New Wave Compilations: K-Tel Rock 80 – Hip, for America

K-Tel | US | LP | 1980 | TU 2780

Various: Rock 80 US LP [1980]

  1. Gary Numan: Cars
  2. Pretenders: Brass In Pocket
  3. Sniff ‘N’ The Tears: Driver’s Seat
  4. Nick Lowe: Cruel To Be Kind
  5. Joe Jackson: Is She Really Going Out With Him?
  6. Pat Benatar: Heartbreaker
  7. Blondie: Call Me
  8. Ramones: Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?
  9. The Knack: My Sharona
  10. Cheap Trick: I Want You To Want Me
  11. Ian Gomm: Hold On
  12. Blondie: One Way Or Another
  13. Pat Benatar: We Live For Love
  14. M: Pop Muzik

Yesterday we looked at what is indisputably the coolest K-Tel compilation, ever. But that got released in England. What about America? We actually got a New Wave K-Tel comp a year earlier, once the charts managed to get an injection of new blood, finally, in 1979. Blondie, in particular, finally cracked their homeland and bubbled up to the top with their 30th or 40th single, “Heart Of Glass.” Then for a few months, it looked like New Wave might make a permanent home on the US charts, what with Gary Numan having a hit with no guitars whatsoever! And then REO Speedwagon and Journey put an end to that mischief! But for a little while… it looked possible. This album was the attempt by K-Tel to cash in on this perceived trend. Simulated Mouse & Kelley artwork, notwithstanding.

Unlike yesterday’s album, this is one that I did buy; albeit for my cousin’s x-mas gift! Of course, it being 1980, he received an 8-track version of this puppy! I thought, if I can just influence him a bit with this, it might help. No such luck. Last I heard, he was in the slammer again! Still, can’t blame me for trying, eh? One thing discerning eyes may notice when perusing the contents is that unlike all other K-Tel/Ronco/etc. “TV compilations,” this one only goes to 14. Yes, this has a mere seven songs per side instead of the usual 9-10 “specially edited” versions grove-crammed for your listening pleasure. It’s true. Mass market comp albums often shave the songs down to cram more on, resulting in unique edits for the truly dedicated collectors. In keeping with the highly experimental nature of this release, all of the songs were exactly as anyone who had heard them on the radio would have remembered.

It starts out with “Cars” which scraped into the top ten, but was still an impressive showing for a song so radically different from the cheeseball rock and leftover disco that was still comprising the US charts at the time. I remember Sniff N’ The Tears hit, but I always thought of it as disco, not New Wave. I thought they were singing “travesty” when I heard it on the radio. The Nick Lowe hit is a perennial fave and Nick’s biggest US hit.

Joe Jackson’s first US hit dates from his Graham Parker/Elvis Costello portion of his storied career. Still, a big hit like that right out of the box, showed he had talent and could be a contender in the long run. Following that, comes one of the Faux New Wave ringers here. Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” was New Wave only in the sense that it was a woman singing! You youngsters won’t remember, but 1979 was yet another in the seemingly endless series of  the “Year of Women In Rock” that we’re forced to relive every decade or so until the sun goes nova, I suppose. In reality, I recently heard the track on the 80s CHR channel at the gym and I first thought that Judas Priest had snuck into the Muzak® channel playlist by mistake. Really. “Heartbreaker” was the big hit from the not too shabby Pat Benatar debut album, and it pointed the way for her out of a fairly eclectic mix into the confines of hard rock. It really does sound like a Priest track from that era. I guess whoever compiled this was grasping for straws since all of these tunes were actually radio hits if not chart toppers.

Let’s not forget that “Call Me” was in fact the biggest selling single of the titular year of this album. Blondie had become one of the biggest groups in the world by this time and who ever knew that they would have another three year run at the top before it all collapsed. Sometimes I think that Satan’s Wheel Of Fame® is mostly comprised of the number three. Rare is the band that can carry on with great success beyond that time period.  It’s gratifying to have The Ramones here, even though they got precious little airplay out of all of the groups on display here. It’s the thought that counts, and the Spector-produced “Do You Remember Rock & Roll Radio” should have been as big a hit as the following track was. I can’t say I ever liked The Knack. They seemed so contrived and hyped to my teenaged ears. And I found their songs fairly repulsive. I just found out when Doug Fieger died two years ago that there was a real Sharona; a teenaged girl that the decade older Fieger left his presumably 25 year old girlfriend for. Yes, that was her on the sleeve of the 45. Ewwwww!

Cheap Trick were another quasi-Faux New Wave band, but really, Robin Zander’s and Tom Peterson’s hair was always too long for that! As lovable as they are, they are what a good, mainstream rock band should have been in the late 70s; not really New Wave. Ian Gomm was on Stiff Records, but his mellow hit seemed to be more of an Al Stewart vibe than most of the material here. The second Pat Benatar track here comes at least within shooting distance of New Wave. “We Live For Love” is prime faux-Blondie, and was my favorite cut on her 1st album. The associations with Chrysalis and Mike Chapman producing didn’t hurt in that respect. If that had been the hit instead of “Heartbreaker,” who knows how her career trajectory would have played out?

The program ends with the hyper-catchy, New Wave novelty of M’s “Pop Muzik.” I was totally unconvinced of this track when it came out. It seemed like a ripoff of New Wave made by a charlatan, rather than the real thing. When it hit #1 I felt that this was a co-opting of New Wave that would be the harbinger of a trend of such music. Looks like I was wrong. I like the track now just fine.

This was an interesting one-off for the normally MOR K-Tel efforts. It plays it rather safe, given the briefing for this album, but in retrospect, it’s amazing that it happened at all. And the effort alone was to be commended. The material had an even split between US and UK acts, which is as it should have been. Don’t ever forget that we started the ball rolling in NYC and Cleveland before the UK picked up the ball and ran with it.

– 30 –

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5 Responses to New Wave Compilations: K-Tel Rock 80 – Hip, for America

  1. Taffy says:

    I’m really surprised that K-Tel didn’t opt for a track by the Cars (something from Candy-O maybe, to fit the time frame) on this otherwise spot on (tangential) new wav-ish comp. I own every one of these songs (even the Pat Benatar ones, lord help me!) on their parent albums, and repeated playing of the Cars, Pretenders, and Cheap Trick in my college bedroom quickly got me labelled as the dorm punk. Yes, punk. Try telling upstate New York Jethro Tull-teenagers in 1979 that Cheap Trick, while superlative power-pop, was not a punk band! Whatever. I loved this stuff. Still do.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Great compilation and one that I bought at the time. Again I have all the albums that relate to these hits – save the Benatar album…You hit it on the nail with the Priest comparison! Going to High School in Queens, NYC from 78 – 81 a new wave/punk like me had to find some middle ground to survive… That meant knowing AC/DC’s Back In Black, The Stone’s Miss You and Emotional Rescue (their best album in my mind) and Priest’s British Steel. Heartbreaker is the soundtrack to every Sweet 16 I ever went to…Blondie was for guys and Benatar was for girls.
    Sniff N’ the Tears is just The Easybeats 15 yrs on…literally.
    M’s Pop Muzik is a brilliant track. It’s actually another bridge track between the Glam Pop of pre Punk and the New Wave. Everytime I hear it think of The Kenny Everett Show and the Hot Gossip Dancer’s (who we know would go on to “make” and album with BEF!).
    Debbie Harry and the Boys filled my youth with wonderful music and are one of the first bands I ever saw live, just as they were about to take off with Parallel Lines. As sad as things got for them and as far from those days that Debbie and Chris are today, I still consider Blondie one of the greatest rock/pop acts of all time.
    I’m loving these compilation reviews monk…I just made an playlist for the car that matches this one!

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  3. Echorich says:

    ***CORRECTION – I take back the Sniff n the Tears /Easybeats comment…as I hit the comment button I realize I was thinking of Flash N the Pan and their hit Hey St. Peter…although both tracks are kind of interchangeable. Sorry about the gaff…

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  4. Love early New Wave ❤️💚 says:

    This LP is missing one of the earlier New Wave successes, Linda Ronstadt’s New Wave songs “How do I Make You,” Hurts So Bad,” and “I Can’t Let Go.” These were huge hits off her New Wave album “”Mad Love” which was one of the biggest selling albums of 1979 and 1980.

    Due to Rolling Stone’s inexplicable decades long campaign of revisionist portrayal of Ronstadt’s stature in Rock and pop history, the public has forgotten how influential and massively popular she was as a Rock n Roll artist. Gratefully, that has been changing during the past five years.

    Ronstadt, the most popular female solo act at the time assisted in bringing New Wave music and Elvis Costello (he wrote three songs for the album) into the mainstream pop and classic rock audiences. Same for Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses” album. And glaringly, this album is missing hits from The Cars who were the first New Wave act to make it mainstream.

    Having said this, this compilation album is still a spot on one of the early New Wave sound. I’m glad to see Pat Benatar included because she initially made it as a New Wave Star before becoming and arena rock staple. People forget that as well. Benatar also played a large role in making New Wave popular in its early days.

    Can’t wait to get this record!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Love early New Wave – Welcome to the comments! If you set the Wayback Machine® to 2011 you’ll find we talked about many of the artists you mentioned in detail in the first of our popular “False New Wave” threads. I guess that maybe Ronstadt’s label wanted too many royalties to license a cut like “How Do I Make You.” Rolling Stone have revised Ronstadt’s history? This comes as a shock to me since I recall them basically building her case as a relevant star in the 70s. I never found her particularly interesting, to be honest. Her career could have started and finished with folk-rock of The Stone Poneys for my taste. And yeah, I thought Pat Benatar was trying a bit of everything on her debut album to see what stuck to the wall. Unfortunately for us it was her stab at a Judas Priest sound [“Heartbreaker”] that was the big hit, and then she chased the money. But other members of her band were poster children for the Token New Waver® movement!

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