The term “New Wave” has two meanings — one general and the other more specific.
What Is New Wave?
In the general sense, New Wave refers to all music that resulted from the UK punk explosion of 1976/77. But whereas punk itself was a specific aesthetic, New Wave encompassed everything from two-tone ska (The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, The English Beat) and revivalist rockabilly to electro-futurists (Ultravox, Tubeway Army, Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and theatrical Euro-divas (Gina X, Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen, Toyah Willcox).
New Wave Bands
In the more specific sense, New Wave refers to UK bands that emerged in late-1977 and 1978 that paired the brisk tempos of punk with elements of ska/reggae and the giddy, combo-organ fueled sounds of the early 1960s. Chief among these acts were The Boomtown Rats, XTC, Squeeze, The Police, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and Joe Jackson.
New Wave Songs
Textbook examples of the New Wave sound include the following songs:
- Squeeze — “Remember What,” “It’s So Dirty,” “Another Nail in My Heart.”
- Elvis Costello — “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea,” “No Action,” “Radio Radio.”
- The Boomtown Rats — “Like Clockwork,” “Living on an Island,” “Keep It Up.”
- XTC — “Heatwave,” “Neon Shuffle,” “Beatown.”
- Lene Lovich — “Lucky Number,” “The Angels,” “Egghead.”
- The Stranglers — “Burning Up Time,” “English Towns,” “Dagenham Dave.”
New Wave Fashion
Visually, New Wave acts mostly sported short hair and wore ankle-length pencil trousers with bright socks, shiny-black shoes, and thin-lapel jackets. Striped shirts and salmon-colored drainpipes were typical fashion staples of the movement. The New Wave look stood in contrast to the kimonos, flares, feathered hair, and leisure suits worn by the vast majority of musical acts during the late 1970s.
American New Wave
A number of American bands that recorded during the 1977–80 timeframe — Blondie, The Cars, Devo, Talking Heads, The Shirts, Tin Huey, The B-52’s, Pink Section, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo — also fit the New Wave aesthetic.
’80s New Wave
In the United States, the term “New Wave” extends to cover the New Pop of the 1982/83 Second British Invasion, as most of the latter movement’s players — members of Duran Duran, ABC, Culture Club, Thompson Twins — had punk-era origins. The term lost its hold on the zeitgeist by the mid-1980s, when a clutch of newer UK performers (Go West, Vitamin Z, Cutting Crew) emerged with no aesthetic roots in the punk era.