‘Round about 1978-1979 there was something in the air that even established, coke-enhanced rock royalty were catching wind of. Their irrelevancy. Once you’re on top, there’s only one way to go from there. Let’s face it, the new breed that blew in the UK after punk were getting all of the critical mash notes and commensurate column inches, if not the sales, and that was enough to inspire the class of ’72 to want to get hip… again. But how could they do this? Could a leopard actually change their spots? Here’s a notable few who tried.
Linda Rondstat: Mad Love
Back in 1980 when this was released, there was an off chance that if Jerry Brown had snatched the Democratic nomination from Carter we might have to call Rondstadt the “First Girlfriend.” Ay-yi-yi! A few years earlier, she had a hit with her cover of Elvis Costello’s “Alison;” loathed by EC fans everywhere, though it did Elvis’ bank account some good for a change. This time she co-opted a third string New Wave band [The Cretones] that no-one had ever heard of as her backing band, sang three Elvis Costello covers, and had some “edgy” New Wave graphics cobbled together for her cover art. Maybe your mom was fooled, but after this attempt failed to inject some sizzle in La Rondstatdt’s career, she did a volte face [having no ideals that she had built her career on] and started singing 1940s standards. And then your mom bought the albums. By the truckload.
Huey Lewis & the News: Same
I remember the cheapo videos from this album airing on outlets like “Rockworld” since MTV hadn’t been invented yet. This cover tells you almost all you need to know. The posed shot on a white seamless screams “New Wave” but in a 1978 universe. This was two years later; an eternity in the continuum of hipness. That cover sure looked familiar. Where had we seen that before. Hmmm. Oh yeah, on an actual 1978 New Wave classic; The Boomtown Rats “A Tonic For The Troops.”
The main difference is the the Rats’ album cover was designed by graphic designers, not interns. The songs were tired pop rock that couldn’t quite muster up enough power to be deemed power pop. After this album got Huey + co. a toehold on the charts, they managed to follow through with a smug series of meatball rock albums that were indescribably successful to the consternation of the 30% of the loving public that hated them. Lewis seemed for all the world the essence of your basic “hip” ne’er-do-well uncle who had a bar band on the weekends; except that his “bar band” parlayed their tired, lazy schtick into multiple platinum. At least those other albums doffed the faux New Wave patina.
Billy Joel: Glass Houses
Having endured Joel’s sub-Dylan singer-songwhiner schtick for several successful years, it was only natural for the long-in-tooth popstar to start getting the “New Wave” itch like so many other thirtyscumthings of the time. He opted for a faux-Costello-slash-Joe Jackson style on the noxiously condescending “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” and “You May Be Right.” Unlike the other two entries in this list, this one sold like hotcakes; proving that you can fool some of the people, some of the time.
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…and don’t forget Joel’s synth-heavy follow-up “Pressure”, which was the apex of him trying to be cutting edge. It was almost a relief when he then went back doing crap like Uptown Girl – at least he was being himself.
@james – Nice call! Not to mention his co-opting of New Wave director Russell Mulcahy [Duran Duran, Ultravox] for the clips to that opus! I tend to forget “Pressure” because it was overshadowed in my mind by the faux-broadway-slash-springsteen of “Allentown.”
Ha! I am in total love with this post. There are quite a few examples of MOR/mainstream singers attempting new wave poses in the early 80s. I agree that most were hopeless and pathetic. But…but not all!
I just love to be contrary, so I’ll come right out and say that “How Do I Make You” is surely the best Linda Ronstadt song ever. Really. It’s got a cool drum intro, and Linda sounds practically giddy. It’s fake new wave, but good Linda Ronstadt. I may be alone in thinking this.
And off the top of my head, I’ll throw out a couple of successful new wave(ish) tunes by old wave artists. “Better Davis Eyes” and “Voyeur” – for a brief time Kim Carnes sounded like she’d hijacked Tubeway Army right out from under Gary Numan, and it was good. There’s Alice Cooper’s fab homage to (or rip off of) the Cars with “Clones (We’re All).” I really liked Donna Summer’s kicky little tune “The Wanderer.”
Mmm, OK, i’ll stop there. But first, let me offer a round of amens regarding Huey Lewis (unbearably gruesome) and Billy Joel (a supreme hack). Those two really curdle my blood.
@Taffy – I can’t really remember “Mad Love” having heard 1/2 of the cuts in the fading moments of my dalliance with “FM Rock.” There’s a whole lot of faux New Wave that I couldn’t remember in the brief window of time in which I hacked this out, but Alice Cooper’s “Clones” is surely la creme de la faux Nouvelle Vague! Have you ever heard The Epoxies’ brilliant cover of that? Buy or Die! All of the stuff I wrote about today gave me indigestion, so I’m focused on the negativity! Yeah, Kim Carnes commandeered New Wave tropes brilliantly on BDE. And she had a Russell Mulcahy video clip! When I hear that cut at the gym it’s still not played out, and that’s saying something. Let’s not forget the freakish disco/New Wave hybrid of Lipps Inc. “Funkytown!” I only ever heard this track ten years after it was a smash [I’d studiously avoided it at the time – I’m good at avoiding our culture when I want to] and I was gobsmacked to hear that it wasn’t straight disco. The verses were fantastic New Wave/technopop. I had no idea.
I’ll actually go out on that limb with Taffy and confirm that “Mad Love” had it’s moments. We had that album (okay, my first wife liked her), and while her takes on the Elvis tunes were just plain wrong, as a Linda Rondstadt album it did have a quirky energy. She had a great voice, but she was only as good as the tunes she chose. “How Do I Make You” was amusing, but there was a fantastic version of The Hollies “I Can’t Let Go”, as well as several other decent MOR type covers.
Jim, as for the new wave version of “Funkytown”, are you referring to the cover by the Australian band Pseudo Echo? They were adequate New Romantic wannabees and I enjoyed their debut back when I was listening to anything and everything Aussie. Then they had that hit which was not at all typical of their usual output.
@ Brian Ware – I am talking about the original “Funkytown!” Until the chorus kicks in it is pure technopop. It’s way better than the uninspired Pseudo Echo cover version! Pseudo Echo were far better with their own sub-Ultravox [nothing wrong with that – ask A Flock Of Seagulls, on a
goodgreat day] material, like “Listening.”
I never really thought about it, but yeah, Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown” probably could’ve appeared on M’s New York London Paris Munich without anyone batting an eyelash. And agreed that Pseudo Echo’s cover simply added a ham-fisted heaviness which was quite unnecessary.
@Taffy – Perfect summary. Bonus points for calling PE’s cover ham-fisted.
I’m going to be the heretic and admit I actually — brace yourselves — bought that Billy Joel album! I didn’t end up liking it, and I don’t remember why I bought it at the time … probably something intriguing about established stars trying on New Wave suits! ISTR Elton John taking a stab at it as well, though of course he couldn’t really pull it off.
For the record, I did kind of like “Pressure,” wholly due to the video. Russel ruled my world for a while there.
@ chas_m – We all bought albums that made us go “huh?” at one point or another. As I recall, you may have bought that when joining a record club and as was always the case, it was hard finding 12 good titles, but the cost savings was strong bait. I found out on Wikipedia, that the house he posed in front of for the cover was his own.
Would you like to discuss this with your therapist, Mr. Joel?
Pressure is a fine song that was paired with a fantastic video. And Billy Joel, a master of passive aggression, is a prime vehicle for the song. I don’t like much Billy Joel but Pressure is alright. There’s a Thomas Dolby rip off on the album that it is sourced from…..
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