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The British Scene

By the mid-1970s, pop music was ripe for change. Heavy metal and the progressive rock hybrids then dominating sales had turned off many listeners, exuding pretentious self-consciousness, art for art's sake, and a profit orientation that favored arena-sized audiences. At the same time, pubs had nurtured an alternative style featuring a rollicking mixture of old-style rock and roll, careening honky-tonk, and good-timey skiffle music. The "pub-rock" movement was assisted further by the formation of small labels such as Stiff Records (1976). Prime exponents included Graham Parker, Brinsley Schwarz, Dr. Feelgood, Ducks Deluxe, Kilburn and the High Roads, and Rockpile (featuring Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe).

The new wave, in essence, represented a refinement of the punk scene. It neutralized that genre's destructive tendencies, appropriating punk's energy to revitalize traditional rock conventions. Leading artists--which included Joe Jackson, the Pretenders, Police, Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello, and the Tom Robinson Band--also displayed a receptiveness to a wide array of stylistic influences such as reggae and jazz.

Like the pub rock and punk movements, the new wave represented a conscious reaction against the American rock industry innovations of the late 1960s, including (1) Woodstock-styled rock fests and stadium venues, (2) a dependence on mega-corporations to disseminate recordings, and (3) the view of the rock audience as a community with the artist functioning as a unifying agent (in contrast, new wave artists projected themselves as alienated loners reaching out to the loner in each of its listeners.


The American Scene

The U.S. version of the movement lacked any kind of socio-economic core. It was largely the product of youthful middle-class eccentrics motivated by the desire to leave a mark on rock history. It is notable that many of them were located far from major urban centers.

Ohio--particularly Akron and Cleveland--became a focal point for the emerging new wave ethic. These artists tended to fall into one of the following categories: (1) the arty (Pere Ubu, Tin Huey, the Human Switchboard), (2) the profane (the Bizarros, Teacher's Pet, the Dead Boys, the Rubber City Rebels), and (3) the poppy (Rachel Sweet).

Lacking the media resources available in the larger cities, local fans provided the initiative and insights necessary to generate a full-fledged movement. Where major labels weren't interested, fans managed and signed up local talent for small regional outfits. Further support was provided by mimeographed manifestos, homemade rock magazines, and an ad hoc network for the distribution of records.

By the late 1970s, the genre had finally made a substantial commercial impact at the national level when American bands such as the Cars and the Knack placed records in the upper reaches of the charts. This coincided with the first stateside breakthrough of a British new wave band, Police.

The movement remained successful into the early 1980s, fragmenting into a wide array of spinoffs, including techno-pop, the new romantics, neo-rockabilly, neo-psychedelia, goth rock, thrash, alternative dance, the ska/bluebeat revival, and indie rock.


Top Artists and Their Recordings


The British Scene

Elvis Costello--My Aim Is True (1977); This Year's Model (1978); Armed Forces (1979); Get Happy!! (1980); Taking Liberties (1980); Trust (1981); Almost Blue (1981); Imperial Bedroom (1982); Punch the Clock (1983); Goodbye Cruel World (1984)

Joe Jackson--Look Sharp! (1979); I'm the Man (1979); Beat Crazy (1980); Jumpin' Jive (1981); Night and Day (1982)

Jam--Setting Sons (1980); Sound Affects (1981); The Gift (1982); The Bitterest Pill (1982); Dig the New Breed (1983); Beat Surrender (1983)

Police--Outlandos d'Amour (1979); Reggatta de Blanc (1979); Zanyatta Mondatta (1980); Ghost in the Machine (1981); Synchronicity (1983)

The Pretenders--The Pretenders (1980); Extended Play (1981); Pretenders II (1981); Learning to Crawl (1984); Get Close (1986); packed! (1990)

Tom Robinson Band--Power in the Darkness (1978); TRB Two (1979)

Wreckless Eric

XTC--White Music (1977); Go To (1978); Drums and Wires (1979); Black Sea (1980); English Settlement (1982)


The American Scene

 B-52's--The B-52's (1979); Wild Planet (1980); "Rock Lobster" (1980); "Private Idaho" (1980); Mesopotamia (1982); Whammy! (1983)

Blondie--Blondie (1977); Plastic Letters (1978); Parallel Lines (1978); "Heart of Glass" (1979); Eat to the Beat (1979); Autoamerican (1980)

The Cars--The Cars (1978); Candy-O (1979); Shake It Up (1981)

The Knack--"My Sharona" (1979)

Pere Ubu--The Modern Dance (1977); Dub Housing (1978)

Talking Heads--Talking Heads: 77 (1977); More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978); Fear of Music (1979); Remain in Light (1980); The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982); Speaking in Tongues (1983); Stop Making Sense (1984); Little Creatures (1985); True Stories (1986); Naked (1988)