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Mad World: 80s New Wave Rock Acts in Their Own Words

  • Katherine Cole

Music fans have already seen songs of the 1960s get their due and the sounds of the 1970s have been endlessly analyzed as well. But what about the 1980s? The authors of a new book are celebrating the music of the era.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know your Devo from your Ultravox -- "Mad World" is an oral history that will put those bands in context and tell the stories behind 35 hits from what author Lori Majewski calls “the last golden age of pop,” the years 1978 to 1985.

“[19]80s New Wave doesn’t get the props, it doesn’t get the respect that Grunge and Punk and Classic Rock gets," she said. "We thought about it as a time with men in makeup and MTV and, ’Oooh, they’re visual artists. They do videos, they’re not serious musicians.’ Well, on the contrary. They were. They just thought of things as a full package with the visuals included. Thirty-five years later, we’re still listening to these songs. So we thought, gosh, it’s really time that we give New Wave its due.”

The first band Majewski and co-author Jonathan Bernstein talked to was Duran Duran.

“They’re the Rolling Stones of this era," said Majewski. "To say you have them, pretty much everyone else fell into place after that.”

Was there one big “get” for her? A group or musician she really didn’t think would participate?
Morrissey, former singer for the 80’s alternative rock-band The Smiths, performs onstage at the House of Blues, Jan. 12, 2013, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Morrissey, former singer for the 80’s alternative rock-band The Smiths, performs onstage at the House of Blues, Jan. 12, 2013, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“I was really thrilled when we got quotes from Morrissey," she said. "Not only does he do very few interviews, but he does very few interviews when it has to do with The Smiths.”

But it wasn’t just Morrissey who sat down to talk about the band he fronted, The Smiths. His co-writer and guitarist Johnny Marr took part, too -- along with drummer Andy Rourke. But, it seems the lead singer had a different memory of things.

“He said he felt the other Smiths were quote ‘embarrassed’ by his lyrics to 'How Soon is Now,' some of his most seminal lyrics. ‘I am human, and I need to be loved. Just like everybody else does," Majewski said.

Majewski says she had a hard time believing the other Smiths would be embarrassed by those lyrics, so she asked them. The answer?

“We were blown away by them, as we were blown away by all of them,” she said. "So it’s interesting, 35 years may have passed, 30 in the case of this song in particular, but Morrissey still feels the same. He was an insecure wound of a teen then and he still is today.”

The book "Mad World" includes photos and biographical info about the artists, as well as commentary about the iconic songs from the era. Co-author Jonathan Bernstein says there are a few things today’s musicians could learn from their New Wave brethren about taking risks and experimenting. Many of the artists profiled in the book were self-taught, do-it-yourselfers driven by the need to be creative. Gary Numan, for example, had never even seen a synthesizer before he used one to write the song “Cars.”

“Gary Numan was in this punk band called Tubeway Army," Bernstein said. "He went into the studio with his band to make a punk album. There was a synthesizer lying around, just waiting to be picked up and carried off. He’d never played a synthesizer before. He pressed the button and the sound that was already set in the synthesizer just started rumbling. And that completely changed his perspective on what his music was going to be.”

At their website,, authors Majewski and Bernstein have put together New Wave mix-tape ideas, videos, photos and even a few extra stories that didn’t make it into the book.