White Stripes. Black Keys. Green Day. Pink. Just some of the names who do not appear in this selection of new wave-ish artists and songs with a color connection. (To listen on Spotify, click here.)
“Everything’s Gone Green,” New Order
Despite the title, New Order was hardly raking it in when they released this 1981 single, which was one of the first to find the group moving away from the Joy Divison sound and embracing computer generation as a way to make dance records. During our Mad World interview, Peter Hook reinforced the popular belief that Factory Records founder Tony Wilson was a rather poor businessman, in both senses of the word. That didn’t stop them from sinking what little they had into Manchester superclub/money pit the Hacienda a year later.
“Dressed in Black” Depeche Mode
During my sophomore and junior years in high school, Depeche dictated my look. My hair cut — shaved on the sides and in the back — was achieved by bringing a photo of Dave Gahan to Astor Place barbershop in Greenwich Village. And most of my clothes were black, thanks to this song. My favorite outfit was a black turtle-neck leotard worn with a long black skirt, black opaque tights, and black ballerina shoes. The only skin showing aside from my hands was from my chin up, but, for the first time in my young life, I felt sexy. I imagined my crush taking notice and thinking: ”She’s dressed in black again. And I’m falling down again. Down to the floor again. I’m begging for more again. But, oh, what can you do when she’s dressed in black?” Here’s a recent-ish in-concert take on the song, delivered by Martin Gore instead of Dave Gahan. Maybe it’s a tad cabaret, but I still find it hot.
“White Wedding,” Billy Idol
It looks a little silly now, but to an 11-year-old girl who was too afraid to watch horror movies, “White Wedding” was pretty eerie. Remember the gothic wedding ring that makes the bride’s finger bleed? The nails being hammered in the coffin? The exploding appliances? This was also the first Billy Idol video I’d ever seen, and I thought he was one of these “punks” I’d heard about. I was close, as he had been one several years before as the frontman of Generation X. But with “White Wedding” Idol became a straight-up pop star.
Runner-up Billy Idol selection: “Blue Highway”
Just because John Taylor looks so sexy singing along to it in the Duran Duran documentary Sing Blue Silver.
“Behind the Mask,” Yellow Magic Orchestra
My memories of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Riyuchi Sakamoto will always have a greenish tint. That was the color of the Northern Lights that streaked the sky of the High Arctic when Sakamoto-san, his wife, and I first glimpsed them while we traversed the icy waters of Greenland in a row boat. On that trip — which was an expedition put on by Cape Farewell, a London-based org that uses the arts to communicate the realities of climate change to the masses — Sakamoto put together an audio collage of sounds we’d encountered on our walks through the sub-zero wilderness, like water dripping as a result of the rapidly melting ice. But YMO was known for making sounds not found in nature, their “orchestra” an orgy of synthesizers and sequencers. And that’s exactly what “Behind the Mask” sounds like: an electronic jam session.
“Song Sung Blue,” Altered Images
Americans’ only real exposure to Altered Images was “Happy Birthday,” which was featured in 16 Candles (although the single “I Could Be Happy” was a minor dance hit). But Brits know the Scottish band for the dozen singles they released in the early 80s, while many British males came of age pining for the group’s perky singer with the little-girl voice, Clare Grogan. Apparently lots of male pop stars were smitten with Grogan, but it was Gary Kemp who put his “unrequited romance” to music. In Mad World, Gary Kemp talks about how Grogan gifted him with a copy of Nabokov’s Lolita, thus inspiring the Spandau Ballet smash “True.”
“Electric Blue,” Ice House
They had lush production, the Roland-Orzabal-from-Tears-For-Fears mullet, and, in “Electric Blue,” a 1987 top-ten single co-written by John Oates. But I may never have thought of this song ever again if I weren’t on the hunt for songs and bands with color in their names.
“Silver Blue,” Roxette
I know JB’s going to get all “That’s not new wave” on me, but this Roxette song is SO new wave-inspired. It’s my favorite song by the duo, a b-side to their breakout hit, “The Look.” There was a time when at the end of the 80s when I was obsessed with all-things Swedish. I wanted to have two towhead children by a Swedish hockey player, and I sought out Marie Fredriksson’s and Per Gessle’s pre-Roxette records because they sing in Swedish! Anyway, JB, I absolutely dare you not to love this pretty little ditty, which somehow seems to sound as silvery-blue as its title!
“The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme,” Colourbox
Timely! History could stand to be little more generous to Colourbox, who predated Massive Attack and the rise of trip-hop. But then, they mutated into M.A.R.R.S and made “Pump Up The Volume,” so it all worked out well for them, if not us.
“The Race,” Yello
Bit of a gift and a curse to have your name eternally synonymous with “Oh Yeah.” But shed no tears for Yello duo Dieter Meyer and Boris Blank — they made a little go a long way.
“The Sweetest Girl,” Scritti Politti
“Lean On Me,” Red Box
A perfect example of what we, in Mad World: The Book refer to as Last Gasp New Wave. Red Box were a marriage of two pop culture tropes: twee and tribal. ”Lean On Me” is sappy enough to be a cheery knees-up from a middle school musical but the pounding percussion has a calculated eye on the dancefloor.
“Bury My Heart,” White & Torch
Remember “No More I Love Yous” by The Lover Speaks? Covered by Annie Lennox, sampled by Nicki Minaj? These guys were The Lover Speaks and they had no more success releasing swelling, over-dramatic Scott Walker-esque songs under their own names than with their absurd collective moniker. No point pretending the production and the insanely pompous vocals don’t date this, but it’s dated in an awesome way.
“Millions Like Us,” Purple Hearts
So, it’s 1979. The Quadrophenia movie is released in the UK and instantly inspires a massive mod revival. It’s a movement with a look, a mode of transport, a movie: everything but a soundtrack. The new mods love The Who, The Small Faces and sixties ska but they want something of their own. A bunch of modern day mod bands are formed to satisfy the new audience. Bands like Secret Affair, Merton Parkas, Back To Zero, The Chords and The Purple Hearts. The new audience smartly rejects them all and embraces The Jam, skyrocketing them from the comparative doldrums to Britain’s biggest band, and 2-Tone. They may have been roundly rejected by their peers but let’s take a second to remember a doomed new mod band’s attempt at a rallying anthem and how non-prophetic it would prove.
“101 Dam-Nations,” Scarlet Party/ ‘Danger Games,’ The Pinkees
So it’s 1982. Amid the post-punk, the ska, the synth-pop, the white funk and the androgyny, a few music industry hustlers decide the time couldn’t be righter for a Beatles revival and so a wholly misbegotten British powerpop scene is willed into being. Accommodating young Englishmen were squeezed into suits, given Rickenbackers and copies of “A Hard Day’s Night.” The highest-profile and most derided of the new Fabs were Scarlet Party, reportedly signed to EMI for a shitload of money, and then swiftly dropped before an album of songs featuring the percussive sounds of John Lennon rolling in his grave could be released. Another Beatley band with a color in their name, The Pinkees, introduced in this clip by a wildly impressed John Peel, pay even more gruesome tribute to their heroes. Makes you re-think your low opinion of Oasis. Almost.
“White Mice,” Mo-Dettes
In Mad World: The Book, Kim Wilde talks of traveling to London to see and be inspired by girl band The Mo-Dettes. In the swirl of late-seventies female-fronted music, the world inhabited by The Slits, The Raincoats, Delta 5, The Au Pairs and Essential Logic, The Mo-Dettes were looked upon somewhat derisively as too poppy and too girly and insufficiently radical. I can’t make a hugely convincing case for the rest of their oeuvre —thank me profusely for not selecting their cover of “Paint It Black” — but I played this song to absolute death on its initial release and still find a warm place in my cold heart for it.