11 Classic Rockers Who Went New Wave For One Album

In the uncanny pop valley at the dawn of the ’80s—specifically, after disco and before MTV—the music industry bet big on new wave to be the future of rock. Punk had proven too (ob)noxious for mainstream tastes (and heavy metal was essentially taking care of itself), so the record biz turned to the safety-pin brigade’s arty, quirky, less abrasive offshoot “new wave.” Two forms were most prevalent: peppy power-pop as embodied by the Knack and synthesizer-driven dance weirdness on the order of Devo.

Many other new wave acts fell somewhere in between, with Elvis Costello, Blondie, Talking Heads, Billy Idol, and Duran Duran dominating dawn-of-the-’80s radio airwaves and LP sales. It all seemed to spell doom to a multitude of longhaired, bell-bottomed, meanderingly jamming ’70s rockers that had previously ruled radio and record stores. Some of the previous decade’s arena-packers stood their ground and waited for new wave to get old and dry up. Others, though, adjusted their looks and sounds in an attempt to evolve, embracing the notion of “pogo or perish”—at least for a while.

Aging hippies and limousine libertines suddenly donned skinny ties, asymmetrical haircuts, polka dot cocktail dresses, and geometric makeup so they could more effectively wail in newfangled “music videos” before walls of flickering TV sets and electro-pumping drum machines. Really, how could this not have lasted?

Here now are 10 classic rockers who went new wave for one album—and then back again.

1. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978) – “Shattered”
Staring down the threat of being damned as “dinosaurs” by rock’s late-’70s upstarts, the Stones decamped to New York, soaked up the sights and sounds of CBGB and Studio 54, then authoritatively fired back with Some Girls.

A landmark leap forward that rapidly became the Stones’ all-time best seller, Some Girls propelled Jagger, Richards, and company back to the pinnacle of rock royalty, and, by enflaming the band’s signature raunch-and-roll with strains of punk and disco, largely set the sonic boilerplate for new wave.

The record’s eye-popping cover imagery also broke similar ground. Graphic artist Peter Corrison transformed a vintage ad for women’s wigs into a crazy sliding collage via cutouts that place the Stones and other famous faces under the hairpieces. New wave visuals would spend the next half-decade trying to catch up to that (literal) wig-out.


2. Alice Cooper, Flush The Fashion (1980) – “Clones (We’re All)”
After peaking midway through the ’70s as rock’s multi-platinum ringmaster of shock and awe, Alice Cooper’s booze-fueled downward slide toward the ’80s was marked by increasingly shrinking sales and dank creative doldrums.

Despite his directly inspiring both the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, punk bypassed Alice and left him in a makeup-faced pickle. New wave, rife as it was with freak aesthetics and pop-up performance art, seemed to offer a bridge forward, and Alice forced himself into the flow via Flush The Fashion.

The gambit almost worked. Flush got Alice back on the charts and it generated one of the absolute mightiest anthems in the entire Alice Cooper canon: the anti-conformity bop-along “Clones (We’re All).” Be yourself and listen.

3. Billy Joel, Glass Houses (1980) – “It’s Still Rock-n-Roll to Me”

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