By: Ashton May
Welcome to another Mixtape Monday! If you really liked last week’s “Cover to Cover” mixtape, here’s a direct link to that playlist here.
This week I’m hitting another definitive decade-based genre; my favorite sector of music from the 1980s– new wave and post-punk.
80s new wave incorporated characteristics of 70s punk, but added a distinct pop-style element that included the use of synthesizers and electronic production. It was also distinctive from the punk influences of the day through a greater complexity shown in lyrics and instrumentation. This genre is still extremely relevant today, as alternative rock bands such as The Killers, the Strokes, Interpol, etc, have been exploring new wave and post-punk influences in a resurgence of sorts since the early 2000s.
Mixtape Monday, 5/8, “Catch The New Wave” – Listen while you read here!
- “Head Over Heels” – Tears For Fears: A quintessential new wave tune by a quintessential new wave band, we open with the shimmering “Head Over Heels” that sounds like the soundtrack to a hazy dream sequence. It’s an anxiety-ridden, romantic love song that “gets a bit perverse” according to Roland Orzabal.
- “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division: One of the earliest new wave/ post-punk bands to hit the scene was Joy Division. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is probably their most popular song with it’s up-tempo melody and memorable synth riff. It’s definitely a great example of the punk influences it derived from.
- “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell: Originally a motown/ soul song by Gloria Jones, synth-pop duo Soft Cell created a drastically different arrangement of the song in the early 1980s. This of course went on to be one the biggest hits of the new wave era (and unfortunately propelled Soft Cell into the one of the top-ranked one-hit wonders of all time).
- “The Killing Moon” – Echo & The Bunnymen: This song isn’t as well-known as the others on this list, which is a damn shame, as it’s probably one of the best songs on this list. Echo & The Bunnymen didn’t reach the level of notoriety in the US as many other British new waves acts. However, this song has absolutely beautiful lyrics, a soulfully sobering melody, impressive guitar work and a delicate use of strings that amplifies the elegance of the tune. Another interesting tidbit about this song: The chord progression were created from reversing the chords to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
- “Take On Me”- a-ha: Another relative one-hit wonder, a-ha delighted the public with their upbeat, octave shifting hit “Take On Me.” Also helpful was the cool and unique music video that got the band a ton of press at the 1986 MTV Music Video awards.
- “Enjoy The Silence” – Depeche Mode: This song technically came out in 1990, but it sounds no different from their 80s endeavors, and a new wave list without Depeche Mode is unacceptable. So, I picked my favorite, and arguably their most well-known hit.
- “Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League: This is seemingly fun, wistful song about lost love with an incredibly poppy karaoke-appropriate chorus that everyone knows. But the rest of the lyrics to the song are a little…creepy? Thankfully, they were written with a purpose, as lead singer Philip Oakey designed the song as a meta-commentary. In his words, it’s a “a nasty song about sexual power politics.”
- “In Between Days” – The Cure: The Cure is one of my top 5 favorite bands, and it was a struggle picking what song to include. “Just Like Heaven” is my favorite, but I will probably use it on another playlist at some point. So I went with this classic tune, their first big hit, released in 1985, just after the band expanded to a five-piece.
- “This Charming Man” – The Smiths: Another of one my favorite bands of all times, “This Charming Man” is hands down one of the best Smith’s songs, and one of the best songs to emerge in the new wave genre. The jangly guitar, the upbeat, poppy rhythm, the killer bassline, the ambiguous and mysterious lyrics, the smooth vocal stylings of Morrissey…this song has it all.
- “Rio” – Duran Duran: British new wave superstars Duran Duran burst onto the scene in 1981 after having worked throughout the end of the 70’s on their stage performance and public image. Because of this, by the time they reached the airwaves, Duran Duran seemed like they were made for the realm of music video, and became one of the first bands to really ride the MTV wave towards mega-stardom. “Rio” was the title track off of their second album of the same name– the album that also included “Hungry Like The Wolf” and became one of the standards of the new wave genre.
- “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” – Dead or Alive: This was Dead or Alive’s breakout single of 1985 and earned them No. 1 in the UK and No. 11 on the US Billboard charts. The song became a fixture of many British dance club playlists. If you haven’t heard this song before, it probably sounds familiar to you…probably from Flo Rida’s 2009 single featuring Kesha “Right Round,” which uses many elements of the song, most notably the chorus.
- “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds: Almost everyone recognizes this as “The Breakfast Club song.” And you aren’t wrong; not only was it featured in the movie, it was actually written for the movie. Simple Minds was already relatively successful in Britain, although they were virtually unknown in the US. The composers who worked on the movie actually wrote this song and called out to numerous musical acts asking them to arrange and record the song. After a few notable artists, such as Annie Lennox, passed on the song, Simple Minds agreed after seeing a rough cut of The Breakfast Club. This became their only No. 1 hit single, and all they are really known for in the US. But, hey, there are much worse things to be “remembered” for than the most influential teen movie of the 1980s.
- “Call Me” – Blondie: Another highly popular film-related tune of the 80s, Blondie wrote and recorded “Call Me” for the Richard Gere movie American Gigolo. The main reason the band agreed was to work with their hero, Euro-disco producer Moroder. Moroder’s first choice for a vocalist was Stevie Nicks, but she passed. Moroder presented Debbie Harry with a rough instrumental track, and she developed the song further, along with writing the lyrics and melody. Harry’s New Wave edge helped make the song the biggest seller of 1980.
- “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” – The Police: One of the earliest post-punk/ new wave bands, and one of the most successful, was the The Police, fronted by Sting. During the late 1970s- early 1980s, they put out a ton of hits. There were plenty to choose from, so I picked my favorite (and “Every Breath You Take” is really too creepy for me, so I opted for a less creepy one…that’s still a little creepy, honestly). This song contains elements of Caribbean-style instrumentation, which wasn’t uncommon for Sting has always had musical inclination toward reggae and it’s derivatives.
- “Brass In Pocket” – Pretenders: When the Pretenders emerged onto the scene in the late 70s, they fell in line with the new wave sensibilities of the time. Although lead singer Chrissie Hynde didn’t much like this song, and didn’t really want to release it at all, it ironically became their first No. 1 hit in the UK and charted high in the US as well. Hynde’s voice reflects the sassy, confident lyrics, which really resonated with the public when it was released in January of 1980
- “Walk Like an Egyptian” – The Bangles: Calling The Bangles “new wave” is debateable, as they are generally regulated to the general “pop/rock” label. However, “Walk Like An Egyptian,” written by songwriter Liam Sternberg (who was involved with the beginnings of other new-wave absurdist acts like Devo), fits right into the bookshelf of new wave hits. This became the band’s most successful song, peaking at No. 2 on the US Billboard chart
- “Never Tear Us Apart” – INXS: The New Wave genre’s inclusion of straightforward rock music coated with pop sensibilities was perfectly encapsulated in Australian band INXS. “Never Tear Us Apart” is one of those songs that stand the test of time very well; a sensual ballad written in a waltz time signature, accompanied with beautiful orchestration, dramatic pauses, and a killer saxophone solo
- “I Melt With You” – Modern English: Another one-hit wonder out of this genre, “Melt With You” was a hit in 1983. It’s an upbeat, fun love song, which is a welcome reprieve in this moody genre. According to vocalist Robbie Grey, the song is about a couple having sex as nuclear bombs fall. That’s 1. Pretty badass, and 2. Very 80s
- “Voices Carry” – ‘Til Tuesday: Many people have heard of Aimee Mann, even if just in passing, but they likely are unaware that her first musical endeavor was 80s new wave band, ‘Til Tuesday. Apparently, this song was originally about a lover in an affair and was originally written and sung by Mann as to a woman. However, like all good things, their record company (Epic) was unhappy with the lyrics, as they thought the song had the potential to be commercially successful, and wanted to remove the lesbian components to appeal to the mainstream market. #Typical.
- “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” – Talking Heads: If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recognize that an Iron & Wine + Ben Bridwell cover version of this song was on last week’s playlist. As such, I thought it’d be appropriate to include it on this week’s list, as Talking Heads and their frontman David Byrne were one of the most critically acclaimed new wave acts due to their very unique, artsy, avant-garde style. Byrne says of this song: “That’s a love song made up almost completely of non sequiturs, phrases that may have a strong emotional resonance but don’t have any narrative qualities. It’s a real honest kind of love song. I don’t think I’ve ever done a real love song before. Mine always had a sort of reservation, or a twist. I tried to write one that wasn’t corny, that didn’t sound stupid or lame the way many do. I think I succeeded; I was pretty happy with that.”