I’ve been thinking of writing a few posts about my new wave / synthpop influences already for quite a while. Finally, I’ve got a bit of time between writing/mixing my new record, so let’s start with a simple list of 10 most memorable new wave / synthpop artists and tracks. Not coincidentally – the tracks are almost entirely from the 80s.
10 Cabaret Voltaire “Sensoria”
OK, this track is probably not your most popular synthpop tune of the 80s. But I really think that Cabaret Voltaire is hands down one of the most underappreciated electronic indie bands of the 80s. Unfortunately, except for a few singles and videos they remained mostly unknown across the world. “Sensoria” was released in 1984 on “Micro-Phonies” album and co-produced with Flood.
9 Heaven 17 “Let Me Go”
Heaven 17 is one of the first bands that opened new wave/synthpop for me. If you’re not familiar with them – I suggest you wiki them to find out about their connections with Human League and A Clockwork Orange.
But for those, who ARE familiar with them – I hope you’d agree that “Let Me Go” is one of their most atmospheric tracks. Accompanied with a great film noir video, listening/watching this track makes a great experience no matter how many times you press ‘play’.
8 Yazoo “Only You”
How can one write anything about synthpop and forget to mention Vince Clarke? After all, his name is one of the symbols of the genre.
“Only You” was Yazoo‘s first and Vince Clarke‘s first single after leaving Depeche Mode. According to some it was written while he was still in Depeche Mode. And it’s easy to believe this – the track is such an instant classic that you could easily imagine ’81 incarnation of Dave Gahan singing it without any problems.
7 Talk Talk “Such A Shame”
I absolutely love both sides of Talk Talk – their ‘new wave’ and later ‘experimental/rocky’ appearances. And if you heard only their electronic work, I strongly suggest you to check out ‘Spirit of Eden’ .
Back to our story – in my opinion Talk Talk produced some of the most memorable synthpop tracks of the 80s. I still remember my surprise after watching their video for “Such a Shame” for the first time. As an early teen, I expected anything except for this statement of self-irony!
7 Kate Bush “Running up that hill”
The music of Kate Bush always had some kind of magical effect on me. There’s something about her way of singing, especially on her more experimental tracks, which really grabs your attention.
For this particular song – I deliberately chose this BBC playback performance vs. her official ‘contemporary dance’ video (you may check it out here). This is a perfect example when a song is given another life with its performance.
5 OMD “Souvenir”
OMD symbolizes to me the brighter side of synthpop. Listening to them always has a positive impact on me. I guess it’s Andy McCluskey’s vocal timbre and the band’s melodic talent that create such an effect.
Talking about “Souvenir” – it is sung by Paul Humphreys, who is typically not associated with OMD‘s trademark vocals. As far as I recall the track’s history, it was sped up a bit for its commercial release. So if you wish to hear the unaltered version of the vocal track you can give this Moby remix a try.
4 A-ha “Stay On These Roads”
If Depeche Mode‘s unique trait is ability to romanticize darkness and gloom, then A-ha‘s unique point is to construct inspiring emotional landscapes. For me they will always be one of the ultimate romantic symbols of the genre.
“Stay On These Roads” is my favourite A-ha track. It has all that is required for a truly inspiring song – slow build-ups, moments of calmness, culmination of emotions. Morten Harket’s performance on this track is particularly impressive.
3 Depeche Mode “Nothing”
“Nothing” comes from “Music For The Masses” – my favorite Depeche Mode album. While not the strongest on this album, to me this track perfectly captures why I like this band so much. It’s the ability to be experimental and at the same time deliver fantastic melodic experiences. That is what separates them from the rest. Who else would be able to hold your attention with a wobbly synth based track about “Nothing” if not DM?
Since the track doesn’t have a video – I thought including this LP YouTube recording is the right way to listen to it. For the maximum experience, add to this your old’n’trusted headphones and dim your lights if you wish.
2 New Order “Temptation”
Some may be surprised that I decided to put New Order so high in my list of influences. And to be honest, I just cannot explain what is their secret. Maybe the answer lies in the very story of this band – it should not have existed? They should have simply stopped after the end of Joy Division… Yet, they apparently found a hole in time through which they managed to slip and survive in spite of everything.
“Temptation” is one of my favorite New Order tracks and this live version is simply perfect. The rawness of the lyrics and some kind of naive simplicity of the song overall – this is what makes it so dear to me.
1 Joy Division “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
So, we have arrived at the top. It’s not a synthpop song by no means. And some may even argue whether it is a new wave track. But ultimately – does it matter? There’s no doubt that “Love will tear us apart” will stay one of the most covered and influential indie recordings. This is a true indie masterpiece that stood the test of time.