"TALKIN' 'BOUT MY GENERATION"
UNDERAPPRECIATED MUSICIANS, 1977-1982
By Jim Hutter
THE B-52’s:  What happens when five young Southerners mix
surf music with early ‘sixties camp and gay disco?  Chances
are, it sounds something like The B-52’s.  Named not for the
airplane but for Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson’s beehive
tresses, this Athens, Georgia quintet made dance music for
punks who hated disco.  Add in a warped sense of humor, and
you have a ready-made surprise hit in the form of “Rock
Lobster.”  So far behind the times that they looked like Ed
Wood’s vision of the future, even to this day.

BLONDIE:  By the time the ‘eighties began, many viewed
Blondie as a disco “sell-out,” having scored big with the
sibilant beat of “Heart of Glass” in 1979.  In between the dance
hits, however, there was still plenty of unadulterated rock ‘n’
roll from this co-ed sextet.  From their self-named debut album
in 1976, Blondie fused the decadent detachment of The Velvet
Underground with the bad girl harmonies of The Shangri-La’s
into something very punky and right for the times.  Songs like
“X Offender” and “One Way or Another” mixed Deborah
Harry’s invocation of Greta Garbo with manic punch not heard
since the early days of The Who.  More importantly, Debbie
Harry proved that women could rock, paving the way for the
likes of Pat Benatar, The Go Go’s, and many others.  Blondie
really was a vision of the future, though few appreciated it at
the time.

DAVID BOWIE:  While he may have already been an
established star by the time the ‘eighties began, David Bowie’s
influence was felt most strongly in the new decade of excess.   
The raw and driving sound of his early ‘seventies glam rock
period was practically the blueprint for punks like The Sex
Pistols.  His mid ‘seventies disco lounge lizard image as The
Thin White Duke predicted the style-conscious chic of the
New Romantics.  The end of that decade saw Bowie
producing a trilogy of experimental albums that were very
electronic and emotionally detached, essentially birthing synth
pop.  Ironically, Bowie himself became blandly mainstream in
the ‘eighties, focusing upon film and generic dance funk with
mega hits like “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance.”  Still, if
anyone could be considered the Godfather of all things new
wave David Bowie certainly deserves the honor.

THE CARS:  Electronic-flavored quintet from Boston
combined the cool distance of The Velvet Underground with
the mindless joy of The 1910 Fruitgum Company in time for
the new wave era.  Anorexic front man Ric Ocasek was
perfect for his role, with sunken eyes and yelping voice
exuding total detachment.  Of course, their songs were loaded
with enough hooks to make them darlings of early ‘eighties
Top 40 radio, giving them a somewhat unfair reputation as
“arena rock.”  Fans who enjoyed the decadence of Candy-O
(with awesome Alberto Vargas cover painting) and the icy
distance of Panorama knew better.

THE CLASH:  Sure, calling them “The Only Band That
Matters” has become a boring cliché, but compared to most of
their punk peers, it fits. The Clash grew beyond punk without
accusations of selling out.  The first two albums, The Clash
and Give ‘Em Enough Rope were straight-ahead chainsaw
anarchy. For London Calling, they began to add reggae, soul
and rockabilly to the mix (including a swell cover of Vince
Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac”).  With Sandinista, Strummer,
Jones, Simonon and Headon flirted with third world rhythms in
what would later be sanitized as “WorldBeat.”  Their true
swansong, Combat Rock, dabbled in early rap and hip-hop.  
They should have called it a day right there, but the band fired
guitarist Mick Jones in 1983, and made one album without
him, Cut the Crap.  It was.

ELVIS COSTELLO:  In the broadest sense of the term, a
singer-songwriter is a solo artist who composes his or her
own songs.  That being the case, Elvis Costello had to be one
of the ballsiest singer-songwriters of all time.  Behind his
bespectacled nebbish looks lurked an “extraordinarily bitter
person” who cultivated his angry young man image to good
effect.   Fusing the acid words of Dylan with a Motown-cum-
Stax beat, Costello lambasted superficial women and brain-
dead radio with aplomb.  Eventually, he matured into a musical
jack-of-all-trades, experimenting in roots-rock, jazz, Celtic, and
symphonic sounds.  A true original, Costello continues to
alternately charm and befuddle the alternative music masses
and remains one of the most charming elder statesmen of his
generation.

THE ENGLISH BEAT:  Known simply as The Beat in their
homeland, “English” was appended to their name in the U.S.A.
to avoid confusion with Paul Collins’ similarly named power
pop combo.  Tagged a ska band, The English Beat were
actually neo-mods playing amped-up punk reggae.  The
interracial group included the then fifty-something Saxa, a
‘sixties Jamaican ska original, on his namesake instrument.  In
true quirky British fashion, The English Beat contributed plenty
of mental illness-inspired tunes, such as “Mirror In The
Bathroom,” “Twist And Crawl,” and “Best Friend” to our pop
culture, and certainly inspired the late ‘nineties ska revival.

THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: Musical men out of time began
their recording career in 1968 with the self-released Sneakers
EP when most of the future punks were still in grade school.  
At a time of flower power and psychedelic experimentation,
Cyril Jordan and company produced grooves that harkened
back to blues sounds of a decade earlier.  With the early
‘seventies departure of co-founder Roy Loney, Jordan linked
up with erstwhile producer Dave Edmunds, and set the
musical time machine back to the British Invasion.  In ’76, The
Groovies produced their greatest groove, “Shake Some
Action,” which could pass for a lost Beau Brummels’ single.  
The allegorical message of this call to action was not lost upon
a new generation of conservative rock malcontents who
wanted to turn back the clock, at least in spirit, to the time
before Sergeant Pepper and wanton pop sophistication.  The
Flamin’ Groovies spent the duration of the ‘seventies
pretending it was still 1965, and produced three albums to
show for it; Shake Some Action, Flamin’ Groovies Now and
Jumpin’ In The Night.  

THE GO-GO’S:  Bubblegum punk at it’s finest, the all-female
Go-Go’s were the ‘eighties answer to The Monkees.  
Seemingly prefab, The Go-Go’s were actually the real deal.  
Cute on the surface, but nasty to the bone, they came on like
five grown-up versions of the Bad Seed.  Mindless and
disposable, their lightweight melodies annoyed heavy rock
elitists, and made the airwaves fun again between ’82 and ’84.  

ROBERT GORDON:  Thanks to films like “American Graffiti”
and TV shows like “Happy Days,” ‘fifties nostalgia was alive
and well in the ‘seventies.  A few punk malcontents took
advantage of this atmosphere to rekindle an interest in early
Southern rock ‘n’ roll, better known as rockabilly.  Former
Tuff Darts lead singer Robert Gordon not only talked the talk
but walked the walk.  Clad in cat clothes and a greasy
pompadour, the slender singer belted the blues with a boss
baritone in a manner not unlike rock ‘n’ roll royalty.  This New
York punkabilly recorded several albums of obscure covers
and retro originals (including Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire”) that
all but defined the genre.  Along the way, Gordon proved his
authenticity by recording and touring with vintage rockabilly
guitarist Link Wray.  Gordon’s record sales, however, were
marginal and he soon faded into obscurity.  For rockabilly
cultists, however, there were few voices that rang more true
than Robert Gordon.

THE INMATES:  Stealing a page from Mick and Keith’s
songbook, The Inmates turned out the kind of raw R & B-
based rock that The Stones themselves chucked back in ’67.  
From Peter Gunn’s left-handed Harmony to Bill Hurley’s
Howlin’ Wolf growl, The Inmates updated swingin’ ‘sixties
London R & B in time for the uptight ‘eighties.  Even today,
these British garage rockers have a cult following in France
and Scandinavia, undoubtedly proving inspirational to the latest
generation of three-chord Swedes.   

JOE JACKSON:  Homely geek who resembled the love child of
Don Knotts and Judy Garland became the piano man of the
punk generation.  His early records were acerbic power pop,
but his jazz background gave him the savvy to throw in ninth
and minor seventh chords galore.  In ’81, Jackson predated
the ‘nineties swing revival with Jumpin’ Jive, a collection of
Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan classics.  Since then, Jackson
has dabbled in a multitude of styles, some successful (salsa),
and some not (opera), but the cat has more chutzpah about
going off the deep end than most other pop artists.  
THE JAM:  In 1976, when the rock world was swimming in
the flotsam and jetsam of the hippie legacy, adolescent Paul
Weller had the bollocks to don a Steve McQueen haircut and
continental suit and call himself a mod.  When the kindly
British press accused him of cashing in on yesterday’s fads,
his perfect line of defense was, “How can I be a…revivalist
when I’m only eighteen?” The Jam further outraged anarchists
by claiming that they had voted Tory in the general election.  A
punk band in name only, the trio played concise and punchy
three-minute rave-ups like the pilled-up modernists of old.  
When the mod revival gave way to new romanticism and other
cheesy ‘eighties fads, The Jam called it a day.   

THE KINKS: Although ostensibly a ‘sixties British Invasion
band, The Kinks entered the ‘eighties nearly as influential as
David Bowie.  A musical trailblazer, guitarist Dave Davies
performed a knitting needle abortion on his amp speaker and
unleashed the fuzz tone fury of “You Really Got Me.”  Big
brother Ray got in touch with his inner Kink and infused his
songs with much irony and sexual ambiguity.  Needless to say,
all of these elements were prevalent in sounds post-punk.  By
the ‘eighties, The Kinks had grown into something of an arena
rock band, but one considerably more witty, self-deprecating,
and English than most.  After years of semi-obscurity, the
times were finally right for Ray Davies and his brand of
“Kinky” rock ‘n’ roll.

GRAHAM PARKER:  Bitter English blue-eyed soul brother
sang tales of sexual angst from behind aviator shades and a
receding hairline.  Recording with The Rumour, he made it to
disc a full year before kindred spirit Elvis Costello.  Riding the
crest of the new wave, Parker’s creative tide continued to ebb
and flow long after his peers sank into the sea of obscurity.  

THE POLICE:  If The Clash were pioneers for fusing punk
with reggae, then The Police took things one step further by
adding jazz to the mix.  Even with all of their rhythmic
sophistication, the trio of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy
Summers were at heart a great pop band.  Irresistible melodies
like “Roxanne,”  “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,”
and the Lolita tribute “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” were
international hits for very good reason—you can sing along
with them, yet they are still intelligent lyrics with much
harmonic complexity.  This appeal eventually led to mega
stardom, with their swansong, Synchronicity, going multi-
platinum and very mainstream.

POWER POP:  Rock sub-genre’s appeal is cyclical, but
continues to pull in melody geeks everywhere: individuals who
openly admit to enjoying The Beatles far more than Led
Zeppelin.  The term was originally coined by Peter Townshend
to describe The Who’s unique sound.  By the early ‘seventies,
untrendy groups like Badfinger, The Raspberries and Big Star
adopted the same formula, mixing raunchy guitar crunch
(Power) with Beatlesque melodies and harmonies (Pop).  The
style finally came of age as a result (or in spite) of the punk
revolution.  In stark contrast to The Sex Pistols’ ripped T-
shirts and safety pins, combos like The Romantics and The
Plimsouls upset the post-hippie apple cart with the audacity to
wear short hair, skinny ties, and to play concise three-minute
songs.  As the ‘eighties new wave was pushed aside by hair
metal and recycled disco, Power Pop retreated underground.  
The style was resilient enough to survive, and resurfaced
during the 1988-1994 alternative period with the likes of The
Smithereens, Gin Blossoms and The Hoodoo Gurus.  Power
Pop has since burrowed further underground, but promises to
resurface with the next youth revolution.

THE PRETENDERS:  Unable to get anything going stateside,
Ohioan Chrissie Hynde moved to England where she found
kindred spirits with punkers.  Linking up with guitarist James
Honeyman-Scott, bassist Peter Farndon and drummer Martin
Chambers brought out the caustic best in Hynde, offering balls-
out rock ‘n’ roll not heard since The Stones, pre-drug busts.  
In true nihilistic fashion, Honeyman-Scott and Farndon lived
hard and died young, leaving behind the legend of Pretenders
Mark I.   Mourning, Chrissie Hynde came up with possibly her
greatest tune, “Back to the Chain Gang,” backed by an ad-hoc
band featuring members of Rockpile and Big Country.  Even
over a quarter of a century later, the fifty-something Hynde
still trots out new sets of Pretenders every few years and still
manages to blow away the competition.

THE RAMONES:  When The Ramones released their
eponymous debut in 1976, it was nothing less than radical.  In
a time when complexity and sophistication in rock were valued
as assets, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy went the
opposite direction into stark simplicity.  Mixing chainsaw
guitar of The Stooges with the poppy innocence of
bubblegum, The Ramones were genuine originals.  With songs
rarely longer than two minutes and lyrics as simple as dark
nursery rhymes, The Ramones said more with less.   In the
bicentennial year, they really were the shot heard ‘round the
world.

ROCKPILE:  When veteran British pub rockers Dave Edmunds
and Nick Lowe teamed up in 1977, both had impressive
resumes dating back to the late ‘sixties.  As a solo artist,
Edmunds had already scored a 1971 American hit with a
remake of Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knocking.”  Lowe had
been the bassist for Brinsley Schwarz and then the house
producer for Stiff Records.  Mixing Edmunds’ early rock
revivalist mentality with Lowe’s pop sensibilities, Rockpile was
the prototypical ‘eighties roots-rock combo.  Their blend of
rockabilly, old school soul, and rootsy jangle added up to “Pure
Pop for Now People.”  Most of their tenure was spent as the
backing band for solo efforts by Lowe and Edmunds.  The
only album as Rockpile proper, Seconds of Pleasure,
proved to be their swansong. This retro-rock classic was a
blockbuster, adding only to the stealthy legend that was
Rockpile.

THE SPECIALS: Septet from Coventry began playing untrendy
Jamaican ska in the late ‘seventies and started their own record
label, kicking off the whole Two-Tone craze.  Multi-racial
band was decked out in three-button suits, porkpie hats and
crew cuts, offering a visual antidote to the hippie overkill of
the Me Decade.
Their songs were preachy as hell about racial harmony, but
man, could they make you dance!  Diluting old school blue
beat with rock, soul and dashes of lounge music was the
perfect cocktail for a new generation who wanted to move
their feet to something other than disco.  Their coolest moment
was the haunting “Ghost Town,” inspired by the Brixton race
riots of ’81.  “Ghost Town” painted a picture of a bleak and
paranoid England, using a dark and ominous dub reggae sound,
befitting the soundtrack to a James Bond film.  Although the
original band broke up after their 1984 European hit, “Free
Nelson Mandela,” they periodically reunite for nostalgia tours.  
Even so, their best moments were behind them by ’82.  

SQUEEZE:  Since the ‘seventies, Chris Difford and Glenn
Tilbrook have been writing pop operettas about day-to-day
English life, and wrapping them in melodies worth giving your
sweet tooth for.  The revolving door line-up of their band of
misfits has included such notables as Jools Holland, Paul
Carrack, Steve Nieve and Peter Thomas.  Although Squeeze’s
output has been through various stylistic ups and downs, there
is no disputing the pure pop magnificence of Cool for Cats,
Argybargy, and East Side Story.  Even minor efforts like Frank
are rewarding.  Between Difford’s insightful lyrics and
Tilbrook’s succulent melodies, Squeeze proves Peter
Townshend’s oft-quoted remark that “pop music need not turn
one into an idiot.”

THE STRAY CATS:  Trio of American Teddy boys found
initial fame in England as part of the post-punk rockabilly
revival.  With exaggerated quiffs and menacing tattoos, The
Stray Cats cut a distinctive profile in the early ‘eighties world
of ‘seventies leftovers.  Leader Brian Setzer, a masterful
guitarist, played tastefully overdriven licks that could easily
hold their own against self-proclaimed guitar heroes like Stevie
Ray Vaughan and Eddie Van Halen.  With stand-up bassist Lee
Rocker and stand-up drummer Slim Jim Phantom, the Stray
Cats channeled the spirits of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent
with ease.  Too retro for the mainstream, many wrote The
Stray Cats off as a novelty act.  Those who knew better
catapulted the band to a handful of international hits and a
respected cult status among Age of Jive aficionados.

Further information on all of these musical artists can be found
on the internet.  The best resource is probably All Music
Guide, found at www.allmusic.com.
A couple of issues back, I posed the question, “Just what the hell is new wave?”  Essentially, I was lamenting
the selective nature of ‘eighties nostalgia.  In appealing to the collective memory of older members of
Generation X, the mass media fondly recalls the faddish androgynous synthesizer bands as “new wave,” while
conveniently forgetting the less popular but more rocking performers of that era.  In attempting to set the
record straight, I would like to spotlight some of the more notable singers and bands from the original “new
wave” period, 1977 to 1982.  Not all of them became megastars, but almost all were loved by critics and
budding rock snobs alike.  Let us present Underappreciated Musicians, 1977-1982.
©Copyright 2009-2010 Out Of The Blue.
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