Episode 3 – Songs from 1979
Tonight on New Wave Beat:
0:00 – New Wave News
5:30 – 5 songs from 1979
New Wave News
Hi, welcome to New Wave Beat. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio. OK, let’s start with some new wave news.
Michael Hutchence’s Estate
Deceased INXS frontman Michael Hutchence is estimated to be worth $227 million, but no one seems to know where the money is. According to the Sun, the man in charge of Michael’s accounts, Colin Diamond, says Hutchence died broke. Even so, wouldn’t there be a lot of residual income after his passing? Hutchence’s daughter Tiger Lily may not see any money from her dad as a result. Sadly Tiger’s mother Paula Yates died in 2000, 3 years after Hutchence, leaving Tiger an orphan. Yate’s ex-husband Bob Geldof, of Boomtown Rats and Live Aid fame, raised Tiger afterwards. So a lot of drama there.
Sweet Little Band
I was on Spotify the other tonight when I saw that a band named Sweet Little Band did a version of Duran Duran’s 2015 single “Pressure Off”. I then discovered that they do instrumental, easy-listening cover albums of artists like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, the Cure, and more. It looks like they are for children, but I found that their renditions of Hungry Like the Wolf, Wild Boys, and the aforementioned Pressure Off to be pretty good and relaxing. The album cover is a good-natured parody of Duran Duran’s 1984 live album cover dubbed “Arena”. Give it a listen if you have some time!
Musical Based on Madness Songs
A comedy musical called “Our House”, based on the songs of the band Madness, began a tour of the United Kingdom back in August and will be wrapping up this week. The writer of this show also wrote the popular Kinky Boots. According to the musical’s website, “Our House” is about a teenager, Joe, who commits a petty crime to impress a girl. When the police arrive, you see what would happen if he fessed up to the crime and also if he lied about it. So it is kind of like a humourous “Sliding Doors” in that regard. The music of Madness is dancey, fun, and a little trippy, so it seems like it would be a good fit for the narrative.
Gary Numan recently released an album called “Savage”, a concept album about a future world devastated by climate change. He spoke with the San Francisco Examiner in advance of his upcoming show in San Francisco. Numan talking about his former pastime of flying vintage World War 2 planes in air shows, and how fatherhood has changed him. He mentions that he is worried about his kids’ future because of the current state and trajectory of the world. The album itself incorporates Eastern melodies and instrumentation, and should be a good listen!
Depeche Mode’s Manager
Billboard had an interesting, rare interview with Depeche Mode manager Jonathan Kessler. In it, he mentions that the band’s creative tension is what keeps the band vital. Depeche Mode’s latest album, Spirit, has been getting the best reviews in years for the band. As they are in the middle of a massive tour, they are not going to the recording studio soon. But Kessler believes the band can go on for a while longer. He referred to the band’s drug and other issues in the mid ‘90s as experimental years that thankfully they survived through and they continued to make great music.
A-Ha is going to do a series of MTV Unplugged concerts in early 2018, breaking out their acoustic instruments. In support of this mini-tour, A-Ha will be releasing an acoustic version of “Take On Me” December 1. If this format is not your cup of tea, fear not: the band will return in the summer with a full electric band. The dates are all in Europe, including a few in their native Norway. So those in the United States will not get to see them, barring an international voyage. But who knows, maybe they will add song dates here later!
Former Big Country bassist Tony Butler has written an autobiography which is coming out soon. He discusses why he left the band in 2012. He told outlet Team Rock that the songwriting was not up to snuff in comparison to when original singer Stuart Adamson was with the band, and he only wanted to continue if the new songs would be good. Tragically Adamson had committed suicide in 2001, and Butler talks about coping with that. A solo album by Butler is available for pre-order, and he still tours in case you would like to see him live.
Banarama Tour Review
As mentioned before, Bananarama were about to tour with their original lineup for the 1st time. Well, the tour reviews are now coming in and they are solid! The band, dressed in seemingly sci-fi outfits, but on a hi-energy show, singing the hits. The four-piece backup band added punch to the songs without rebooting them. If you go on their Facebook page you can see some nice video of the shows, which may entice you to get some tickets. Incidentally the November 15th show was recorded for an upcoming live album by this reconstituted Bananarama. So exciting news all around!
Songs from 1979
Now that you are caught up with the news, let’s go over some key new wave songs from 1979. The number of new wave hits went up a lot from 1978, thus the movement was really picking up momentum!
The Knack – My Sharona
The 1st song for this episode is “My Sharona” by the Knack. The band formed in the late ‘70s, sounding somewhat like bands The Romantics and Cheap Trick. “My Sharona” was the lead single off their debut “Get the Knack”, and boy was it a gargantuan hit, staying atop the US Singles chart for 6 whole weeks. The drum hook in the beginning is quite memorable, along with the subsequent main guitar riff and flowing bass that permeate the song. The singing is energetic and passionate, featuring lead singer Doug Fieger’s stuttering vocals. For example, a couple of woos and the iconic “M-m-m-my Sharona”. The long guitar solo in the bridge is really good and complements the rest of the song nicely. The melody of the song even has a bit of surf overtones to it; I do hear it in the guitar. The lyrics talk about being turned on by a younger love interest. I believe there are hints that the singer’s lust is unrequited, for example “when you gonna give it to me”. Though I am curious to hear if you the listeners agree. The words are a little dirty, what with “always getting it up for the touch of the younger kind”. Nope, not a lot of double entendre with this one, but the melody makes up for the straightforward lyrics. No video was made for “My Sharona”, which was not unprecedented in 1979, so we give them a pass . For what it’s worth, a Youtube search 1st yields a live performance by the band. Shortly after the release of “My Sharona”, Weird Al Yankovic did the parody “My Bologna” which was in turn Weird Al’s first hit. Alas the Knack could not follow up on the success of “My Sharona” and had only 2 more albums before they broke up for almost a decade.
Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him?
Next up is Joe Jackson’s chestnut “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. Joe Jackson, not to be confused with Michael Jackson’s father, was a classically-trained musician who quickly latched on to the aggressive energy of the punk and new wave movement. He debuted in 1979 with the new wave album “Look Sharp!”, and the top 40 hit “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” came off of it. If you like Elvis Costello, there is a good chance you would like Joe Jackson. It should be noted that Joe Jackson has a less raspy voice and is a little less verbose than Costello. After the intro to “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, there is a great bassline that is distinctive due to the relatively light instrumentation of the song. Such sparseness contrasts nicely with the chorus which has more punch to it and has great vocal passion from Jackson. As far as the words are concerned, Jackson sings about his jealousy that seemingly inferior guys are getting to go out with the women he likes. Indeed, this goes well with the “angry young man” persona that Jackson liked to portray early in his career, channeling that early new wave rawness. Indeed, Jackson is lyrically acerbic, referring to the other guys around him as gorillas and denigrating the looks of Jeanie’s boyfriend, citing the boyfriend’s success as proof that looks don’t count for much. There is no official video for this song, but I can imagine it would have matched the acid wit of Joe Jackson himself. More new wave hits came from Joe Jackson but he soon explored other sub-genres, including cabaret and the blues. ‘90s pop band Sugar Ray, who have an affinity for new wave music, later covered “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”. It was a serviceable effort, but I would definitely stick with the original.
The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star
Next up for us is the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”. The Buggles consisted of vocalist and bassist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes. The 1st single off their debut album was Video Killed the Radio Star. Horn’s vocals sound like they are coming from an old-school radio. The effervescent female vocals add to the pop sheen. The song beginning with a regular piano and continuing with a synthesizer also reflects the song’s theme of one technology supplanting another. The splash of guitar right before the 2nd chorus adds more novelty to the song. Finally, the almost 1-minute outro is a reprise of the verses of the song. The lyrics deal with, well, music videos killing the radio star! The lyric “Put all the blame on VTR” refers to a video tape recorder. If you would like to get deep, “Video Killed the Radio Star” can be seen more broadly as a cautionary tale of the double-edged sword of automation. For example, a classical musician has their symphony automated by machinery and thus their songwriting credit stolen. The song reminds me of the future as envisioned by people in the ‘50s and ‘60s, perhaps like the Jetsons. This song and video found a 2nd life when it became the 1st to ever be played on MTV. Horn and Downes are wearing shiny silver suits while Horn is singing into an old-fashioned radio microphone. It should to be noted that the female vocalists, while sounding great, are worse at choreography than a fight scene in the Batman ‘60s TV show. Video Killed the Radio Star was a large worldwide hit, though it took longer to catch on in the United States. Eventually, though, it hit the top 10 there. The Buggles would only record one more album in 1982 before going on hiatus, but Video Killed The Radio Star is a memorable new wave gem. The bands Presidents of the United States and Erasure later covered this song.
Nick Lowe – Cruel to Be Kind
Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” is the next featured song on my list today. Lowe debuted in 1978 and already had his 3rd album in 1979, which included “Cruel to Be Kind”. It hit #12 in both the US and UK charts. As with Joe Jackson, there are similarities of Nick Lowe’s music with that of Elvis Costello.That makes sense since he produced Costello’s “My Aim is True”, among other albums. An acoustic guitar begins the song, and the guitars follow a simple chord structure. Then there’s Nick Lowe’s vocals which sound kind of like they were delivered from the ‘60s. Lowe seems to provide emphasis on just the right parts of the lyrics. The chorus is deceptively smooth with a female vocal harmonizing with Nick Lowe. Despite the wholesome melody, the song talks about a guy who is mired in an emotionally abusive relationship, for example, “I have you knock me back down again and again”. When confronted with this, his partner says that her cruelness is actually a gesture of endearment through lines like “you gotta be cruel to be kind in the right measure”. This melody/lyric dichotomy was employed often and to good use during the early phase of new wave. The video strayed from the lyrics quite a bit, as it is a lot more innocent. It features shots of Nick Lowe and his band performing in a lawn. He then gets in a limo to go to his wedding. The wedding footage is from Nick Lowe’s real, recent at the time wedding, giving it that air of authenticity. The couple looks like they are really having a good time, which I hope they would being this is real wedding footage. Unfortunately Nick Lowe never had another hit, and his 1st marriage ended in 1990. Lowe veered from new wave into country music for a stretch, but perhaps a country music podcast can cover that phase of his career.
B-52’s – Rock Lobster
Let’s conclude with “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s. This 5-member band from Athens Georgia was named after singers Kate Pierson’s and Cyndi Wilson’s distinctive beehive hairstyles that were popularized in the 1960’s. They drew influences from such diverse sources as the Ventures, Blondie, and even Yoko Ono. The B-52s released their debut, self-titled album in 1979. It contained the cult hit “Rock Lobster”, which was eccentric to say the least. It starts off with a surf-sounding guitar played by Ricky Wilson, and an insistent farfisa organ adds to the ‘60s pastiche. Kate Pierson and Cyndi Wilson are enthusiastically singing and shrieking and Fred Schneider provides shouted word vocals. There are long instrumental sections, and the song title repeated throughout by all 3 singers. The lyrics are really quirky with a beach theme to match the music. For example, “everybody had matching towels” and “motion in the ocean”. Toward the end of the song Schneider does a roll call of sea creatures while Pierson and Wilson make various loud noises to represent these animals. It’s 7 minutes of madness. It’s weird. And you know what, it works! This song encapsulates the fact that New Wave music did not have to conform as much as other styles of rock. The video for “Rock Lobster” also follows the beach theme put forward by the song, but also includes random brief clips of things like telephone operators on roller-skates ,and a bi-plane crashing into a barn. The last minute mostly shows the band performing live. “Rock Lobster” did quite well in Canada but failed to crack the top 40 in the United States. Unfortunately the band dealt with tragedy in 1985 when member Ricky Wilson died from AIDs. The B-52s would rebound from this and later have a massive hit at the end of the ‘80s with “Love Shack”.
And that wraps up our reviews of great songs from 1979! Join us next week as we go over Duran Duran’s classic album titled “Rio” Until then, this is Jason D’Orazio from New Wave Beat!