New Wave: A Forgotten Era In Music History

Mention the names Adam and the Ants, Simple Minds or The Thompson Twins to a teen, and you might get a puzzled look. They may have heard the names perhaps from their dad and in some cases even grandpa. However, If you are somewhere between the ages of 50 to 55 years old, you may remember being in high school and listening to New Wave music. There was a ton of influential bands from varying genres that created epic music during the 1980s; it was a time when the cold war was really a threat of nuclear war, where students practiced hiding under their desks, and your nearest bomb shelter was a place of safety. Nearly every genre of music during that time period had an impact on that generation. Of course the ’80s are well known for rock music’s legendary big hair bands, pop and rock bands that charted some of the biggest hits in music history that have yet to be replicated. However, if you were in high school between 1977 and 1987, you may remember a genre of music that has since been forgotten or perhaps buried under a blanket by today’s fast-changing mainstream music. Ask anyone who experienced music during the ’80s, and there is no doubt that they will tell you it was the greatest time to be a teenager.

It was Punk Rock that dominated the late 1970s with iconic bands like The Ramones, The Clash, The Stooges, The Misfits and The Dead Kennedys, among others, who added Punk as a genre of music. Punk rock didn’t last; it arrived quickly and had reached its apex in just a few short years. Punk rockers and fans of the genre were ready for a new look and sound. Punk rockers didn’t fit into a specific type; in fact, they were hard to define. If you were into punk, it meant you didn’t conform to mainstream society; it meant you were different and made it known to others in your appearance that you were. From outrageous haircuts with bright colors and body piercings that extended beyond ear lobes to clothing that was torn and tattered, punk was alive and well and played a major role in influencing notable up-and-coming pop acts like Madonna, whose music defined the non-conformist ideology of punk.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that New Wave began to emerge. Many rock bands such as Duran Duran, Big Country, The Cars, The Police and Elvis Costello were often referred to as New Wave artists. While these bands may have crossed into New Waves timeline, it doesn’t necessarily define the New Wave sound that dominated the clubs during that time period. Arguably, the New Wave bands of that brief era shared a new instrument that would forever change music: the synthesizer. This instrument created the unique progressive sounds that ultimately created a subgenre of music known as synthesizer pop. Sometimes referred as the second British invasion, it was a period in music when most of the New Wave bands originated in Britain, where the punk scene lingered for several years after American teenagers had moved on. The impact was immediate and fast; once New Wave arrived stateside, teens across America adopted it and began to buy singles and albums at a feverish pace.

On August 1, 1981, MTV‘s launch date, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles became the first music video to be played on MTV. Within a few months, MTV began to appear nationally across cable systems. This new platform played music that the radio stations weren’t, and record stores were selling music by such obscure bands like The Human League, Bow Wow Wow, Simple Minds and Men at Work. MTV changed the way we visualized and listened to music, putting the faces of the artists in front of their fans. It became the way that bands could reach their fans directly. The music labels were initially reluctant to invest in videos; often budgets were a small fraction of what they would ultimately command to create quality content. In fact, A Flock of Seagulls were given just a few thousand dollars to create the video for their biggest and MTV fan-favorite hit “I Ran (So Far Away)” that would ultimately produce millions of records sold. It was an opportunity for New Wave to reach a new audience in nearly every household in America, if you didn’t have cable, you had a friend that did. You wanted your MTV, and everyone got it.

As New Wave’s Synth Pop became mainstream, it also became integrated into the films of that time. 1984’s teen mega-hit film Sixteen Candles featured several New Wave songs including “If You Were Here” by The Thompson Twins. The success of Sixteen Candles led to other notable films that featured even more New Wave songs. in 1985 Molly Ringwald starred in The Breakfast Club, a film that many teens could relate to. The soundtrack included a plethora of New Wave music from such artists as Simple Minds, whose iconic song “Don’t You Forget About Me” became the signature song for the movie. And in 1986, nearing the end of the New Wave era, Pretty in Pink was released and offered the most New Wave songs of any movie at that time. Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD), The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, The Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen were all part of this blockbuster film.

The following list contains 100 of the most influential New Wave bands. The list may be missing some bands who may have impacted the genre. This list is not based on popularity but simply to serve as a reminder of some of the bands that were played during that period of time.

1. Talking Heads
2. Elvis Costello
3. The Police
4. Blondie
5. Eurythmics
6. Duran Duran
7. Tears for Fears
8. Depeche Mode
9. The Cars
10. Frankie Goes To Hollywood
11. a-ha
12. B-52’s
13. The Psychedelic Furs
14. The Pretenders
15. Men at Work
16. INXS
17. The Fixx
18. Devo
19. Bananarama
20. Culture Club
21. A Flock of Seagulls
22. Simple Minds
23. Thompson Twins
24. XTC
25. Spandau Ballet
26. Pet Shop Boys
27. ABC
28. Thomas Dolby
29. Modern English
30. The Human League
31. Squeeze
32. Adam Ant
33. Howard Jones
34. Soft Cell
35. Berlin
36. Talk Talk
37. Level 42
38. The Jam
39. Gary Numan
40. New Order
41. OMD
42. Joe Jackson
43. Ultravox
44. Erasure
45. Midnight Oil
46. Naked Eyes
47. Nik Kershaw
48. Boomtown Rats
49. Dexy’s Midnight Runners
50. The Motels
51. Planet P Project
52. The English Beat
53. Madness
54. Split Enz
55. General Public
56. Animotion
57. The Call
58. Paul Young
59. Missing Persons
60. Wall of Voodoo
61. Til Tuesday
62. The Vapors
63. Heaven 17
64. The Dream Academy
65. Falco
66. Dead Or Alive
67. Men Without Hats
68. Big Country
69. Bronski Beat
70. The Hooters
71. The Go Go’s
72. Real Life
73. The Buggles
74. Bow Wow Wow
75. The Tubes
76. Peter Schilling
77. Oingo Boingo
78. Kajagoogoo
79. Swing Out Sister
80. Graham Parker & the Rumour
81. Timbuk 3
82. Wang Chung
83. The Members
84. Mr. Mister
85. Frida
86. Gene Loves Jezebel
87. The Power Station
88. The Specials
89. The Plimsouls
90. Information Society
91. Arcadia
92. Haircut 100
93. The Church
94. China Crisis
95. Icehouse
96. Tom Tom Club
97. The Sisters of Mercy
98. Ian Dury & The Blockheads
99. Big Audio Dynamite
100. Visage

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