Genre of the Week 5: New Wave (Part 1)

Genre of the Week is back again this week. In this edition I am looking at New Wave, a musical genre of pop/rock which began in the late-1970s and had strong ties to 1970s punk rock.

The wide range of bands categorized under this term has been a source of confusion and controversy, and as a term new wave perhaps represents yet another genre label which musically speaking is quite meaningless.

The term originated in New York in the early-70s and was used to describe bands such as the Velvet Underground. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that it began gaining wider currency, and by 1977 “new wave’ as a term was replacing punk as the way of describing new “underground” music in both the UK and US.

Music historian Vernon Joynson said that new wave emerged in 1976 when many bands began to disassociate themselves from the punk rock scene, branching out artistically and musically.

From my perspective, musically speaking, new wave was used to label the bands that were outside the classic rock mainstream and that came in the aftermath of punk.

The new wave sound moved away from the more traditional blues and rock & roll sounds of mainstream rock to create music with a more agitated feel, complete with choppy rhythm guitars and fast tempos.

Common characteristics of new wave music, aside from its punk influences, include the use of synthesizers and electronic productions, the importance of styling and the arts, as well as a great amount of musical and stylistic diversity.


The actual musical origins of new wave came before the term was even invented, as well as before punk rock.

New wave actually began with pub rock in the UK during the early-70s. Pub rock was a working class music scene that saw bands playing rhythm and blues and rock and roll-styled music in pubs and clubs, a lot of the time to audiences loaded up on beer.

Now this may sound a bit grim, but this scene actually produced some very good music starting with a band called Dr. Feelgood whose high-energy rhythm and blues was a big influence on later British punk and new wave bands.

Kilburn & the High Roads was Ian Dury’s first band (later of the Blockheads) and like Dr. Feelgood they played a uniquely British style of rhythm and blues but with a quirky tongue and cheeky feel. The presence of a sax in their music was also not the norm in rock music at the time let alone pub rock.

Completing the trifecta of influential pub rock bands is Graham Parker & The Rumour.

Again like the other two groups I have mentioned, they had a very classic rhythm and blues/rock and roll sound, and really just wanted to play good old fashioned music that was set apart from what pub rock bands considered the over the top pretentious nature of progressive rock. Yes I am looking at you Rick Wakeman.

– Sam


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