Days of Punk | Fashion


Nothing influenced the soundscape of the 80s quite as much as new wave. This decade defining genre was created and cultivated by scores of innovative artists looking to make their mark on the music scene. Many of them succeeded spectacularly, contributing countless beloved classics to the canon.

With so many masterpieces to choose from, it’s nigh impossible to pen an objective ranking of new wave’s best. But we’ll give it a shot anyway! Call it hubris if you must — we call it gumption.

Without further ado, here is a list (in some particular order) of the top 10 greatest new wave songs of all time.

10. “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles
Coming in at number 10, we have the Buggles’ debut single, “Video Killed the Radio Star”. This perky, playful piece from 1979 is certainly an earworm, but that’s not why it’s on the list. Rather, we’ve placed it here on account of the cultural cachet it earned when it became the first ever video played on MTV. Music videos would soon become a mainstay of new wave, and the Buggles were the face that launched a thousand clips.

9. “Do You Wanna Hold Me?” by Bow Wow Wow
Annabella Lwin, teenage frontwoman (frontgirl?) of Bow Wow Wow, was one of the most recognizable voices in new wave during the band’s brief original run from 1980-1983. Lwin was only 13 when the band was created by former Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren, and was thus doomed to that insidious brand of child stardom so commonly bestowed on young girls in the music industry. Still, Lwin was a powerful and capable vocalist, as demonstrated in Bow Wow Wow’s 1983 hit, “Do You Wanna Hold Me?”.

8. “People Are People” by Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode was formed in Essex in 1980 and are still active to this day. Over the course of their long and storied career, they’ve produced dozens of hits, sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “People Are People,” released in 1985, was the song that finally caught the attention of U.S. audiences, making Depeche Mode a trans-Atlantic sensation and winning them a place on this list.

7. “Whip It” by Devo
A subversive and eccentric art-rock band based out of Akron, Ohio, Devo first tasted mainstream success when their 1980 single, “Whip It” reached number 14 on the Billboard chart. The driving baseline, oddly stilted vocals, and titular whip cracking make this song a fascinating mix of catchy and disconcerting. Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it; that’s why we’ve awarded “Whip It” a seventh place ranking.

6. “Cars” by Gary Numan
“Cars” by Gary Numan is funky, up beat, and heavy on the synthesizer; it’s a perfect new wave cocktail! It was released in 1979, and charted in several countries (most notably the U.K., where it reached number 1) making it one of the earliest examples of a new wave hit. In light of this, we feel that it deserves a place in any reputable ranking of new wave songs.

5. “Just What I Needed” by The Cars
Formed in Boston in 1976, The Cars soon became a pillar of the new wave scene with their rock ‘n roll flavored, synth forward pop sound. Their 1978 debut single, “Just What I Needed” roared up the charts, peaking at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. For introducing America to future new wave royalty, we’re putting “Just What I Needed” at number 5 on our list.

4. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division came out in 1980, and became an instant classic, charting in several countries and eventually going platinum in the U.K. Tragically, lead singer Ian Curtis never got to witness this success, as the song was released a month after his death by suicide. Still considered by many to be one of the greatest singles of all time, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” absolutely deserves a place of honor in new wave history.

3. “Rock Lobster” by the B-52’s
“Rock Lobster,” released in 1978, is the song that launched the B-52’s career. Fast-paced, danceable, and more than a little silly, “Rock Lobster” epitomizes the lighter side of new wave, where quirk and whimsicality are embraced and celebrated. We feel “Rock Lobster” handily earned this number 3 ranking.

2. “Heart of Glass” by Blondie
In 1979, Blondie began their transformation from punk rock to new wave with the release of “Heart of Glass.” It was a massive hit, reaching number one on the charts in the U.S., the U.K., and several other countries, to boot. Debby Harry’s ethereal, gauzy vocals paired with the euphonic, synthy instrumentation make this song truly unforgettable; “Heart of Glass” is undoubtedly one of new wave’s finest.

1. “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads
Patron saints of new wave, Talking Heads, released “Once In A Lifetime” in 1981. This surrealist examination of an existential crisis is, sonically speaking, completely unique. It shimmers and bubbles in a way that makes it sound almost waterlogged, deftly evoking all kinds of perplexing emotions in its audience. Though it wasn’t an immediate hit, “Once In A Lifetime” had a deep and lasting impact on the musical landscape. It’s been extolled time and time again over the last 4 decades; it was named “one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century” by NPR, included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 songs that shaped rock and roll,” and ranked 27th on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. With a legacy like that, we had no choice but to grant “Once In A Lifetime” the title of “History’s Greatest New Wave Song.”

Want to know more about your favorite new wave pioneers? Check out Michael Grecco’s punk rock photography book, Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, and In Your Face.