Punk rock rebooted rock and roll. The back-to-basics movement cleansed rock of its excesses: the side-long prog epics, the arena-rock overkill, the self-indulgent concept download lagu albums.
And then, after punk’s hard reset, bands commenced a new round of sonic experiments. They explored longer songs, slower tempos and softer dynamics, keyboards and synths, harmonies and horns and, regrettably, the keytar.
The ensuing movement, variously called new wave and post-punk, delivered a crateload of albums with masterful songwriting, literary lyricism and virtuosic musicianship: a pop-music renaissance.
Here are 13 great LPs from the new wave era. We’ll limit this survey to the five years after first Clash album dropped, 1978 to 1982. We’ll favor recordings that had real impact, yielded at least one semi-legendary song, feature strong songwriting throughout, emanate a new-wavy vibe, and represent the artist’s best work.
The debut album from this Boston band is a front-to-back masterpiece, so deep that Side 2 may actually surpass Side 1. “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Just What I Needed” have been radio staples for well-nigh half a century. Filmmaker Cameron Crowe immortalized “Moving in Stereo” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Ric Ocasek, the thin white duke of Beatitude, ranks among history’s coolest front-men. Candy-O and Shake It Up are nearly as good, but this is the band’s best.
New Order, the band Joy Division became after the suicide of singer Ian Curtis, might seem the more obvious choice for a new wave roundup. (Were we to include them, we would showcase the band’s amazing, evolutionary 1981-1982 EP.) Still, it’s hard to overstate the impact of the two Joy Division LPs. Closer, released after Curtis’s death, features subtler production and great songs, especially on side two. But Unknown Pleasures, the debut, hit Britain like a bomb, a detonation of manic energy and menace. The big song is “She’s Lost Control,” and the YouTube video (with 8 million views!) makes a nice primer on the band’s coiled power. At the end, the musicians don’t stop so much as seize up, like an overheated machine.
A few years before REM, Athens, Ga., gave us the B-52’s, a dance-surf-punk band fronted by two women with towering beehives and a man who sounded like a lifeguard shouting at swimmers through a megaphone. What did Carter-era Atlanta club patrons make of this madness? The B-52’s weren’t the planet’s most disciplined songwriters, but the good stuff on their 1979 debut is volcanic: “Planet Claire,” “Lava,” “52 Girls,” “Dance This Mess Around” and, of course, “Rock Lobster.” Want more? Check out Wild Planet (1980) and the autumnal smash Cosmic Thing (1989), a maligned treasure.