Here are some of my notes on my New Wave music playlists. If this kind of minutiae bores you senseless, feel free to look away. I’m mostly just interested in trying to document my creative process (whatever it may be). Also some of this music has personal memories for me – or what I assume are memories, since most of it I hadn’t heard since the 80s, or early 90s, until I started this project.
‘Tomorrow’ was my first playlist and started because I’d stumbled on some music – I think it was Danseparc, actually – and began wondering what else was out there. I was looking mostly for music I wanted to listen to, that had a space and future kind of vibe. After I’d collected a bunch I found I wanted to try to chain songs together based on their flow – again, mostly just for my own listening pleasure, to avoid jerky changes.
At some point though it started building toward a climax and resolution, and by that point I knew I had to have nuclear war as the climax.
01. The Monitors – Singing in the 80’s (1980, Australia)
The song: Maybe it’s a novelty song but to me it’s an absolute stunner, and I had to have it as the opener. It’s uptempo, it grabs you in a few words, it’s got a weird video, and it sets both the scene and the emotional tone very rapidly – simultaneous grief and nostalgia for a vanished musical genre, and mixed fear and excitement for the future. The confusion of tenses – “What Will We Be Singing In The 80s” – is deliberate.
Memories: Remember this from radio, I think. My older brothers hated it, thought it was cheesy. I loved it.
02. Martha and the Muffins – Danseparc (Every Day It’s Tomorrow) (1983, Canada)
The song: Probably the emotional core of the whole project: discovering this and realising it is absolutely the cyberpunk vibe (from Canada, even) and wondering what else might have inspired the writing of Neuromancer. A secondary opening, so it also had to be near the top of the album. Sweetly poppy but with an edge of danger and menace – “undercover on the edge I move alone; every day it’s tomorrow”. The final ‘album’ title, ‘Tomorrow’ comes from this song but was a late addition. Originally my working title was just ‘Space Disco 1982′.
Memories: Yes, heard it on the radio in the 80s, and had much the same emotional resonance. Danger, anticipation. Who *were* these strange people (so much older than I – now I see how young they were!) who lived such exciting lives?
03. Klaatu – Around The Universe In Eighty Days (1977, Canada)
The song: I chanced on Klaatu following a thread from the Carpenters’ ‘Calling Occupants’. The entire album of ‘Hope’ grabbed me instantly – a prog-rock sci-fi concept album! At 1978 it’s a bit early but the SF vibe is what drew me to it: an over-optimistic technological culture setting out into space, with inevitable disaster looming. I had to have space as a core component – listened to a lot of songs including Rush’s ‘Countdown’ and Peter Schilling’s ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’ but only this one seemed to work.
Memories: It’s 1989, I’m studying computer programming at Polytechnic, and one of my fellow students lends me what I now remember was Hope on a cassette tape. I totally didn’t understand it at all. But I remember the songs – this one and ‘Madman’, particularly.
04. Christian Bruhn – Captain Future Theme (1980, Germany)
The song: Instrumental, the soaring propulsive tones continue the optimistic space theme from ‘Around The Universe’.
Memories: I’m sure I heard this on a compilation cassette of New Wave synthpop in the 1980s. It’s a striking tune, and I had no clue at the time that it was linked to a TV program or its complicated production history (an original German soundtrack for an American show).
05. Experimental Products – Modern Living (1982, USA)
The song: Wistful and eerie, it captures perfectly that 80s sense of living on the cusp of the actual future: decades folding in and the world changing in an instant. And echoed in our current moment, that deep sense of isolation. TV pictures on the telephone and a dial-a-dinner in our homes, indeed.
Memories: Did I hear this in the 80s? I can’t be sure. It feels familiar – more to the point, that cover picture of the circuit board seems familiar. A half-memory of being utterly confused what ‘Prototype’ meant.
06. Rational Youth – City of Night (1982, Canada)
The song: Emotionally overpowering, anthemic. Again the juxtaposed innocence of the music, the love of pure, childlike synthetic tones for their own sake, and the surface sweetness of the words with the darkness of the meaning that lies behind them. The neon cityscape at night, parallelled with the glow of phosphor screens; a quintessential cyberpunk visual and emotion. But beneath the lights is an abyss. ‘Try to avoid the darkest places’. Black ICE, capitalism and nuclear war.
Memories: A strong memory of hearing this in the late 1980s, I think, but I don’t know how. The feel of a cassette tape; the name ‘Rational Youth’; feeling deeply attracted to this song but worrying that it was a celebration of unthinking modernism. Not realising that it was actually saying the opposite.
07. Astral Sounds – Spectra (1982, England)
The song: Instrumental; music with pure tones that match and extend ‘City of Night’ into a dreamlike trip through cyberspace. What the inside of a computer felt like, in those days.
Memories: Not sure I ever heard it but that band name ‘Astral Sounds’ vibrates faint strings. Saw it advertised in a magazine somewhere?
08. Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (1982, Scotland)
The song: I wanted something that captured the ridiculous pomposity of the decade: that deeply stupid, deeply shallow and short-sighted blast of economic recovery and destruction. And also the unnerving sense that everything could change totally. Looked around at a few but eventually this hit the right spot. A bonus for including a reference to the actual years.
Memories: Not sure I heard it before, actually. A flash of glancing at a CD in the 1990s and quickly passing on.
09. The Twins – The Time Lords (1985, Germany)
The song: Carrying and combining the thread of space travel and the thread of hubris, this German dance tune had just the right mix of science fiction and self-important cheese to work. I was originally going to use their ‘Satellite City’ but either it was a bit too ‘2525’ or it just didn’t work for technical reasons.
Memories: I’m sure I heard ‘Satellite City’ as a kid and loved it utterly unironically; a deep memory of that photo on the album cover (dancing girl in a hula hoop halo of telephone cable). ‘The Time Lords’ has resonances too – perhaps early 90s though.
10. The Expression – With Closed Eyes (1982, Australia)
The song: Opening a slighty more punky sub-sequence of explicitly war-themed songs, I strongly considered pairing this with Go West’s ‘We Close Our Eyes’ but the music just didn’t match. Something about the right-wing gung-ho enthusiasm for fighting anti-Soviet wars around the globe mixed with the honest insight that we were deliberately closing our eyes to war in order to survive.
Memories: Not sure I’d heard this one before – it was a delightful find to pair with XL Capris.
11. XL Capris – World War 3 (1980, Australia)
The song: The raw emotion of youth terrified by the Vietnam War’s body count and the shadow of nuclear apocalypse, this cuts to the core of punk for me. And it’s Australian. An anthem wears its heart on its sleeve. The vagueness of the dream-imagery makes it all the more believable; it’s not overstated. ‘Sixteen years closing in on me’.
Memories: This one is so strong. Hearing it on cassette tape, I think – surely it can’t have been radio? In any case I know I heard it, and was deeply puzzled. Being sixteen was so far in the future, and yet the days of compulsory draft were long over.
12. Planning By Numbers – Lightning Strikes (1982, England)
The song: A bit of a filler, really; it’s just there to build the mood of impending war. It’s not terrible, it’s just I needed something to wire 11 and 13 together and it was there.
Memories: None of this one.
13. Logic System – XY (1981, Japan)
The song: A beautiful half-instrumental, half-cybernetic voice, the thoughts of a confused artificial intelligence trying to comprehend the terrible destructiveness of human nature. “Manhas created what he now destroys. This does not compute. Do you understand? Time has run out. This system no longer operates.” The music builds and builds, joyful swirling synth strings and mechanical Terminator-like heartbeats rising to a sense of inevitability and doom. It’s probably what spun off the other two playlists for me, which are glued a bit more firmly to that idea of the purity of our computers versus the darkness of our humanity.
Memories: I’m sure I heard this in the 80s, along with ‘Orient Express’ from another Logic album. It’s hard to forget that poor troubled dying computer. “Realtime does not respond…”
14. Cast of ‘Annie’ – Tomorrow (1981, USA)
The song: A song which itself stole shamelessly from the infamous Disney / General Electric “Carosel of Progress” theme, “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” (with which I was utterly obsessed as a kid). Dancing around the edges of the economic devastation of the 1980s and how it was played for entertainment, as well as being the perfect, inverted, saccharine accompaniment to a fusion fireball. “The sun will come out…”
Memories: Somewhere on the radio in the 1980s. Couldn’t hardly get away from it. But I never quite knew where it was from.
15. Alphaville – Forever Young (1984, Germany)
The song: The ragged survivors being literally escorted to heaven on the video makes it clear that yes, this is about dying in a nuclear holocaust; that sense of *knowing* we would never grow up. “Turning our faces into the sun..” A beautiful song, but its beauty comes because it’s an elegy. It also works as both an anthem and an album closer, refocusing back on nostalgia, the loss of a more youthful and innocent age, but the hope that we can carry on its spirit.
Memories: Somewhere in the mist of supermarket radio, I must have heard it. But it’s only in rediscovering it that I actually _heard_ it.
16. Yvonne Elliman – Edge of the World (end titles from ‘Wargames’) (1983, USA)
The song: The credits song for Wargames has always hit me in the gut, precisely because it’s _not_ the racing, techno cyber-theme you’d expect in a story about computers. It rhymes in its ‘country’ vibes though with that one moment as David Lightman, escaped from NORAD, phones home and we see the beautiful tree and mountain landscape of Colorado behind him. A counterpoint to the tnuclear destruction looming and a reminder of what’s at stake. And that’s why it’s such genius in that movie. I added it as a coda as a sweetener, an echo of Roger Waters’ ‘Radio K.A.O.S.’, where WWIII is averted – because in our timeline, so far, it was. It’s also the ‘wake up, the movie is over’ song here for much the same reason.