For today's musical history lesson, we're talking the 1980's. When most people think of the 80's, leg-warmers and neon colors come to mind. While the decade was overflowing with such clichés, there's a particular, more eccentric, subdivision of 80's culture that often goes unnoticed in modern portrayals of the decade: New Wave.
What is New Wave? I'm glad you asked. New Wave is a genre of music that was brought to life in late 1970's through the mid 1980's with influences from punk music as well as the development of music technologies like synthesizers. Basically, what classified as music was changing, with less reliance on traditional instruments. Don't get me wrong, these artists knew their guitars and pianos, but used them as foundations to create new and exciting sounds. On top of that, the openness of New Wave music made room for self expression in the pioneer's lyrics and clothing.
So who are these innovators? Well, there were a lot of them. To get you started on your journey through New Wave, I've compiled a small list of 4 of the most influential New Wave artists, as well as your favorite musicians they inspired. Also because I'm indecisive, some very honorable mentions.
1. THE CURE
During the early 70's at a middle school in West Sussex, the founding members of The Cure began to meet at a local church hall, practicing their favorite songs. After winning a recording contract, and failing to keep it afloat, The Cure finally found their footing with their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in 1979 under a new record label.
After their 1982 release Pornography, the band's future was questionable. Sure, they had a growing fan base, but they struggled to convince others their smeared lipstick and disheveled black hair was a good idea. A defining moment in their career was the 1985 release The Head on the Door, which gave the world the band's infectious hybrid of optimism and sarcasm with songs like "In Between Days" and "Close to Me." With a world tour and success in the US, The Cure was making a name for themselves.
Success only continued with the release of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. The eclectic album featured "Just Like Heaven," the band's most successful single. With that single, The Cure was solidified as New Wave legends, continuing to make influential music with albums like Disintegration and Wish, amongst others.
Today, bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Interpol have cited The Cure and frontman Robert Smith as their biggest influence. Paul Banks, lead singer of the latter was quoted saying, "The Cure is the band that all of us in Interpol can say influenced us...They're legendary."
2. TALKING HEADS
Talking Heads is a very special kind of band, one that blends genres and decades so effortlessly that it's hard to put them in a box. After initially meeting in college, the group moved to New York City, where they found The Ramones, landing them a spot as their openers in 1975.
Soon after, their debut album Talking Heads: 77 was released in, you guessed it, 1977. Their most popular song "Psycho Killer," was released, making them an instant success. The song is still popular today with 41 million listens on Spotify (half of which are probably from me).
Their innovation only continued through the 1980's with their commercial breakthrough album Speaking in Tongues and their only American Top 10 hit "Burning Down the House." Three critically acclaimed albums later, the band broke up in the 1998. However, with lead singer David Byrne's outlandish vocals and the band's use of funk, avant-garde and world music, Talking Heads continues to be one of the most creative and unique bands of all time.
The band has been cited as an influence for a huge number of today's artists: The Weeknd, St. Vincent (who collaborated with Byrne for studio album Love This Giant), The 1975 and Vampire Weekend, just to name a few. Also, Selena Gomez's latest hit samples "Psycho Killer," so that's pretty cool. On top of that, their song "Radio Head" off their 1986 album True Stories became the inspiration for, of course, Radiohead.
3. NEW ORDER
If you were lucky enough to attend Coachella this year, or back in 2013, you might've caught one of the most prominent voices in New Wave, New Order. You probably know more about New Order's history than you think. Remember those radio-wave T-Shirts that became a staple in every sad boys wardrobe a few years back? That album art belonged to Joy Division, which grew into New Order after the group suffered the tragic loss of their vocalist Ian Curtis.
Continuing on as New Order in 1980, the band took the up and coming technology and ran with it, incredibly fast. By 1983, the band had released the iconic Power, Corruption and Lies and their biggest hit "Blue Monday," which eventually became the best selling 12-inch single of all time.
Even though the band rarely gave interviews, and had the reputation of being standoffish, due to short sets and no encores, they remained a favorite amongst New Wave lovers. New Order created dance music that was accessible for those who were partial to rock, blending styles in a way that hadn't been done before. Rock band The Killers, has named New Order one of their biggest influences, getting their name from the fictitious band that appears in New Order's music video for their song "Crystal."
Seen here at the 1:20 mark:
4. DEPECHE MODE
In 1977, Depeche Mode founding members Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher started a Cure-inspired band, which is pretty cool considering they are now one of their contemporaries. Three years later, now with keyboard player Martin Gore, they found vocalist David Gahan singing a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes." At last, Depeche Mode was born.
Like most bands, they had a rough start. Record companies would constantly deny them, shutting door after door in their face. Finally, the band released a few singles, all relatively successful. With their third single, "Just Can't Get Enough," the band earned a top 10 UK hit, making them ones to watch. While their first album Speak & Spell is criticized by some today, it was a huge stepping stone for the band.
When original member Vince Clarke left the band in 1981, Depeche Mode was motivated to go international. In 1984, Depeche Mode released "People Are People," a song that's all about equality and understanding. The song quickly became an LGBT+ anthem, played at many pride festivals. To this day, it's a fan favorite.
Depeche Mode's commitment to discussing important issues only continued with songs that cover sexual politics, relationships, religion and even the environment. It doesn't seem like they're stopping any time soon, especially considering the politically driven "Where's The Revolution," that was released earlier this year.
Some of your favorite artists that have cited Depeche Mode as an influence are CHVRCHES, who's lead singer wrote an entire blog a few years back about why Depeche Mode is so amazing, Arcade Fire and none other than Lady Gaga.
If I could go through every one of these bands, digging through archives of music and interviews, I would. But for now, I'll leave you with a list of 8 honorable mentions that should by no means ever be erased from the conversation around New Wave music.
The Smiths: These guys were never truly considered New Wave, which is why they're not on the list. Still, The Smiths are on the same tier of incredibly influential artists of the 80's. You can read more about how influential they are here.
Erasure: Lead singer Andy Bell has been openly gay since 1986, and openly HIV positive since 2004. By being so open about his life experiences, he became a prominent figure in the self expression movement that was flourishing in the 80's New Wave scene.
Duran Duran: These synth-pop icons always remind us that we're not too good for pop music. Their cross influence of fashion, culture and music can't be denied. Seriously, so many guys copied lead singer Simon Le Bon's looks for years.
DEVO: With classics like "Whip It," DEVO told the outcasts of the 80's that it's okay to be weird.
Blondie: Debbie Harry is an icon. Enough said.
Culture Club: Frontman Boy George's androgynous appearance and playfulness regarding sexuality and fashion in relation to music is a staple in New Wave history.
Simple Minds: Five words, "Don't You Forget About Me." We won't.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: Spotify search "Enola Gay" and you'll understand.
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