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What is New Wave?

Short answer: "New Wave" is a style of music that freshened up the aging rock/pop world of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Long answer: "New Wave" means different things to different people. A few samples of differing definitions:

  • "The term ... was introduced in 1976 in Great Britain by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren as an alternative label for what was also being called 'punk'. (Wikipedia)
  • "A style of rock music popularized in the early 1980s, marked by the use of synthesizers." (The Free Dictionary)
  • "An emotionally detached style of rock music characterized by a synthesized sound and a repetitive beat." (FactMonster.com)
  • "Popular music less raw than punk rock and typically including unconventional melodies, exaggerated beats, and quirky lyrics." (Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary)


What is not New Wave?

Again, a highly subjective question! As someone who came of age musically during that time — and who truly was called "New Wave Dave" back then — I have my own notions.

Basically, I see New Wave music as rock with an unconventional, modern [for that era] edge, in both melodies and lyrics.

I do not view these types of bands as "New Wave":

  • Music from other genres that happened to fall into that time period: The Go-Go's (pure pop), Men at Work (simple repetitious chart-seekers), The Pretenders (straightforward rock), Graham Parker (pub rock [but great stuff!])
  • Modernized reggae/ska: English Beat, Madness
  • Bands that played overly "arty" rock: Joy Division [too depressing], Roxy Music [too self-indulgent], The Waitresses [cutesy vibe], etc.

A special shout-out goes to some bands and musicians who helped push the world in a New Wave direction, even if they weren't making true New Wave music. Right away, I think of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds (and their Rockpile collaboration) ... who released rock and rockabilly-ish songs that inspired some New Wave acts.


What is bad New Wave?

Everybody's tastes are different. Here's what I don't care for:

  • Most synth-pop: Psychedelic Furs, Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls, Human League. There are exceptions (for instance, I really liked The Fixx).
  • Sensitive Brit-pop: Tears for Fears, Howard Jones, Spandau Ballet (OK, "True" is their only song I know).

My favorite New Wave Bands

(Click the link to see my page about each one.)

1. Talking Heads

2. Elvis Costello

3. Joe Jackson

4. Lene Lovich

5. The Fixx

6. Squeeze


More to come!


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