It’s hard enough to define exactly what New Wave is without splitting hairs over what constitutes a novelty song within that genre, yet that’s what we’ll be opening the metaphoric phone lines to in today’s post. With a look at songs what came within the New Wave period [or in some cases, much later] and still managed to exude the whiff of “novelty material.” Songs produced for the sake of a chart hit with seemingly no thought given as to the overall integrity and timelessness of the art involved. We have to admit that for some of these songs, it may be that they managed to straddle the Venn Diagram evenly on both sides of the divide.
This was a song that was all over college radio in 1982. The song’s pedigree as an early Go-Go’s song certainly marked it as having a direct connection to New Wave, but the band didn’t think twice about having Josie Cotton take the song and Do What Thou Wilt with it. The retro Girl Group sound had become one of the pillars of New Wave, thanks to Blondie’s exploration therof in that band’s early career. That Josie was an actress/singer hybrid brings with it the suggestion that all of the might have been a lark for her; an indicator of novelty territory.
Taco was a one-hit-wonder with his electronic cover version of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” This 1982 hit was prevalent on MTV and the radio back then, but the whole slant of rendering old Tin Pan Alley pre-war era songs in the latest musical trends was something that dated back to the early 70s [see: Bette Midler – “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”] and was a big factor in the Disco era, with Disco versions of almost anything [Babyface, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, etc.]. Taco Okerse used the language of synthpop but hedged his bets with a song from the American Standards Songbook. The song title was familiar enough afterwards for a Post-MTV game show of lip-sync competition called “Puttin’ On the Hits” to have been green-lighted! He had a somewhat longer career in Europe, but few Americans have heard more than this song, ubiquitous as it was.
In 1979 there were New Wave songs really starting to breach the US Top 40 and at first, these tracks like “Cars” by Gary Numan seemed like novelty material just by being so radically different from the fabric of the US Top 40 to begin with. With their synthesized palette, they were novel in every sense of the world. One of Numan’s chartmates at the time managed to carry that synthetic and quirky arrangement all he way to the number one spot, achieving a gold single [1M sold] in The States. Robin Scott [a.k.a. M] never managed another hit here thought he had a further career in various worldwide pockets. It’s his daughter, Berenice Scott [Heaven 17, Simple Minds], on the cover.
I can remember this song being played on MTV in 1985, first on it’s nascent 120 Minutes “college radio ghetto” but eventually in prime time as the song hit the upper reaches of the US Top 40. I always thought that the band took their name form the early Cure song. Nope. They were just British dudes who copped the name from 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love!” This song got perilously close to breaching the US Top 10 but let’s admit it; no one has heard another note that these guys issued, yes?
We can do some more of this at a later time. Just saying.