As we look at the best New Wave albums of the ‘70s and ‘80s, we’re focused both on the early records that overlap with our 50 Best Post-Punk Albums list through the New Romantics, left-of-center power-pop and synth rock of the ‘80s. The following albums were collectively chosen byPaste music writers and editors.
New Wave music meant a lot of things in the late 1970s. It encompassed pretty much everything that followed the punk movement that still served as an alternative to mainstream pop and rock. There was power-pop, neo-psychedelia, acid-punk, art rock and lots and lots of keyboards. While “New Wave” and “post-punk” were pretty much interchangeable terms in 1977, by the early ‘80s, the more avant-garde, harder-edged bands divided off into post-punk, and New Wave was the realm of synth-driven pop.
“One of the first misconceptions to fall by the wayside will be the notion that new wave/punk rock is raw, offensive, noncommercial music,” wrote Greg Shaw in a 1978 issue of Billboard. “In fact, it’s now widely recognized that the new wave represents a full spectrum of musical styles with the common factor being a fresh, honest approach and a sense of cultural involvement between artists and audience.”
Shaw also noted that “artist-owned labels, once meaningful only as demos or vanities are now commercially viable thanks to new wave marketing systems.”
In many ways, New Wave gave hope to independent bands playing in burgeoning local scenes. The college-radio boom of the ‘80s and indie rock of the 21st Century both owe a lot to the New Wave bands on this list.