Styles & Forms | New Wave | Pop

For many veterans of the punk era, new wave is not a genre at all. The term was coined by the music press to encompass acts who were influenced by punk, but less overtly rebellious and with more traditionally crafted pop skills. New wave acts traded largely on a back-to-basics desire to revive the short, sharp thrill of the classic, mid-1960s beat-pop single.

Their ethos was reflected in new wave’s dress codes: tight, dark mod suits with skinny ties, short (or at least, shorter) hair, occasional biker-chic leather and Day-Glo pop-art dresses. The punk die-hards may have sneered, but new wave’s legacy is one of the richest in pop history – a last blast of starkly produced, arty but direct, high-energy youth anthems, before the crossover hegemony of the 1980s swept it aside.

The Blank Generation

Like punk, new wave’s mid-1970s origins can be traced to CBGB’s, a small, smelly bar that became a gig venue on New York’s Lower East Side. While Richard Hell, Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith were forging punk’s template, fellow CBGB’s regulars Blondie and Talking Heads were creating a punk-related, pop-styled sound that would conquer the world.

Former Andy Warhol acolyte Debbie Harry (Blondie’s vocalist) became one of late-1970s/early 1980s pop’s most adored icons, fusing classic girl-group pop with punk aggression and a disco groove. Her perfect look and cut-glass voice simultaneously reinvented and satirized the ‘blonde bombshell’ image, while her (male) band’s extraordinary run of pop anthems virtually defined female intelligence and sexuality in the late-1970s and early 1980s. Madonna cites her as a major influence. By stark contrast, Talking Heads were nerdy, nervy and deliberately asexual, purveying a unique brand of 1960s art-pop and white lo-fi funk. As the 1980s moved on, The Heads transformed themselves into a globally inspired, big-band funk outfit with the classic ‘Once In A Lifetime’ single, even managing to throw country-tinged Americana into the mix before the band’s acrimonious split in 1991.

Stiff Upper Lips

Britain’s new wave grew out of an independent record label. From 1977 onwards, London’s Stiff Records cleverly mixed its roots in London’s ‘pub rock’ live scene with punk’s eccentricity to introduce a number of unique alternative pop icons, including Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, Madness and The Pogues. But their key discovery was Declan McManus, an Irish-Liverpudlian from a musical family who changed his name to Elvis Costello and blended angry-young-man aggression with extraordinarily witty, literate songs and a strong US influence. Brit and Stateside hero worship followed, as his Buddy Holly look – tight office-worker suit, cheap spectacles, crew cut, skinny tie – established the dominant male imagery of new wave, and his increasingly sophisticated lyrical ruminations on love, sex and politics saw him graduate toward pop’s top table, working with the likes of Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach.

A group of other, equally striking Brit new wavers grafted pop craft onto various kinds of...

To read the full article please either login or register .

Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.