Learn more about an era of music and the connections behind the songs. Interwoven with personal anecdotes, commentary and artist history. A unique way to tap into music nostalgia and discovery.
**Bolded and Underlined songs were on my top 100 this month in 1980 & the number in parentheses is its position on the chart.
Part 2, Section 1 – The UK and the Many Faces of New Wave
Squeeze/Pulling Mussels From The Shell (2)
Though the movement had begun a few years earlier in the UK, 1980 was the watershed year for its ascent in the States. By the time the album “Argybargy” (a British expression for a lively discussion or argument) came out in early 1980, the band lead by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, already had 2 albums, 1978’s “Squeeze” and 1979’s “Cool For Cats” and a series of hit singles. I did not know those previous albums and singles until after this album blew up on Boston radio. “Argybary” was the first of their albums to chart in the U.S., reaching #71.
The week of May 17 was when I first bought the album. In the late ‘70s into the early ‘80s, I did a regular airplay chart in addition to my weekly personal chart. I was that geeky music kid that always wanted to discover new music and, of course, I was also extremely interested in stats. Part of it was to see a comparison between what I heard and what the official charts said. The airplay chart started with me spinning the radio dial and keeping a tally of the songs I heard. I still have a lot of those paper charts saved in folders, along with detailed release information. I can’t even fathom how much time I devoted to this stuff.
At some point, I must have started including the spins of the music I owned as well. That week 3 of the songs from the album, ‘Mussels”, “Another Nail In My Heart” (35) ‘and “If I Didn’t Love You” (49) all debuted. Since they were 3 of the 4 singles released in the UK I may have heard any number of them on the radio but it’s likely that ‘Mussels’ was the one getting radio exposure at the time as it was the highest debut at #48. From what I can tell though ‘Nail’ was the first single when the album was released and ‘Didn’t Love” You” the second (at least in the States). That song was featured in an episode of “Breaking Bad”.
‘Mussels’ which went to #1 on my chart only reached #44 in the UK. Even ‘Nail” only peaked at #17 there. Despite the surprising singles chart performance, the album is considered a classic. Along with these 3 songs. 2 other songs from the album were on my chart the week of August 3, “Separate Beds” (56) and “Misadventure” (143). Supposedly “Mussels” was inspired by a”holiday’ lyricist Difford went on. The line “behind the chalet, a holiday’s complete” has led to some feeling there is a double entendre in play. One of my favorite parts is the piano bridge.
Their manager in the early years was Miles Copeland III, brother of Stewart Copeland, the drummer of the Police. In late 1979 that band put out their second album “Reggatta de Blanc” which spawned the UK #1 “Message In A Bottle” and 4 other songs that made my top 100, “Bring On The Night”, “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”, “Walking On the Moon” and “It’s Alright For You” plus a song re-released from their first album “So Lonely”. Miles Copeland was also the Police’s manager and in 1979 formed I.R.S. Records that became responsible for the rise of artists like R.E.M., The Go-Go’s. Fine Young Cannibals and The Bangles.
While the early Police albums were a Reggae-Rock hybrid, another Jamaican music style called Ska was having a huge revival in the UK in 1979 and 80. The style was actually called Two-tone as it was a mix of Ska and Punk. The original Ska music was a precursor to Reggae, born in the late ’50s, and was a popular style in the UK in the early ‘60s. The Two-tone revival was exemplified by bands such as The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, Bad Manners, and The English Beat. These bands amassed over 25 top 10 hits over a 2 to 3 year period between 79-81. At the time they had minimal impact on my personal chart with only The English Beat’s remake of ‘Tears of A Clown” making my top 100, peaking at #26 in April 1980.
Madness was certainly the most prolific of this group of artists, clocking in 17 UK top 10’s (9 in a row over 2 years) and 31 songs making the top 40. Their only #1 on the UK chart, “House of Fun” from 1982, came after that with a #14 in between. They certainly employed a more pop bent to the style overall, certainly evidenced on their one Stateside top 10, “Our House”. A snippet of their 1st UK top 10 “One Step Beyond” is used in 2019’s fantastic cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” by the L.A. band The Interrupters. That Ska-Punk version went to #2 on my chart (and should have hit #1). We discuss that song and Ska in general on the “Beyond Radio Presents” Podcast (Castlist #5, Episode 1) released on April 7, 2020.
The Motors/Love And Loneliness (4)
One of the many facets of the New Wave movement came from a subset called Pub Rock. The scene drew from early Rock & Roll and R&B. It was a response against the Progressive Rock and Glam of the early ‘70s. It had a back to basics approach and was fueled mostly by indie record labels. The original scene was supposedly short-lived and was usurped by the Punk scene. The scene did not generate much in the way of radio hits in the UK. The Motors “Airport” was one of them in 1978, reaching #4, though being synth-driven I feel the song was veering more into New Wave territory.
The swirling synth line of “Love And Loneliness” hooked me in. It only peaked at #58 in the UK but would go all the way to #1 on my chart. The album it came from, their 3rd and last, “Tenement Steps” did not even crack the UK album chart. The song was remade by Chris Thompson in 1986 with a more guitar-based approach, with the replete sax solo so prevalent at the time and returned to #1 on my chart. That was featured on the soundtrack of “American Anthem”, a highly derided movie, which starred gymnast Mitch Gaylord who was nominated for a Razzie for his performance. Thompson’s voice would be recognizable from 2 ‘70s hits, Manfred Mann’s 1977 “Blinded By The Light” and his solo ballad “If You Remember Me” from the movie “The Champ” in 1979.
The Motors followed ‘Loneliness” with “Time For Makeup” (68) a bouncy, carnivalesque ditty, that would make my top 10 in the fall of 1980. 2 earlier singles were also covered by other artists. 1977’s “Dancing The Night Away” was done by Cheap Trick and “Forget About You” by teen heartthrob Leif Garrett. That song is extremely reminiscent of the Grass Roots “Sooner Or Later”. One of the members of the band, Bram Tchaikovsky, turned solo in 1979 and scored a top 40 hit in the States, “Girl Of My Dreams”, which did not chart in the UK.