Ten Outstanding New Wave and Punk Albums Celebrating Their Fortieth Anniversaries in 2018
The year 1978 was an exciting one for rock music, and a major reason for that was the amazing new material being released by acts that had previously been on the fringes of the mainstream or that had amassed a small but fervent cult following. Punk rock, new wave, no wave, and other movements were becoming more and more of major forces in concert halls, clubs, and record stores, and on radio, as well. Some of these bands were still finding their stride. Others took a leap toward a more commercial sound, which could result in either breaking big or turning off fans of their previous work. In this article, I’ll spotlight 10 albums that grabbed me by the ears 40 years ago, and that still remain essential as they celebrate their ruby anniversary this year.
Blondie, Parallel Lines
Few albums have ever married pop music with a streetwise sensibility so perfectly as Blondie’s third longplayer, Parallel Lines. What the band had hinted at on previous albums with such songs as “In the Flesh,” “Rip Her to Shreds,” and “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear,” it delivered in a bombshell outing that awarded Blondie with a number 1 single for “Heart of Glass.” Though many rock acts were shunned and considered sell-outs when they released disco songs, Blondie overcame this stigma and found itself thrust into the mainstream. Tender and tough arrangements with wry lyrics abound on this classic Mike Chapman-produced masterpiece, and Debbie Harry’s vocals are an absolute joy.
The Boomtown Rats, A Tonic for the Troops
Irish band The Boomtown Rats played pop punk songs boasting upbeat tempos that belied the sardonic lyrics that accompanied them. You never knew what you were going to get from one song to the next when you played a Boomtown Rats album for the first time, and this record includes everything from the Bruce Springsteen-ish “Rat Trap” to more punk-edged flair.
The Boomtown Rats, “She’s So Modern”
The Cars, The Cars
The self-titled debut album from Boston’s The Cars is nothing short of brilliant. Combining new wave with hard rock and pop touches, this is a masterpiece that, since its release, has appealed to rock fans of all stripes. Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker stripped down and underproduced the instrumental arrangements while lending Queen-like multilayered backing vocals to the proceedings. The interplay between catchy guitar hooks and atmospheric synthesizers alone is worth the price of admission. Above all, it is sheer fun.
The Cars, “Bye Bye Love”
The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope
The Clash’s second album is one of the cases where I preferred when a producer smoothed out some of a band’s rougher edges. Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman brought his hard rock sensibilities to this disc, with such flourishes as isolated power chords, plenty of guitar solos, and thundering drum rolls. The energy crackles throughout, and Joe Strummer’s and Mick Jones’ biting lyrics and robust vocals are on fine display.
The Clash, “Tommy Gun”
Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model
Elvis Costello’s sophomore album and his first with his band The Attractions, This Year’s Model is the first longplayer I heard from him and it remains my favorite from his catalog to this day. Infectious arrangements and Elvis’s urgent vocals fairly leap out of the speakers. Elvis sneers and spits out his sharp, clever lyrics while three amazing musicians back him up. Who knew that this angry young man would become the Cole Porter of our generation and have such an enduring, prolific career?
Elvis Costello, “Radio, Radio”
Devo, Q. Are We Not Men? A. We Are Devo
I listened to Devo’s major label debut album Q. Are We Not Men? A. We Are Devo once during the week of its release, and then gave it a scathing, negative review in my high school newspaper. I listened to it a second time for some reason the weekend after that issue went to press and absolutely fell in love with it. This was some of the most unique, off-the-wall music ever unleashed on the American public at the time, and the band’s image was just as outré. The album has aged extremely well, and its quirkiness is still addictively charming and fresh today.
Devo, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Fabulous Poodles, Mirror Stars
British new wavers Fabulous Poodles’ American debut album Mirror Stars combined tracks from their first two U.K. releases, and the record is chock full of songs both hilarious and poignant. With lyrics about hairstyles, being work shy, and dreaming about becoming a famous rock star, the band arranged their songs in contagious fashion with such secret weapons as violin and mandolin. The Fabulous Poodles were eccentric yet accessible, and their American debut deserves far more attention than it has received.
Fabulous Poodles, “Mirror Star”
Nick Lowe, Pure Pop for Now People (AKA Jesus of Cool)
Nick Lowe’s original British album Jesus of Cool was renamed, reordered, and given a few different tracks for its Stateside release as Pure Pop for Now People. Raucous, clever, and humorous, the album shows Lowe’s love of rock and roll that came before him with an irreverent revisionist take on things.
Nick Lowe, “So It Goes”
The Ramones, Road to Ruin
With their fourth album Road to Ruin, punk band The Ramones made a strong bid for radio airplay and more mainstream acceptance. Unfortunately, it backfired in both sales and acceptance by the group’s established fans. For me, however, it was instantly my favorite Ramones longplayer because of its more hard rock approach. Road to Ruin also features one of the first acoustic guitar-driven songs I can remember hearing on a punk album with the plaintive lost-love effort “Questioningly.”
The Ramones, “I Just Want to Have Something to Do”
Tubeway Army, Tubeway Army
Before recording the iconic 1980s song “Cars,” British musician Gary Numan released two albums with his band Tubeway Army. This debut longplayer features a hard rock approach with punk overtones, with some acoustic numbers on tap, as well. Numan’s distinct vocals are on fine display, though the use of synthesizers for which he would become known beginning with his next album Replicas are not as prominent here. The lyrics paint dark stories of loneliness and despair, unfolding stories of vices and crimes.
Tubeway, Army, “My Shadow in Vain”
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/).
He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.
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