Archive for category New Wave

“Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads (1984)

The Talking Heads were pioneers in new wave music, and later developed into a band that introduced new instrumentation and sounds into popular music. The group was led by frontman David Bryne, along with Jerry Harrison (guitars), Chris Franz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). Franz and Weymouth were married, and later formed the successful side-project The Tom Tom Club. The Talking Heads combined elements of punk, new wave, and synth music – along with a flair for visual style that was featured in the group’s videos and in film.

After a series of acclaimed albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Heads broke through into the pop top 10 with “Burning Down the House.” This propelled the group to greater acclaim and recognition of their earlier work, including “Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime”, and “Take Me to the River”.

In 1984, the group’s concert film Stop Making Sense was directed by Jonathan Demme. The movie was the first made using digital audio techniques and featured an unique ongoing building of a set during the concert. Footage of the audience was scarce but the sound quality and the energy of the performance was legendary. The film is noted for Byrne’s “big suit” during “Girlfriend is Better”, an often parodied visual.

One key track from the film was a 1982 single for the band, “Once in a Lifetime“. The song had not charted but was popular among modern rock fans. The lyrics are said to be about midlife crisis and the sacrifice of youthful dreams. In the film, the song is presented in a single take with no edits.

The Stop Making Sense soundtrack went double platinum, as did the Heads’ follow-up album Little Creatures in 1985. The sound for this album was much more commercial, thought he band did retreat back into art-rock territory for their next two albums, one of which served as as the basis for the songs in in the film True Stories (directed by Bryne). After 1988′s African-influenced Naked, the Talking Heads broke up. Bryne had a solo career, including an Oscar for film scoring.  Harrison, Weymouth and Franz reunited in 1996 under the moniker “The Heads.”

“Lies” by Thompson Twins (1982)

The Thompson Twins were a U.K. synthpop trio who scored a number of hits during the mid-1980s. They were lead by Tom Bailey (keyboards/vocals/songwriting), Alannah Currie (percussion) and Joe Leeway (percussion). Bailey and Currie later became a couple.

An early incarnation of the band featured seven members, but the trio decided to continue without the others. The band’s first substantial hit was “In the Name of Love”, which was a number one dance hit in early 1982. Their follow-up single “Lies” brought them even more exposure, also hitting number one on the dance charts but more importantly breaking the top 30. The song featured Currie on background vocals and placed emphasis on analog percussion elements mixed with eastern-influened keyboard riffs. The song was a big hit on modern rock radio.

The group’s next album would be their commercial peak. Into the Gap was issued in 1984 and was a slow-building but ultimately platinum selling album. “Hold Me Now” featured Leeway on background vocals and was a slow-tempo ballad that was popular with young music fans. The song hit the top 5 in both the U.K. and America, followed by other big hits “Doctor Doctor”, “You Take Me Up” and “The Gap”. In 1985, the group scored two other top 10 singles with “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “King for a Day”. Several minor hits, including the theme song for the movie Nothing in Common, followed over the next several years.

By the end of the decade Leeway had left the group and the group was focusing producing other artists and raising a family. The group’s last song came from 1992 on the Cool World soundtrack. Bailey and Currie formed another band, Babble, in the mid-1990s.

“I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls (1982)

A Flock of Seagulls hailed from Liverpool and were lead by brothers Mike Score (keyboards, vocals) and Ali Score (drums), along with Frank Maudsley (bass) and Paul Reynolds (guitar). The group’s mix of keyboards and guitars, along with Mike Score’s distinctive haircut, epitomized the early 1980s New Wave sound (though, if you wanted to be technical, the group was most closely associated with the New Romantic sound). The group’s most popular and effective songs were produced with a layered instrumentation with a rich mix. “D.N.A.” from the group’s first album won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The group is best known for their breakthough hit “I Ran (So Far Away)“. The song was the lead single from their self-titled debut album and was one of the biggest hits of it’s era. The song was a top 10 hit on the pop, rock, and dance charts, and charted well in other countries (though it did poorly in the U.K.). The album was also a top 10 hit and eventually was certified Gold in the U.S.

Flock of Seagulls had a few other hits, including “Wishing (I Had a Photograph of You)”, “Space Age Love Song”, and “The More You Live, the More You Love”. But squabbles among the group caused the original members to disband by 1986. Thereafter Mike Score would lead a revolving door of hired hands to perform “I Ran” and other songs on the revival circuit.

“Need You Tonight” by INXS (1987)

For a time, INXS was among the biggest bands in the world as they blended modern music along with soul and other influences, all tied together in an attractive package led by their charismatic but trouble frontman, Michael Hutchence. Formed in Australia in 1977, the band initially through through with some early new wave singles such as “The One Thing” and “Original Sin”. By 1985, their music migrated to a more straight-ahead rock approach, with their breakthrough single “What You Need”.

In the fall of 1987, INXS returned with Kick, an album influence by R&B and containing more programmed elements. Atlantic Records offered the group $1 million to re-record the album, but the band insisted. It turned out to be the group’s biggest album, eventually selling more than six million copies in the U.S.  The lead single was “Need You Tonight” which definitely was more of a pop/crossover hit than a rock hit (though it was played on many Modern Rock stations). The song’s dancable beat was countered by a strong guitar riff from Andrew Farriss, and the unique music video also added to the appeal. On the album and in the video, the song was paired with “Mediate” which was influenced by Bob Dylan’s cue-card heavy music video for “Subterreanean Homesick Blues”.  ”Need You Tonight” hit number one in the U.S., and three further Kick tracks followed it into the top ten: “Devil Inside”, “Never Tear Us Apart” and “New Sensation”.

INXS returned in 1990 with the 2x platinum release X, containing the infection lead single “Suicide Blonde“. The song was said to be about a woman who bleached her hair after it was “dyed”. Years later, the song has been viewed differently.  But the band’s slide was evident. In 1992, Welcome to Wherever You Are only went Platinum, and 1993′s Full Moon Dirty Hearts didn’t even make Gold. The band returned in 1997 with Elegantly Wasted which continued the commercial slide.

Though not much of a tabloid figure in the U.S., Hutchence was definitely so in Australia and in England. Caught in a love-triangle with Bob Geldof and his wife Paula Yates, and also suffering from substance abuse, Hutchence hung himself in November 1997. Perhaps it was a suicide, or maybe it was an accident gone wrong. This author witnessed Hutchence’s solemn tribute in concert the night Kurt Cobain was found dead, but that doesn’t mean the singer wasn’t similarly troubled.

INXS essentially disbanded thereafter, but returned for the TV show Rock Star: INXS where they auditioned a new lead singer. J.D. Fortune was the winner of the competition and the group returned to the Top 40 charts with the song “Pretty Vegas”. The group returned in 2010 with a tribute album of old hits recorded with other singers.

“Vienna Calling” by Falco (1986)

Falco hold the unique position of being the first and only artist who principally spoke German to score a number one hit in the United States. Hailing from Vienna, Austria, Johan Holzel went by the stage name Falco. His first album was issued in 1982 and featured the hit “Der Komissar”. That song was a big hit across Europe and on underground New Wave stations, but it took a rerecorded version by the band After the Fall to hit the American charts with a version sung in English. The song also featured rap elements.

Falco hit the American charts with “Rock Me Amadeus” in 1985, the lead single from Falco 3. The song combined narration, Falco’s singing in German, and English-speaking background singers and capitalized on the Mozart craze after the movie Amadeus. The song hit number one in the spring of 1986.

But Falco was no one-hit-wonder. His follow-up single “Vienna Calling” also hit the Top 20, thanks to some great production work and a very dancable beat. As I’ve noted on my personal blog, the lyrics have nothing to do with being homesick for your hometown. Nonetheless, the song is one my favorites from the era.

Falco issued several more albums that were all big hits in Europe, though further U.S. eluded him. Sadly, the singer was killed in an auto accident at the age of 41 in 1998.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid (1984)

Band Aid was a group formed by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats, “Pink” in Pink Floyd The Wall) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) to raise money for food relief in Africa. The song featured a who’s who of popular British musicians and became the “Christmas number one” in England. It has since inspired re-recordings in 1989 and 2004, along with other similar efforts including the U.S. “We Are the World”.

Do They Know It’s Christmas” was written by Geldof and Ure, and recorded on November 25, 1984. The single was issued just four days later and immediately hit number one, selling a million copies in the first week. It has sold over 3 million copies, the largest number in Britain until Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” in 1997.

The participation was largely based on the popular New Wave groups of the day, including members of The Police, U2, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Wham!, Bananarama, Heaven 17, Spandau Ballet, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Big Country. Solo artists within that genre included Paul Young and Paul Weller. A notable exception to the genre was Phil Collins who played drums on the track.

“Sweet Dream (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics (1983)

Eurythmics were a musical duo lead by singer Annie Lennox and producer-instrumentalist Dave Stewart. Their synthpop sounds and unique persona made them a popular act throughout the 1980s. The two were romantically involved, though after the couple broke up Stewart later married ex-Bananarama singer Siobhan Fahey.

The Eurythmics second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) was a commercial breakthrough for the group. Led by the title track, the album featured drum machines and analog synthsizers, along with Lennox’s soulful voice. “Love is a Stranger” was a key hit on the album, though it flopped on initial release. Only after “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” did the song chart.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” broke the band on both side of the Atlantic, where it hit number one in the U.S. and number two in the U.K. The song’s bouncing beat and catchy chorus made the song a big hit on the dance floors. The memorable music video leveraged Lennox’s short-cropped hair and charisma, as well as some quirky fetishization of technology. In 1995, the song was covered by Marilyn Manson, the first chart hit for that group as well.

The Eurythmics scored a number of hit singles and albums for the rest of the decade. The group broke up in 1990, as Stewart was much in-demand as a producer and Lennox embarked on a successful solo career. The group reunited for an album in 1999 and a song in 2005.

Marilyn Manson version

“It’s a Mistake” by Men at Work (1983)


Men at Work recorded their second album, Cargo, during the summer of 1982. But release of the album had to wait to the following spring when Business as Usual was a monster hit the U.S. and other markets outside Australia. The album actually probably caused Business as Usual to lose sales, as several songs could have been issued as singles but weren’t. Cargo’s lead single was “Overkill”, a sax-fronted song filled with melancholy. It debuted at #29 in the U.S. (very high for that time period) and finished at number three becoming the band’s third consecutive top 10 hit. Cargo would eventually go 3x Platinum.

“Overkill” was followed by the summer hit “It’s a Mistake“. The song’s video featured the same goofy band members seen in previous videos, but the song’s content related to the Cold War and threat of nuclear war. The song references President Reagan and overall is sort of a cynical look at nuclear politics. Unlike past Men at Work hits, the song’s solo was a traditional guitar solo from lead guitarist Ron Stykert. “It’s a Mistake” hit number six on the charts.

Cargo was seen by many as a song-for-song stronger album, though it lacked the monster hits like “Down Under.” A third single “Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Jive” followed in the fall and was a top 30 hit. That fall they recorded a live special for HBO in Berkeley. But, after two years of touring including high-profile appearances such as the US’83 Festival, the Men were tired.

By the time the group got back together for their next album, two members were jettisoned and by the time Gold-seller Two Hearts was released in the summer of 1985, Men at Work basically consisted of vocalist Colin Hay and sax/flutist Greg Ham. Poorly received singles and use of drum machines turned off many fans, and by 1986 Men at Work was done. Hay carved out a solo career, including appearances on Scrubs and on the Garden State soundtrack. Hay/Ham reunited several times over the years, including a widely popular tour of Brazil in 1996 and at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

“Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling (1983)

Peter Schilling was a German new wave synthpop singer who’s songs were mostly sung in German but who lucked into a worldwide hit when he re-recorded his song “Major Tom (Coming Home)” in English. Obviously referencing the Major Tom character from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, the song tells the story about someone caught in space via an accident.  He tells mission control to “Give my wife my love” before falling back to Earth (presumably to his death). The song was a top 15 hit in the United States and reached number one in some other markets.

Schilling’s 1982-1983 albums feature a number of very good new wave songs, with excellent mix of guitars and keyboards. In 1988, Schilling returned for one last hurrah with his comeback hit “A Different Story (The World of Lust and Crime)” which charted in the United States. He continues to perform occasionally.

“Down Under” by Men at Work (1982)

Men at Work were a straight-ahead bar band from Australia who modified their sound ever so slightly and caught the New Wave of music in the early 1980s. Led by Scottish-born singer-guitarist Colin Hay, the band also featured Greg Ham (sax, flute, keyboards, vocals), Ron Strykert (guitars), John Rees (bass), and Jerry Speiser (drums). The group’s quirky image and exotic (Australian) heritage made them very appealing to fans in 1982 who were caught waiting for the next Police record. Their breakthrough album Business As Usual was a massive hit and the group soon became superstars of their era for a period of about eighteen months. At various times, the group held both the number one album and number one single in both the U.S. and the U.K., a first for an Australian group.

“Down Under” was originally written in 1979 and appeared as the B-side to Men at Work’s debut indie single “Keypunch Operator”. The song was rewritten when the group was signed by Columbia and they recorded Business as Usual in 1981. Issued in Australia in late 1981, the album was not an immediate hit especially overseas. “Who Can it Be Now?” was the first single and was a number two hit in Australia in August 1981, but took some time to break in the U.K. and America. By summer 1982, the album and single were released and starting to build steam. “Who Can it Be Now?” hit number one in the U.S. in October and Business as Usual took the top spot in mid-November. Incredibly, the album stayed at number one for 15 consecutive weeks, eventually selling more than six million copies in the U.S.

Finally released as a proper single, “Down Under” was an even bigger hit for Men at Work. The song hit number one across the world, including Australia, U.S., U.K., and elsewhere. The song tells the tale of a proud Australian traveling the globe, and features numerous references to the country’s traditions. Hay said “The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the over-development of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It’s really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It’s really more than that.”  The very popular music video features Australian elements, such as the koala bear attached to Greg Ham, but the final scene with the group’s members dressed in white with their manservants dressed in black is certainly symbolic. “Down Under” of course incorporate reggae elements and Ham’s flute solo became quite popular as well.

“Down Under” has become an unofficial anthem for Australia. It was used as an anthem when Australia won The America’s Cup in 1983. Hay and Ham performed the song during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In 2009, a judge ruled that some parts of the flute solo were copied from the Australian song “Kookaburra“, though the song itself did not infringe (as demonstrated by the 1979 version of the song). Men at Work had to pay 5% of the royalties of the song as a result.

By early 1983, Men at Work was massively popular. Other songs from Business as Usual also received heavy radio play, including “Be Good Johnny” (a top 10 Australian single), “Underground”, and “Helpless Automation” (with Ham on lead vocals). The chugging guitars and colorful singing by Hay made the album an early staple of modern rock radio. That spring, the group won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, beating out the likes of Asia, The Human League, and The Stray Cats. During the group’s acceptance speech, Hay declared “We are the men, and we will be back.”