True New Wave seems to be slowly disappearing from terrestrial radio. You still hear some, Duran Duran, The Cars, Blondie and U2, for example, as these stations merge them into Pop and Classic Rock stations. But look for Depeche Mode, The Smiths, or Echo and the Bunnymen and you won’t find them. Luckily we have Pandora, Slacker and Sirius XM to go to. New Wave encompasses many different bands and musical styles and we want it to still be around and be heard since classic New Wave is deeper and more advanced than just synthesizers and weird hair. The music holds up and with so many of these bands still touring in small venues, we thought it would be a good time to bring back our Treacherous Friend to help us compile some of our favorite New Wave music.
I love New Wave music, it’s my favorite genre just edging out classic 70’s music. It was my youth and with the help of MTV was what I heard most often, at least the most popular stuff, A-ha, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, etc. I tend to like my New Wave with keyboards and British so my list won’t be a huge surprise. With the advent of streaming services, I have really been able to dig into some back catalog and non-album tracks.
- “Love Action (I Believe in Love)”, Human League (1980) – Not the HL’s biggest hit but their first known single. Love the sound of the band the Male, Female, Female gives them their unique sound.
- “I Melt With You”, Modern English (1982) – Burger King almost killed this song but it’s still a classic one-hit-wonder.
- “In A Big Country”, Big Country (1983) – The rare time when I enjoy a bagpipe. “Fields of Fore” also great.
- “Killing Moon”, Echo & The Bunnymen (1984) – Echo has a great body of work but this song has such a perfect mood and unfortunately recently got into a commercial.
- “Space Age Love Song”, Flock Of Seagulls (1982) – I know “I Ran” is more popular but this is a great track and they have more, not a one-hit-wonder group.
- “All of This and Nothing”, Psychedelic Furs (1981) – Talk Talk Talk is a great album that also has the original “Pretty in Pink”. This track is a standout and also became the name of their greatest hits.
- “Vacation”, The Go-Go’s (1982) – I go American for my favorite all-girl new wave band. I hear this song every time its vacation time. The drumming is outstanding. The Go-Go’s completely underrated and seems to get a bad rap but they are bad-ass.
- “Oblivious”, Aztec Camera (1983) – Minor new wave band and a song that is not a hit here. Also another Scottish band this time with no bagpipes.
- “Don’t Tell Me”, Blancmange (1984) – Another band no one knows but I discovered them recently and this song could have fit on any radio station in the ’80s.
- “Postcards from Paradise”, Flesh for Lulu (1987) – I have mentioned this band before and they should be heard by more people, they have a little bit of everything, I love this track later remade by the Goo-Goo Dolls and Paul Westerberg.
Bonus: Once Upon A Time, Simple Minds (1985) – For my bonus, I wanted to mention my favorite full New Wave album and it goes to Simple Minds, Once Upon a time always makes my desert island list, every song is great.
MG: I’m shocked not to see Depeche Mode represented on your list. “In A Big Country” would make my top 100 songs. “Love Action” is a tune I’ve only heard recently, and is a nice change from their overplayed hits. Unfortunately, I think BK did ruin “I Melt With You” for me – such a shame to see some great tracks being ruined in shitty ads over the past few years. I guess those ads are aimed at our demo. 100% agree on Once Upon a Time.
TF: Some great deeper cuts here. “Oblivious” is a favorite – Roddy Frame just doesn’t get enough credit. Echo & The Bunnymen and your Flock Of Seagulls choice are also all-time favorites. I guess I’m the only one of us who doesn’t associate Modern English with Burger King, so I have that going for me. Then again, if I could still be collecting royalty checks for work I did in my twenties, I wouldn’t hesitate.
When I was younger, I didn’t consider myself a fan of New Wave, although, in reality, a good chunk of my favorite 80’s tracks would fall into that category. Lately, I’ve been listening to the Sirius XM channel First Wave, which has opened up the genre for me and exposed me to the non-top 40 tracks I had previously overlooked or never heard. Historically, I had thought of New Wave as more underground, so I didn’t think bands with huge success like The Cars, U2, INXS or Duran Duran could be put in that category, but it’s really an umbrella category for a ton of sub-genres (one book about New Wave identified 130 categories), so debating what is and isn’t New Wave is a foolish argument. My list is a mix of ones I’ve liked for years and others I’ve recently discovered.
- “Moving In Stereo”, Cars (1978) – The Cars are now considered more classic rock, but this synth-heavy early track from them is definitely riding the wave.
- “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”, Talking Heads (1980) – I consider the amazing album Remain In Light as one musical composition, and this just happens to be the lead-off track.
- “Sex Dwarf”, Soft Cell (1981) – As odd as its title, yet strangely a favorite of Sirius’ First Wave channel. It is nothing at all like their enduring megahit “Tainted Love”.
- “Don’t Go”, Yaz (1982) – A lot of subsequent New Wave artists cite Yaz (Yazoo in their native UK) as an influence. Listen to their first album Upstairs at Eric’s and you can see why.
- “Talk Talk”, Talk Talk (1982) – Ah, the rare eponymous song title. I love the combo of synths and piano in this.
- “Words”, Missing Persons (1982) – I think vocalist Dale Bozzio’s voice bothered me as a kid, but I’ve come to appreciate several of the tracks off their first album.
- “Pale Shelter”, Tears For Fears (1983) – Before they hit it big, they made the album The Hurting, which is so well-written and composed throughout.
- “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984) – It has a bit of an odd and long intro, but once it kicks in it’s a fun track. Not to be confused with Thunderdome – also from the ’80s.
- “Dead Man’s Party”, Oingo Boingo (1985) – This band was founded by Danny Elfman, who would go on to score almost all of Tim Burton’s films.
- “Dear God”, XTC (1986) – XTC is a band that I’ve been digging into their catalog recently. They have an interesting mix of self-deprecating humor and darker themed tracks like this one.
Bonus: Dizrythmia, Split Enz (1977) – For whatever reason, the Enz do not get enough credit for their contributions to the New Wave scene. Between their synth-influenced music, make-up & crazy hair, and avant-garde videos (long before other bands were making them), they helped define the calling cards of New Wave music. “Bold As Brass”, the lead-off track, was like their mantra and calling card.
DJ: For me it’s Split Enz’s Mental Notes album, they were doing New Wave before it was a thing, truly amazing. Seeing Missing Persons on here is cool. XTC is another cool band that doesn’t get enough credit and “Dear God” is a brutal condemnation of religion and I love it. Soft Cell gets painted with “Tainted Love” track which is nothing like their original stuff. Wasn’t a huge Talking Heads fan growing up just liked some of their hits but over the last couple years really got into their album tracks.
TF: You hit on a couple of my favorites with XTC and Tears For Fears, the latter of which I finally got to see live a couple of years ago, on Curt Smith’s birthday, no less. Oingo Boingo is one of those bands I got really into for a very brief period – I definitely need to go back and revisit Danny Elfman’s early stuff.
I feel like New Wave is right in my wheelhouse. Even when I was listening to Top 40 in my teens, it was often the weirder and unique music that lodged in my earholes, so stuff like “Blinded by Science” or “Mexican Radio” or even electro-swing vanguard “Puttin’ On The Ritz” captured my attention and became minor obsessions. As I got older, I started gravitating toward some of the more “alternative” music (much as I’ve always loathed that label as a genre marker), much of which grew out of the New Wave scene. And, lest we forget, here’s a reminder that “there’s no such thing as New Wave.”
- “Scarlet Beautiful” The Beloved (1990) – Despite debuting in 1990, I’ve always felt The Beloved had a New Wave sensibility and their Happiness album fits right in on this list
- “Wot!” Captain Sensible (1982) – Completely nonsensical, the Captain’s transition from punk to pop is still one of my favorite goofy songs from the era
- “Savage” Eurythmics (1987) – New Wave stalwarts Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox seemed to make each album better than the last, and late entry Savage is no exception. Earlier cuts may be bigger hits, but few were better.
- “Drama” Erasure (1989) – Mike mentioned Depeche Mode and Yaz, so I figured we should complete the Vince Clarke trifecta with Erasure. Another late-era consideration that ranks up there with all of their best-known hits and Andy Bell’s voice is super powerful on this cut.
- “One More Time” Joe Jackson (1979) – Joe Jackson often defied categorization, but that was one of the hallmarks of New Wave. The first song off his first album finds him closer to Elvis Costello’s post-punk angry young man and it just plain rocks.
- “Dancin’ At The Bains Douches” Kid Creole & The Coconuts (1987) – A cold war apocalypse fantasy, “Dancin’…” is a happier take on a “99 Luftballoons” scenario, one where everyone’s partying like it’s 1999.
- “The Promise” When In Rome (1988) – Maybe the biggest “hit” on my list, this is only coincidentally New Wave; I love the song for its chiming melody on the chorus and the desperation of its earnestness.
- “We Close Our Eyes” Go West (1985) – The most quintessentially New Wave song I can think of – the enormous synth riff that propels this song forward exemplifies everything I love about this omni-genre in just a handful of notes.
- “You Take Me Up” Thompson Twins (1984) – Oft-overlooked outfit The Thompson Twins take a blue-collar approach on this minor single from their smash Into The Gap – like if Bruce Springsteen had fronted Kajagoogoo. Rare New Wave harmonica.
- “Whirly Girl” OXO (1983) – I never get tired of this cut – all major keys and bouncy synths, it’s a party in your pocket with a committed bass line that keeps the whole thing swinging.
Bonus: Low & “Heroes,” David Bowie (1977) – While Bowie was far too established to be New Wave, himself, the first two albums of his “Berlin trilogy” certainly set the scene for a new movement to take over. The accessibility of tracks like “Joe The Lion” and “Sound And Vision” paired with the challenging electronic Eno collaborations, cuts that brought electronics to the fore in a way seldom seen on mainstream albums to this point. Not simply influential, a case could be made that these were the first two New Wave albums. Maybe proto-New-Wave.
DJ: I thought for sure one of you would pick Depeche Mode, “Just Can’t Get Enough” is pure New Wave. Big Go West fan, for what that’s worth, not a huge output there and also a huge Erasure fan. “Drama” is a good track. I was just listening to “Endicott” the other day and never thought the Kid Creole would fit into new Wave but it’s a big category. I saw an article that included some Billy Joel as New Wave.
MG: The Thompson Twins are one of my favorite 80’s bands, so it’s nice to see them represented. “Savage” is a cool track that I had forgotten about, but just added to one of my playlists. Bowie is certainly an icon of New Wave – one of those artists it’s hard to pick one song from, so choosing to represent him via an album(s) is a good choice. I’m surprised to see some big acts left off by the three of us – such as Squeeze, Thomas Dolby, Smiths, The Cure and of course Depeche Mode.