First and foremost, of course, is the sheer volume of music that was released. A large part of that is due to the fact that "new wave" was a pretty loosely defined term; it really started out as a description of (mostly British) punk in the middle seventies; after that, it sort of shifted to music that was heavily rooted in the look and feel of a lot of roots rock and roll - simple, clean, and very DIY. As time and the press went on, new wave morphed and evolved until it eventually became sort of a catch-all for a lot of music that was outside of either the top-40 mainstream or the already-constricting album rock format... in short, anything the press didn't really understand or couldn't categorize became new wave. By the time all was said and done, new wave included (at various times and from various artists) pop, power pop, synth-pop, technopop, industrial, ska, new romantic, goth, post-punk, house, and even artists who might be labeled as hip-hop or funk these days. I've seen it written that "new wave" was essentially dance music that relied heavily on synthesizers... but Elvis Costello and REM and The Police and The Pretenders and a myriad of others were all classified as "new wave" back in the day, and if anything, they were the anti-synth faction of what was at the time new music (a rebellion within a rebellion).
An interesting result of the vagueness of the term and the lumping of just about anything misunderstood into the genre is that new wave made very serious inroads into both pop/top 40 and FM/album rock psyches. In regards to pop music, it wasn't unlike disco in that dance clubs had a pretty solid effect on the charted music of the day. What at first was a near clique-ish club of miscreants and outcasts who went thrifting to find their cool outfits and haunted little clubs who would play this "new music" soon turned into charts filled with hit singles from the likes of Human League, The B52s, Duran Duran, REM, Blondie, Soft Cell... and egads! Even the flowerpot boys, Devo, scored a gold single! As time went on and reputations grew, a lot of agonizing decisions had to be made by radio programmers, perhaps even moreso in the album rock genre. I was out of radio by the time new wave hit it's fullest and most dominant stride on the airwaves, but I was there at the beginning, and I remember the resistance I got from the higher-ups for playing Elvis Costello, REM and even The Cars at first; it actually has a lot to do with why I got out of radio, young and rash as I was at the time. But even in album rock and soon-to-be classic rock formats, a funny thing started to happen... U2 started going multi-platinum and selling out arena tours around the world. The Cars got moved up to the tops of the "anticipated new releases" listings. Elvis Costello made it eternally difficult for programmers... he was selling a ton of records, he was garnering massive and very interesting press (his was the first "El Mocambo" type show I can recall that got a lot of attention, something even The Rolling Stones copied) and yet... where on earth did he fit, radio-wise? His sound was rock, sort of... his attitude was punk, sort of... except he dressed a little nicer and wrote these really intricate songs... My oh my, what's a radio station to do? As with all things, eventually the music dictated the course that had to be taken, and a huge part of the stigma of being "new wave" was removed. Eventually people stopped using the label at all. U2 and The Police were no longer new wave bands or alternative bands or whatever bands; slowly and surely, they just became great bands, acceptable to a LOT of different formats and a lot of varied elements of the consumer base. In that regard, to my perception, "new wave" was one of the most successful movements in the history of rock music.
You also cannot ignore the changes in the culture of the music industry brought about in large part by new wave artists. This I can separate into two distinct categories - recording and marketing. From the recording point of view - a recording studio had become quite the beast by the middle '70s. Bands were jockeying for million dollar advances so they could record an album; exceptional and/or trendy producers and engineers became as sought after, fought over and expensive as exceptional and/or trendy musicians. There were running stories in Rolling Stone and Creem about the progress of the new album by whoever, and things went pretty quickly from The Beatles kicking out eighteen albums in a seven year span to new albums taking two years or more to record and release. It was the apex of the monolithic industry beast controlling the music; as such, it became near impossible for the guy with a guitar down the street to have any hope.
That had to change, and it did, and I honestly think the new wave movement had a LOT to do with it. It seemed like it was almost overnight, but suddenly enough, a bunch of bands decided they didn't want to join that race to owe the rest of their lives to a record company. They had music, they were angry, they were excited, and they wanted it recorded now, wanted it in the hands of whatever fans NOW. DIY (do-it-yourself) was re-introduced into the fabric of rock and roll because a lot of punks and early wavers didn't have the desire or the cash to play the record company game. They wrote music, they went into the studio, they played it, recorded it, released it and made some more, and it was a WHOLE lot quicker and cheaper than the industry norm had become. From a fan/consumer point of view, it got very exciting again - the old dinosaur (heh heh heh) rock mags had to be discarded, and information had to be gotten from new, hipper places with their ears closer to the ground. Labels were springing up overnight (and going under just as quickly), so if you wanted new music from a favorite artist or in a style you were fond of, it often took more than a trip to Tower Records or Best Buy to be able to find what you were after.
Marketing experienced a similar sort of revolution, and again, the DIY ethic made its mark. While it might be nice to have Annie Leibovitz take photos for your album cover, have it designed by a huge New York ad agency, and have the whole package released in symphony with a well-thought out marketing strategy, this again takes the whole animal out of the hands of the people it's supposed to represent - the musicians. The thought process was similar - if I can go into the studio and record this myself, why can't I take some pictures and scissors and glue and make the sleeve for a single or the poster for a concert myself? They could and they did. It kind of went hand in hand with the explosion of personal computers and the huge advances in desktop publishing that were taking place at the time - a computer made it far less essential that you have expensive designers at your beck and call. It even made it a whole lot more immediate. This whole "get it done" ethic permeated so much of the early new wave scene - it not only revitalized what was becoming a very tired, sterile atmosphere for creating music, it gave a lot of hope back to the twisted neighborhood geniuses of the world. Thank the stars for that, because music has built its history on their backs.
Of course, as with so many good things, it wound up eating itself alive again. A huge part of that was wrapped up in three letters - MTV. What was at first a concept and revolution in itself evolved into the very thing it was formed to revolt against - corporate rock that satisfied the investors first. It sure was a lot of fun in the beginning, though. Music videos to promote your stuff? It gave a whole new dimension to the music, gave creative minds another outlet. It was, again, an exciting new toy, like a constant Christmas morning for music junkies, and there's absolutely no doubt that bands like Duran Duran, Ultravox, Talking Heads and (eeeeek! It's THEM again!) Devo not only kept it interesting, but essentially built the machine and wrote the rules. It didn't take long, though... MTV was such a huge and seemingly immediate success (sure feels that way in retrospect) that soon enough, video wasn't even an option anymore for a new release. Million dollar budgets for single song videos began to get written into the plans, and all over again, hot directors and screenplay writers got snapped up. "Coming soon" was a hot topic for the news shows on MTV... and yeah, the chameleon had done nothing more than eaten its own tail.
I guess it had to happen, and in a lot of ways, it's happening again (and I assume it will do so again and again and again as needed). I know for fact that as a fan, a radio programmer and a retailer through the new wave assault, I found it to be a breath of fresh air for my ears, eyes and rock and roll soul. When I hear "new wave," I don't think of walking on sunshine (puke!)... More often then not, I think of the attitude and freedom of spirit that characterized Woodstock (look the record company beast in the eye and claw it out if possible). I think of the music that I might not have had and the friends I might not have made if somebody hadn't stepped up and said, "It can be done different, you know." Defying what is and making something new from it is, to me, the ultimate spirit of rock... so new wave? I say, "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n roll!"
Since I was involved in so many facets of the industry during the height of new wave, I'm sure I got more satisfaction out of it than many. It also put me in an interesting position as a radio programmer in the fairly early stages of the movement. When Elvis Costello's second album, This Year's Model, was released, the song "Radio Radio" was the single or focus track or whatever it was called. What a dilemma! I was a huge fan of Costello's, especially through the first three albums... but "Radio Radio" is, of course, a song that is VERY disparaging of a medium I also respected and loved (and was a part of!). I was the Music Director of a huge station at the time, and the decision was almost solely mine; do I play the song or not? I thought long and hard about it, and eventually decided to call Costello on his own challenge. Instead of "Radio Radio," I played "Pump It Up" as the focus track (it got me yelled at by a couple of prominent record company guys... all the better, in its own way). The song had a long life and went pretty high on our little intra-station chart. A little while later, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Mink DeVille went on a much-publicized tour, and I had the pleasure of seeing the show. Costello (with The Attractions) was the headliner; he was an amazing performer, building his set and the crowd excitement, until at the "appropriate" time, he broke into "Radio Radio." The reception by the crowd was lukewarm, at best, just like when a guy plays an obscure album cut during his concert. I was very close to the stage, and there was a distinctly puzzled look on Costello's face - he had been winning this crowd, and now the tour-de-force wasn't getting it? As it worked out, "Pump It Up" was, I think, the next song played, and the crowd went nuts, as though he had finally gotten to the hit song. I smiled to myself a little (okay, a lot), though it gave me a LOT of cause to think about how true Costello's words were, and just how much power over the careers of people and the path of music programmers held. After the show, I was one of fifty or so people waiting at the stage exit door to get an autograph. When Elvis finally left the building to our delight, I handed a record to him for an autograph, and quickly said, "I'm the FM programmer in town. I chose not to play 'Radio Radio' and picked 'Pump It Up' to play instead." I swear it, Costello looked at me with a little sly smile and said, "Well done." It's as vindicated as I've ever felt in my life.
New wave also put me in a position to do what I feel are two of the best interviews of my journalism career (neither of which I have any access to at this point; I was a really, really REALLY lousy archivist in my youth). I was writing for an alternative/new wave mag at the time, and through them got to sit face to face with Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale of Devo. They were intelligent, insightful, hilarious, and made for a really good article (and yes, if anybody has a copy of Dogfood Magazine with my interview-based Devo article in it, could you send me a photocopy? Pleeeeeze??). An odd quirk - Mothersbaugh said maybe ten words during the course of the actual interview. If I looked right at him and prefaced a question with, "Mark, I'd be interested in hearing what you think about...," he would listen, smile and turn to Casale, who would answer the question. After the interview, Mark and I got to talking about music in general - as you might expect, he's a huge fan of synthesizers, and we got to talking about that a lot. Ultravox had just released their Vienna album in Europe, not yet in the states, and when I mentioned it to Mothersbaugh, he expressed how anxious he was to hear it. I told him I had it on tape in my car; his eyes bugged out. We wound up sitting in the car listening to and discussing Vienna in its entirety, which almost made him late for the show. I gave the tape to him, of course.
My interview with Patti Smith was one of the highlights of my career. It was on the release of her Easter album, which I still consider to be one of the greatest rock records ever made. A couple of years earlier, she was forced to take a hiatus from music when she was performing live during her Radio Ethiopia tour and fell from the stage, severely hurting her neck (she was in a neck brace for quite some time). I was at the show where she fell (Curtis Hixon Hall, Tampa... opening, of all things, for Bob Seger). Easter was a very triumphant return to music for her, and I was beyond excited for the chance to talk to her on the phone. Now, Patti was a journalist herself early on and didn't have a lot of tolerance for "what's your favorite color?" type questions; I was a fan from the start, and prided myself on the fact that she would get good questions from me. I was told I had only 20 or 25 minutes to talk to her (she was in San Francisco on tour at the time), so right off the bat I hit her with what I felt was a pretty well thought out question in regards to her lyrics and attitudes. She gave me a very brief five or six word reply, and I was crushed. I had to make a very, very quick decision; I honestly didn't want a crap interview with her, and decided I'd prefer no interview at all as opposed to a bad one. I took the biggest chance of my journalistic career when I told her, "Patti, that's a bullshit answer. If you prefer not to talk to me, I'll understand... but if you do choose to do this interview, please give me the chance to show you I'm not just another journalist." There was a LOOOOOOOOONG pause... and then she gave me a very detailed, deep answer. We talked for 90 minutes or so. I hung up the phone elated and exhausted.