Are We Not New Wave?
Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Tracking Pop
Like many historical narratives, the story of rock music is one organized around a succession of cycles. The music’s production, reception, and mythology are typically situated as part of a constantly renewing periodic phenomenon, intimately tied to the ebb and flow of adolescent or youth generations. This periodization finds its most conspicuous form in the...
One: Tracking the Tide: The New Wave Washes In and Out
The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines a new wave as “a movement, trend, or vogue, as in art, literature, or politics, that breaks with traditional concepts, values, techniques, or the like.”1 There are numerous examples that fit this bill, ranging from the 1960s new wave of British theater and the influential early 1980s New Wave of British Heavy Metal to, of...
Two: The Second British Invasion and Its Aftermath: From New Pop to Modern Rock
Ever since the new wave label had been thrust upon radio programmers, record retailers, and consumers via Seymour Stein’s aggressive marketing campaign for Sire Records in the late 1970s, the genre had been intimately intertwined with the machinery of the American music industry. In England, however, new wave’s presence was much more fleeting. The genre...
Three: From Neurasthenia to Nervousness: The Whiteness of the New Wave
The Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense remains one of new wave’s definitive artistic statements, an adventurous cinematic portrait of a band long associated with the genre’s most experimental proclivities. As conceived by the Talking Heads’ front man David Byrne and director Jonathan Demme, the movie intentionally unfolds as a three-act theatrical...
Four: Camp! Kitsch! Trash! New Wave and the Politics of Irony
In his remarks on Wild Planet music critic Frank Rose deploys a tactic common to nearly every B-52’s review: he grounds the group’s aesthetic in their recycling of pop culture’s distant past, a dizzying parade of 1960s television reruns, forgotten female pop singers, novelty dances, and teenage Beach Party movies. ...
Five: “(I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again”: Power Pop and the Mining of Rock’s Modern Past
In the summer of 1979, as Billboard magazine declared that the new wave was finally having a “significant impact on the U.S. market,” no recording signified the genre’s newfound success as dramatically as the Knack’s “My Sharona.”1 The Los Angeles quartet’s debut single emerged seemingly from out of nowhere to land atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six straight...
Six: “Roll Over Guitar Heroes, Synthesizers Are Here . . .”
At the height of new wave’s popularity in the early 1980s, no musical instrument symbolized the movement’s modern identity more fully than the synthesizer. The synthesizer had first found its way into rock music at the end of the 1960s, and from the very beginning its ability to produce striking timbres and fantastical sound effects ensured that it would be viewed as...
Seven: Kings of the Wild Frontier
From its very beginnings in the mid-1970s, new wave was characterized by its maddeningly diverse collective identity, a trait that made it difficult to define as a movement. Anyone surveying the new wave landscape at the dawning of the 1980s need not have looked far to find proof of this. Two of the most successful new wave groups at that time, Adam and the Ants and...
Epilogue: The New Wave Revival
By the early years of the twenty-first century, new wave had lain dormant within pop culture’s past for nearly two decades. However, as the music critic Simon Reynolds points out, in the new millennium the 1980s and its new wave style suddenly grew ripe for recycling. ...