Sunday, September 09, 2007

The 50 Music Project: New Wave

XXI. Top Down Music For A Hard Top World

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to pick one genre of music to listen to for the rest of my life, I would probably choose New Wave/Punk. What seemed like a fad when the songs first started to hit the airwaves around ’76 and ’77 turned into what Christgau termed “New Wave Hegemony” by the end of 1978. It seemed like every band in the world was pulling out their black suits and skinny ties. Many (most?) of them turned out to be poseurs of the worst kind, but the best music of the era remains vital to this day. Had I been creating this history for someone other than my parents, I would have included bands like The Sex Pistols, Gang of Four, X, Wire, Television, The Adverts, and several others.

Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, The Ramones

For my money, this remains one of the great summer songs of all time; not to mention of the great rock songs of all time. I heard it for the first time during the Summer of 1977, a summer that I spent most of time working at McDonalds and much of the rest of it listening to loud music in my room.

Thirty years on, the song has a generosity of spirit that reverberates to this day. What teenager of any generation, boy or girl, couldn't relate to the lines, But she just couldn't stay/She had to break away? Pretty much says it all.

And how about, Well New York City really has it all? Remember, at the time, the Big Apple was going through some rough times. Howard Cosell had decried fires in the Bronx during the previous year’s World Series (“the Bronx is burning!”), it was the “Summer of Sam,” and it was the Summer of the (first) great blackout. Yet, it was also the place where something great was being born, with the sounds of The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, and others.

Pump It Up, Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Listening to Elvis Costello is like walking down a dark, empty street and hearing another set of heels. His music doesn’t make you dance, it makes you jump. It doesn’t matter that he’s stalking his obsessions and not you, because nobody ought to be this sure of his obsessions. But Costello appears determined never to reach that age when, as Joan Didion once put it, “the wounds begin to heal whether one wants them to or not.” This Year's Model, his second album in less than a year, is Costello’s attempt to make certain those wounds stay open. • Kit Rachlis, review of This Year’s Model, Rolling Stone magazine, June 1978

Take Me To the River, Talking Heads
One Way or Another , Blondie

My Best Friend’s Girl, The Cars

The phrase “top down music for a hard top world” comes from the initial advertising campaign for The Cars. Their first album was a breath of fresh air; they went on to a very successful career but never quite achieved the spark and verve that was the hallmark of the debut.

What I Like About You, The Romantics
I Wanna Be Sedated, The Ramones
Roxanne, The Police

Rock Lobster, The B-52s
Brass in Pocket, The Pretenders

Back in the days when I would do such a thing, I bought the debut albums by The B-52s and the Pretenders based on the covers alone. Looking at them, I just had the feeling that what was inside was going to be good.

Train in Vain, The Clash

The very first album I bought in the 1980s was London Calling, by The Clash. Ten years later, it was still the best album that I bought in the 1980s.

Whip It, Devo
Mirror in the Bathroom, The English Beat

Turning Japanese, The Vapors

You literally could not go a day in the Fall of 1980 in Deutsch Hall at U.C. Berkeley without hearing this song at least three or four times. It was lurking, waiting for you, around every corner.

Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads

I was lucky enough in October 1980 to catch Talking Heads in concert, in their first tour featuring the expanded band. Made famous four years later during the tour that was documented in Stop Making Sense, the concert film directed by Jonathan Demme, the band had yet to add the costumes and the staging - but the music was never less than sublime. And loud – it took my ears nearly a week to recover from the sonic assault of Adrian Belew’s guitar.

We Got the Beat, The Go Gos
Dancing With Myself, Billy Idol
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, The Police

Mexican Radio, Wall of Voodoo

Artists like Stanard Ridgway are, to my mind, some of the best reasons to obsess with popular music. Always lurking at the edges of the mainstream, probably wanting to become just as famous as those who actually are, but unwilling to alter their craft in a way that might make it more palatable for the masses. Every now and then, one will slip in and remind everyone what they’re missing. This is that song.

Rock the Casbah, The Clash


michele said...

The Summer of 77 was an intense one for me, for all the reasons you listed. The Ramones were my soundtrack to all that.

Good new wave list!

Jeff said...

Thank you! And I'm having a lot of fun reading through your "300 bands, 300 songs" list, by the way...