Last week, the New York Times posted a piece by Doug Brod titled 12 Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands. Brod writes: “……for every Kate Bush, Blondie, Bow Wow Wow or Go-Go, there were lesser-known female artists who exuded both sharp, shoulder-padded glamour and beehived, boho cool, often mixed with quick wit and sass.”
It’s an admirable dozen, evenly weighted with some of my favorites (The Waitresses, Josie Cotton, Rachel Sweet, Pearl Harbor & the Explosions, The Passions, Holly & The Italians) and tracks I had forgotten or never heard before (The Cosmopolitans, Nervus Rex, Spider, Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, Pulsallama, Suzanne Fellini).
Kenneth Walsh of KennethInThe212 blog posted a link to the article noting “I guess every writer finds himself saying, ‘How did I not write this’ at some point or another…..Seriously, how did I NOT write this?”
(Update: Kenneth has posted his list HERE)
I thought I would take the bait and compile my own list. And here we are:
12 (More) Forgotten Classics by Women-Led New Wave Bands
Of course, “forgotten” is subjective. Is The Flirts’ Don’t Put Another Dime In The Jukebox forgotten just because nobody can remember the band name or mis-identifies them as the Bangles? If I say “I might like you better if we slept together” to the most casual fan of new wave music and they get the reference but can’t place the band, does that make Romeo Void forgotten? Can a song be considered forgotten when it is on the soundtrack of one of the most popular video games of all time? (I’m looking at you, Passions. With a side-eye towards Romeo Void as well).
Both of these lists assume that you are already familiar with prominent post-punk / new wave acts like The Raincoats, Marine Girls, Slits, Go-Go’s, Blondie, Berlin, Eurythmics, Motels, Altered Images, Bananarama, Divinyls, Missing Persons, Pretenders, Kim Wilde, Siouxsie, Yaz, Nena, Lena, Nina… the list goes on.
So – now that I have set the playing field, here are my picks – chosen by a middle-aged New Yorker who still loves the music of the 80’s but with little nostalgia for the decade. The music was great, but it was the pits to live through. Don’t kid yourself.
The Shirts – Laugh and Walk Away (1979)
The Shirts were the CBGB’s band that got away. Rubbing shoulders with the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads did not lead to worldwide success, although they garnered a few hits in Europe. Laugh and Walk Away was a single from their second LP Streetlight Shine.
Post-1981 breakup, lead singer Annie Golden’s Hang Up The Phone was a highlight of the Sixteen Candles soundtrack. Her eclectic career is now in its 5th decade, spanning film (Hair), Broadway (Leader of the Pack), and television (Cheers, Orange Is The New Black). By all accounts she’s also one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. And The Shirts do get back together from time to time.
Hilary – Drop Your Pants (1983)
Hilary Blake released one EP – the Stephen Hague-produced Kinetic. Both the title tune and Drop Your Pants were voted “Screamer of the Week” – the coveted top-voted song by listeners to New York’s influential WLIR alternative radio station. Drop Your Pants – with a repetitive pulsating chorus of “Drop you pants around your ankles / You make me shiver when you deliver” was Hilary’s commentary on how ridiculous the fear of sex in United States was at the time.
Hilary and Hague were married for many years but had divorced before she died of cancer in 2007.
Jane Aire and the Belvederes – Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache (1979)
Jane Aire, aka Jane Ashley was one of several acts (The Waitresses and Rachel Sweet among them) featured on Liam Sternberg’s Akron compilation LP. Like Chrissie Hynde before her, Ashley left the wilds of Ohio to record in London, where her Belvederes were the UK band also known as The Edge: Lu Edmonds, Gavin Povey, Glyn Havard and Jon Moss (later of Culture Club).
Following a couple of Stiff singles, an LP was released on Virgin with background vocals provided by Ms. Sweet and Kirsty MacColl . The album features several choice covers: Pearl Harbour & The Explosions’ Driving, The Supremes’ Come See About Me, and this Northern Soul classic by Johnny Johnson & His Bandwagon which was also later recorded by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
Mari Wilson – Just What I Always Wanted (1982)
Mari Wilson was the epitome of the “beehive boho cool” that Brod writes about in the New York Times piece. And the foot-high beehive was her real hair. Do other people consider this song forgotten? It’s a default earworm in my head, so my perception may be off. But I am happy to introduce it to anyone who doesn’t know it.
Just What I Always Wanted was Wilson’s biggest hit – reaching the UK top 10 accompanied by a video which gave glimpses of the dynamic stage show Mari and her Wilsations were famous for. As it turned out, being a pop star wasn’t just what she always wanted, and she moved on to successful forays in jazz and stage musicals. Wilson may not have garnered more pop hits, but her catalogue is considerable and definitely worth checking out.
Face To Face – 10-9-8 (1984)
Laurie Sargent fronted the Boston-based quintet Face To Face. In the 1984 movie Streets of Fire, the fictional band Ellen Aim and The Attackers were played onscreen by Diane Lane and the male members of Face to Face, with Lane lip-synching Laurie‘s lead vocals on several tracks. 10-9-8 was Face To Face’s debut single on Epic records and also their biggest hit – peaking at #38 on the US Billboard Top 100.
Book Of Love – Boy (1985)
Boy was the debut single by Book of Love, a New York by way of Philadelphia synthpop band fronted by Susan Ottaviano. Signed by Seymour Stein to his Sire records, the band gained exposure opening for Depeche Mode on their 1985 & 1986 tours.
Although Boy was popular enough in NY to become a WLIR “Screamer of the Week” in February 1985, the song did not chart nationally until 2001, when a Peter Rauhofer remix topped the U.S. Dance Charts. In a 2016 Village Voice interview, keyboardist/songwriter Ted Ottaviano revealed that the song was written about the gay East Village night spot Boy Bar.
Burns Sisters Band – I Wonder Who’s Out Tonight (1986)
Nowadays, Ithaca New York’s Burns Sisters are a well regarded folk duo with 10 albums under their belt. Back in the mid-80’s, The Burns Sisters Band launched as a quintet of siblings giving the Bangles a run for their money. Marie, Annie, Jeannie, Sheila and Terry had the WLIR “Screamer of the Week” with this single in July of 1986 – perfect listening while takin’ the time to do your hair / puttin’ on something HOT to wear.
The Tourists – So Good To Be Back Home Again (1980)
The Tourists’ output included three LPs and a handful of hit singles in their native UK. A peppy cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Wanna Be With You scraped the US charts as well. Keyboardist Ann Lennox shared lead vocal duties with guitarist Pete Coombs. There was also a guy named David Stewart in the band. After The Tourists split in 1980, David and Ann went on to do some other stuff you may have heard of, but their Tourists output is seldom mentioned and definitely worth a revisit, starting with this track – a top 10 hit in the UK and Ireland.
Put Your Back To It – November Group (1983)
I actually ventured into the comments section of the NYT article (I know – the comments section can be a scary place. But for the most part, this time it wasn’t.) There were quite a few mentions of this alt band from the Boston new wave scene. November Group formed in the early 1980s with Ann Prim and Kearney Kirby, both previously of Wunderkind. Put Your Back To It was a single from their second LP- Persistent Memories.
Suburban Lawns – Janitor (1981)
“What do you do?”
Su Tissue was trying to have a conversation in a noisy room. She misheard the response “I’m a janitor” as “Oh, my genitals.” And a song chorus was born.
Suburban Lawns was formed in Long Beach, California in 1978 by CalArts students William “Vex Billingsgate” Ranson and Sue “Su Tissue” McLane. Their first single Gidget Goes To Hell may be more likely to turn up on new wave compilations, but Janitor – the lead single from their self-titled IRS LP – is an overlooked gem.
Cristina – Is That All There Is? (1980)
This slashing cover of the Peggy Lee classic was produced with broken glass and cuckoo clocks by August Darnell, a.k.a. Kid Creole. When the single was originally released in 1980, songwriters Lieber and Stoller successfully sued to have it withdrawn, objecting to the lyric changes embracing drugs, physical abuse and the club scene. They later changed their mind.
Cristina, aka New York socialite Cristina Monet-Palaci Zilkha recorded two highly regarded but commercially unsuccessful albums for ZE records before turning her attention elsewhere. She succumbed to coronavirus at the age of 64 on March 31, 2020.
And as sure as I’m standing here talking at you, I was not ready for that kind of a come down.
Strawberry Switchblade – Let Her Go (1985)
Strawberry Switchblade – Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall – were a Glasgow duo formed in 1981. They released one album and had a top 5 UK hit with Since Yesterday. Follow-up single Let Her Go and a synth-pop cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene also charted – especially in Japan – before the duo split in 1986. Both continued to make music but were unable to recreate their Switchblade success.