Except for a few fashion-conscious punkettes on King's Road in London, the punk movement has lost most of its momentum in England. New wave took over where punk left off, presenting simplistic melodies without the snarls.
Now mod-revival has started, advocated by modern-day Who-types — the band most famous for rising out of that post-Beatle confrontation that pitted stylish rebels (called mods) against the leather-jacketed teddy boys (called rockers).
So where does 30-year-old Nick Lowe fit into this rock history? Although he essentially has been doing the same off-the-wall humorous pop music since 1965, when he was with a band called Kippington Lodge, he has remained one of the most successful unknowns in the business.
But now, radio is playing more of his stuff and feels a need to categorize the English producer-songwriter-bassist. He has been tagged with the new wave label for the extensive work he has done with movement leaders. But Lowe says he writes accessible "music to pay the rent by." He terms it "pure pop," as in his 1978 solo debut album, Pure Pop for Now People.
"I suppose I do have to explain that term since I invented it," chirped Lowe in a recent telephone interview. "Bear in mind that I make really simple records. I used 'pop' at the time just as a word that would upset people 'cause it's so out of fashion to admit you're a pop group. I did it to annoy people ... although I'm not pop 'cause pop means popular.
"On the surface, it's very accessible, but if you listen carefully, you might feel vaguely uncomfortable like this guy might be having a laugh here."
Aside from the jesting in the song "American Squirm," his most recent release, "Labour of Lust," is rather straightforward, energetic, fun rock. The expectations were for something more cynical, but Lowe explained, "I wanted to do something without too much cleverdick, no cutesy-pie stuff."
He always tries to stay away from the serious, arty music that's getting notice now.
"The new arty groups are the most boring old bullshit, Take Patti Smith, well, she's not exactly new but she'll do for example. How anybody can take that seriously, I don't know. It's arty-farty bullshit. I still like the old stuff and new records that nod to those early days.
"Take Stax music and Motown. That was really simple stuff. Anybody could have done it. Yet, each part, the bass, the drum, the guitar and vocals fit together and the songs made a point. You strip off everything you don't need and If you do that, you come up with a new attitude. You don't have to buy a new synthesizer and get a weird burble or bleep out of it to be new. New is an attitude."
Lowe's new wave stigma probably comes from guilt by association. Among others, he has produced Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Damned and Rockpile, the group headed by Dave Edmunds in which Lowe plays bass, unless he's touring solo. Lowe says that because these groups have style they survived the punk/new wave onslaught, while most others were culled by natural selection.
Lowe sees both good and bad aspects to the punk scene.
"It was great when it started out because it was an idea some kid had in a pub. It didn't start with a jeans importer telling you that all the kids are going to be wearing denim this year.
"But it did get ridiculous. Record companies signed them up in droves, all the ones with the spikey haircuts. In the end, they missed the point completely. You weren't supposed to imitate the Sex Pistols, you were supposed to make music you were proud of. You're supposed to make up the fashion, not imitate it," Lowe said.
Although Lowe has attained only a modest following in the United States, some fans think he's some kind of musical mastermind and musicians want him to produce their records.
"You see, basically, I'm a wimp but I'm proud of being a wimp so my music comes out kind of tough. I tell people I'm a fraud but the more I tell them that, the more they think I'm marvelous. It's very frustrating."