Episode 1 – Songs from 1978
Hello, hello, and welcome to the podcast New Wave Beat! This is your host, Jason D’Orazio. Today I will give you recent news regarding some of your favorite new wave artists, and then I will take a dive into 5 great songs that came out of the New Wave movement in the year 1978.
0:00 – New Wave News
5:11 – 5 songs from 1978
New Wave Beat News
OK, time for some news!
Stranger Things Music
CNET posted an article a few days ago discussing the music in season 2 of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. They even compiled a Spotify playlist with many of the songs from the show. CNET mentioned that the 1st and last episodes have the best music, which include standout new wave tracks Whip It by Devo, Oingo Boingo’s Just Another Day, Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time and the Police’s Every Breath You Take. I just started Season 2 of Stranger Things as I loved the original season. I am looking forward to hearing these songs in the context of the show.
Thor Ragnarok is coming out in the United States as I speak and in the trailer has Bruce Banner’s character wearing an interesting shirt. Yes, his shirt is a picture of the Duran Duran album Rio’s famous cover. The album cover was drawn by famous artist Patrick Nagel. Now, my wife managed to snag me a version of the shirt, which I intend to wear when we see Thor. It is also worth noting that the logo for the movie has a particularly ‘80s vibe to it, and Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh did the soundtrack for it. So a lot of new wave love coming from the Thor franchise.
Chrissie Hynde Gets Mad
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders called out fans for taking videos of her performance at one of their concerts recently. She basically called them the C-word, along with other choice expletives. Unfortunately, the concert was also cut short at about the 45-minute mark. As it stands, the band famously has a strict no-phones policy, which flies against the instinct to whip out one’s phone and start recording. Hynde later apologized on her Facebook page.
Tears for Fears Concert
Tears for Fears recently performed their 1st gig since singer Roland Orzabal’s wife passed away. The Express in the UK gave it an excellent review. They pointed out that Badman’s Song and Woman in Chains were the standout songs of the set. Orzabal even ventured into the crowd during the performance. Be on the lookout for a Greatest Hits album by Tears for Fears on November 10, with 2 new songs to enjoy!
Let’s Rock the Northeast music festival
If you live in the UK, you can have a chance to see a lot of new wave artists in 1 day. They will be at the Let’s Rock the Northeast festival at Herrington Country Park. This includes Midge Ure of Ultravox, Heaven 17, Nik Kershaw, and a few more. The date is Saturday, June 9 of next year. Tickets for that just became available a few days ago. Hopefully the show will be awesome!
The Washington Times interviewed Alphaville lead singer Marion Gold. He explains how he keeps his voice in shape, and why they did not tour in the United States early on in their career. Fortunately I finally got to see them live a few months back in the Chicago Theatre, and Gold’s singing was superb. Alphaville is working on a new album called “Thunder Baby”, though they mentioned the recent “Strange Attractor” took 7 years to write and release. On a side note, I think the Washington Times’ reference to Gold as a “sturdy opera singer” was a little uncalled for.
Marc Almond’s ’60s covers album
Marc Almond, formerly of Soft Cell, is touring to support his album Shadows & Reflections. The songs are covers of ‘60s mood songs. Almond is also currently wrapping up a tour to support this album in the UK. A couple of days ago he posted a video talking about what inspired him to make the album, plus how he selected the songs for it.
New wave girl group Bananarama are touring with their original lineup for the 1st time ever! 24 dates for the UK have been announced, along with a handful of dates in North America. Stereogum conducted a pretty good interview with Karen Woodward from Bananarama, where she said that they hope to add more North America dates to the tour, She also mentioned that the band tried to record a new song recently but it didn’t quite work out, at least for now.
Men at Work Cover
In other good news, 20-year-old musician Sabrina Shultz from Brisbane Australia performed a cover of Men At Work’s “Land Down Under” which got a whopping 100 views on Youtube when she was asked if she would sell the song to be the theme for the 2nd season of the show Wolf Creek. So it is a safe bet to say her cover will get a lot, lot more exposure. You can catch Wolf Creek on Amazon Video.
5 Songs From 1978
Now that I caught you up-to-date with some music news, I am now going to talk about 5 great New Wave songs from the year 1978. This is the year that new wave was really starting to break through, with hit songs and cult classics being released. It was also a sign of great things to come in this sub-genre. Let’s dive right in!
Blondie – Heart of Glass
First I would like to talk about Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”. It is arguably the 1st new wave song to hit #1 in the Billboard Hot 100, so it is appropriate to start here. Blondie released their debut album in 1976, and featured lead singer and frontwoman Deborah Harry. While they had a rough version of “Heart of Glass” bouncing around for a while, the final version came out 2 years later with their 3rd album dubbed “Parallel Lines”. “Heart of Glass” starts off with a fast drum machine hook. The song has a strong disco influence, reminiscent of a band like Chic or artist like Donna Summer. It also sounds like the music that Blondie influencers Roxy Music had been releasing in the late ‘70s. Despite the upbeat and fun melody, “Heart of Glass” deals with a love gone sour. The narrator is not taking it well, as she references her “heart of glass”. Music videos, while they existed in 1978, mostly consisted of the band performing. “Heart of Glass” pretty much follows this format, but also shows shots of Studio 54 and other New York City buildings. You can see Deborah Harry’s intentional aloofness in the video that would be one of her trademarks. The band got a lot of flack from fellow new wavers for selling out to a disco sound, but the genre is about eclecticism, so I think the criticism was unwarranted. Also, since new wave and disco acts often shared nights in clubs and bars, the cross-pollination seems natural. But then again, I was not around during the height of the disco craze and I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. On a final note, Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” has been heavily sampled and covered, thereby adding to its staying power.
The Cars – Just What I Needed
Next up is “Just What I Needed”, the 1st single from the Car’s self-titled debut album. The Cars were a 5-piece band featuring lead singers Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr. Their brand of music was leaning toward classic rock and roll and pop, but with enough synth goodness and vocal quirkiness to put them firmly in the New Wave camp. Initially getting good radio play in the band’s hometown of Boston, “Just What I Needed” soon became a top 40 hit at a time when such songs were only starting to get some good chart exposure. It starts with a simple but engaging guitar riff. The rock and roll guitars are paired nicely with the futuristic-sounding synth, a combo platter that would permeate through the rest of their albums. The memorable chorus and retro-yet-progressive keyboard outro in particular are awesome. Benjamin Orr sings this one, and does it flawlessly. It is evocative lyrically, as the narrator sings about a crush of his, and how he figuratively loses his mind when he is around her. However, the chorus hints at a little arrogance and possibly codependence on the part of the narrator, saying that he needed a woman to feed and bleed. I personally love this combination of upbeat melody and duplicitous lyrics. There was no associated video for “Just What I Needed”, which is understandable since it was slightly before the heyday of music video. As it stands, the Cars would make some nice videos later on in their career. “Just What I Needed” is a great introduction to the Cars, and it is New Wave Beat approved.
Elvis Costello – “Pump it Up”
Elvis Costello is the next artist I will talk about, who debuted in 1977. But I will focus on “Pump it Up” from his 2nd album with his band the Attractions. This song combines the energy of punk with New Wave quirkiness. In fact, “Pump it Up” is probably the punkiest of the 5 songs I am going over today. Starting out with a memorable drum and bass intro, the song launches into a manic, organ-tinged synth workout which is paired with Costello’s almost-shouting, repetitive vocals. This is a great combo of early ‘60s rock and punk, showing that New Wave music is like a great blender, like a mix-master, of other styles. I believe the lyrics are about cranking up, or, pumping up one’s music in response to the various annoyances of life, although there is an alternate theory that the song is about masturbation. For example, lines like “putting up you temperature” could be referring to getting angry or to getting sexually tense. Well, it could be a little of both! The video mostly features Elvis Costello and his band performing in front of a white backdrop, putting together some energetic playing. They are also moving pretty good to the music. Though it is the only song I am discussing today that was not a hit in the United States, it has become a classic New Wave ditty. It is a great listen, especially for someone who likes the edgier side of New Wave. On a side note, Costello kind of has a cool nerd vibe going, which you could see in many future bands like Weezer.
The Police – Roxanne
Onward now to “Roxanne” by the Police. The Police were a trio, with tenor Sting the frontman and lead singer, Andy Summers on guitar, and Stewart Copeland on drums. They debuted in 1978 with the critically acclaimed “Outlandos d’Amour”, which had the top 40 single “Roxanne”. The song begins with a wrong keyboard note and Sting’s laughing in reaction. While it could be seen as a simple blooper, the fact that it made the cut speaks to the rawness of the song, the punk ethos that the band was trying to portray. It is probably best known for Sting’s pained, extended, and repeated rendition of the name “Roxanne”. The insistent guitar throughout the song is a good match for the subject matter. The song is about a guy who is head over heels for a prostitute. He tries to persuade her to give up her practice and be his only, as he feels he is a good alternative to prostitution. References are made to the red light district, designated areas where prostitution takes place. The single is also a good introduction to the band’s reggae-inflected brand of New Wave. The Police made 2 videos for “Roxanne”, the more popular of which had them performing live. As the Sex Pistol’s “Anarchy in the UK” got banned by the BBC, “Roxanne” certainly continued the tradition of punk and new wave songs being banned for being “too racy”. Nevertheless, American radio play helped propel the song to hit status. “Roxanne” greatly helped turn the Police into a household name in music circles, and there were quite a few more hits to come from them.
Talking Heads – Take Me to the River
I will wrap up our 1978 retrospective with Talking Head’s cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”. David Byrne fronted Talking Heads, which was known for his nervous singing paired with R&B and world rhythms. Not only did they have a decent number of hits, but they also were critical darlings of the New Wave movement. “Take Me to the River” talks about being on the receiving end of a lover’s ill will. The “river’ refers to baptism, and the guilt of lovemaking. In other words, trying to reconcile one’s lust with Christianity. Talking Heads’ version is well-played and soulful yet also deviates enough from the original to make it an interesting and worthwhile cover. It is more free-flowing and has more of that new-wave energy. Thus it is over a minute longer than the original, but is not plodding by any stretch. It also has a different vibe thanks to Byrne’s tense vocals. The half-minute intro is simple but catchy and sets the tone for the rest of the song. Not to mention Talking Head’s version of “Take Me to the River” had a killer rhythm section. I like Byrne’s histrionics around the words “squeeze me” and “tease me”, adding some punch. Al Green himself approved of the cover, and jokingly hoped to sing a Talking Heads tune one day. Talking Heads got a top 40 hit in “Take Me to the River” for their efforts, the 1st in their young career. They made it onto American Bandstand, helping put New Wave music more in the mainstream. No video for this one, but hey, it was 1978!
Thanks for listening today to New Wave Beat! Feel free to listen to the 5 songs I mentioned, whether through a streaming site or purchase. Do you like them? If so, what about them captures you? I welcome you to like and/or comment on our Facebook page. Join me next time for some solid tunes from 1979!