Episode 14 – Songs from 1984
Welcome to New Wave Beat! I am your host, Jason D’Orazio. I would like to discuss some new wave songs from 1984, but first some new wae news.
0:00 – New Wave news
05:12 – Discussion of songs from 1984
New Wave News
Robert Smith and the Cure
The Cure frontman Robert Smith has been recently announced as the curator of the Southbank Centre’s 25th Meltdown festival this summer. The festival runs for a good 10 days and takes place in London. Smith follows in the footsteps of some pretty famous curators, including David Bowie and David Byrne. He said he is honored and excited to curate this festival. Tickets for Meltdown go on sale to the general public March 15. As for the band as a whole, the Cure last toured in 2016, and are doing a large anniversary concert in Britain this July. Here’s hoping they add some more concerts in 2018!
Depeche Mode Tour
Depeche Mode is in the midst of the European leg of their tour to support their latest album “Spirit”, and the shows have gotten great reviews. The music tour was the 6th highest grossing for 2017, almost as much as bands like U2 and Coldplay. They recently announced that they will play in North America for a series of 9 shows this summer. This includes the roughly 20,000-seat United Center in Chicago. Also, the band did something quite interesting with their Facebook page last March: they allowed the fans to take it over for a year. Check out their page!
Cars Albums Reissued
In anticipation of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, 2 iconic new wave albums from the Cars will soon be reissued with roughly 7 extra tracks each. “Shake it Up” and “Heartbeat City” are the chosen albums this time, and will be available in CD, vinyl, and digital formats. The bonus material includes unreleased tracks and demos. The Cars’ earlier albums were previously given the expanded reissue treatment. I haven’t heard yet if the Cars will be attending or performing at April’s induction ceremony in Cleveland, as it has been about 7 years since they last toured.
Simple Minds Album Reviews
Simple Minds’ album “Walk Between Worlds” recently got released and some of the reviews are starting to come in. The Independent only gave it 2 stars out of 5. The way I read their review the reviewer was upset that the band harkened back to their earlier sound, rather than the celtic-acoustic rock remakes of their hits that came out last year. I personally don’t think there’s something automatically wrong with going back to one’s roots musically, provided it’s done well. The Allmusic review is more favorable of “Walk Between Worlds”, and hailing it as a strong return to form. I would like to hear your take on this latest album.
Kim Wilde New Album
In an episode 4 weeks ago I mentioned Kim Wilde’s upcoming album “Here Come the Aliens”. The lead single recently got released, named “Pop Don’t Stop” and there’s a cool video to go along with it. The song and video are appropriately an homage to catchy pop music, of which Kim Wilde was a part of in the ‘80s. Her brother Ricky co-wrote the album with Kim, and even plays guitar and sings on “Pop Don’t Stop”. Funny thing about the album title is that it is based on a UFO sighting that Kim said she had years ago. She mentioned that her biggest fear was being abducted and forced to sing her hits to them.
Elvis Costello has continued to keep his dance card full. He is contributing a track on an album that contains Johnny Cash writings that Johnny himself never committed to music. Costello and other artists musically interpreted these writings. That album, called “Johnny Cash: Forever Words”, is due to drop in April. Several years ago he did something similar with The New Basement Tapes, which interpreted Bob Dylan writings. He is also scheduled to perform at various venues in the world, including some festivals. Though he recently canceled shows at the Wynn Las Vegas in response to allegations of sexual misconduct by Wynn.
Gary Numan Interview
Gary Numan spoke with the Yorkshire Post about his latest album dubbed “Savage”, and current events. Numan mentioned he cried like a baby when his Savage hit #2 in the UK charts, as it had done much better than the predecessor “Splinter”. He has been living in the United States for quite some time now, and Numan says he has embraced the American life. That being said, he doesn’t like how the last presidential election turned out, and he explains what bothers him with the current president. You can go to the Yorkshire Post’s website and listen to the interview in its entirety.
Discussion of 1984 Songs
Now that we talked about the news, let’s get into some new wave songs from 1984. 1984 was a year where new wave songs continued to make strong showings in the charts, both by newly-minted musicians and more established acts.
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to Have Fun
We will kick off 1984 with a discussion of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Cyndi Lauper was the frontwoman for the oldies-inspired band Blue Angel before deciding to strike out on her own in 1984. Her debut album “She’s So Unusual” was a big smash and contained the hit “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Originally a Mike Hazard song from 1979, Lauper refashioned “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” as a feminist anthem. The rapid synthesizer intro makes it quickly recognizable. A 4-note keyboard riff forms the backbone of the sections before the verses. Lauper has a distinct, endearing singing voice, which is influenced by her heavy Queens accent. The music and vocals are both full of vigor. The lyrics are pretty straightforward, Lauper is telling her parents that she is a free spirit. Also, that girls like her want to have fun and be noticed. “I want to be the one to walk in the sun” Lauper explains. The video is as iconic as they come, garnering over half a billion views on Youtube. In it, Lauper’s character rebels against her mom and dad, the latter played by wrestler Lou Albano. She then gets marshalls her friends and they dance across New York City. The video ends with the gang taking the party back to Lauper’s house. Lauper has an irreverent fashion in the video that makes it all the more distinctive. It’s a real feel-good video! “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” hit #2 both in the United States and as an export to the UK. After the “She’s So Unusual” album, Lauper had a few more hits, but unfortunately could not keep up fame-wise with the likes of contemporary Madonna. She started to become more underground in the ‘90s, but kept on making records and still does to this day.
Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
Next up is “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins. The Thompson Twins, who were actually a trio of unrelated individuals, debuted in 1981 in had some hits in the UK, but they were not well known in the States until their 4th album in 1984 dubbed “Into the Gap” which contained “Hold Me Now”. For “Hold Me Now”, the keyboard intro with soft drums is simple but memorable. The melody is also basic and not as ambitious as some of the other songs off “Into the Gap”. The song has a warm bassline by Tom Bailey that is pretty good. Overall, I would say the song’s main strength is the emotional vocals, also by Bailey, which really tug at the heartstrings. The falsetto backup vocals in the chorus by member Joe Leeway add some spice to the song. I think “Hold Me Now” is about a relationship that is on the rocks. The line “Look at our life now, tattered and torn”, in context of the song, suggests that. Nevertheless, I believe the singer wants to reconcile and be comforted, as implied by the song title and the phrase “stay with me”. It is kind of a sad song if you think about it. The video is not quite as iconic as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, as it consists solely of the band performing in front of a blue backdrop that turns red near the song’s climax. There are split screen effects, and the band plays various instruments. “Hold Me Now” was good for a top 10 position in both the US and UK. The Thompson Twins had some more modest hits in the ‘80s, including “King for a Day”, but stopped making albums after the early ‘90s, when quite a few other new wave bands hit the skids. Tom Bailey still tours, playing the Thompson Twins songs.
Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
Let’s keep on moving with Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride”. The native New Yorker Wilder was part of the folk rock duo Matthew and Peter in the early ‘70s, and came back a decade later as a solo artist with a quite different, synth-oriented sound. His debut in 1983 contained the 3-minute pop gem “Break My Stride”. A bouncy, repetitive synth forms the basis of the song. A exclamatory “Oh!” and a subsequent key change after the bridge is a testament to the pop leanings of “Break My Stride”. Wilder’s singing is enthusiastic; both his singing and the melody perhaps have a bit of a reggae bend to them. The effervescent melody and vocals are countered by the content of the song which is about breaking up. The choruses are from the ex-girlfriend’s point of view. She wants to put the relationship behind her fast, hence the line “ain’t nothing gonna break my stride” and “I’ve got to keep on moving”. By song’s end he borrows what she said and tries to move on himself. So even though the song talks about a relationship breaking up, to many it sounds inspirational, telling the listeners that sometimes change is for the best, and one can be resilient. Wilder really wanted to have a video for “Break My Stride”, but unfortunately it never materialized. Despite the lack of MTV love, “Break My Stride” was a top 10 hit in the United States and Britain. Wilder was truly a one-hit wonder. But he rebounded, much like the characters in “Break My Stride”, and in the ‘90s had success producing new wave-influenced band No Doubt’s multi-platinum “Tragic Kingdom” album. Wilder even got nominated for a Grammy, Golden Globe, and Oscar for soundtrack work. As for “Break My Stride” itself, it has been heavily covered and sampled.
Depeche Mode – People are People
“People are People” is the next song I will discuss, an early classic by Depeche Mode. This British band started out in 1981 with a peppy synth-pop sound that grew slowly darker throughout the early ‘80s. Their 4th album, “Some Great Reward”, lived up to its name, and it included their 1st American hit in “People Are People”. One of the hallmarks of the song is the machine-sounding synths and sound effects, something that Depeche Mode was experimenting with in the early ‘80s and that industrial musicians used later on. David Gahan sings in a higher register than his usual baritone, with Martin Gore providing backup vocals as a good counterpoint. I think the lyrics are a call against general bigotry. The narrator is on the receiving end of someone’s hate, even though the 2 people have never met. There are some good lines in there, like “It just takes a while to travel from your head to your fist”, referring to human decency. The video for “People are People” features the band reluctantly manning a warship while singing the lyrics. The band is decked out in black, which in part made them favored by goth fans. These shots of Depeche Mode are interspersed with black-and-white war footage. Depeche Mode is said to be embarrassed by this song. It’s not the darkest or most subtle song they have done for sure, but I think it is solid! “People are People” hit #13 in the US charts and was a #4 in the UK. It was their biggest hit of the ‘80s. Depeche Mode had a career revival in the ‘90s at a time where many ‘80s acts struggled mightily. And they got nominated to the Rock Hall of Fame to boot. They are still making new music and playing at arenas, check out their stuff!
Nena – 99 Luftballons
Let’s end our look at 1984 with “99 Luftballons” by Nena. Nena debuted in 1982, scoring several hits in German-speaking countries. In 1984, Nena’s “99 Luftballons“ almost cracked the top of the US charts at #2 even though the song’s lyrics are in German. It goes to show that new wave allowed for diverse songs and points of view. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus was the only German-language song to perform better, perhaps more on that song in another episode. There was an English version of “99 Luftballons”, but the German is usually preferred by music fans. For the intro, Nena starts singing over a slow synth, and the song deliberately builds energy and tempo. Nena sings with good intensity and inflection. The guitar and drums during the verses have a punk energy to them, which, along with splashes of high-pitched organs, remind me of an earlier new wave song. Maybe something Blondie would have recorded. The ending is eerie and matches the content. About the content: the song is a devastating critique of the Cold War between the Americans and Soviets that dominated post-World War 2 politics. 99 red balloons get released in the sky which each side perceives as an attack by the other side. The result: nuclear holocaust. There are some cool references to UFOs and Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. The video mostly consists of Nena and her band performing. There are also shots of Nena walking across the barren landscape, with smoke bomb powder behind her. Pretty prosaic at first, but things get interesting about ⅔ through, as nuclear bombs go off in the background. I gotta say, the band is pretty calm during all this. The band Nena had quite a few albums after “99 Luftballons” but would not make another hit in the United States.