It took me 40 years, but in 2021, I finally made a CD of one of my favorite New Wave Compilation Albums: RCA’s “Blitz!” Way back in the New Wave era the record labels had a problem. That problem was a consultant. And his name was Lee Abrams! He was the joker who developed the AOR FM- Rock format I disparage so much! Armed with convincing data, polling profiles, and statistical gimcrackery, Abrams conclusively proved that what radio listeners really wanted was “Classic Rock” from 1969- 1979 played to the exclusion of all other eras of rock!
This left the labels in a bit of a pickle, since the symbiotic relationship between records and radio was now corrupted. Commercial radio now only cared about catalog music that didn’t need selling – or stuff that sounded just like it. What were the labels to do to get
some of the new music they were investing in to the ears of listeners? By the early 80s, the New Wave Compilation was born to address this conundrum. Labels would sell these albums at a low cost, possibly a loss, in order to increase the likelihood that music buyers might take a chance based on thrift. And then buy more. This album was my first exposure to each of these bands.
Various: Blitz – US – CD-R 
- Bow Wow Wow : Chihuahua
- Slow Children: Spring In Fialta [edited version]
- Robert Ellis Orrall: White Noise
- Sparks: Tips For Teens
- Shock: Angel Face
- Polyrock: Love Song
- Bow Wow Wow: Orang-outang
- Landscape: European Man
- Robert Ellis Orrall: Call The Uh-Oh Squad
- Polyrock: Changing Hearts
- Bow Wow Wow: Prince of Darkness [7″ ver.]
- Landscape: Einstein-A-Go-Go [12″ ver.]
- Landscape: Japan [12″ ver.]
- Landscape: It’s Not My Real Name [Remixed ver.]
- Polyrock: Working On My Love
- Polyrock: Call Of The Wild
- Polyrock: Chains Of Iron
- Polyrock: Broken China
- Polyrock: Indian Song
I had read about Bow Wow Wow and Sparks but you never heard that music. Not on the radio. No, they were too busy playing exactly what Lee Abrams told them to! I had ironically heard that Malcolm McLaren had been paid to “consult” to Adam Ant, who duly took notes on Malc’s lofty theories and carried them out to great success, before noticing that Malcolm had poached his entire band!
The erstwhile Ants were given a new, teenage, Burmese girl as a frontperson and sang songs filled with McLaren’s provocative lyrics, derived from his beloved Situationists. The rhythm section of bassist Lee Gorman and drummer David Barbarossa laid down a very
impressive foundation for the music. Balinese monkey chant was one of the cultural influences that you rarely heard in rock, but they offered it up, and with Matthew Ashman’s [r.i.p.] thick, golden guitar tones redolent of Duane Eddy, surfing along the top, the end result beat Ant at his own game. Artistically, at least.
“Chihuahua” was miles better than even the fun tribal pop that Ant was offering to considerable success at the time. The “Orang-Outang” instro track was pure Duane Eddy-goes-surfing bliss. Their non-LP A-side,“Prince Of Darkness” has been added to this CD as bonus material as I only have the 12” version on CD elsewhere and actually prefer the short version.
Sparks turned out to be everything that I had read about and more.“Tips For Teens” was an impossibly witty number that sounded like the best track 10CC never made coupled with a bang up production by Moroder associate Mack. I can’t believe it took a decade before I bought my first Sparks album, but the size of their discography cowed me then!
Robert Ellis Orrall was a Bostonian rocker with a varied style on the two tracks offered. “White Noise” sounded like the second cousin to Peter Gabriel’s excellent “On The Air” from his second album. In contrast,“Call The Uh-Oh Squad” was gimmicky, novelty New Wave of a very sub-Costello stripe. Ultimately, I didn’t bite for the Orrall album. Its cover didn’t help. Half a lifetime later, all of his early records are on my want list.
Shock, I absolutely loved, but that was only a single, and they never had an album to buy. Only a single that I later found a used copy of with their compelling electro-trash cover of The Glitter Band’s mid-70s teen anthem “Angel Face;” updated, kicking and screaming for the early 80s with every ounce of technology at their producer’s disposal. Over the decades, I have also managed to the the band’s other 7” single,“Dynamo Beat” and recently, the godlike 12” single of “Angel Face.” Leaving only the 12″ of “Dynamo Beat” still exceeding my grasp.
Shock were included here because their producer, Richard James Burgess, had his own synthesizer band to flog. Landscape were represented by the exquisite “European Man,” which mixed Kraftwerk and jazz influences for a sound not quite like any other band of the time. The group came from a jazz fusion background and moved into synthpop at just the right time.
Their synthetic and real horns, plus a clever sense of humor, made them a valuable band in the generally self-serious synthpop/New Romantic era. Reputedly, Burgess himself coined the phrase “New Romantic” during the heady days at the Blitz Club, ostensibly, the source of the title of this compilation’s name. “European Man” made me race to the store to buy Landscape’s “From The Tearooms Of Mars… To The Hellholes Of Uranus” album, which remains a favorite to this day. A selection of loose Landscape 12” single mixes from this time period not on CD [then] have been added to this disc as bonus material. All very irrelevant now that their complete [and more] recordings for RCA are getting a definitive box in a few months.
Slow Children were another New Wave duo, this time hailing from L.A. and crossing the pond to record. Singer Pal Shazar and Andrew Chinich wrote the agitated songs that buzzed with nervous energy while Jules Shear and Stephen Hague produced, helped play, and engineered the tunes. Both of their albums are OOP gems that recently got the REVO touch [REVO 095, 096] in 2020. This was only a year and a few months in advance of the actually mastered from tape CDs that Rubellan Remasters have released last year. Which I have yet to find the spare cash to buy, dammit. The version of “President Am I” here is not the remix that ended up on the US edition of their debut album some time later.
Finally, Polyrock were another synthetic band that wasn’t necessarily danceable. They had the distinction of their album having been produced by Philip Glass, who also played keyboards on their first two albums of understated Art Rock riding the New Wave. They were led by the late Billy Robertson, who formed Polyrock in the aftermath of Model Citizens breakup in 1980. This CD is finally appended with the “Above The Fruited Plain” EP of 1983 that they released on PVC Records following their time on RCA.
Records like this were a snapshot of that tumultuous time when labels were signing acts that radio was just not interested in playing. In a few months, MTV would take the bait [lacking videos by most of the boring superstars of the era] and records like these would fade away quickly when videos became the key to reaching new and receptive ears.
I remember this LP. Not sure why I never bought it, as I definitely had an interest in this sort of thing at the time, but c’est la vie.
Big Mark – At a $2.98 price, they practically paid me to take it home!
I love Polyrock! Such a great band!
Todd Lewis – I still need those CDs of the first two.
A great compilation with a great cover. This album was constantly on my turntable way back When The Music Really Mattered. “Call the Uh-Oh Squad” always makes me chuckle–I actually think it’s worthy of Sparks–and “Orang-outang” is the theme for the greatest Spaghetti Western never made. It’s a shame that this record, along with numerous other Noo Wave compilations (Virgin’s Machines is an old favorite) never made it to compact disc.
James Pagan – I’ve only made three of my favorite compilations into CD-Rs, but there are many more where those came from! And I never got a copy of “Machines,” sadly.
I could write an essay about this album to rival yours. It wasn’t the first comp record I fell in love with, but it might have been the second one, and that sealed the deal. Ever since, when I find a New Wave compilation I don’t already own (or in some cases, already do in different versions), I kinda have to buy it.
This one was my real introduction to Sparks, which I had only vaguely heard of before this point, but this one song made me a fan and is still among my favourites. This record really represented, for me, what was really exciting about 1981: every new band that came along was so different, but tickled different parts of my brain’s pleasure centres!
I immediately sought out Bow Wow Wow, Slow Children, Sparks, and Landscape as a direct result of this comp, and kept an eye on Polyrock, who turned up again on the Methods of Dance comps later. I enjoyed Robert Ellis Orrall’s “Call the Uh-Oh Squad,” but even then I could tell his heart wasn’t in this music. Shock, on the other hand, totally were, but sadly sank without any further trace as far as I could tell. I’m only just hearing about “Dynamo Beat” now, and now I need a copy.
Top it off with flawless cold-war black-light retro-50s artwork, and you got yourselves one heck of a compilation that, along with some of its compatriots, really gave college radio stations a way to fight The Man (named Lee Abrams), a mission many of them are still embracing to this very day.
Without record labels taking a chance on stuff like what we are exposed to on Blitz, later bands like my beloved They Might Be Giants would never have gotten a toehold except as “novelty” acts, and Sparks would not be the legends they are today. There I said it, to quote Corky.
chasinvictoria – As The World knows, the first New Wave Comp you fell in love with was A+M’s “No Wave!!!” The second, I guarantee, was A+M’s “Propaganda.” “Blitz” might have been #6-7 for you!
Lots of 12″ Shock singles on all the usual sales sites! And not expensive.
Rupert – The records are not expensive if you live in England. Shipping to Canada (chasinvictoria) or America (PPM) will cost a sizable amount!
i’d offer to bring it over, but you know…. busy right now. :)
Did you ever get yourself copies of the Rubellan CD reissues of the Slow Children album? Pal was kind enough to send them to me.
K W – Not yet. I’ve been in a budget crunch since last spring and it’s projected to last for another full year. [see last post for details]