Parade, February 24, 1980

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Rock rolls into new wave

Andy Edelstein

If the 1970s was the decade of disco, the 1980s may be the decade in which dancing Americans return to rock 'n' roll.

This surprising turnaround may be seen — and heard — in the increasing popularity of New Wave music, a highly danceable, energetic style of rock.

Record companies are aggressively signing New Wave bands. Conventional rock-format radio stations that once shunned this music as too experimental and anti-social are now regularly playing the records of such New Wave artists as Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, The Clash, Blondie, and Joe Jackson.

Part of New Wave's appeal lies in its musical experimentation and no-frills lyrics — often expressing dissatisfaction or disillusion with modern life.

New Wave songs replace 1960s-style odes to peace and love with hard-boiled assessments of life.

"I want to bite the hand that feeds me," says Elvis Costello. "I am isolated and alienated," cries David Byrne of Talking Heads.

Such anger fired New Wave's antecedent, "punk rock" — a crude, loud, and short-lived style. Eventually, however, punk and other types of pop music — electronic music, Jamaican reggae and ska, early 1960s rock — became integrated under the label "New Wave," a term first applied in 1977 by Seymour Stein, president of Sire Records, to lessen the notoriety associated with the more violent punk rock bands.

While it looks forward to the 1980s, New Wave music also looks back to the 1950s and early 1960s. The simple, "innocent" rock of the early Beatles, for example, is echoed in a form of New Wave called Power Pop, typified by The Knack.

The fashions of that era — skinny black ties, miniskirts, leopard print dresses, go-go boots, black leather jackets, wraparound sunglasses — are standard garb at rock clubs. Hair is cropped, sometimes rainbow-hued. Noticeably absent are the trappings of the late 1960s — long hair, denim shirts, work boots.

New Wave music's appeal can also be traced to a decline in the popularity of disco, whose slick, studio-produced sound is its antithesis. "Disco used to be rebellious, but it's become boring," claims Howie Klein, a disc jockey in San Francisco.

Dancing to the New Wave is definitely in order. As a matter of fact, it's primarily dance music. Dancers move in robot-like motions, pogo (jump up and down), or do such 1960s freestyle steps as the Twist and the Watusi. Capitalizing on this renewed interest in rock dancing, more than 100 "rock discos" have sprung up across the country.

The rise of New Wave rock does not mean that discos will decline — many, in fact, will probably follow the lead of New York's trendy Studio 54, which kicked off its fall season last year by adding rock records to its play list. Future dance music may well involve a mix of rock 'n' roll and disco — already Talking Heads and Biondie as well as veteran mainstream rockers like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, have experimented with mixing the two styles.

"In a few years, the term 'disco music' as we know it will probably be dead, replaced by a mixture of rock, disco, funk or whatever," predicts Scott Anderson, editor of Dance Music, an influential trade newsletter which recently changed its name from Disco News to recognize the rise of "dance-oriented rock."

With much of the violence and hostility associated with punk rock diluted or absent in New Wave music, its audience is expanding. "This music is the freshest stuff I've heard in a long time," says Robert Moss, 28, a vice president with pollsters Louis Harris and Associates. Moss wears three-piece business suits by day, black T-shirts and pointy-toed boots by night when he haunts Manhattan rock clubs. "For the first time since I was a teenager, I'm dancing to rock 'n' roll again."


Parade, February 24, 1980

Andy Edelstein's essay on New Wave music includes Elvis Costello.


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Photographer unknown.
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Crest of the wave

Andy Edelstein

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Most New Wave bands, lacking a record contract and radio exposure, are known only in the clubs and communities where they play. Here are some of the most successful New Wave bands and artists:

• Talking Heads — A New York City-based quartet, one of the most adventurous and intellectual New Wave bands.

• Blondie — A sextet named for the bleached hair of Deborah Harry, the band's 34-year-old lead singer, whose sultry image recalls Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. Blondie was the first New Wave act to achieve large-scale success.

• The Knack — A Los Angeles quartet whose clean, bouncy Power Pop recalls the early Beatles (so squeaky clean, in fact, that displeased hard-core New Wavers sport buttons saying "Knuke the Knack").

• B-52s — An Athens, Ga., quintet that takes its name from the Southern slang for the outrageous bouffant hairdos worn by its two female members.

• The Ramones — A New York foursome considered the prototypical punk band since their start five years ago in black leather jackets, dirty jeans and scuffed sneakers. Their stripped-down sound (no song is longer than three minutes) has been likened to the droning of a buzz-saw. They recently were featured in a cult movie, Rock and Roll High School.

• The Clash — The most overtly political of the British New Wave bands, these four angry young men play high energy rock 'n' roll full of fury and frustration (sample song titles: "Out of Control," "White Riot," "Tommy Gun").

• The Police — A trio of two Englishmen and one American, most daring in their attempts to merge rock rhythms with Jamaican reggae.

• Joe Jackson — A 24-year-old English singer/songwriter trained at the Royal Academy of Music whose work borrows from early 1960s rock and from reggae. His best songs ("Fools in Love," "Is She Really Going Out With Him?") cast a jaundiced eye on the notion of romantic love.

• Elvis Costello — A 23-year-old former computer programmer, also English, who helped make punk "respectable' by using his barbed wit to refine the anger of the early punks.

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Cover and page scan.


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