Blondie, Hold the Dagwood

Please allow me to air my shame and make a confession: I saw the movie Little Darlings in a theatre! Yes, hard-earned money exited my sweaty pocket so that I could watch that 1980 blockbuster you’ve never heard of starring Tatum O’Neal, Kristy McNichol and Matt Dillon. Fortunately, the only memory I retain of this experience is that Blondie’s One Way or Another appeared in the soundtrack. Which surprised me at the time. Blondie was originally considered punk and punk rock did not often grace soundtracks in 1980. However, I now realize that they were not actually punk! Oh sure, the band exhibited new wave fashion flare, but the music itself was much more in a pop vein. Or a disco vein. Or a reggae vein. Depends on what song you’re talking about.

My present-day self became curious as to how often Blondie songs have been used in movie and TV soundtracks. Dredging through my overstuffed memory I concluded that the band didn’t have a huge legacy of popular tunes, so I presumed their songs did not often grace the silver or flat screens. But guess what sports fans? They appear frequently! Like not just here and there, but everywhere. And, Blondie has sold over 40 million albums! That’s nearly 6 million in dog albums! So I’ve had to reassess my idea of the group’s popularity. And now I know: Blondie is hot socks!

In 1978, Parallel Lines introduced me and most Americans to the music that was already well-known in the UK. Tune after tune of driving new wave, catchy pop and danceable disco filled its grooves. Hanging on the Telephone, One Way or Another, Heart of Glass, I’m Gonna Love You Too, Just Go Away and other gems pushed this listener to repeatedly spin said disc.

The list of movies that have used songs from Parallel Lines is quite amazing: Little Darlings, Mean Girls, Coyote Ugly, Cruella and Ready Player One are just the tip of the iceberg. Subsequent albums provided songs for Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo, Muriel’s Wedding, Bridesmaids, The Heartbreak Kid, Donnie Brasco, The Last American Virgin and Bend it Like Beckham. Pretty impressive. And the movies and TV soundtracks that I’ve not mentioned are much more plentiful than those that I have listed. In fact, IMDB credits the band with 265 soundtrack appearances!

Music for soundtracks is chosen largely for its appeal to a potential audience, so Blondie’s numerous appearances in soundtracks is a nod to their remarkable popularity. In my mind they’re still just the quasi-punk band that appealed to me and a small group of friends 40 years ago. But in reality, Blondie is beloved by the world. Not bad for a bunch of punks from New York city.

What’s New Wave in the Library

I’m a categorizer. Okay, in reality I’m a lazy categorizer. I don’t really care about absolute rigid labels, but when organizing music on my computer (and oh yes I do realize how nerdy that sounds) I like to put bands into categories that make sense to me. When it comes to the term new wave, I tend to think of most any new music I was introduced to from 1979 to the early 80s.

Lately I’ve been trying to get more precise in my labelling, partly because if 1,000 bands all have the same label I can’t find any of them on the computer. So I’ve been moving a lot of bands from new wave into post-punk or punk. But it’s interesting to see that new wave has never been a clearly-defined genre. According to Wikipedia, “the 1985 discography Who’s New Wave in Music listed artists in over 130 separate categories.” One hundred and thirty! So all in all, new wave is a pretty meaningless term.

Yet we continue to use it. So today let us look at what’s new wave in the library.

NW1

One safe bet is Now That’s What I Call New Wave 80s, a compilation featuring bands such as B-52s, Adam Ant, The Go-Gos and many more. It has new wave in the title even! Some of the songs here are the best-known ones by the included bands, but others are not. Quite a mixed bag, which makes it more interesting in my book.

NW2

New York’s CBGB’s was a hotbed of exciting new music in the mid- and late 70s, regularly featuring bands such as Blondie, Ramones and Talking Heads. Many Blondie songs could easily be called pop or disco (although their early less well-known stuff is much more hard-edged), Ramones are often categorized as punk and Talking Heads are labelled post-punk, but when the three groups were starting out they were all called new wave.

NW3

What most people came to think of as new wave was music that I hated at the time, far too mainstream, poppy, and hairstyley. Now that I no longer need to prove how cool I am this music has grown on me. Bands falling under this heading include Tears for Fears, The Fixx and Cyndi Lauper.

NW4

Some new wave bands, such as The Cars, The Police and Duran Duran were quite popular, beloved by people from a cross-section of musical tastes.

NW5

One of the largest sub-genres of new wave is synth pop, music that relies heavily or entirely on synthesizers. Groups in this category include Human League, Yaz and Thomas Dolby.

NW6

Perhaps the ultimate new wave archetype is the literate, nerdy singer-songwriter type. This group includes Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. Their songs tend to be thought-provoking and lyrically complex with music ranging from driving pop-rock to ballads and everything in-between.

So there you have it. New wave, meaningless. Music that we call new wave, magnificent. Lots of good music at Everett Public Library. Blog post, finished.