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Top 10 New Wave Songs

Check out my personal list of the top 10 New Wave songs, many of which (not surprisingly!) come from my favorite New Wave Bands.

I'm not claiming that these are the "best New Wave songs" — they just appeal to me as examples of the genre. Everyone's tastes differ, so I'm sure you will have other favorites. You may also notice that my tastes run toward New Wave rock songs, as opposed to New Wave synthesizer-pop songs. Feel free to make a website and post your own list of favorite New Wave songs! (Also please note: I reserve the right to change my views, and hence my top 10 New Wave songs list.)

These are in alphabetical order by artist, not ranked 1-10, because it was simply too hard to put them in any "quality" order. Click on a link in the text, or an album cover at the bottom of the page, to see the Amazon.com listing for that album (and get a copy if you're so inclined).

 

The B-52s, "Planet Claire"

The first song from the group's 1979 debut album, The B-52's, "Planet Claire" has a lot of early-New-Wave trappings: edgily sung vocals, weird synthesizer fills, off-kilter lyrics ("She drove a Plymouth Satellite / Faster than the speed of light"). Combine that with the splashy Da-Glo colors on the album jacket and you have an unearthly experience (pun semi-intended). I don't really view the B-52s as a genuine New Wave band; they're more like a party band that happened to make many songs flavored with New-Wave-era ingredients. But this oddly hypnotic tune — purely instrumental until well past the halfway point — is a proud representative of New Wave sensibility.

 

The Cars, "Let's Go"

From the Cars' second album, Candy-O, "Let's Go" combines Ric Ocasek's high-strung vocal style, occasionally arty lyrics ("She's winding them down / On her clock machine"), and catchy electronic hooks to produce a song that hit Top 20 in the U.S. and even higher in some other countries. Nothing breathtaking, but a well-crafted piece of mainstream New Wave.

 

Elvis Costello, "Alison"

Music fans often think of New Wave in general — and Elvis Costello's tunes in particular — as upbeat, driving, high-energy music. "Alison", from 1977's My Aim Is True, is the leading example of a slow-dance song with New Wave sensibility. (The album's name is taken from a lyric in the chorus of "Alison".)

 

Elvis Costello, "Welcome to the Working Week"

"Welcome to the Working Week" was a watershed moment: the single that kicked off the album that sparked the full-fledged New Wave movement. Before any instruments are heard, Elvis's unique voice teases the listener with a couple of mellowish lines, then dives full-force into this blistering minute-and-23-second throwdown. The rest of My Aim Is True just builds on that first song's promise.

 

Thomas Dolby, "She Blinded Me With Science"

Though maybe not to everyone's taste, the indulgent "She Blinded Me With Science" represents a peak time for New Wave, when videos of songs such as this one were dominating MTV. It builds an unusual hit from a hodgepodge of elements: wailing synthesizers, electronified vocal fills, spoken word bits, sudden tempo changes. Dolby spent most of his later career as a producer, but his album Golden Age of Wireless, from which this single was drawn, did mark a "Golden Age" of New Wave.

 

The Fixx, "One Thing Leads to Another"

Most of The Fixx's best-known songs have a slow, even dirge-like beat: "Saved by Zero", "Stand or Fall", "Red Skies". But "One Thing Leads to Another", from 1983's Reach the Beach, is a steadily uptempo number that's easy to bob your head to. The Fixx was a mainstay of early-'80s New Wave, and this is their most endearing hit.

 

Joe Jackson, "Pretty Boys"

Joe Jackson couldn't seem to make up his mind about the value of physical beauty. In his first big hit, 1979's "Is She Really Going Out With Him", he lamented seeing "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street." But on the album Beat Crazy, released the following year, he hilariously disrespected "pretty boys" who "sing and play guitar" and "get to be big stars". In an age when music videos were exploding, he didn't have the "pretty boy" looks to compete with musicians who, he obviously felt, lacked his talent. And I certainly can't disagree; songs like the ultra-catchy and clever "Pretty Boys" proved that Joe's musical substance should have outweighed the cuteness and fashion sense of some pop-music sensations.

 

Lene Lovich, "New Toy"

In an era that prized being different, Lene Lovich was uber-different. Her over-the-top costumes, combined with her highly dramatized Cabaret-vamp singing style, earned her notoriety in the late 1970s and early '80s. The album of which this is the title track, 1981's New Toy, is not available on CD, but the song (along with many other not-to-be-missed classics) is on her greatest-hits collection Lucky Number: The Best of Lene Lovich. The core message of the song "New Toy" can be viewed as a metaphor for the whole New Wave movement: "I want a new toy / To keep my head expanding". As her warbling ranges from passionate to defiant, various instruments go on energetic runs, shrieks and giggles are occasionally heard, and a group of singing men add background coloration. Don't miss this wild ride.

 

Gary Numan, "Cars"

Since the song "Cars" is a real granddaddy of the New Wave movement, it's amazing that it was created by an electronic-music prodigy barely out of his teens. Gary Numan initially fronted a group called the Tubeway Army, but in 1979 he released under his own name the single "Cars" and an album that contained it, The Pleasure Principle. Featuring unusual robotic singing and a couple of simple repetitive synth-and-percussion beats, "Cars" became both a worldwide hit and a signature song of the bursting New Wave genre. Nothing especially shocking or virtuosic occurs in this song, but its overall impact is far more than the sum of its parts. A flat-out classic.

 

Talking Heads, "Pulled Up"

Talking Heads is another band that has played in a variety of styles but had a substantial New Wave period. Their debut album, Talking Heads '77, included a signature hit, "Psycho Killer"; but I prefer the irresistibly infectious number "Pulled Up". On the surface, this song praises people who have helped the singer: "I was complaining, I was down in the dumps / I feel so strong now 'cause you pulled me up." But it's really an excuse to have David Byrne deliver some dollops of poetic and mysterious language in his characteristic nervous-nerd voice, while the band seizes you with a driving beat that makes you want to pogo or grab your nearest neighbor and start an energetic dance line snaking around the room. Crank it up and release your inhibitions.