New Wave Music History

New Wave music history: when did it start? Ask ten music fans, and you will get ten different answers. The definition of New Wave is something that has never been agreed upon, with some people labeling nearly every band from the early 80s New Wave, while other die hard New Wave fans are sure the term only means their favorite bands. New Wave music history might be a hard story to tell, but the long lasting legacy of New Wave means that no one is going to stop trying any time soon.

Just What is This "New Wave" Thing?

One thing most music fans will concede as fact is that the legendary Sire Records head Seymour Stein is the man who coined the phrase New Wave. He did so in hopes of giving some of his new signings a chance. These Sire Records bands were frequent performers at landmark punk club CBGB in New York City. Punk was the order of the day in the late 1970s, but US radio stations weren't having any of it. They were still trying to regain some dignity after their mid 1970s embrace of disco music as the next best thing. Disco had proven itself to be a fad within a few years, and listeners turned on radio stations who were a little slow reacting to the death of disco. The people in charge of the playlists were sure that punk would go the way of disco in a very short time, and they weren't going down that road again.

So, Stein needed some way to convince the radio stations that his new bands weren't punk bands, no matter how often they played at CBGB. He hit upon the term New Wave and began selling them as the musical equivalent of the French New Wave cinema movement in the 1960s. Like the French filmmakers before them, Stein claimed his new bands experimented with art forms and rejected mainstream corporate culture.

If you think that sounds an awful lot like punk music, you'd be right. In fact, most of the bands Stein was promoting (a notable exception being The Talking Heads) were very much a part of the punk community. In the early days of New Wave, the term was just another euphemism for punk.

All Change - New Wave Branches Out

Like any good group of hardcore music devotees, punk fans were none too pleased with the addition of these New Wave artists to their ranks. Calls that they were not "real" punks abounded, and it didn't take long for bands to branch out of this punk classification. Essentially, bands that were a little less rough, a little more polished, and a little more pop, but definitely not mainstream, took up the New Wave crown.

But this is where things get confusing. New Wave got mixed up with another music movement at the time, post punk. This complication was compounded when the American music media began labeling every band to come out of Britain during the early 1980s a New Wave band. Enter things like New Romantic music, and the name New Wave took on a life of its own, becoming a catch-all term for a variety of different sounds.

For better or worse, the bands that are considered to be part of this golden age of New Wave (debatable as they may be) include:

  • Blondie
  • Elvis Costello
  • Adam and the Ants
  • Human League
  • The Talking Heads
  • The Cure
  • Culture Club
  • Depeche Mode
  • Eurhythmics
  • The Fixx
  • A Flock of Seagulls (also perhaps the best known purveyors of the New Wave "look")
  • Duran Duran

New Waves of New Wave

New Wave never really died. It just ran its course through the 80s and slowly gave way to the early stages of grunge in the underground and the hair metal bands on the mainstream side. Since then, New Wave inspired sounds have waxed and waned. In the early 1990s, a second wave of New Wave bands were christened, including bands such as Echobelly and Elastica. In the mid 2000s, New Wave surfaced again, in the sounds of bands such as Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs.

New Wave Songs Online

Want to check out just one interperatation of New Wave? Have a look at Digital Dreamdoor's 100 Greatest New Wave Songs. Do you agree? Let us know what you think of New Wave and who deserves the classification.

New Wave Music History