Popular music has always anointed its pioneers and stars with such honorific nicknames as the King of Pop, the Godfather of Soul, the Chairman of the Board, and the Queen of Disco. The 80s saw an abundance of songs and group names that wanted to be regal. If we all agree that David Bowie is definitely the Godfather of New Wave, then who is worthy to be crowned the King(s) or Queen(s) of New Wave? Chris Rooney decides. (To listen to this or follow any of our playlists on Spotify, click here.)
The Smiths, “The Queen Is Dead” (1985)
Thirty years after Morrissey proclaimed the end of her majesty; stodgy QEII is still kicking. The self-deprecating ditty is loosely based on the real account of a Buckingham Palace intruder who broke into the palace and entered the Queen’s bedroom.
Eurythmics, “The King and Queen of America” (1990)
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were pretty spot on with their costumes and settings that parodied American culture in the 1980s from game show hosts to the Reagans to Hollywood stars to ordinary folks from the heartland. As part of Eurythmics and a soloist, Annie has earned the title “most successful female British artist in UK music history” and the “Brits Champion of Champions”. How’s that for accolades?
The B-52’s, “Queen of Las Vegas” (1983)
If Annie Lennox wanted to be queen of America, she’d have to put up a fight with Kate and Cindy of The B-52’s in order to rule over “Sin City”.
Generation X, “King Rocker” (1978)
Billy Idol’s first taste of success was with his original pop punk band before he ascended to greater heights going solo in 1981.
The Police, “King Of Pain” (1983)
Written after the separation from his first wife, Sting confessed his feelings in this song: “I conjured up symbols of pain and related them to my soul. A black spot on the sun struck me as being a very painful image.” References to the tragic stories of King Oedipus and King Midas emphasized the solitude of being alone at the top.
Prince, “When You Were Mine” (1980)
His Royal Purpleness dabbled in New Wave with some of his early work including this one. Cyndi Lauper even covered the song in 1984 on her debut album. Since Prince has a beef with YouTube, here’s Cyndi’s version.
Prefab Sprout, “King Of Rock And Roll” (1988)
Sophisti-pop makers Prefab Sprout imagined a washed-up early rock and roll one-hit wonder stuck performing his silly novelty song on the nostalgia circuit. Despite critical praise for their work in the 1980s, this song remains the band’s biggest success in their native UK, where it reached a modest #7.
Echo & The Bunnymen, “My Kingdom” (1984)
Ian McCullough in many ways is the heir apparent to the self-proclaimed “Lizard King”, Jim Morrison. Since their early days, The Bunnymen drew comparisons to The Doors and later went so far as to record a version of “People Are Strange” and employed Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek on their original song, “Bedbugs And Ballyhoo”.
King, “Love & Pride” (1984)
Named after lead singer Paul King, the video for their debut single feels like a corny 1980s Hollywood take on Peter Pan complete with preadolescent “lost boys” breakdancing and spray painting in a remote Neverland dumping ground. Paul went on to work as a VJ for MTV and VH1 in Europe after the band split.
Adam & The Ants, “Prince Charming” (1981)
Adam’s whining at the beginning of the song makes it abundantly clear that he really, really, really wants to be next in line to the throne.
Bow Wow Wow, “Prince of Darkness” (1981)
Maybe Adam Ant’s bandmates turned to the dark side when they jumped ship and formed Bow Wow Wow under then-de facto manager Malcolm McLaren’s auspices?
Thompson Twins, “King For A Day” (1985)
After touring solo for the first time in 2014 after a long absence, lead singer Tom Bailey said, “In a way, ‘King For A Day’ is a song that explains why I’ve been missing for 30 years. It kind of says the whole fame and fortune game doesn’t ultimately satisfy me, and I got distracted by other things. So although I’m glad to be back and sorry about being away for so long, this is my excuse.”
The Dukes of Stratosphear, “The Mole from the Ministry” (1985)
Taking a cue from The Beatles’ alter ego Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, XTC released a very ‘60s psychedelic-influenced album under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear.
The Stranglers, “Duchess” (1979)
With a public image anything but choirboys, The Stranglers nevertheless dressed up like them for the song’s banned-by-the-BBC-for-being-blasphemous video. Maybe it also touched a nerve for taking a very downtrodden working class jab at England’s aristocratic pretentiousness.
China Crisis, “King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)” (1985)
I feel like I was the only American teenager who bought the Liverpudlian band’s 1985 album, Flaunt the Imperfection, which was produced by Walter Becker of Steely Dan jazz rock fame. Just because I was a big Anglophile then doesn’t mean that I thought that the American Revolutionary War wasn’t totally worth it.