by Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni
1980 was the official beginning of a decade erupting with creativity and strangeness and moody, wet-sounding KORG synthesizers. Listen to me and Banzai Retro Club’s Scott Compton talk about the impact this year had on the initiation of New Wave. https://banzairetroclub.podbean.com/e/episode-74-favorite-1980-new-wave-albums/
That year, MTV was still just incubating, but a wacky little group called Devo was already Whip-ping themselves into shape. Devo could turn a musical club performance into something more like avant-garde theater, jumping in and out of position between songs and juddering to-and-fro during each number like guitar-wielding automatons. They behaved like wind-up toys rather than musical artists. They delivered a theatrical experience, not just a song. [Early Saturday Night Live performance, '78]
And it was a wake-up call, wherein those of us who imagined ourselves to be unique dreamers and creative types took note and thought, whoa, I better step it up. If I want to contribute something special to the world, I better start coloring way outside the lines. Because now there are Devos and Bowies and Adam Ants in this world.
The term unique took on new meaning.
But in being so very weird and off-the-wall, the stoic, jump-suited members of Devo and the gender-bending, dragged-up David Bowies and New York Dolls out there freed us. They gave us permission to not just push the envelope, but to rip the envelope to shreds, toss it in the fireplace, and Burn Down the House instead.
That’s what happened in 1980, when David Byrne in his heavy glasses and his uncool, overly formal suit fell repeatedly head over heels, against a primitive background of aqua static, in the “Once In a Lifetime” video. He and his perpetually off-balance, lanky stature called out, What Have I Done? And in a flash of brilliance, we were all sanctioned to one-up each other in the whack-job department. So we put on our oversized blazers and grabbed our best dancing shoes, and never again settled for anything that wasn’t totally original.
Like the catch-phrase for the newly emerging radio station I grew up with on Long Island—WLIR—the new wave musicians of 1980 dared to be different. And they dared us all to follow along.
And the rest of the decade was born….
If you'd like , check out the series, in-progress:
Best New Wave Albums, Year By Year:
1980: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #74
1979: Banzai Retro Club, Episode #71
Best New Wave Songs of the '80s: Banzai Retro Club, Episode 67 (Currently the club's 2nd most-downloaded podcast)
Thanks again to Dave White and Scott Compton of Banzai Retro Club for inviting me to do this with them!