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"It's called 'New Wave Rock'" - Hugh Downs
September 7, 2011 10:21 AM   Subscribe

'New Wave' means a loud rock and roll dance band like The Ramones, it means the angry punk politics of The Clash, and it also means the sort of intellectual art rock typified by The Talking Heads. A 20/20 segment from 1979 explores the origins and influence of New Wave, including live footage and brief interviews with The Clash and Talking Heads, as well as short clips of Levi and the Rockats, The Ramones, and Klaus Nomi. [via slicing up eyeballs and jukeboxgraduate.]
posted by shannonm (55 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I have excellent news for the world. There's no such thing as New Wave. It does not exist. It's a figment of lame kinds of imagination. There was never any such thing as New Wave. It was the polite thing to say when you were trying to explain you were not into the boring old rock 'n roll but you didn't dare to say punk because you were afraid to get kicked out of the party and they wouldn't give you coke any more. There's New Music, there's New Underground Sound, there's Noise, there's Punk, there's Power Pop, there's Ska, there's Rockabilly, but New Wave doesn't mean shit."

Claude Bessey of Catholic Discipline, from Decline Of Western Civilization part 1
posted by lumpenprole at 10:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Ramones as New Wave? I would hate to question Hugh Downs' scene cred, I don't think so perceived at the time by anyone I knew...The Clash a bit questionable too. Have to watch this in its entirety, should be interesting, maybe I was so immersed in the biz...drug addled, or something.
posted by sfts2 at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw a lot of "New Wave Still Sucks" T-Shirts in Brooklyn in 2001 - 2002.
posted by keratacon at 10:31 AM on September 7, 2011


so, wait a minute... Sheena was a new waver?
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


That violence oriented punk rock music!
posted by Trurl at 10:35 AM on September 7, 2011


Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?
posted by zoinks at 10:42 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's funny how to a lot of people now, "new wave" has a pretty strict definition of early-'80s pop with fun beats and bright colors and perky attitude -- whereas "punk" is perceived as the rougher, Mohawks-and-leather style of the late '70s.

But from what I can tell, both terms were used widely in the late '70s -- for all types of underground, youth-driven, DIY rock and pop music -- and were almost interchangeable. But not without controversy: I once saw an episode of "Tomorrow with Tom Snyder" from around 1978 featuring Joan Jett and the Jam's Paul Weller -- both about 19? They agreed that "new wave" was the real term for the new revolution in youth culture and music, and "punk" was a stupid word used by journalists and record company marketing people.
posted by lisa g at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think of any of those bands as new wave. I've always thought of new wave as stuff like the Cars or Devo or the Human League. Slightly futuristic in a very contained sonic palette. I think the Talking Heads sort of fits that, but not the Clash or the Ramones.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:45 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I once saw an episode of "Tomorrow with Tom Snyder" from around 1978 featuring Joan Jett and the Jam's Paul Weller -- both about 19?

Snyder apparently devoted many installments of Tomorrow to new wave, and happily, I discovered a DVD compilation of them at my local library. It was awesome stuff -- The Clash, Elvis Costello, the Jam, Joan Jett, on and on.

Though if that's the same interview I remember, I'd be greatly surprised if Joan Jet was as old as 19 in that clip. (Weller, for his part, chain-smokes throughout the interview.)
posted by Gelatin at 10:51 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, that Joan Jett/Paul Weller interview is on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2. It's from 1977, so they're both 18 or 19.

Right now I'm in a coffeeshop and can't actually listen to the audio, so my recollection of the interview might be completely off! But I remember they were both pretty opinionated about terminology.
posted by lisa g at 10:53 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


At the time (and, to a certain extent, in retrospect), "punk" was 1-2-3-4! crash guitar headbanging music, and "new wave" was everything else, i.e., the gamut from Elvis Costello to Klaus Nomi (if they even define the gamut).
posted by the sobsister at 11:07 AM on September 7, 2011


It's funny how to a lot of people now, "new wave" has a pretty strict definition of early-'80s pop with fun beats and bright colors and perky attitude -- whereas "punk" is perceived as the rougher, Mohawks-and-leather style of the late '70s.

I was there, and that's how I remember it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gawd I hate "remix culture," but if anything is begging for it, it's that Hugh Downs lyrics recitation. But it's always fun to have more documentation of the era, even from media outlets that had no idea what it was all about. I have mentioned before that my first exposure to recording of Punk music was a segment on the Today Show with Jane Pauley, condemning the Sex Pistols.

In case anyone needs another opinion, from someone who was there:

Punk (possibly NSFW lyrics)

New Wave (possibly NSFW costume)
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2011


I don't think of any of those bands as new wave. I've always thought of new wave as stuff like the Cars or Devo or the Human League. Slightly futuristic in a very contained sonic palette. I think the Talking Heads sort of fits that, but not the Clash or the Ramones.

This is sort of how I see new wave as well. But then, I was born in 1978, so by the time I was starting to appreciate music at all, I was very much immersed into the grunge scene.
posted by antifuse at 11:15 AM on September 7, 2011


I knew Claude Bessey's quote would show up in this thread, although I'm amazed it popped up as the first comment. It was a comment that made total sense in 1979, when he said it, but makes no sense now. New Wave was one of the phrases originally bandied around for punk rock -- Malcolm McLaren particularly favored it -- and, at that point, although there were sizable differences between New York punk and English punk, and English punk was starting to see the rise of the New Romantic movement, new wave hadn't really broken off to be its own thing.

But new wave did break off. There is a lot of crossover, and, as with any genre, there's no one single definition that is adequate. But 80s new wave was quite distinct from punk, especially as punk grew increasingly hardcore.

I was a new waver, and, I suppose, to an extent still am. In films of the era, there is always a group of punks, who have mohawks and military second-hands and leather and combat boots, and then there is one guy with them in a white shirt, skinny tie, pegged pants, and vans, sometimes wearing a porkpie hat, often with a sportscoat covered with buttons. That was me.

The music I listened to was, with some exceptions, synthesizer-based rather than guitar based (there were more than a few power pop and rock and roll revival bands that were au current in new wave circles and used guitars, such as The Romantics and The Vapors). Eighties New wave had a literary, cinematic sensibility, and was often self-consciously art school in a way punk wasn't. New wave definitely included the angry young man school of English pub rockers, such as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and Joe Jackson). Also, anything with a futuristic aesthetic was going to be New Wave, such as Gary Newman or Klaus Nomi.

It did function as a sort of clearinghouse phrase meaning "not 70s mainstream rock, but not punk either"), but it was like porn, in that you knew it when you heard it. And it really wasn't punk, although New Wavers listened to punk (I was especially keen on the Repo Man -- a new wave movie with a punk soundtrack) and punks listened to New Wave (they watched Liquid Sky, a punk movie with a New Wave soundtrack).
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


my first exposure to recording of Punk music was a segment on the Today Show with Jane Pauley, condemning the Sex Pistols. antifuse

Mine was DEVO on the Doctor Demento Show around 1976. I wrote the band name down on a ratty piece of cardboard, and spent WEEKS walking around looking for records by this great band called "BEBO".
posted by SPUTNIK at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


For what it's worth, this era of music changed my life. I'll never, ever forget how thrilling it all felt.
posted by davebush at 11:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


ZenMasterThis: I was there, and that's how I remember it.

And to be fair, at the time I was a little kid in a Midwestern suburb, oblivious to pop culture beyond the Top 40; it was only around '83 that I started looking deeper. But I like looking at "original documents" like zines and interviews, and I've noticed how terms seemed a lot more fluid back then ... it's only in retrospect that styles and subcultures and mini-eras get more officially classified. (I'm sure, say, Wire weren't thinking of themselves as "postpunk" in 1977.) And really, that goes for all sorts of art movements.
posted by lisa g at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could have sworn Claude Bessey was a little more...colorful...in his choice of words.
posted by malocchio at 11:36 AM on September 7, 2011


Punk: CBGB :: New Wave: Danceteria
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


No bonafides here so I will leave it to these fine gentlemen to explain the difference. I'm sure this has been posted before but it's still worth a listen. My own sense was that New Wave was primarily taken up as a marketing term in place of that scary 'punk' word by the major labels of the day. That Minutemen song sure is beautiful by the way.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:40 AM on September 7, 2011


...or, in British terms,

Punk : Vyvyan :: New Wave : Rick
posted by Sys Rq at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


But then where does post-punk fit into this equation?
posted by cottoncandybeard at 11:52 AM on September 7, 2011


My own sense was that New Wave was primarily taken up as a marketing term in place of that scary 'punk' word by the major labels of the day.

I was around then and that's pretty much my take. "Punk" was scary and dangerous and you'd never let your kids listen to that kind of music so the record companies created the friendlier "New Wave" term.
posted by octothorpe at 11:56 AM on September 7, 2011


Punk : Vyvyan :: New Wave : Rick

I thought it was more:

Metal : Vyvyan :: Prick : Rick
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:59 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In reference to The Young Ones, for what it's worth, in the Driving Instructor/Video episode, just before the appearance of the weeks musical guest The Damned (usually labeled as "punk") one of the boys (Rick if memory serves) remarks, "Oh no! Only pop music can save us now!"

I think punk vs. new wave (vs pop music or rock or whatever) is very largely an issue of perspective of the individual or entity "wielding" the term.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But then where does post-punk fit into this equation?

Seems to me it's just as vague and useless of a term as ever, but I suppose it would fit in after the punk part of the equation.

It's worth pointing out that the video actually categorizes the Clash as punk (around 7:03), and calls out punk as a particularly British sub-genre of New Wave, which if you take "New Wave" to mean "modern rock music which is not mainstream" seems internally consistent at least.

I'd also like to note in passing that the mainstream media were legendarily bad at both interpretation of current trends and prediction of future trends where rock music was concerned, it's not as though people who were interested in this sort of thing at the time looked to 20/20 as a taste-maker or something.
posted by whir at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just want to pop in here and say I was 18 in '79, and that's pretty much how the teevee looked at things. My entire life changed when my sister and I watched a program like this in '77 or '78 and saw British Punks for the first time... we set aside our Sweet and Queen records and followed the the emerging sound(s) from one record store to another. I sure am glad I grew up in that certain time and place.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:14 PM on September 7, 2011


Don't you even know who's the enemy? What happened to the revolution?! God, you'd think "Devil Woman" had never been written!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:15 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sure am glad I grew up in that certain time and place.

I sometimes wonder if people growing up in a world of Josh Groban and Ke$ha will someday unironically say this.
posted by scrowdid at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2011


I sometimes wonder if people growing up in a world of Josh Groban and Ke$ha will someday unironically say this.

There are still fantastic new bands on the scene nowadays (not that I really know any of them, I am SO out of touch with the music world, as my viewing of even the VMAs showed me the other day), the same way that there were HORRENDOUS pop bands floating around back in the punk/new wave era. There will always be awesome, less popular bands and popular, mass-market flotsam as far as I'm concerned.
posted by antifuse at 12:49 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember "New Wave" as referring mostly to British music. Tubeway Army, Police, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, etc. I guess Blondie and Talking Heads fit the bill as well, but The Ramones were never New Wave. They definitely weren't punk either.
posted by rocket88 at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2011


They definitely weren't punk either.

They were punk before punk was punk. If you read "Please Kill Me," the Ramones playing in London was a watershed event in English punk, but even before then, bands had been passing their album around, and ever single one sped up overnight. The simple chord structures, almost militant stupidity of the lyrics, and the sheer speed of the songs were deeply influential.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:22 PM on September 7, 2011


I don't really have much to say except that the New Wave Sirius/XM station regularly plays The Clash and The Ramones. Not that this station should be considered an authority or anything, just that including those bands in the category isn't that bizarre a concept.

I was born in 1980, so my teen years had grunge and all the fallout from that, but I eventually came around to this scene in my 20's, only 25 years too late. I'm supremely jealous of those of you who got to live through it.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2011


Don't you even know who's the enemy?

Oh sure: everybody. Well everybody except us. And we were only us because of them. We had nothing in common with anyone else, including us.

Or as Sham 69 put it,

We're the people you don't want to know
We go the places you don't want to go
We're angels with dirty faces
Angels from nowhere places
Kids like me and you
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:35 PM on September 7, 2011


Punk is what you and your pimply punk friends played on your Peavey equipment in the garage. New Wave was cleaned up for top 40. New Wave had producers.
posted by jfuller at 1:38 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure I've said this before, but the Ramones were basically just a louder Sha-na-na. Less proto-punk than ironic post-greaser.

(I don't say that to diminish the Ramones, but to elevate Sha-na-na to Most Influential Woodstock Act.)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:52 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, now that I can watch the 1977 Paul Weller/Joan Jett video mentioned above...
Tom Snyder: "Paul Weller is 18 years old and the lead singer of a British group called the Jam ... He prefers to be known as a new wave artist, because punk rock is a label invented and exploited by the media."

Paul Weller: "... What you've got to remember is 'punk rock' is a big flashing neon sign, which sells commodities, whereas new wave is an attitude."

Tom Snyder: "What is the attitude?"

Paul Weller: "It's an attitude of youth, of suppression. For years and years we've been unrecognized. This is just a way of getting back."

So that was '77. Interesting how it all switched around in the following four or five years.
posted by lisa g at 3:26 PM on September 7, 2011


I sometimes wonder if people growing up in a world of Josh Groban and Ke$ha will someday unironically say this.

This year I got to see Gaslight Anthem, Against Me!, The Hold Steady, Off With Their Heads, Defiance Ohio, The National (coming on twice), Foxy Shazam, Jim Jones Revue.... I'm going to be pretty happy.

But yeah The Ramones aren't New Wave. I connect New Wave and post-punk with the newer sounds, the synthesized stuff and the irony. The Ramones were harking back to 50s rock and roll, and they connect in my mind to guys like Springsteen and the retro rock revivalists.

I'd love to find more bands that sound like The Ramones, though. Besides The Spazzys.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:29 PM on September 7, 2011


Don't you even know who's the enemy? What happened to the revolution?! God, you'd think "Devil Woman" had never been written!

The enemy is everywhere, the enemy is everywhere
But nobody seems to be worried or care
That the enemy is everywhere

posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:31 PM on September 7, 2011


The Ramones, The Clash, & Talking Heads were not New Wave. New Wave was a marketing term for the horrible synthpop that MTV shoved down peoples throats.
posted by jonmc at 5:05 PM on September 7, 2011


I'd love to find more bands that sound like The Ramones, though. Besides The Spazzys.

1990s indie pop-punk is pretty much the answer to the question, "Hey, why aren't there any bands that sound like the Ramones anymore?" They all did. All of them. Okay, us. The only thing that finally got that scene to die off was the Ramones doing it first.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and as for 20/20 on New Wave, at least they were trying to keep up. 60 Minutes did a show introducing the world to disco -- in 1978, less than a year before the funeral.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:45 PM on September 7, 2011


> But nobody seems to be worried or care
> That the enemy is everywhere

Can we complete this famous quotation? "We have met the enemy and he is __."
posted by jfuller at 5:55 PM on September 7, 2011


it's only in retrospect that styles and subcultures and mini-eras get more officially classified.... And really, that goes for all sorts of art movements.

What's in a name? A rose by any other name doesn't smell like the dogshit on the floor at CBGB. Labels are like offhand stickers stuck on different experiences. Two words can't sum up a subculture, nor can any part of it ... it's something different in every mind inside it - while it still matters.
posted by Twang at 5:56 PM on September 7, 2011


I still find it funny how in the early days the Ramones were thought of as the 70s version of Sha-na-na
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 5:59 PM on September 7, 2011


I still find it funny how in the early days the Ramones were thought of as the 70s version of Sha-na-na

Sha-na-na were the Sha-na-na of the seventies. The Ramones were there too, and, as I said, louder.

(In fact, Sha-na-na had their own TV variety show in the seventies, and the Ramones appeared on it.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:08 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]



(In fact, Sha-na-na had their own TV variety show in the seventies, and the Ramones appeared on it.)


Well, Marky was there, so it had to be at least... 1979? And they're introduced as "the fabulous new wave singing group, the Ramones!"
posted by oneirodynia at 7:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, wait, Road to Ruin was 1978, so maybe the clip is as early as that.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:25 PM on September 7, 2011


Can we complete this famous quotation? "We have met the enemy and he is __."

That is a complete sentence describing the existential alienation of Punks.

We have met the enemy and he is.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:17 PM on September 7, 2011


"We have met the enemy and he is __."

"We have met the enemy and they are ours" -Oliver Hazard Perry, upon taking the British Navy's first ever surrender at the Battle of Lake Erie. (Thanks, cracked.com!)

What do I win? Or were you going for something else?
posted by Navelgazer at 12:46 AM on September 8, 2011


He was probably going for Pogo's 'We have met the enemy and it is us', implying that the punk scene and/or just Titus Andronicus were motivated by self-hatred (Titus kinda are).
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:56 AM on September 8, 2011


That was really enjoyable. Thanks, shannonm.

That Claude Bessy quote in Decline seemed fine at the time, and it synced with what I and the little group of L.A. punks I hung with thought (tho I wasn't in the scene until 1980ish) . I remember also a quote in New York Rocker magazine around that time from Blondie dude Chris Stein about "it seems people are getting are as stuffy as opera fans about what they will and will not listen to" in the context of these labels.

Here's how I and my friends saw it, IIRC: The Clash were punks. The Damned were English punk. Blondie was New Wave. The Ramones were New York. The Specials were ska. The Jam were mods. Klaus Nomi was glitter punk (I love that the linked piece ended with him). The B-52s were New Wave. Talking Heads (remember, I'm speaking from a Los Angeles 1981 perspective here, so please pull your punch, jonmc) were New Wave. That said, Talking Heads was a different order of New Wave than the B-52s.

There were Russian nests of allegiance, and Venn diagrams of interest (of course, and that's what made it interesting), but New Wave and punk were different labels.
posted by goofyfoot at 1:00 AM on September 8, 2011


As I remember it, I first heard the term "New Wave" around 1978 or 1979. At the time, it referred to bands that were coming out of the punk/DIY scene but weren't really punk themselves. So, for example, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Pere Ubu, and Television were all considered New Wave. The term was quickly picked up by record company marketers, though, and they proceeded to market the kinds of bands that we now think of as New Wave under that label. My recollection is that The Knack were the first of these (though perhaps they were just the first that I noticed), but they were soon followed by many others. So by the early 1980s, people were no longer calling bands like Talking Heads new wave, because the meaning of the term had shifted. But in 1979, I think it was accurate to call Talking Heads new wave, and some people also included punk as part of new wave.
posted by klausness at 2:49 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


read 'Please Kill Me'
posted by judson at 6:54 AM on September 8, 2011


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