New Wave Music

aka: New Wave
The Lighter and Softer counterpart to Punk Rock and Post-Punk.

The line between Punk and New Wave is blurry; many New Wave bands started out as Punk bands. But New Wave expanded on Punk's primitivism, embracing experimentation and variety, to the point that New Wave is literally Genre Salad Music. Because of this, New Wave is an umbrella term for a wide variety of subgenres, though it is often used to refer to one particular subgenre, as will be discussed later. Along with its sister genre Post-Punk, it is one of the major influences on Alternative Rock, and several New Wave bands such as The The, Midnight Oil, and New Order became Alternative Rock bands later in their careers.

New Wave came from several scenes in the early to mid '70s, including the original New York and UK Punk scenes; copycat Punk scenes all over America, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand; Pub Rock, a laid-back cousin of the UK Punk scene; Power Pop, a revival of mid-'60s three-minute rock, similar to Punk; Rockabilly Revival, inspired by American Graffiti; 2 Tone; and early Synth Pop. New Wave came together as these bands listened to and toured with each other.

Everyone was inspired by the simple, direct rock of the '50s and '60s, and the Glam of the '70s. But New Wave went outside of rock, and at times consciously avoided sounding like it. Some of the synth players had classical training. Some bands had saxophone players steeped in jazz. Andy Summers of The Police popularized a clean guitar tone with the then-new chorus effect, and New Wave guitarists in general tried to avoid sounding like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.

New Wave started making a dent on the charts in 1978, and record companies took notice. 1979-83 were the peak years, starting with "My Sharona" by The Knack. Pretty much all of the pioneers were rocketed to stardom in the first two years; some of those stars stayed up, others fell. The whole genre was fading back into obscurity by the summer of '81; a lot of the early bands turned out to be too eclectic for mainstream audiences, which instead went for the Not So Different New Romantic movement.

MTV re-launched New Wave with the first video they aired, "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. Ever the experimentalists, New Wavers embraced the new medium, and pretty soon New Wave was a visual style too. The popularity of crazy hair and loud costumes in The Eighties starts here. MTV bought New Wave enough time for the best bands to hit their stride and establish themselves as mainstream rock bands.

MTV brought New Wave into the mainstream, but with success came Flanderization and Executive Meddling. An avalanche of new bands, inspired by the earlier bands and signed up by eager record companies, flooded MTV and the radio, putting Sturgeon's Law into full effect. Most of these turned out to be One-Hit Wonders, but the new bands established a stereotypical New Wave look and sound: A five-man band (voice, guitar, synth, bass, and drums; not to mix with not-about-the-music trope), good-looking, with '80s Hair and David Bowie-inspired outfits, playing an updated version of '60s pop and rock. It's this stereotype that people think of today.

New Wave burned out in the mid-'80s. Live Aid was both its crowning achievement and its swan song. Record companies lost interest after the industry-changing success of Thriller. Many bands ran out of ideas, or grew weary of touring, and broke up. Others faded back into obscurity. A new generation of digital synthesizers appeared in 1983, making the old analog synths sound dated; any band that wanted to stay relevant had to embrace the new sound. The newer bands began to establish themselves, and they had a much more radio-friendly sound. The Synth Pop era had begun.

Not to be confused with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.

The Pioneers:

Later bands:


Alternative Title(s):

New Wave