When Classic Rockers Embraced The New Wave

Writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine has tackled a fascinating (to me) subject for Medium’s Cuepoint: the odd collision of classic rockers and the emerging ‘new wave’ in the late ’70s.


Three or four years after the revolution, all the upheavals of the back half of the 70s were no longer contained in the underground. Disco and punk, synthesizers and drum machines, hip-hop and new wave — these strange new sounds started to seep into the mainstream and not just through new acts. Baby boomers facing their forties decided to try to dig the new breed, albeit on their own terms.

Erlewine goes on to document amusing efforts of varying success by Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop (working with XTC / future Shriekback keyboardist Barry Andrews), Robert Palmer (collaborating with Gary Numan and Chris Frantz), and even Shaun Cassidy (who enlisted Todd Rundgren to help with his attempted transformation). But he saves most of his wonderment for Paul McCartney’s unlikely embrace of these sounds:

Of all these odd records reckoning with new wave, none were as surprising as Paul McCartney’s McCartney II. Decades later, its cloistered, claustrophobic single “Temporary Secretary” can still startle and so can its accompanying, misshapen album.

On “Temporary Secretary,” McCartney sets his whimsy — which arises in the form of a rhyming, murmured sing-song appropriated from Ian Dury — to a frenzied synthesized loop that undercuts whatever cutesiness he utters. Sounding like a computer in collapse, that loop leaves the lasting impression that McCartney really was attempting to be fashion forward.

The results of these pre-synth era artists coping with onrushing trends would make for a fun compilation album … has anyone done this? Anyway, this is a fine article and worth some time and thought.

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