Blame the Knack: 8 Essentials of the Fake New Wave Feeding Frenzy
The Untold Skinny on the Skinny-Tie Era
So, you know how all those left-field undie rock bands got signed to major labels in the ’90s alt-goldrush wake of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and most didn’t sell diddlysquat? Well, what nobody remembers is that the same thing had happened just more than a decade earlier, after the Knack’s “My Sharona” (and to an extent the Cars/Cheap Trick/Devo/Blondie, etc.) exploded out of nowhere and convinced big-league bizzers that new wave might mean big bucks. Except new wave’s buzz bin wasn’t filled so much with avant-weirdos as the turn-of-the-’80s equivalent of hair-metal bands going grunge: Provincial bar-band rockers passing themselves off as power-pop or techno-pop or punk, via faster tempos, cuter melodies, Cars-y keyboards, herky-jerk beats, acting like tough guys from the street, trying on one-noun names or funny haircuts or skinny ties or pink sidewinders and a bright orange pair of pants. If Billy Joel and Linda Ronstadt could make new-wave albums, anybody could, right?
Squares trying to play hip, in other words, and almost inevitably being awarded instant cut-out status for their trouble. There were scads, a few of whom actually managed to briefly land a tune on the radio between 1979 and 1981: Pat your aching back if you recognize the A’s, Inmates, Jags, Kingbees, Kings, Rings, Sherbs (supposedly sampled on Daft Punk’s new album!), Sports, Fabulous Poodles, Flash and the Pan, Sniff ‘n’ the Tears, Moon Martin, Herman Brood and his Wild Romance. And those were the lucky ones! (At least compared to, say, the Tazmanian Devils.) Fake new wave dated back to Christ Child’s preposterous 1977 Buddah debut Hard (rumored to be recorded by moonlighting Topanga Canyon session hacks aping Sex Pistols sleaze), but once the Knack hit, the genre really “took off.” Here are eight fake new-wave albums that actually deserve to be remembered, but will continue to keep used-vinyl dollar bins warm till they are. Get ‘em while they’re cheap!