This book is a proverbial “Top Of The Pops” greatest hits – most of which can be looked upon with a warm nostalgic smile as “’80’s Top 40” pop but not “new wave”. Calling it “new wave” is very misleading. Many of the bands who are in this 300-plus page volume made their entry into the music world via the immediate post-punk era or flirted with punk-era bands, but this is all pop. In many ways, what makes it a pleasant read are the authors’ commentaries, as it’s their memories and deep appreciation of these songs and bands that are the driving motivators of this book.
Some of these bands – such as Devo – started off with more subversive ideas and intentions – but most became fleeting “pop stars” (to use the U.K. term) or popular for a moment. A lot of one-hit wonders, which is, in truth, what this is when you look at their careers in the United States: Spandau Ballet (who I genuinely like), ABC, Kajagoogoo. None of these bands had the influential reach or staying power as many of their contemporaries, who were considered “new wave” like The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Undertones or The Clash, whose influences are still heard and felt today. And a lot of these, truthfully, do not deserve any time – Animotion? Or the charity record of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”? This is where I felt the book veered completely away from what the presumed intentions were.
In my way of reading through Mad World, I look back at this period, where I, too, was still a teen. There are one or two of those groups that I loved at the time, like Dexy’s, especially the original Dexy’s. But this is akin to looking back at an old photo album of yourself and being able to laugh with the memories – “oh, yes, I remember having that haircut”. Or reading back over old copies of the U.K.’s “Smash Hits”. Or finding the WLIR playlist from winter ’81/spring ’82. BUT… what is considered here to have “defined the 1980’s”, you question the “definitions” since the ’80’s automatically reeked of and were defined by Madonna, Prince, The Police, Born In The U.S.A. and of course, Thriller. The foreword by Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes and the afterword by Moby don’t enhance the idea, either.
It’s an entertaining read but like the songs singled out for recognition, it’s mostly forgettable fluff. Only recommended for those who yearn for the early days of MTV.
(apologies for not being able to locate a photo of co-author Jonathan Bernstein)