Same As It Ever Was

Love it or hate it, New Wave has returned disguised as classic rock…and looks like it’s here to stay.

Music trends come and go. And often they come back again. Such is the case with New Wave, the genre that enjoyed a brief but notable heyday from the late-1970s to the late-1980s. A less-angry and more artistic offshoot of punk rock, New Wave was radio-friendly (remember radio?) and, at its height, helped launch the age of the music video. It was heavy on synthesizers, driving guitar and tinny percussion, light on traditional lyric structure. It ushered in a “second” British Invasion and launched the careers of several American rock superstars who are still making music today. And then, almost overnight, New Wave blipped out of existence, overtaken by an onslaught of grunge, rap, hip-hop, hair metal and electronic dance music—with many of its stars reemerging later on the alternative rock charts.

For tens of millions of Americans—most past 50 and many pushing 60—New Wave was the music they grew up on. It’s their classic rock, their comfort food. And, yes, you’re starting to hear those old riffs sampled in hip-hop tunes and in ads and played in the aisles of supermarkets and retail stores. It has its own Sirius XM channel and it’s probably just a matter of time until big pharma starts co-opting New Wave tunes for their drug commercials. Perhaps not surprisingly, the genre, which was the last sold primarily as vinyl, is also being rediscovered by hipsters, teens and tweens—often at the gentle urging of their parents or (yikes!) grandparents.

Alas, it would seem that we wrote off New Wave a bit prematurely. Turns out it was more than a pop-music flash in the pan. Its reemergence and staying power are testaments to the artistry and innovation of its creators. Who were they and where are they now? Here’s a look at ten of the best…

Blondie

Way Back When…

Jersey Girl Deborah Harry and Brooklynite Chris Stein assembled Blondie in 1974 and ascended quickly to the vanguard of the New Wave movement. The band was popular abroad and in the dank music clubs of the East Village until their third album, Parallel Lines, blew up and made them bona fide superstars.

Big Hits

Heart of Glass, Call Me & The Tide Is High

Where Are They Now?

Blondie took a break in the early 1980s so that Stein could recover from a debilitating autoimmune disease, with Harry continuing to record as a solo artist. By the end of the decade, the pair had broken up as a couple. But Blondie re-formed in the late-1990s and produced the album No Exit, albeit to a lukewarm response. They continued to record and perform in the 2000s and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Harry and Stein announced a tour set to start in the spring of 2022, but the 72-year-old Stein ultimately stepped aside with heart issues.

The B-52s

Way Back When…

The B-52s embraced a humorous, 1950s “trash-culture” ethos, with a mix of wacky lyrics and retro keyboard work. Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider handled vocals, while Ricky Wilson provided some memorable guitar licks.

Big Hits

Rock Lobster and Love Shack

Where Are They Now?

Although the B-52’s have toured more or less consistently—and put out new albums in 1992 and 2008—the band’s popularity faded in the mid-1980s following Wilson’s death from AIDS. They enjoyed a brief resurgence during the music-video boom with “Love Shack.” With Schneider and Pierson now both in their 70s, a farewell tour has been scheduled to begin later this summer.

The Cars

Way Back When…

The Cars were at the forefront of New Wave’s calling card of guitar licks plus heavy synthesizer, releasing their first album in 1978. Ric Ocasek, on guitar and vocals, had a unique look that proved ideal for the MTV generation. The Cars won Video of the Year award at the very first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. Their strong, minimalist style powered multiple hits during the decade.

Big Hits

Just What I Needed, Shake It Up & You Might Think

Where Are They Now?

After the band broke up in the late-1980s, Ocasek married super-model Paulina Porizkova, who had appeared in a Cars video when she was 18. The couple was estranged in 2019 when she found him dead in their still-shared New York City brownstone at the age of 75, from heart disease. The band had been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame the previous year. Cars bassist Benjamin Orr, who shared lead vocals with Ocasek on several hits—including “Just What I Needed”—passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2000.

Elvis Costello

Way Back When…

After cutting his teeth as a pub-rock punk artist in the early 1970s, Costello made a splash in the early days of New Wave with My Aim Is True. He formed a band called The Attractions and pumped out a string of albums produced by Nick Lowe, including This Year’s Model, Armed Forces and Almost Blue—which demonstrated the depth and breadth of his talent and are still top-sellers today.

Big Hits

Alison, Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes & Pump It Up

Where Is He Now?

Costello became one of the most in-demand musical collaborators of his time, pairing with everyone from Paul McCartney to Burt Bacharach to Annie Lennox, and also demonstrated his acting skill in several film and television appearances. In 2003, Elvis Costello & The Attractions were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He married chanteuse Diana Krall that same year and had twin boys.

Duran Duran

Way Back When…

The darlings of MTV in the network’s infancy, Duran Duran featured singer Simon Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, drummer Roger Talyor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes. They were one of the first bands to shoot their videos on 35 mm film and collaborate with established moviemakers. They won the first Grammy for Best Music Video in 1984 and rode their success to perform the title song to the 1985 007 film A View to a Kill.

Big Hits

Rio & Hungry Like the Wolf

Where Are They Now?

Constant reshuffling saw Duran Duran’s popularity ebb by the end of the 1980s. They continued to make music in the 1990s and experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 2000s, selling out show after show on tour in the US and UK. In 2012, they headlined at the Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London and in 2021 released the studio album Future Past to great fanfare.

Eurythmics

Way Back When…

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart broke off from The Tourists in 1981 to form Eurythmics, which blended electronic and psychedelic influences to produce a form of avant- garde pop that was utterly unique. After turning out their first album, Lennox suffered a nervous breakdown and Stewart nearly died from a collapsed lung. They recovered to produce Sweet Dreams, a huge success that also showcased Lennox as a music-video star.

Big Hits

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) & Would I Lie to You

Where Are They Now?

After issuing eight albums in eight years, Lennox and Stewart took a break for a decade to work on individual projects. They reunited in 1999 to record another album and appeared together sporadically thereafter, often as part of fundraising and tribute concerts. In 2019, Lennox released her eighth solo record, Lepidoptera.

The Police

Way Back When…

What an interesting trio these guys were: Sting (trained as a teacher), Stewart Copeland (grew up in Beirut) and Andy Summers (a 35-year-old jazz guitarist) found one another in 1977 and formed the core of The Police. After making several top-selling albums on the international scene, the British band became New Wave megastars in America with the release of Synchronicity—their fifth and final studio album before breaking up in 1986.

Big Hits

Roxanne, Don’t Stand So Close to Me & Every Breath You Take

Where Are They Now?

The three key members of The Police decided to do their own things, and each continued to thrive. Sting sold millions of records as a solo artist and dabbled in acting—most recently in Only Murders In the Building, playing (and poking fun at) himself. Copeland, a transformative rock drummer, became a prolific composer of film scores and has written ballets and operas. Summers also turned out film scores—including Down and Out In Beverly Hills and Weekend at Bernie’s—and recorded a string of acclaimed jazz albums. Following their Hall of Fame induction in 2003, a reunion tour in 2007 sold out countless arenas.

The Pretenders

Way Back When…

Ohio-born Chrissie Hynde and Englishman Jimmy Honeyman-Scott blended their distinctly different musical styles to form the heart of The Pretenders in 1979. Hynde named the band after the Platters’ iconic hit “The Great Pretender.” They bowled over critics and developed an intensely loyal fan following, but the band was devasted in 1982 when Honeyman-Scott died of a cocaine overdose at age 25.

Big Hits

Don’t Get Me Wrong, Brass In Pocket & I’ll Stand by You

Where Are They Now?

Hynde reconstituted the band several times over, touring consistently and producing roughly one studio album per decade, including 2020’s Hate for Sale, which received a thumbs-up from fans and critics. In 2005, The Pretenders were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Talking Heads

Way Back When…

Even when New Wave was new, Talking Heads were recognized as pioneers, blending punk, funk and world music into a dizzying array of hit songs and albums during a remarkable 16-year run that ended when the band broke up in the early 1990s. David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz explored percussion in its many forms and elevated winking, ironic lyrics to an art form—not surprising, as they all first met while art students in the early 1970s. Their 1984 film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme, is one of the most watchable concert movies of the 20th century.

Big Hits

Psycho Killer, Burning Down the House & Once in a Lifetime

Where Are They Now?

While his three bandmates toured in the 1990s without him as Shrunken Heads (!), David Byrne continued to make clever, sophisticated music and encouraged other musicians to remember that without “art” there is no artist. Among the performers that credit Talking Heads as a major influence are Vampire Weekend, Kesha, St. Vincent, Trent Reznor, Franz Ferdinand, Eddie Vedder, LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead, which actually took its name from one of the band’s 1980s songs. In 2019, Byrne starred on Broadway in American Utopia, which featured reimagined versions of several Talking Heads classics.

Tears for Fears

Way Back When…

Formed in the English city of Bath in the early 1980s, Tears for Fears was one of the lead bands in the so-called “Second British Invasion.” Band founders Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were heavily influenced by the electronic music of Gary Numan (“Cars”) and Depeche Mode (“Just Can’t Get Enough”), as well as the lyrics of Peter Gabriel and David Byrne. They scored a pair of #1 hits in the U.S. in the mid-1980s and were huge stars on MTV.

Big Hits

Shout & Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Where Are They Now?

Success and “creative differences” drove Smith and Orzabal apart, leading to a break-up in the early 1990s. They reunited in 2000 and continued to tour and put out new music over the next two decades. In 2021, their album The Tipping Point reached #1 on Billboard’s Alternative chart and Tears for Fears is currently on tour here and in the UK.

 

Editor’s Note: As a teenager in the 1970s, Mark Stewart stumbled into several claustrophobic East Village clubs, where he was lucky enough to catch Blondie and Talking Heads. He also shared a house with the road manager of Duran Duran. David Byrne and Elvis Costello are still on heavy rotation in his CD player. (Remember CD’s?)

 

Net Results: How Deep Is Your Love?

HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE?

Would you pay $800 for a vintage signed photo by the Bee Gees? Here’s a look at what’s for sale online…

1967 Panini trading card
$95.00

 

 

 

 

 

1976 MSG concert ticket stub
$15.00
(you can lie and say you were there)

 

 

 

 

 

1977 original press photo with Jimmy Carter
$17.00

 

 

 

 

1977 Rolling Stone magazine
$25.00
(their iconic Saturday Night Fever pose)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1978 Andy Gibb poster box
$12.00

 

 

 

 

1978 Bee Gees lunch box
$75.00
(a little rusty, but aren’t we all?)

 

 

 

 

1979 People magazine
$10.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1980 Ampex ad
$13.00
(with Jersey Girl Deborah Harry)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1991 Starline trading card
$4.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barry Gibb signed photo
$75.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

1980S Ampex promo pin
(nice job on the airbrushing)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970S Robin Gibb matchbox
$10.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1978 Sgt. Pepper’s souvenir
$30.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1991 triple-signed promotional photo
$799.00

For the Record

Your favorite performers. Their best-ever live recordings.

Nothing beats seeing your favorite band perform live. That’s why live albums are almost always disappointing. There are, however, some spectacular exceptions. Over the years, a handful of special albums have captured the aura and energy of groundbreaking bands and musicians at their very best. These are some of our favorites…

 

1963 

James Brown  Live at the Apollo 

Brown was so sure this would be a hit that he financed the recording himself. It is now in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

 

1964 

Jerry Lee Lewis  Live at the Star Club, Hamburg 

The one and only album that captures Jerry Lee’s explosive stage presence.

 

 

 

 

1968 

Johnny Cash  

At Folsom Prison 

This breakthrough live album, which revived Cash’s flagging career, combines two shows recorded at Folsom State Prison in California.

  

 

1969  

Grateful Dead Live/Dead 

No record really captures The Dead at their best, but this one—the first live album to use 16-track recording—comes the closest. 

 

 

1970 

Rolling Stones  Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out 

Recorded almost entirely during two shows at the “new” Madison Square Garden and hailed as the best-ever live rock album at the time, it still more than holds its own.  

 

1970 

The Who  

Live at Leeds 

The only live album made by the band when its “big four” of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend,  Keith Moon and John Entwhistle were together. 

 

1971  

Aretha Franklin  Live at Fillmore West

Not surprisingly, the album shot to #1 on the R&B charts. Is that Billy Preston on the organ? Yes, it is!

 

 

1971  

The Allman Brothers Band  

At Fillmore East 

The band’s breakthrough double-LP, which includes seven songs on four sides, was recorded at  Bill Graham’s club in New York over the course of three nights.  

 

1975  

Kiss  

Alive! 

A classic example of a live album that took a popular band to a whole new level.

  

 

 

1975  

Bob Marley 

and the Wailers 

Live! 

Marley had a two-night gig in London and the crowd was so electric the first night that he decided to record the second.

 

The 1970s:  

Heyday of the Live Album  

Why so many ‘70s discs on the list? When Johnny Cash released his Folsom Prison album, it was an eye-opener for the record industry, which had mostly released unimaginative, low-quality live albums for its top stars as quick-hit moneymakers. Cash proved to his fellow musicians and their labels that a live album could be its own sensational work of art and soon everyone was investing in concert recordings. The technology of the 1970s was crude by modern standards, but there was enough engineering talent to clean up the background noise without losing the crackling energy of performers playing to their Joel Baldwin/Look Magazine adoring fans. By the early 1980s, however, live albums had fallen out of favor. MTV triggered a brief revival with its Unplugged series, but we may never see (or hear) albums like the ones we plucked out of the record store racks all those years ago.

 

1975  

Earth, Wind & Fire  Gratitude 

A few non-live numbers are included, but here is EWF at the absolute  height of its power.

  

 

 

1976  

Peter Frampton Frampton Comes Alive! 

The album dropped in January, beginning a long and remarkable climb to #1 four months later on the strengths of the singles “Show Me the Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Baby, I Love Your Way.” 

 

1976  

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Live Bullet 

A Detroit rock hero live in the Motor City, it features the indelible “Turn the Page.” Seger’s next album was Night Moves. 

 

 

1976  

Paul McCartney & Wings   

Wings Over America 

Criticized for months of clean-up work in the studio, but what a surprise when the long-awaited double-LP came out as a triple album! 

 

Jazzy  

Jazz aficionados are fond of arguing that the first truly great live albums were jazz recordings. And you know what? They’re right. Here are five of  the best…

 

1956 

Duke Ellington  At Newport 

Arguably the finest live performance ever captured of The Duke. 

 

 

 

1961 • Bill Evans  

Sunday at the Village Vanguard 

A great jazz trio firing on all cylinders.

 

1962 • John Coltrane  

Live! At The Village Vanguard 

Complex, textured and sometimes hard to follow, this was undoubtedly Coltrane’s most challenging album. 

 

1995 • Miles Davis  

The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel, 1965 

Herbie Hancock and Newark’s Wayne Shorter were part of the Davis quintet recorded at this Chicago nightclub. 

 

1997 • Dizzy Gillespie  

& Charlie Parker  

Diz ‘n Bird at Carnegie Hall 

A crisp recording of their famed 1947 concert in New York.

 

1978  

Little Feat  

Waiting for Columbus 

Live albums are typically gifts to existing fans. This double-disc release created millions of new ones for Little Feat. Ironically, the band broke up a year later. 

 

1978  

The Band  

The Last Waltz 

This “farewell” album was recorded on Thanksgiving 1976 and featured a superstar lineup of guest performers, including Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. 

 

1984  

Talking Heads  Stop Making Sense 

The movie is an absolute must-see. The soundtrack album is nearly as good.  

 

 

 

1985  

Sam Cooke  

Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 

Sam Cooke is captured in front of an African-American audience in Miami in a performance so gritty and powerful that it was feared it might ruin his crossover career at the time, and was shelved until long after his death.

 

1986  

Jimi Hendrix  

Jimi Plays Monterey 

Much like Bruce and The Dead,  no album really captures the ”live vibe” of Jimi Hendrix, but the Monterey concert comes tanta-lizingly close. Jimi blows the roof off of “Wild Thing” and then sets his guitar on fire. 

 

1986  

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band  Live 1975–1985 

The first album in a decade to debut at #1, Springsteen’s five-LP/3-CD set was so highly antici- pated that it pre-sold 1.5 million copies. Many record stores sold it right off the delivery truck the morning it arrived. 

 

1992 

Eric Clapton Unplugged 

At 25 million copies and counting, this is the top-selling live album of all time. Clapton’s heartbreaking “Tears In Heaven” still makes his fans cry. 

 

 

1994  

Nirvana  

MTV Unplugged  

In New York  

Nirvana fans were irked initially when they figured out that the band wasn’t playing a greatest hits set—and then watched Kurt Cobain & Dave Grohl knock it out of the park.

 

Frank and Judy 

 

A pair of powerhouse talents at their best…

 

1961  

Judy at Carnegie Hall 

The apex of Judy Garland’s 1960s comeback, this double-album was #1 for months and has never once been out of print in six decades.

 

 

1963 

Sinatra at the Sands 

Frank in his natural habitat, Las Vegas, backed by Count Basie with arrangements by Quincy Jones.

 

 

 

1994  

Eagles  

Hell Freezes Over 

The album takes its name from the answer to when  the Eagles would get back together after splitting up  in 1980. It instantly soared to the top of the charts and kicked off one of the most successful concert tours in history.

 

2001  

Jay-Z  

MTV Unplugged 

Jay-Z at the height of his powers, backed up by The Roots. Hard to argue that this isn’t the best live rap album ever made. 

 

2016 

The Beatles  

Live at the Hollywood Bowl 

The original album, released in 1977, was pretty good. This is  the re-mixed, re-mastered version you can actually hear over the shrieking teeny-boppers, and includes four previously unreleased songs. 

 

2018 

Bruce Springsteen The Roxy West Hollywood, CA 

Recorded in 1975 as Born to Run was taking the nation by storm, this album features Bruce &  Co. at their best in an intimate, non-stadium setting. Released by Springsteen himself.

 

Photo credits: 

James Brown • King Records 

Jerry Lee Lewis • Phillips Records 

Johnny Cash • Columbia Records 

Grateful Dead • Warner Bros. Records/Seven Arts

Rolling Stones • Decca/London Recordings 

The Who • Decca/MCA Records 

Aretha Franklin • Atlantic Records 

Allman Brothers • Capricorn Records 

Kiss • Casablanca Records 

Bob Marley • Island Records

Earth, Wind & Fire • Columbia Records

Peter Frampton • A&M Records 

Bob Seger • Capitol Records 

Paul McCartney • Capitol Records 

Duke Ellington • Capitol Records 

Little Feat • Warner Bros. Records 

The Band • Warner Bros. Records 

Talking Heads • Sire Records 

Sam Cooke • RCA Records 

Jimi Hendrix • Reprise Records

Bruce Springsteen • Columbia Records 

Eric Clapton • Reprise Records/MTV 

Nirvana • DGC Records 

Judy Garland • Capitol Records 

Frank Sinatra • Reprise Records 

Eagles • Geffen Records/Eagles Recording Co.

Jay-Z • Def Jam Recordings/Roc-A-Fella Records

Beatles • Universal Music Group/Apple Records

Flawless Cuts

Are these the best-ever “Diamond” songs?

In the hands of a world-class jeweler, a diamond can be transformed into a thing of enduring beauty. As these songs show, in the hands of a great performer, a diamond can become a timeless masterpiece of an entirely different kind.

Delta Music Entertainment

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Marilyn Monroe

Just about every big-name songstress has taken a crack at this iconic tune, which was originated by Carol Channing in 1949 for the Broadway smash Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Marilyn Monroe did perhaps the most famous version for the 1953 Technicolor film of the same name. More recently, Nicole Kidman sang it in Moulin Rouge! Ethel Merman, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Emmylou Harris, Janet Jackson and Beyoncé also recorded it and, of course, Madonna borrowed liberally from Marilyn’s version for the “Material Girl” video.

Robert Balser/United Artists

Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds

The Beatles

The Beatles and, later, Elton John made this song one of rock n roll’s all-time megahits. The psychedelic cover of the 1967 Sgt. Pepper album and the song’s initials LSD led to suspicions that it was a “drug song.”  John Lennon insisted that it was inspired by a drawing his son Julian had brought home from nursery school. A little-known fact is that Lennon played guitar and sang background on John’s 1974 version.

United Artists

Diamonds  Are Forever

Shirley Bassey

James Bond fans wince when they talk about this  1971 contribution to the 007 franchise (Sean Connery kind of mailed it in), but there’s nothing not to like about Shirley Bassey’s sultry rendition of the film’s theme song. It was her second Bond theme—she also sang “Goldfinger”—and she would also sing a third time for Moonraker in 1979.

Diamond Girl

Seals & Crofts

The soft rock duo of Jim Seals and Dash Crofts scored a monster hit in 1972 with “Summer Breeze” and followed it up a year later with “Diamond Girl,” a Top 10 hit on three different Billboard charts. The chorus Diamond Girl…you sure do shine  is one of those lyrics that gets stuck in your head  for decades.

RCA

Diamond Dogs

David Bowie

The title cut from David Bowie’s bleak, dystopian 1974 album, “Diamond Dogs” is the story of Halloween Jack, who lives atop a Manhattan skyscraper. The guitar-heavy song was not a big hit, but it gained traction as the centerpiece of Bowie’s North American tour later that year and is now considered a rock n roll classic.

Harvest Records/Columbia Records

Shine On You Crazy

Diamond Pink Floyd

A favorite of Floyd fanatics, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was a tribute to Syd Barrett, whose declining mental state had led to a split with the band he had founded—and ultimately to his departure from the music business. The nine-part composition was part of the 1975 album Wish You Were Here and was accompanied by a trippy animated short created for the band’s subsequent tour.

Diamonds and Rust

Joan Baez

The song recounts a phone call from a long-ago love, an “unwashed phenomenon” whom Baez later revealed to be Bob Dylan. “Diamonds and Rust” reached #5 on the Adult Contemporary charts and the album (of the same name) went gold in 1975. Baez fans count the song among her very best.

Warner Bros. Records

Diamonds On the Soles of  Her Shoes

Paul Simon

Co-written with Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala—and recorded with the group—“Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” was not originally planned to be a part of Graceland. However, after Simon performed the song to wild acclaim on Saturday Night Live, it was added to the 1986 album, which went on to win the Album of the Year Grammy.

Diamonds and Pearls

Prince

The title cut from Prince’s 1991 album, which featured a holographic cover, “Diamonds & Pearls” was also the name of the singer’s 1992 international tour. The upbeat love ballad reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and was reprised by Alicia Keys and Chris Blue in the Season 12 finale of The Voice.

Diamonds

Rihanna

A standout cut from Rihanna’s 2012 Unapologetic album, “Diamonds” was a departure from the singer’s past hits about dysfunctional relationships, instead of exploring the meaning of love. The song was an international smash, topping the charts in the US,  UK, and Canada—as well as more than a dozen European countries. Rihanna performed a stunning version of “Diamonds” on Saturday Night Live that November.

Editor’s Note: Did You Know… A song is now certified as “Diamond” if it is purchased as a  download 10 million times. Free streams from services like Spotify also count: 1,500 streams are considered the equivalent of 1 paid download toward Certified Diamond status.

Doctor’s Notes

An examination of songs in the key of M.D.

By Luke Sacher

Everyone, at some point in their lives, needs a note from the doctor. So don’t doctors deserve a note or two? During the Rock n Roll age, writing pop tunes about healthcare professionals hasn’t always been a prescription for success, but every so often the result is solid gold. The all-time Top 10 includes songs by legendary groups like the Rolling Stones and Ramones—and individual stars such as Jackson Browne and Robert Palmer—as well as throw-away novelty hits that have managed to stand the test of time. If you’re feeling the end-of-winter blues, here’s my prescription for a little fun…

ADDICTED TO LOVE

ROBERT PALMER

Palmer’s signature song won the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance and also was nominated for Song of the Year. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1986, hitting #1 after 13 weeks and was #10 overall for that year. It also hit #1 in Australia and #5 in the UK. “Addicted to Love” was one of the last 45 RPM singles to receive a million-selling Gold certification. 

Palmer, who died of a heart attack in 2003 at age 54, said that he wrote the song about his own addictive personality. Originally, he intended it to be a duet with Chaka Khan, but Palmer had to cut the track without her when her record company (Warner Brothers) would not grant her a release to work on his label (Island Records). The anchoring guitar chords for the song came to him in a dream: “That noisy riff woke me up. I went downstairs, got out the tape recorder, then went back to bed. Next morning, I thought, Phew, caught one there!” 

The iconic music video for the song, directed by British photographer Terence Donovan, featured Palmer performing with a “band” of top female fashion models. Their visual style—pale skin, heavy makeup, dark hair, and seductively detached expressions—was derived from the paintings of Southern California pop artist Patrick Nagel. They were cast precisely because they had no musical training. As a result, each was keeping her own time and moving to a different beat. Palmer and Donovan reprised the visual concept for his videos for three other songs, including “Simply Irresistible.”

COMFORTABLY NUMB (THE DOCTOR)

PINK FLOYD

First released on the band’s 1979 album The Wall, “Comfortably Numb” was one of only three songs on the album co-written by guitarist David Gilmour and bassist Roger Waters. They were at loggerheads while working on it. “We argued over ‘Comfortably Numb’ like mad,” Gilmour later said. “Really had a big fight, went on for ages.”

They finally agreed to use Waters’s preferred opening and Gilmour’s second solo in the final mix. The lyrics are a counterpoint between the remarks of a doctor treating embittered rock star Pink (verses sung by Waters) and Pink’s inner monologue (chorus sung by Gilmour). The inspiration for Waters’s lyrics stemmed from a personal experience during the band’s 1977 In the Flesh tour: “I had stomach cramps so bad that I thought I wasn’t able to go on. A doctor backstage gave me a shot of something that I swear to God would have killed…an elephant. I did the whole show hardly able to raise my hand above my knee…That was the longest two hours of my life.” 

When the band came out for an encore, Waters was unable to join them.

“Comfortably Numb” was ranked #5 on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs list and is lauded for its two virtuoso guitar solos. It also claims the distinction of having been the last song ever to be performed together by the original band members (Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason), in 2005.

DOCTOR MY EYES

JACKSON BROWNE

“Doctor My Eyes” was the first single from Browne’s 1972 debut album and was a surprise hit for Geffen Records, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics are essentially the reflections of a young man explaining to his psychotherapist how he had managed to endure the slings and arrows of life by steeling himself with stoicism—only to discover that it had rendered him isolated, emotionally bereft, and despondent. At the suggestion of David Geffen, Browne reworked what was composed as a slow ballad by upping the tempo, adding conga drums, background vocals and a catchy guitar solo—and turning the lyrics’ message of suicidal despair into resigned acceptance.

Browne’s good friends David Crosby and Graham Nash sang harmony vocals. Geffen asked Nash if he thought there was a single on the album, and Nash picked this one, while also recommending that Browne write a high vocal harmony into the chorus. There was originally a third verse to the song, which can be found on rare bootlegs

of the original demo recording. The late Glenn Frey of The Eagles said that he learned how to write songs when he and Browne were neighbors in Echo Park, by listening to him working on the opening piano riff over and over until he got it exactly right. Frey said to him, “So that’s how you do it. Elbow grease.”

DR. ROBERT

THE BEATLES

Everyone knows today that The Beatles experimented with drugs and wrote songs about their experiences under their influence, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” Was their very first “Dr. Robert,” which was written in 1966 and released in the U.S. on their Yesterday and Today album? In Paul McCartney’s book Many Years From Now, coauthor Barry Miles revealed that the name was based on Dr. Robert Freymann, whose East 78th Street clinic was “conveniently located for Jackie Kennedy and other wealthy Upper East Siders from Fifth Avenue and Park to stroll over for their vitamin B-12 shots, which also happened to contain a massive dose of amphetamine. Dr. Robert’s reputation spread, and it was not long before visiting Americans told John and Paul about him.”

I was six years old in 1966. Growing up on East 81st Street in Manhattan, I thought that it was a song about my Park Avenue pediatrician. I’m pretty certain that my parents knew exactly who Dr. Robert actually was, since he lived only three blocks away. Robert Freymann practiced in New York for almost two decades, administering massive doses of legal amphetamines to silk-stocking district and celebrity clients. He was finally expelled from the New York State Medical Society in 1975 for malpractice.

“We’d hear people say, ‘You can get anything off him, any pills you want,’” McCartney said. “It was a big racket. The song was a joke about this fellow who cured everyone of everything with all these pills and tranquilizers. He just kept New York high. John and I thought it was a funny idea: the fantasy doctor who would fix you up by giving you drugs, it was a parody on that idea.”

I DON’T NEED NO DOCTOR

NICK ASHFORD, VALERIE SIMPSON, JO ARMSTEAD

Written by the legendary Motown husband-and-wife songwriting and performing team of Ashford & Simpson —in partnership with the equally marvelous “Joshie” Armstead—“I Don’t Need No Doctor” is considered one of the quintessential R&B tunes of the 1960s. It actually draws on elements of Gospel, Soul and Rock, which, over the years, has made it one of the most-recorded “doctor songs” in history.

Ashford & Simpson penned iconic hits including “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” while Armstead started her career as creator and lead singer of Ike and Tina Turner’s Ikettes, in 1961. “I Don’t Need No Doctor” was first recorded by Ray Charles and his orchestra in 1966. The 1971 version by Humble Pie still gets plenty of requests on oldies stations. 

The tune has been covered by artists of all genres, from heavy metal to jazz, including: The Chocolate Watchband (1969), The New Riders of The Purple Sage (1972), W.A.S.P. (1986), Great White (1987), The Nomads (1989), Roseanna Vitro (1997), Beth Hart (2004), Styx (2005), Dr. Sin (2005), John Scofield (2005), John Mayer (2007), Joan Osborne (2012), Secret Affair (2012), Demented Scumcats (2014), The Sonics (2015), and the Lost In Paris Blues Band (2016), featuring guitarist Robben Ford

I WANNA BE SEDATED

THE RAMONES

One of the band’s best-known songs, it was originally released on their fourth album, Road to Ruin, in September 1978. Joey Ramone came up with the idea for the song after he burned himself severely with boiling water and was rushed to a hospital. (He regularly inhaled steam from a kettle before concerts to help clear his nasal passages.) The chorus lyrics Nothing to do, nowhere to go—oh oh were inspired by The Ramones’ tour stop in London, which they discovered completely shut down at Christmas time.

“There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go,” Joey recalled. “Here we were in London for the first time in our lives, and me and Dee Dee were sharing a room in the hotel, and we were watching The Guns of Navarone on TV. I mean, here we are in London finally, and this is what we are doing, watching American movies in the hotel room.”

Johnny Ramone played the same note 65 times in a row in his guitar solo. (How “punk” can you get?). It’s the recording on which Marky Ramone performed as the band’s drummer after replacing Tommy Ramone, who began producing their records. Marky said that it was completed very quickly in the studio, and that his part took only two takes. Ten years after the song was released, Director Bill Fishman made an iconic video for it: one continuous master shot of the Ramones sitting at a kitchen table nonchalantly reading and eating corn flakes while hyperkinetic nuns, acrobats, ballerinas, monsters, cheerleaders, clowns, naughty nurses, and schoolgirls (including a very young Courtney Love) run around them and try to grab their attention.

LIKE A SURGEON

“WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC

Of all the things that songwriters write about, surgery has to be one of the least popular. After a thorough search through cyberspace, this parody of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was literally the only hit song I could find. Recorded in 1985 by Weird Al Yankovic for his third studio album, Dare to Be Stupid, it was written by Yankovic and Madonna herself (who came up with the title), while guitarist Rick Derringer was its executive producer. Prior to this recording Weird Al had never used ideas from other musicians. A mutual acquaintance of both his manager and Madonna’s suggested that they would have good fun collaborating on it. It’s the only known time that he ever worked on one of his parodies directly with the original artist.

“Like a Surgeon” was well received by music critics. Many rated it on par with the original. Eugene Chadbourne congratulated Yankovic for “…perhaps his best ever. Turning the tacky Madonna hit inside out and upside down, he comes up with a hilarious satire of the medical profession.” The music video produced for the tune is set in a hospital, and vamps on elements of the original music video for “Like a Virgin.” In one scene, a Madonna lookalike sits in a corner, filing her nails. It has been a part of Yankovic’s live shows for decades.

MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPER

THE ROLLING STONES

Valium (aka diazepam) is a synthetic analog to the active ingredient found in Valerian root; both increase the amount of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which helps regulate nerve cells, and has a calming effect on anxiety. “Mother’s Little Helper” is both an ode to this drug…

Mother needs something today to calm her down.

And though she’s not really ill,

There’s a little yellow pill.

She goes running for the shelter

Of a Mother’s Little Helper.

…and a biting commentary on the hypocrisy of American housewives abusing prescription drugs with the benediction of their doctors and the FDA, while the Stones themselves were being labeled dope fiends, simply for taking different drugs without a prescription. Both were seeking refuge from emptiness and despair. Recorded in Los Angeles from December 3 to 8, 1965, in a custom built studio with no windows (the Stones did not want to know if it was day or night), it was the first track on Aftermath, their first album with all original songs.

 “It’s about drug dependence, but in a sort of like spoofy way,” Mick Jagger observed.

About his strange-sounding guitar work, Keith Richards said he used a twelve-string with a slide on it: “It’s played slightly Oriental-ish. The track just needed something to make it twang. Otherwise, the song was quite Vaudeville, in a way. I wanted to add some nice bite to it. And it was just one of those things where someone walked in and, ‘Look, it’s an electric twelve-string’. It was some gashed-up job. No name on it. God knows where it came from—or where it went. But I put it together with a bottleneck. Then we had a riff that tied the whole thing together.”

Stones guitarist Brian Jones played the Sitar on the recording. It was one of the first pop songs to use the instrument, just after The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” Drummer Charlie Watts says the band never quite mastered playing it live, although they memorably performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show.

THEY’RE COMING TO TAKE ME AWAY

(FUNNY FARM)

NAPOLEON XIV

Music critic Dave Marsh called “Funny Farm” the most obnoxious song ever to appear on a jukebox. In 1966, Jerry Samuels (alias Napoleon XIV) was a top recording engineer at New York City’s Associated Recording Studios in Times Square. One night he and Barry Hansen (alias Dr. Demento) were “relaxing” when an old Scottish march called “The Campbells Are Coming” popped into his head.

“I thought, da da dat dat da dat, da da, da da. They’re coming to take me away, ha ha… We were doing work for some advertising agencies, radio spots. They had to come in at exactly 59 seconds, so if it was recorded a little slow or a little fast, we used a device to fix it called a Variable Frequency Oscillator. We only had a 4-track tape recorder at the time. But if you hooked up the VFO to the 4-track, you could do things that weren’t done before. I would be able to raise or lower the pitch of a voice without changing the tempo. By understanding what I could do with that piece of equipment, I wrote this thing.”

Samuels was hesitant to complete the song, which was a sick joke about a serious subject, mental illness. After many months he changed the last verse to say “They’re coming to take me away” because of his dog running away. “By doing that I felt I was lightening the sickness of the joke.”

Adding to the overall silliness, the B-side of the 45 rpm single was simply the A-side run in reverse, and titled “!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT” (Ha-Haaa! Away, Me Take to Coming They’re). The song was an overnight sensation, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, but plummeted to #37 only two weeks later. Fearing outrage from those who thought that it was ridiculing mental illness, radio stations across the country— including New York City’s WABC and WMCA—banned it from their playlists. Airplanes flew protest banners and mobs of angry teenagers picketed WMCA, holding signs saying We’re Coming to Take WMCA Away.

WITCH DOCTOR

ROSS BAGDASARIAN

(aka DAVID SEVILLE)

Ross Bagdasarian (David Seville) was a successful songwriter by the time he released “Witch Doctor” as his first single. Seven years earlier, he’d written “Come On-A My House,” one of Rosemary Clooney’s signature hits. The lyrics were based on lines from the novel The Human Comedy, written by his famous cousin, William Saroyan. Bagdasarian was the creator of Alvin and The Chipmunks, a group of three animated rodents with high-pitched human voices. He created the effect by recording his voice with a tape recorder running at half speed, then playing it back at normal speed. “Witch Doctor” was the first song ever to use this technique, and he used the name David Seville for the recording. At that point, he hadn’t yet created The Chipmunks. The song is about a young man seeking advice from a witch doctor on how to woo his girlfriend. The wise witch doctor offers him some magic words that, six decades on, way to many of us still know by heart: Oo ee, oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang.

“Witch Doctor” soared to #1 in April 1958 for three weeks. Seville became a pop culture sensation, and performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show that May. It was also a #1 R&B hit. Many R&B  art-toppers of the day were comedic or novelty recordings, including “Get a Job” by The Silhouettes and “Yakety-Yak” by The Coasters. A few months later, using the same technique, Seville created and recorded three distinct voices in close harmony and branded it “The Chipmunks.” In November, he released “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” which went to #1 for four weeks, won three Grammy Awards, and became a perennial Christmas favorite. The Alvin Show cartoon series followed in 1961—and was resurrected in 1983, and again in 2015.

Album Art: Addicted to Love/Island Records • Comfortably Numb/Columbia Records • Doctor My Eyes/Asylum Records • Dr. Robert/Capitol Records • I Don’t Need No Doctor/A&M Records • I Wanna Be Sedated/Sire Records • Like A Surgeon/Scotti Brothers • Mother’s Little Helper/London Records • Funny Farm/Warner Bros. • Witch Doctor/Liberty Records

Pop Quiz

Back to School

 

Can you match these classic songs with their “go-to” lyrics?

 

  1. My Old School

Steely Dan • 1973

  1. Be True to Your School

The Beach Boys • 1963

  1. We Rule the School

Belle & Sebastian • 1996

  1. School Days

Chuck Berry • 1957

  1. Wonderful World

Sam Cooke • 1960

  1. High School Never Ends

Bowling for Soup • 2006

  1. Hot for Teacher

Van Halen • 1984

  1. Another Brick In the Wall

Pink Floyd • 1979

  1. School’s Out

Alice Cooper • 1972

  1. Don’t Stand So Close to Me

The Police • 1980

  1. Rock n Roll High School

The Ramones • 1979

  1. Teacher, I Need You

Elton John • 1973

 

 

 

A.We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.

 

  1. I think of all the education that I missed.

But then my homework was never quite like this.

 

  1. Sometimes it’s not so easy to be the teacher’s pet.

 

  1. Ain’t you heard of my school? It’s number one in the state.

 

  1. School’s been blown to pieces.

 

  1. Hail, hail, rock n roll.

 

  1. You got something in you to drive a schoolboy wild.

 

  1. Four years, you’d think for sure, that’s all you’ve got to endure.

 

  1. Do something pretty while you can.

 

  1. I was smoking with the boys upstairs when I heard about the whole affair.

 

  1. Don’t know much about history. Don’t know much biology.

 

  1. I just want to have some kicks. I just want to get some chicks.