January 21, 2011
Little did I know the hornet’s nest I was to stir up with my last post on this topic! Honestly, I was pressed for time and grabbed the first theme I could run with – hastily. Some very appropriate records were discussed in the comments; some of them damned fine records in spite of their fraudulence! One of the saving graces of New Wave is that it is a self-absorbed and ironic genre, with loads of room for surface and no real time for “authenticity.” Thus, paradoxically, some great faux New Wave records exist. We’ll get to those later. But we’re still grinding an axe, today. Here are some attempts by flabby old hacks that fail. Badly!
Steve Miller: Abracadabra
Steve Miller had been lurking around the charts for at least 15 years before he tried to get hip and have a novelty “New Wave” hit. As a child, I first heard him via the repellent #1 hit of 1973, “The Joker.” 1975’s “Fly Like An Eagle” was Steve-o attempting an almost-past-its-sell-by-date faux-prog sound and ended up sounding separated from birth from Gary “Dream Weaver” Wright. By 1982 the lure of New Wave was too strong to resist; the kids were into it, what the hell. Steve inadvertently originated the ZZ Top video trope with the clip for this song. That is to say, the pudgy guitarist barely appeared in his own music video save for a few stills, leaving the screen time to models about 15 years younger than he was. The sad thing was, it worked. The tune was Miller’s last hit single in a [too] long career and a number one smash. How could he top this?
Steve Miller Band: Italian X-Rays
Miller tried to top this with a super-gimmicky sampler-infused record that was a diametric opposite of the cheeseball rawk that he had built a career on. True, this was cheeseball New Wave so maybe it was closer in spirit than I give credit for! Hell, it made “Abracadbra” sound like a delta blues record! But anyone who ever heard the mind-curdling single “Bongo Bongo” [and not many did] from this album, the inescapable conclusion could be drawn that Miller had heard The Art Of Noise and thought “I want a piece of that pie!” The end result was so many levels of wrong that it he only managed to release four more albums in the last 25 years and hasn’t come within spitting distance of the top ten again. Bonus points scored for the DeChirico inspired cover art.
Rod Stewart: Young Turks
This arrogant hack had been infecting the charts for well over a decade with his smarmy rasp. The days of his charming early hits* or his time fronting The Faces was water long gone under the bridge by this time. He finished the 70s with crass, lowest-common denominator rawk [“Hot Legs”] and opportunistic disco [“D’Ya Think I’m Sexy”] and by the dawn of the eighties, he was ready to conquer new worlds. Say, the kids now were listening to songs with hip, urgent rhythms… maybe he could get some of that! The resulting single, “Young Turks” sported candy coated synth riffs and a rhythm stolen right out of the Krautrock playbook.
As an Ultravox fan this gave me hives, particularly when Ultravox themselves couldn’t get arrested in the States using the same rhythms. To drive the point home even further, the single sported a Russell Mulcahy video clip, seeing as he was the go-to man thanks to his deeply influential clips for, yes, Ultravox. Ironically, when former Ultravox singer Midge Ure was musical director for the Prince’s Trust charity concert for a few years following his involvement with Live Aid, he had the displeasure of reading Rod “The Mod” Stewart the riot act over his high-handed demands and attempted star moves. Mr. Ure told Roddy it was his way or the highway in no uncertain terms.
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* The last song by Stewart I liked growing up was “You Wear It Well.”