There are some songs that just seem to have the “new wave” stamp all over them—whether it’s a jangly guitar sound with catchy riffs, a Farfisa organ, or some snappy lyrics.
Some bands and artists were one-hit wonders like The Vapors and their hit “Turning Japanese” while others like Nick Lowe had a strong influence on other artists and bands, both as a singer/songwriter and producer.
A pivotal figure in the UK pub rock, punk rock and new wave scene in the 1970s, Lowe is famous for such hits as “Cruel to be Kind,” “Heart of the City,” “Switch Board Susan” and “So, it Goes” as well as “(What’s so Funny Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” that was a big hit for Elvis Costello.
Lowe began his musical career in the mid 60s with the band Kippington Lodge that he founded with his friend Brinsley Schwarz. Later the band was renamed Brinsley Schwarz and Lowe wrote some of his best-known songs including “(What’s so Funny Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” and “Cruel to be Kind.”
In the 1970s, Lowe started to produce albums for Stiff Records (I loved one of Stiff’s promotion slogans that was also a popular button: “if it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f**k”) and released his own single “So it Goes” b/w “Heart of the City.” He produced Elvis Costello’s first five albums, including This Year’s Model and Armed Forces, as well as the Damned’s first single New Rose and the band’s first album.
Lowe teamed up with Dave Edmunds in the band Rockpile that was noted for their strong rockabilly and power pop stylings (there I go again with two more labels!) as well as the band’s obvious influence on new wave. Rockpile recorded four albums though only one, Seconds of Pleasure was a true Rockpile release (two of the albums were released as Dave Edmunds solo projects and the other, Labour of Lust, was released as a Nick Lowe solo project. The band’s biggest hit, with vocals by Lowe was “Teacher, Teacher.”
Although Lowe’s biggest hit was “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” –that peaked at #7 on the UK Singles Chart in 1977—his next hit was 1979’s “Cruel to be Kind,” which, interestingly peaked at the #12 position on the UK Singles Chart and the U.S. Hot 100 as well as record charts in Australia and Canada. Nothing cruel about that achievement.
It’s a classic new wave tune through and through, especially the song’s bridge with its catchy guitar riffs. The song has stood the passage of time well and it still rocks today.
Lowe has also stood the passage of time as a performer. Unlike some geriatric new wave types that are still trying to whip it good (sorry spuds, but seeing Devo still trying to fit into them radioactive suits in middle age, well, it’s through being cool) and dance the mess around into their 50s, Lowe like Elvis Costello has had a successful post-new wave career. To be sure, his latest recordings have him shedding those once distinguishable power pop melodies and have him becoming, as one music critic observed, “a worldly balladeer, specializing in grave vocals and graceful tunes.”