REDUX: Faking It Files – A Gallery Of False “New Wave”

blast-from-the-past-header January 18, 2011

‘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 [TheCretones] 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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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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10 Responses to REDUX: Faking It Files – A Gallery Of False “New Wave”

  1. Tim says:

    I sense a fun comment thread on the horizon.
    Huey Lewis and the News are some of the ones from the 80’s whose success just baffles me.
    He isn’t a bad actor, at least from what I’ve seen him in. The music is just……it’s like a really bad Cheap Trick cover band decided to try to make their own sound (and failed miserably).

    The only good thing to come out of HL&tN was the satire of them in “American Psycho” which has been twice parodied, once very ably by Miles Fischer in his video for his cover of “This Must Be The Place” and once again on some video I caught on “Funny or Die.” It’s easy to make yourself the butt of the joke when you spent half of a decade laughing your way to the bank.

    FoD clip with Weird Al: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/e3662085fb/american-psycho-with-huey-lewis-and-weird-al

    Miles Fischer:

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Huey Lewis… America’s Phil Collins? I’ve only seen “Back To The Future” and “Short Cuts.” Not enough to judge his thespian capacity.

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      • Echorich says:

        Monk – Ronstadt’s album is a travesty…the dis-service she did to the EC tracks far outweighs any royalties the author saw. Costello slammed her for Girls Talk at the time for not understanding the point of the song and how a girl singing it mad absolutely no sense.
        Tim – American Psycho is one of my favorite 20th century novels. Ellis completely got the nihilism of success in the big fat 80’s. His (anti)hero’s waxing eloquently on both Lewis and Collins is classic in their detachment to the horror which follows.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – As much as I disdain LR’s Costello covers as ill-conceived in the extreme, I’d lay the wreath of despair at her feet for what she did to Warren Zevon’s “Poor Pitiful Me” even moreso! Talk about a song that made no sense in a woman’s mouth!! I really don’t value “singers.” They have nothing to do with art.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – The closest Huey Lewis came to New Wave was when his band, Clover, was tipped by fan [?] Nick Lowe to back up Elvis Costello on “My Aim Is True.” But Huey was not at those sessions. Huey was always a meatballs and cheese sort of popstar. Indigistible… and those meatballs were heavy on the breadcrumbs! Middlebrow to a fault and omnipresent during the four years at the top after Satan’s Wheel-O-Fame® was cunningly spun by Lewis, who in a last laugh against Old Scratch, had no soul to lose. He only could have reigned during the Reagan Years®. Though it pains me to admit it, there is an instance of Huey Lewis in my Record Cell! A scan of Discogs reveals that I have him guest playing harmonica on Dick Dale’s not-unimpressive “Unknown Territory” album!

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      • the sole inhabitant says:

        Ol’ Huey played the harp on “Baby Drives Me Crazy” too on Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous album. Just sayin’. I can’t hate the man, not a bad actor, but certainly could never understand the love HL&TN got back in the day. Soooo vanilla. That being said, they kinda sound somewhat decent now compared to what’s passing for pop/rock these days, but I guess that’s just my “back-in-my-day” kicking in! Btw, new to this site and I LOVE IT!

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          The sole inhabitant – Welcome to the comments! It’s funny about Huey Lewis. Several years ago I was attending a concert by Don Dixon, and realized that on the face of it, he had many vocal characteristics that were not a million miles away from those of Huey Lewis as a singer. But the end result was significantly less steeped in Velveeta, so to speak. I chalk it up to taste. The caliber of Lewis’ songwriting was very ‘vanilla’ as you say!

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          the sole inhabitant – With a moniker like that, you must be a Dolby fan! I love that CD/DVD. It’s amazing work, but did you run into this blog on the Dolby forum? I haven’t spent much time there.

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  2. PPM, Are you talking about the Ronstadt album that debuted at #5 on the Billboard album chart, quickly became her seventh consecutive million-selling album and went on to garner a Grammy nomination? New Wave posing aside, it can hardly be considered a failed attempt to “inject some sizzle in La Rondstadt’s career”. Just the opposite AND a giant nod to the impact that New Wave and Punk was having that such a “mainstream” artist would jump on the bandwagon. Remember when The Stones went Disco?

    Also, credit due to Ronstadt for trailblazing into covering Swing era classics 11 years before Brian Setzer made Swing cool again (and commercially lucrative) and a full 27 years before Rod Stewart crapped out his banal “American Songbooks”. Your Mom couldn’t back the truck up fast enough to load up on those!

    The elephant in the room here is Van Halen updating their sound by going synthesizer heavy on 1984’s “Jump”. An attempt to “jump” genres so blatant and heavy handed it remains an all time classic guilty pleasure!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      orange county dj – Phew! It’s as if there’s no time to answer the comments any more! Wow. I just looked up “Mad Love’s” stats and I am flabbergasted that it was another platinum disc for Ms. Rondstadt. My hazy memories of the time was that it didn’t seem to get the airplay that earlier discs did, but in my defense I will point to the triple platinum “What’s New” as the game-changer that she was obviously searching for. “Mad Love” seems to have been just another stepping stone in her march of dominance, which in all honesty, was windind down in the early 80s and can be said to have ended with the debut of Madonna. Madonna would own the 80s like Rondstadt owned the 70s. I don’t like either of them, but them’s the breaks.

      When The Stones “went disco” I regarded it as an affront at the time. But I was down on The Stones at that point, not to mention disco. By the time I really started to pay attention to music, they were in their mid-70s doldrums and non-entities to me. I finally found room for them in my listening by the mid-80s, and just last month I bought a copy of “Some Girls” for the first time ever! As far as bandwagon leading, I never could swallow “What’s New” even though I had great esteem for Nelson Riddle and particularly his killa Sinatra arrangements. It all came down to Linda Rondstadt just being a singer I didn’t like, even as I had friends who snapped up “What’s New.”

      In regards to the Van Halen chart topper, I never really thought it was the sound of the band appropriating synthpop as much as them finally glomming onto mid-period Rush. No! Let’s focus that laser on Rush wannabees Saga! Cut that song [“Jump”] and it bleeds prog!

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