Sunday, August 02, 2020

12 (Additional) Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands

My music friends and I have been reeling since Doug Brod's "12 Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands" piece ran in the New York Times, asking ourselves why we didn't pitch it first. (I thought *I* invented Holly Beth Vincent and *I* was the only one who went around quoting "No Guilt" by the Waitresses!)

In it, Brod writes, "For every Kate Bush, Blondie, Bow Wow Wow or Go-Go, there were lesser-known female artists who exuded both sharp, shoulder-padded glamour and beehived, boho cool, often mixed with quick wit and sass.”

How right he is. So instead of kicking myself further, I decided to add to his impressive list and ask other friends to do the same. One of them, Brian Ferrari, was already on the case. His LIST -- like Brod's -- caught me off guard by introducing me to a few gems I didn't know about at all, while also concurring on things I love and reminding me of others I'd completely forgotten.

So without further ado, here's mine. And as other friends' lists come in, I'll be sure to share them as well.

The Vels, 'Look My Way' (1984)


The Vels were a synth-pop trio from New York City by way of Philadelphia led by singer Alice DeSoto. Many of their songs could be mistaken for early Madonna demos ("Day After Day," "Tell Me Something"). But it was their MTV hit, "Look My Way," -- featuring bandmate Chris Larkin on co-lead vocals and a bit of a post-"Rapture" white-girl rap -- that earned them a place on the Billboard Hot 100 and in my heart. Larkin, who died in 2007, exited following the first album, and after one LP as a duo, she and Charles Hanson disbanded. Alice went back to her real name (Cohen) when she started singing for Die Monster Die and later Espadrille as well as numerous solo albums -- but she'll always be the fun girl in the quirky video singing "everybody, if you can't get down get up!” to me.

Eurogliders, 'Heaven (Must Be Here)' (1984)

Although "Heaven (Must Be Here)" was an enduring hit in their Aussie homeland, the Eurogliders barely made a dent here in the U.S., Still, singer Grace Knight's spiritual voice has stayed with me nearly four decades later. “Heaven” is the lead track off the group’s 1984 sophomore LP, "This Island." a shamefully overlooked masterpiece of the era. Next I need to compile a list of bands whose second record was their best, starting with these guys and Blondie.

Slow Children, 'President Am I' (1981)

Slow Children have long been my obscure '80s trivia trump card -- a brilliant new wave band that not even the most diehard music fans of the genre have ever heard of. Which is a shame. Pal Shazar (vocals) and Andrew Chinich (everything else) had Stephen Hague and Jules Shear at the helm when they recorded two idiosyncratic albums that combined quirky themes and lyrics -- about domesticity, world travel (“I’m on my knees for a ticket to France”), Lolita, Brazilian magazines -- with unique arrangements, They were loved by the likes of Trouser Press, Richard Blade and book nerds everywhere. And Jean Cocteau's "The Blood of a Poet" inspired one of their album covers and Robert Mapplethorpe shot another.

Yet the closest they came to stardom was this video for "President Am I," a song that goes into heavy rotation at my house every four years. The clip was only in light rotation on MTV. But the scene where Pal sings "Ice in a vodka ... a touch of lime. I'm not running for president, am I?" as she suddenly appears in her highball glass next to a giant straw was featured in an MTV promo alongside Yaz(oo)'s "Don't Go," making it a familiar sight to fans of the music channel's earliest days on the air.

Dolly Mixture, 'Baby, It's You' (1980)

I discovered these British birds when they sang backup on Captain Sensible's "Wot," an early treat on MTV. And then I fell in love with them when I found an import 45 in the used bin at Roads to Moscow in Tempe, Ariz., of their cover of "Baby, It's You.," which it turns out they hated and disowned. I still adore it -- and everything on their (avowed) double album, "Demonstration Tapes." ("New Look Baby" will knock your socks off!) These days I enjoy seeing bassist/vocalist Debsey Wykes sing backup for Saint Etienne whenever they cross the pond.

Killer Pussy, 'Pepperoni Ice Cream' (1983)

Growing up in uncool (literally and figuratively) Phoenix in the late '70s and early '80s wasn't ideal. So we felt incredibly fortunate to have a "cool" band like Killer Pussy to call our own. Led by the charismatic Lucy La Mode with songs like "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage" (a KROQ favorite), "Pocket Pool," "Herpes" and "Dildo Desire," we thought of them as the NC-17 answer to the B-52s. ("Moist Toilette" was a note-by-note spoof of Grace Jones's "Warm Leatherette"!) "Pepperoni Ice Cream" was the closest they ever came to mainstream, which is kind of like saying "Polyester" was John Waters playing it straight.

Bonnie Hayes With the Wild Combo, 'Shelley's Boyfriend' (1982)

Bonnie Hayes was known for two quintessential power pop songs in the early '80s that gained new wave credibility after being included on the soundtrack to the punk Romeo & Juliet, "Valley Girl." "Girls Like Me" was the one I fell for first. But it was "Shelley's Boyfriend," originally recorded in 1981 with her band called the Punts, that was her finest three minutes. Hayes, whose brother was in Huey Lewis's News, later worked with Belinda Carlisle, Bonnie Rait, Billy Idol and others.

The Catholic Girls, 'C'est Impossible' (1982)

My brother Bill bought the Catholic Girls’ eponymous debut album based on the cover alone. We were obsessed with "Beauty and the Beat" and the Bangles' debut EP and just itching for the next big girl thing. Although I was initially creeped out by the religious overtones -- I was raised without ever setting foot in a church, and the sight of a crucifix, rosary beads or a prayer card in a friend's house made me really uncomfortable as a kid -- I came to appreciate the clever songwriting and Gail Peterson's unusual vibrato.

Tracie Young, 'The House That Jack Built' (1983)

As an obsessed fan of the Jam and the Style Council, I was overjoyed when Paul Weller started his own label and began recruiting new artists. There were quite a few to love -- the Questions and Big Sound Authority come to mind -- but by far the best was Tracie Young, or Tracie! as it was styled on her records. As someone who prefers female vocalists, Tracie -- only a teen when she signed on -- was just what the music doctor ordered: a blue-eyed soul singer under Paul’s tutelage, staring off by singing backup on the Jam's final single and the Style Council's first. Although she served her mentor well over the course of a handful of singles and two albums (one released after the fact) -- "I Can't Leave You Alone," "Nothing Happens Here but You" and "You Must Be Kidding" remain timeless -- "The House That Jack Built," her first release, wound up being her biggest if not most memorable one of all.

Kirsty MacColl, 'See That Girl' (1981)

The closest Americans ever came to appreciating Kirsty MacColl was when Stiff label mate Tracey Ullman covered "They Don't Know" back in 1983, or perhaps if they've ever heard the Pogues' profane Christmas classic, "Fairtyale of New York." But a deeper dive into the catalog of the singer/songwriter -- who died in a freak accident in 2000 at just 41 years of age -- reveals she was one of the most clever artists of the era, incorporating punk, country, new wave and girl-group sensibilities into her repertoire, perhaps never better than on this one. (MacColl made Brian Ferrari's list as a backing vocalist for Jane Aire and the Belvederes, who were also on Stiff.)

Shell & the Crush, 'When You Look My Way' (1983)

This was a real shocker at the time. Shell Kepler, who played goody-two-shoes nurse Amy Vining on "General Hospital," must have tired of Dr. Noah Drake getting all the attention, so released a five-song EP of new wave songs under the moniker Shell & the Crush. (She even wrote her own material!) Perhaps the most surprising thing of all? It was kind of great. (Also check out "Popular Girl.") Kepler died of kidney failure on Feb. 1, 2008, at 49.

Dislocation Dance, 'Show Me' (1983)

Dislocation Dance was a post-punk band from Manchester who reminded me a little of Haircut 100 with a fun-girl twist. One critic said they were a group "out of time -- too eclectic to cross over into a mainstream," which is to say heaven.

Velveteen, 'Nightline' (1983)

And lastly, one of the best things about these lists is being able to learn about music that slipped through the cracks, which happened regularly in the pre-internet days. Same goes for writing a blog. Velveteen -- led by singer Lisa Burns and bassist Sal Maida -- look and sound exactly like the kind of music I grew up with, yet I didn't discover them until a reader alerted me to them about a decade ago. (The same person also introduced me to the Passions, who made Doug Brod's New York Times list.) Velveteen released just one six-song EP, "After Hours," but it didn't take long for it to register as an "old" favorite.

Honorable mentions

These two maybe don't technically qualify as new wave, but are lost gems by women of a similar vein more people should know about.

Voice of the Beehive, 'Don't Call Me Baby' (1988)

Pure pop perfection from the Anglo-American band formed in London in 1986 by Californian sisters Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland. Somewhere when "Don't Call Me Baby" was released, Phil Spector was approvingly nodding at its production while shaking his head at its message.

The Darling Buds, 'Burst' (1988)

Andrea Lewis was my favorite bombshell of the short-lived Indie Rock Blond Movement that also included Transvision Vamp, the Sundays and the Primitives. That she and her band said they drew their inspiration from Blondie and the Beatles explains why, as demonstrated on this song that could have been an outtake from "Eat to the Beat."


JackG said...

Great list - thanks, Kenneth! BT, Kirsty was run over by a billionaire in a full-size power boat not jetski. RIP. The guy paid an employee to take the fall, and the MacColl family received about $2100. So sad! I also love her Walking Down Madison.

JAndrew said...

Catholic Girls actually were still releasing music up till a few years ago. Ahead of their time, as everyone from Madonna to Brittany Sorars to Best Coast adopted the CG accoutrements