Thursday, October 22, 2015

Five New Wave Songs About Money

[This is an article I originally wrote for CHIRP Radio.]

Money. Cash. Moola. Dough. Cabbage. Lettuce. Cheddar. Scratch. You may love it. You may hate it. But there’s no getting around the fact that we all need some. And when you don’t have it, or you see someone getting way too much than they should, it makes great material for songs.

In the 1980s, the Western World’s views toward money (and who should get it, and how much) were changing, and artists were taking notice. Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher led the charge to reward life’s “winners” on Wall Street and in junk bond houses while slashing social programs and putting the screws to organized labor. Thus society started its Corporatist phase, sponsored by Ayn Rand and an undying belief that your bank balance is the ultimate gauge of your worth as a human being. Along the way, many people found themselves with less, while others found themselves with much, much, much more.

The disparity wasn’t lost on many of the musicians of the era, some of whom, in the aftermath of the Punk movement, were making use of electronic instruments to add to and compete with the prevailing guitar/bass/drum paradigm. In a decade where Lover Boy was Working for the Weekend and Madonna was declaring her status as a Material Girl, these artists had a different take on the Long Green:

“Money (That’s What I Want)” by The Flying Lizards (1979)

“Your love gives me such a thrill / But your love won't pay my bills.”

One of the first Synth-Pop hits to chart in the UK was the product of a music collective known more for their Avant Garde and experimental leanings. A song originally written by Barrett Strong in 1960 and covered by a lot of bands, including the Beatles, the Stones, The Doors, and Joe Cocker, it’s never been covered quite like this. Your enjoyment of this song may well hinge on how you feel about New Wave in general, as this song is nothing but New Wave. A quirky, pitch-perfect comment on materialism in the ultimate plastic age? Or cold, blippy, inhumane novelty track? You make the call…

“Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode (1983)

“The grabbing hands / Grab all they can / All for themselves, after all…”

On their way to becoming the most successful band in history that uses synthesizers as their main instrument, Depeche Mode hit stride pretty much from their start. This track from Construction Time Again is aimed squarely at the corporate greed and corruption the band saw happening all around them, and has a chorus that expresses disgust in a wonderfully melodic way.

“How to Be a Millionaire" by ABC (1984)

“I’ve seen the future. I can’t afford it.”

1982’s The Lexicon of Love, one of the best Synth-Pop albums ever made, put ABC on the Pop scene with their mix of keyboards and after-six lounge aesthetic. There later efforts didn’t have the same impact, but through the decade the band still put out solid singles like this one from their album How to Be…a Zillionaire!, backed with a brilliantly conceived animation video.

Abc How to be a Millionaire from Richard Guarascia on Vimeo.

"Money$ Too Tight (to Mention)" by Simply Red (1985)

“It’s all about the dollar bill / And that old man that’s over the hill.”

An on-point track from one of a group of bands from the New Wave era who got attention with a Soul-based sound. This cover of a minor R&B hit from the Valentine Brothers was released on the band’s album Picture Book, which also had their biggest US hit “Holding Back the Years.” Along with the social commentary, the song and the band are a great example of the UK’s fascination with American R&B and Soul that continues today.

"Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)" by Pet Shop Boys (1985)

“I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks / Let’s make lots of money.”

At the tail end of the New Wave era, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe bridged the gap between “Pop” and “Electronica” with a stream of rock-solid, brilliantly arranged songs delivered with a wit as dry as burnt toast. “West End Girls” opened the door for them in the States, and this song came along soon after. The duo’s ironically blasé, arm’s–length pose was perfect for an era where inhumanity was becoming an issue in music, business, and life in general.

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