The New Romantic bands featured an eclectic, exciting and new form of electronic music. Men inspired by David Bowie, were now pushing the boundaries of wearing make up and flamboyant clothing. Same goes with the women, only a lot of them were going in a more masculine direction. Annie Lennox is a good example of this. Androgyny ruled the day and this style and movement created some of the most memorable, inspirational bands of the ’80’s.
It was about pushing the envelope and taking the counter culture into new, unexplored territories in music, art and fashion. All three of these creative disciplines were combined, making this particular music genre awesome and unforgettable! It was a completely organic, unique social movement. A lot of these bands were born out of dance clubs and D.J.’s, who turned themselves into music producers. This article is about five of the best bands in this music genre.
The word, visage is a literary term referring to someone’s facial features and expressions. Steve Strange, with his flamboyant style and make up, forced you to pay attention to him, his mannerisms and exactly what, he was doing on stage. Thus, he became the perfect frontman for this bright and catchy New Romantic band.
Strange, a former employee of Malcolm McLaren (former manager of The Sex Pistols) came from a punk rock background. The Moors Murderers and The Photons were just some of the punk bands that Strange had been affiliated with. Strange combined his creative style and talent with DJ’s, Midge Ure and Rusty Egan in 1979. By then, the New Romantic style was kicking off in nightclubs all around London.
David Bowie recognized that Steve Strange was becoming one of the most influential “club kids” in the New Romantic London nightclub scene. He featured Strange in the video for his song, “Ashes To Ashes.”
Steve Strange and Midge Ure.
Visage was eventually signed by the major music label, Polydor Records. In 1981, they produced a top ten hit on the British Pop charts with their song, “Fade to Grey.”
Despite all efforts, Visage failed to produce more songs, which had the same commercial success as “Fade To Grey.” Ultimately, this led to Visage breaking up in 1985. Steve Strange passed away from a heart attack in 2015. Visage must be counted, as one of the first bands that led the change from disco in the 1970’s into new, electronic., synth – driven rock and roll.
2. Soft Cell
I heard the song, “Tainted Love” come on as, I shopped for groceries the other day. I was amazed at how people, both young and old, were responding positively to it. It made me see just how much, “Tainted Love” has truly become embedded within the fabric of western culture.
Soft Cell is a duo, made up of Marc Almond and Dave Ball. They met in the late ’70’s, while they were art students at Leeds Polytechnic, in England. It was both of their families, who donated money towards their first demo tape. Soft Cell was signed by Some Bizarre Records, who was responsible for releasing all of their early material. “Tainted Love” was written by Ed Cobb and performed by Gloria Jones in 1965. “Where Did Our Love Go” was hit for Diana Ross and The Supremes in 1964 and was written by Holland – Dozier – Holland.
“Tainted Love” turned out to be a brilliant medley for Soft Cell. When it was released in 1981, it went straight to number 1 in the U.K., Canada, Germany and Australia. When it was released in the U.S. in 1982, “Tainted Love” remained at number 8 on the Hot 100 charts for forty weeks.
Soft Cell disbanded around 1986. Both Almond and Ball were interested in exploring solo projects. However, in 2021 Soft Cell released their fifth album “Happines Not Included” It was their first full length album in twenty years. The album had to be recorded remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With “Tainted Love,” Soft Cell produced an iconic hit song. It may just be the greatest, most recognizable songs to come out of the 1980’s…
3. Adam Ant
Adam Ant was highly inspired by The Sex Pistols. He formed a band, Adam and The Ants to see what mark they could make in punk rock. His first album, “Dirk’s White Sox” became number 1 on the British Independent music charts. It showed off the band’s potential for creating artsy, expressive punk rock.
He hired Malcolm McLaren to become his band’s manager. McLaren subsequently took Adam’s band mates and put them into a new music project, with singer, Anabelle Lwin. That band would go on to become Bow Wow Wow.
Adam obtained new band members including Marco Perroni, who he would go on to work with for years. Malcolm McLaren suggested that the band move away from punk rock and become more rhythmical and pop oriented. He also advised that the band adopt a pirate, anti hero image. Adam Ant paid attention to this advice.
In 1980, “Kings of The Wild Frontier” was released. This album became the biggest selling album for the U.K. for 1981. It also contained three hit singles.”Prince Charming” was the third and final album for Adam and The Ants. The title track and “Stand and Deliver” were both hits off of the “Prince Charming” album.
Adam Ant released his first solo album, “Friend or Foe” in 1982. This album’s single, “Goody Two Shoes,” reached the top twenty in the U.S. It had reached number 1 in the U.K. and Australia. Adam Ant would continue to release more solo albums. He also focused his creative talents on acting. He has been in numerous movies and TV shows over the years.
In 2011, Adam Ant became a member of The SANE Black Dog Campaign, after he was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder. This group focuses on bringing more awareness to mental illness and health.
OMD founding members, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. Photo Credit: Alex Lake @ Two Shortdays.com
Orchestral Maneuvers in The Dark created a hit in 1980, with their anti war song, “Enola Gay.” This expanded the group’s popularity in Europe. The first three albums of this band have a very experimental sound and feel.
These albums reveal a fascinating example of the evolution of early synth pop driven music.They took criticism for this early in their career. Gary Numan saw OMD open for Joy Division. He asked OMD to open for him on his first major British tour in 1979.
However, the band was resilient and secured a major hit, with their song, “If You Leave.” This song became a radio hit and the song was featured in the movie “Pretty in Pink,” in 1986. It also was the breakthrough song, which made OMD become popular in the U.S.
OMD became an inspiration on bands such as The Human League, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and New Order and many more. The rock bands, who have been inspired by OMD are Red Hot Chili Peppers and ZZ Top.
In particular, ZZ Top paid close attention to OMD’s choice of synthesizers and how they danced onstage. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys are the two core members of OMD started in 1977 and disbanded in 1988
They just could not compete with the influx of guitar driven bands during the 1980’s. The band built up a very loyal fan base and this led to OMD getting back together in 2006. OMD went on tour, performing their 1981 “Architecture and Morality” album in its entirety. They released three albums, including “The Punishment of Luxury,” which was released in 2017. For their 40th anniversary OMD went on an elaborate tour starting in 2019 and ending in 2020.
5. Spandau Ballet
Spandau Ballet had a remarkable career. Their song, “True” has been played on the radio more than 40 million times. This makes it the most played song in U.S. history. They played Live Aid to over a billion people. Brothers Gary and Martin Kemp could not have foreseen the bands meteoric success, when they performed their first gig in High School.
Not all was good between the members of Spandau Ballet. There were bitter feuds and court battles that the band would have to face.The band also learned the hard way about the legal side of the music business. They only had a verbal agreement, when it came to dividing up royalties. This was long before they signed their first record contract in 1980. This was largely the result of being young and naive. Drummer John Keeble elaborated on this point in an interview with “The Guardian:”
“We had an arrangement between ourselves, and we were schoolmates. We weren’t cynical , we just did things on trust. Besides, we were playing in the Hope and Anchor, in small clubs at the time. The idea of sorting out a serious contract didn’t cross our minds…’
The majority of the songs were written by Martin Kemp. This includes all of the lyrics, progression and chordal structure of the songs. judge ruled that while the other band members made “impressive contributions” to the songs, they wee not significant enough for them to be considered joint authors. The judgement for song royalties was ruled in Martin Kemp’s favor
This cost of this for the other band members was staggering. Tony, Steve and John all wound up having to pay $200,000 each. Incredibly though, Spandau Ballet managed to reconcile and get back together in 2009 played on until 2015. After this, Tony Hadley walked away from the band. The other bandmates decided to call it quits after this.
It is clear that the second British music invasion occurred in 1981. For that was when so many New Romantic bands really became known on a global scale. It was more than just a flamboyant fashion movement. A whole new way of approaching music, inspired largely by David Bowie was born.
It exploring gender fluidity and androgyny. It was about making the synthesizer, “the star” as opposed to the guitar in traditional rock and roll. It was what happened in England after disco and punk rock. Although this social movement was brief, it made an indelible impression, that still continues to inspire that music of today.