Heck, the track listing for Moving Pictures is pretty much a “Best of Rush.” Almost everyone agrees that it’s their best overall record. But you pretty much like them or you don’t. Have you heard Tom Sawyer on the radio? Did you like it? If so, you should own these two CD’s. If not, move on. Signals is the album where you can really hear that 80’s keyboard pop taking over, which is probably why I enjoy this one so much. But the lyrics on youth and peer pressure also hit home. Subdivisions may be their best song.
There were many more great albums and songs in the 80’s. Especially between 1979 and 1985. Bruce Cockburn released his best work with the song Wondering Where The Lions Are and the album The Trouble with Normal. There were many one hit wonders that I loved, songs like Pop Music by M, One Night in Bangkok by Murray Head, Cry by Godley & Creme and Turning Japanese by The Vapors.