Happy 35th Anniversary to 10 Great New Wave Albums
I have discussed hard rock and heavy metal bands and albums here at When It Was Cool before, but I haven’t yet mentioned my other big musical love of the late 1970s and all of the 1980s: new wave music. The term is broad and incorporates a lot of sub-genres, but for my fond look back at 10 of my favorite albums celebrating their 35th anniversaries this year, I’m going to dispense with the “Is it new wave, post-punk, no wave, or something else?” formalities and just have fun reminiscing about some great music.
The year 1982 had a lot of terrific releases so paring my list down to 10 was not easy. Among these selections are bands that found success on MTV even if American radio stations were slow to catch on or ignored some of the groups altogether. I hope this article stirs your memory banks a bit or helps you discover a band to which you hadn’t yet been exposed.
Berlin, Pleasure Victim: This Southern California outfit may be best known for the sappy 1986 ballad “Take My Breath Away” from the film Top Gun, but don’t hold that against their 1982 debut album. Pleasure Victim is pure, sexed-up, synths-and-guitars 1980s new wave. Lead singer Terri Nunn — who temporarily left the band before they became big to pursue a career in acting; she had previously tried out for the role of Leia Organa in Star Wars — was a musical icon of the decade and she’s a lot of fun to listen to on this record.
Berlin, “The Metro”
Iggy Pop, Zombie Birdhouse: Iggy’s seventh solo album is by no means one of the strongest in this legend’s catalog, but it is noteworthy because of its eccentricities before he headed into a more commercial period that would begin with the alternative pop of Blah-Blah-Blah and the streamlined heavy metal of Instinct. Chris Stein of Blondie produced and played guitar — fellow Blondie member Clem Burke played drums on the album — but seemed to have more interest in simply making music with one of his idols than striving to get the best vocal performances possible out of Iggy. The album is unconventional enough to be worth exploring, especially for those only familiar with Pop’s work with The Stooges or his “Lust for Life”-era collaborations with David Bowie.
Iggy Pop, “Run Like a Villain”
Joe Jackson, Night and Day: As Elvis Costello was earning his reputation as the Cole Porter of his generation, Joe Jackson stepped up with this bid to put himself into consideration for that same title. Rich with gorgeous piano work and thoughtful lyrics, Jackson’s fifth album continued his quest to show that he was more than just another member of the British Angry Young Men post-punk club; he had started that quest with the previous year’s Jumpin’ Jive, an amazing album of covers of 1940s swing and jump blues songs. Valentines to New York City, social commentaries on such things as an increasingly inward-driven generation and sexual politics, and heartfelt longings for a quieter life are some of the lyrical themes Jackson explores on this longplayer. Night and Day is, for me, Jackson’s masterpiece, and I doubt that I played any other album more often in 1982 and 1983.
Joe Jackson, “Breaking Us in Two”
Prince, 1999: Prince’s fifth album broke him into the mainstream and set the stage for the superstardom that he would find with the release of Purple Rain two years later. Prince added more of a rock vibe to his previous funk sound on this two-album set, ratcheted up the use of synthesizers, and expanded his lyrical themes, as well. The down-and-dirty sexual themes he explored on his previous records were unleashed further here, too. Drop the needle anywhere on this album and whether you land on one of the several hit singles or a deep cut, you’ll find marvelous instrumental work combined with playful lyricism.
Roxy Music, Avalon: Roxy Music’s eighth and final studio album is a triumph of style and substance. The band’s turnover of members even at as it turned out one quirky, gripping album after another is well documented. After longplayers that some critics and fans considered a misstep or two, the core members of Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson, and Andy MacKay released this beautiful, soaring work of art. It has an air of dreaminess and romance about it that makes it stand apart.
Roxy Music, “Take a Chance with Me”
Simple Minds, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84): This Scottish rock outfit had changed its sound from pop to experimental and minimalist to atmospheric new wave over the course of its four previous albums, and on New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), they found the formula that would help them find international success (though they’re greatest fame would come three years later with “Don’t You [Forget About Me],” a song recorded for the smash-hit film The Breakfast Club). Layers of synthesizers and guitars intertwine with ethereal bass lines and Jim Kerr’s impassioned vocals to create a vivid aural atmosphere.
Simple Minds, “Big Sleep”
Sparks, Angst in My Pants: American brothers Ron and Russell Mael already had 10 albums under their belts — including a great deal of success in the United Kingdom starting with their classic Kimono My House album and the hit single “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” — before releasing this record, and their styles ranged from eccentric rock to seventies glam to hard rock to electronic and practically everything in between. Sparks’ catalog is one of the most fascinating ones in all of rock music, and the Maels are still recording and touring; their 23rd album, Hippopotamus, is scheduled for release on September 8th of this year. With Angst in My Pants, Sparks sought to conquer the hearts and minds of new wave fans; they would do so a year later as “Cool Places,” featuring Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos and from Sparks’ In Outer Space album, became their highest-charting U.S. single. Angst in My Pants features the Maels’ trademark witty lyrics, Russell’s vocals that sometimes soar to a falsetto, Ron’s terrific keyboard artistry, and a crack backing band.
Sparks, “I Predict” (directed by David Lynch)
Ultravox, Quartet: This British band’s sixth studio album finds them at their most commercial sounding up to that point, but with its majestic guitars-and-synthesizers sound, evocative lyrics, and sweeping production courtesy of George Martin, Quartet is an ambitious statement.
Ultravox, “Reap the Wild Wind”
Wall of Voodoo, Call of the the West: Though best known for the single “Mexican Radio,” Wall of Voodoo’s debut album is a sorely underrated snapshot of its time that is just as relevant today. It combines the musical equivalent of a film noir world complete with paranoia, eeriness, and dark humor. Stan Ridgway’s unusual vocal stylings and dramatic lyrics are complemented perfectly by the band’s unique aural atmosphere, which at times may have you feeling like you’re in a strange twilight world where spaghetti western characters and hard-boiled 1940s gumshoes collide.
Wall of Voodoo, “Mexican Radio”
XTC, English Settlement: The fifth album for this Swindon, England–based band was its most ambitious up to that point. The more experimental sounds of their earliest albums had been metamorphosing into a more commercial — though still far from mainstream — pop approach on Drums and Wires (my favorite of the band’s catalog) and more so on Black Sea, and this double-album effort featured what was then arguably the band’s most accessible set of tunes. Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding were master craftsmen at penning catchy songs with pensive lyrics, commenting on social issues along with intimately personal ones. The song “Senses Working Overtime” propelled the album to number 5 on the British charts and gave XTC plenty of exposure in America, especially on MTV.
XTC, “Senses Working Overtime”
Besides contributing to When It Was Cool, Joseph Perry 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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