Oct 152020

Who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of New Wave?

Wow, there’s a broad category, huh?

And I’m not going to try to define it or narrow it down; that’s up to Rock Town Hall.

Whatever the definition, I say Talking Heads has to be there. Three-piece, four-piece, expanded funk version, it doesn’t matter. The fact that they were so good in all those incarnations is one of the reasons they belong on the Mount. I’ll leave it to the other better musical explicators on the list to explain just how good, just how innovative, and just how timeless (40+ years later we now know that) they are.

Frantz/Weymouth-type complaints aside, what criticisms can you level against them, unless you want to hold then to account for the pale white-boy funk imitators that followed in their wake?

Who else shares the Mount with them?


  15 Responses to “The Mount Rushmore of Rock & Roll: New Wave Edition”

  1. I’m-a say Talking Heads, the Cars, the Police and Blondie.
    Hot take: if the Pretenders are new wave, then they easily bump off Blondie.

  2. What!? How do you not have Elvis Costello and the Attractions as #1. From the short-length 60s inspired pop songs, the skinny ties, buttons, and pointy shoes, and the tongue-in-cheek embrace of inherent nerdiness; EC is the embodiment of the New Wave music/look.

  3. diskojoe

    Elvis Costello was my first thought when I saw this. Talking Heads is a good choice (I just picked up the Extended Soundtrack to Stop Making Sense for $1.00 on one of my thrifting sorties). As for the Pretenders v. Blondie, I think that Blondie is not easily bumped off, especially when you consider that they had 4 #1 singles & 4 albums in the Top 20, if not Top 10.

  4. 2000 Man

    My first thought was The Police. Did any New Wave band besides maybe The Cars hit the charts as hard and sell as many tickets to massive tours? The Police seemed to get almost everyone on their side, too. Punk kids, standard rock kids, Top 40 kids and even the College Rock crowd. That’s how they sold out 25,000 seaters.

  5. BigSteve

    Here’s a cheat sheet. Paste Magazine just published a list of the top 50 New Wave albums:


  6. Happiness Stan

    I looked at that list, which, sums up why I can’t engage with the question. For me, New Wave was the 1977 compilation album released here, collecting American punk stuff from the NY Dolls, Ramones, Patti Smith et al, and then got used for hands and artists who dressed differently and weren’t as musically polished as Fleetwood Mac or Yes. However it’s defined, Marianne Faithful and David Bowie were not new wave, neither were original punk bands like Adam and the Ants and Souxsie and the Banshees just because they got better at playing their instruments. Neither were Tears for Fears or Talk Talk, who, like Jesus and Mary Chain, came along far too late. At various times, I’ve seen Genesis included, which demonstrates the worthlessness of the label.

    I’m not sure I’d preserve any of then in the side of a mountain, but would take as a starting point, Talking Heads, XTC, the Modern Lovers, Devo, Cabaret Voltaire, the Stiff end of pub rock, Human League, and throw in the Athletici Soizz 80 album, which is probably as late as can be justified but u for which I’ve blown a lonely sounding plastic party trumpet for during the last forty years.

    I nominate Nick Lowe, mainly for driving the musical side of the Stiff operation which let alternative, spiky music break through the crack in the door they opened, while still managing to remain a lovely chap.

  7. Happiness Stan

    Athletico Spizz 80, screen’s too small, need to get the eyes I had twenty five years ago back again.

  8. In their purest form, punk rockers are authentic, dirty, angry, cool, working class, and revolutionary. New wavers are the little brothers of those original punks. They aren’t cool really, but wish they were like their big brother. They adopt the nerd look as a sort of armor. Self-awareness means they know that the thrift store cloths they adopt are kind of a working class aesthetic like the punks, but really just a middle class variation. They aren’t quite as angry, authentic, or dirty. It’s way more about art school than politics. It’s obvious their look is a costume instead of a revolution. Have to be smart, even bookish. You have to have a sense of humor about yourself and the genre to pull it off.

    You probably also want a song about masturbation; Pump it Up, Whip it, Orgasm Addict, Turning Japanese, She Bop, I Touch Myself, Dancing with Myself, etc.

    I would have EC and the Attractions, The Police, and DEVO probably. The Cars seem too serious to me. Not sure; XTC? (not popular enough?) Blondie? Talking Heads? The Go Gos? (too late?) Almost need a separate US and UK version.

  9. I’m leaning Talking Heads. Costello, The Cars and the Police. The last two I don’t even care for, however, both of them seem to epitomize the taming of the punk impulse into a more acceptably marketable commodity, which seems to be the main point of “New Wave.”

  10. I wish Trump would just put his head up there already so we can have 5 selections in a Mt Rushmore.

  11. First of all, MAD PROPS to chickenfrank for getting me to laugh over the thought of Trump. It’s been too long since I’ve been able to have even a laugh at his expense.

    Second, MAD PROPS to Happiness Stan for calling out the lack of specificity over that term “New Wave.” When I was getting turned onto that music, Costello was the leading light. I’m down with EC & the Attractions and Talking Heads. The Police…maybe. I’ll say, Yes. They had the DIY element that they build on. So there are three artists on my Mt Rushmore of New Wave.

    The Cars…not quite, for me, because they came out of the gates with a smash hit of an album, containing a half dozen singles. I think part of what it meant to be New Wave, whatever that was, was starting out and having to look skyward to an almost insurmountable peak. It may not be their fault, but The Cars were too successful to be squarely New Wave.

    Nick Lowe and the Stiff crew, in general, could be a good fourth head, but that’s too broad. Two bands that aren’t thought of these days as New Wave that I think, in fact, trafficked heavily and necessarily in the “genre” to get to the next level were Cheap Trick and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. I’d go with one of those two if not for…Blondie. Totally New Wave!

  12. In considering this thread I realized the vagueness of the New Wave umbrella but decided not to offer my own definition; let the Hall offer food for thought.

    I had also considered a Mount Rushmore: Punk Edition but dismissed that. Three spots were locked up with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Ramones and too many to view for the fourth.

    In addition to Talking Heads I would have to include Elvis Costello and XTC. I’m still mulling offer my fourth spot.

    I’ve been surprised at the lack of consideration for XTC here (Geo, I’m looking especially at you). I would have considered them the lock in place of Talking Heads but for Talking Heads commercial success. Not that I consider commercial success a necessary ingredient (and it’s not like Talking Heads had anywhere near the commercial success of acts like Blondie or the Cars) but for a tie-breaker for the number one spot the gave the nod to Talking Heads in my estimation.

    I think both Talking Heads and XTC had a lot of similar characteristics to claim spots 1 and 1A. They never strayed all that far from good old rock & roll but they were clearly and noticeably different. They expanded the pallete. They simplified, then they complicated. They evolved. They had eccentric leaders. They had cool names.

  13. Al: XTC did cross my mind. As did Blondie and to a lesser extent Devo. However, to my mind, New Wave has always been more of a marketing concept. As someone put it in a post you might have read somewhere, “the taming of the punk impulse into a more acceptably marketable commodity.” I’m not sure that XTC succeeded on those terms.

    Mr. Mod: For my mind, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were absolutely New Wave. Over time they somehow obscured that fact and settled deeply into the Classic Rock world. I can see an argument that Cheap Trick were New Wave, but to me they feel more like a holdover of the early 70’s return to rock’n’roll associated with glam and best reflected by T Rex and the New York Dolls. I know this is a weird distinction but that’s how they feel to me.

  14. Not buying it. Tom Petty was not new wave. Band Too old, band had too long (Foreigner-type) hair, too radio friendly. Wearing a couple of lapel buttons doesn’t cut it. Same with Cheap Trick. Just cause Rick dressed like a goof didn’t make them New Wave. Unquestionably examples of the record company deciding they had bands that were ugly enough to try to shoehorn into the new wave bucket.

    XTC just seems to too niche to be among the 4. I’d be more apt to give it to The Buzzcocks. I think Devo is awfully niche too, but they seem to check all the appropriate new wave boxes.

  15. I worked in a punk new wave sweat shop back in the day and these guys always pinned my buttons back. They’re wouldn’t be on the Mount – maybe working in the snack shop around back…

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