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Essential New Wave Tracks, Part II

“Hey Stevie baby, watcha doing?”























In the second and final (we hope to convince Steve that two is not enough  -The Editors) look at essential new wave tracks, we go beyond silly looking hair to chronicle yellow hazmat suits, energy dome hats, and the death of Marc Bolen.  I hope the chorus of “People Who Died” leaves my brain before Valentine’s Day.

 1.   “Kids in America,” Kim Wilde.  Given a choice, I would rather hear “Kids in America” rather than, say, “Sounds of Silence” 100 times out of 100.  Ironically, this delicious 1981 pop candy treat went top ten in nine countries, but only reached #25 in the States.  No one hit wonder, Wilde returned to the U.S. charts with her 1896 #1 cover version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”  She has continued to record as well as working as a landscape architect and a disc jockey. 

 2.   “Metro,” Berlin.  Berlin is best known for their 1986 #1 smash “Take My Breath Away,” one of those bloated pop ballads that will, depending upon your stamina, either cure your insomnia or make you comatose.   This 1983 MTV hit about international intrigue and a bad relationship remains by far, the band’s best number, making expert use of polyphonic synthesizer techniques.  Please, Terri Nunn, stop hating me for loving you.

 3.   “Mexican Radio,” Wall of Voodoo.   Stan Ridgway is a pop eccentric who has limited mainstream success, yet has managed to remain viable in the music industry by producing film scores, recording solo albums, and touring the club circuits in the U.S. and abroad.  Wall of Voodoo was a strange mix of new wave sound and spaghetti western effects; this odd ode to border radio was their only blip on the U.S. music scene.  Play this one loud today and scare your children.

 4.  “Mirror in the Bathroom,” The English Beat.  The English Beat never had a hit in the States, but “Mirror in the Bathroom,” which may or may not be about cocaine, and “Save it for Later” still danced their way into our public consciousness.  Ranking Roger now heads up a U.K. version of The Beat and Dave Wakeling fronts a California based version of The English Beat.  We’ll avoid further confusion by ignoring Paul Collins altogether.

 5.  “Never Say Never,” Romeo Void.  Deborah Iyall didn’t look like a central casting rock star, but she had the chutzpah to make “I might like you better if we slept together” one of the most memorable catch phrases of the early ‘80s.  The band snuck into the Top 40 with 1984’s “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing),” but broke up soon afterward.  Iyall was deservedly the star, but spirited saxophonist Benjamin Bossi was the secret weapon.

 6.  “People Who Died,” The Jim Carroll Band.  Hipster, word slinger Carroll became known in the New York arts scene due to his 1978 memoir “The Basketball Diaries,” which detailed, among other things, a heroin addiction that started at the age of 13.   With encouragement from Patti Smith, Carroll formed a band in the late ‘70s and released the album “Catholic Boy” in 1980.  “People Who Died,” with its litany of early demises, has become a sleaze rock classic.  Leonardo DiCaprio, who is currently in talks for the lead role in “The Steve Crawford Story – When Government Human Resources Officers Go Bad,” portrayed Carroll in the 1995 film “The Basketball Diaries.”

7.   “Pop Muzik,” M.  M was the brainchild of English musician/producer Robin Scott, who had spent the better part of a decade working in the U.K. music scene with limited success.  His lyrical hook about “New York, London, Paris, Munich” was quite apt as the song went to #1 in eight countries.  Hopefully, Scott saved his money; he plunged back into obscurity as quickly as he found international success.

8.  “Rock Lobster,” The B-52s.  The B-52s have been our cuddly pals for so long that it’s hard to remember what a genuine freak show they were when they debuted in the late 1970s.  Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson sported gravity defying hairdos, Fred Schneider introduced his quirky sprechgesang to punk rock audiences, and guitarist Ricky Wilson non-traditional guitar tunings gave the band an unmistakable sound.  The original single version of “Rock Lobster” received airplay on the Dr. Demento show and then went to #1 in Canada after being released by Warner Brothers.  Luckily for all of us, the band has continued to party out of bands for the past thirty eight years.

9.  “Tainted Love,” Soft Cell.  In a desperate attempt for a hit, the provocative English duo Soft Cell covered this obscure mid-60’s Gloria Jones number, which was originally recorded as a British “northern soul” r&b record.  (For trivia fans I should note that Gloria Jones was the girlfriend of Marc Bolen and was at the wheel during the car accident that caused his death).  Soft Cell’s “bink bink” synthesizer and drum machine version spent what was then a record 43 weeks on the U.S. pop charts.  Record a good song, go away, and never be heard from again.  I wish more bands would do that.

 10.  “Turning Japanese,” The Vapors.  The Vapors were so worried about being a one hit wonder band that they made sure that “Turning Japanese” was their second single.  Unfortunately, their first single (“Prisoners”) bombed and they became what they feared.  Either a ode to self satisfaction or a pained look at lost love, “Turning Japanese” is loaded with more riffs and hooks than most bands manage in an entire career.  Former frontman David Fenton is now a U.K. attorney, specializing in music industry cases.

 11.  “Video Killed the Radio Star,” The Buggles.   One g away from being a tasty corn chip, the Buggles had a major international hit with this song in every country but the United States, where it peaked at #40.  Being the answer to the trivia question, “What was the first video ever played on MTV?” gave the tune new life in the ‘80s.  Band member Trevor Horn went on to become one of England’s most successful producers and his co-hort Geoff Downes was an original member of Asia (of “Heat of the Moment” fame) and is currently still working with that band. 

 12.  “Whip It,” Devo.  Devo, an Ohio based performance art band influenced by experimental electronic groups such as Can and Neu!, seemed an unlikely act to have a major hit.  In the late ‘70s, Devo released a series of singles on Stiff Records and Warner Brothers, none of which sniffed the Top 100 in America, but “Whip It” was too catchy to ignore, hitting #14 on the pop charts.  Depending on your interpretation, “Whip It” may be a self help anthem or a celebration of sadomasochism.  Either way, I’m in.

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