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Good luck escaping the ’80s these days — whether on a Super Bowl commercial or soundtracking a primetime soap like Grey’s Anatomy, the music created more than 30 years ago and accessorized with big shoulder pads, bigger hair, and a ton of eyeliner has proven to have influence and staying power beyond nostalgia.
The new book Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s (Abrams Image), written by Lori Majewski with THR contributor Jonathan Bernstein, celebrates this post-punk period in all of its fluorescent glory. Making the argument that this was also “the last golden age of pop,” whose musicians were weaned on David Bowie and were inspired by the twin explosions of disco and punk, the book tells the tale of some of the decade’s most unforgettable songs — “Come On Eileen,” “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” “Blue Monday,” and 32 others — in fascinating detail, letting the architects of these memorable records shine a light on how the sound of a generation came to be.
For fans of Duran Duran — whom the authors, as well as Mad World interviewee Nile Rogers, dub “the Rolling Stones” of new wave — there is the added bonus of a foreword penned by keyboardist Nick Rhodes. The afterword was written by Moby, who comments about his own New Wave experience, “My schoolmates’ music sounded old to me. [They] were listening to ‘Lola’ by The Kinks. I was listening to ‘Joan of Arc’ by OMD.”
Mad World also wipes away the makeup to reveal the bitter rivalries between bandmembers and the competing groups — some of which continue to this day. “We set out to write about the enduring songs of the era,” says Bernstein. “Little did we know we were opening a Pandora’s Box of backstabbing, bitchery and bad record deals.”
Read on for 10 of the book’s greatest hits:
10. Bono didn‘t want to sing “Tonight, thank God, it‘s them instead of you” in “Do They Know It‘s Christmas?”
“Why would you sing that?” the U2 frontman asked Band Aid organizer Bob Geldof, according to the record’s producer, Midge Ure. Luckily, Geldof talked him into it.
9. Howard Jones is the Deepak Chopra of New Wave, offering a philosophical world view.
To wit: “You can look at the menu, but you just can’t eat,” is the opening line from his 1986 number one “No One Is to Blame,” inspired by a San Francisco record rep who encouraged the singer to check out all the pretty women in his swinging town. “That’s what sparked the song,” said Jones, who then, as now, preferred the company of wife Jan.
8. Limahl, two-tone-haired singer of Kajagoogoo, was try-sexual.
“I hadn’t decided if I was 100 percent gay,” said Limahl, who has since come out. “When you’re that age, you love anybody playing with your c—.” Another tasty tidbit: There was major friction between Limahl and bassist Nick Beggs, who offered contrasting viewpoints over Limahl being kicked out of the band at the height of their fame. “If he had not treated us all like shit, we would not have fired him,” Beggs said.
7. Berlin messed up their chance to perform at the Oscars.
While “Take My Breath Away” was soaring with the popularity of 1986’s Top Gun, singer Terri Nunn received a call from the Academy Awards’ producers asking the band to perform a few lines as part of a medley. She played hardball. “I said, ‘If I can’t sing the whole song, I’m not doing it.” So Berlin watched the show on TV from “somewhere in Taiwan” as their record — which was performed by Lou Rawls — took Best Original Song.
6. For Adam Ant, success was the best revenge.
Ant dominates his own chapter as well as the one that tells the sad tale of how he was sacked from his own band when Malcolm McLaren stole the three original Ants to form Bow Wow Wow. (The gallant singer graciously says he and singer Annabella Lwin are now friends.) Ant went on to have even greater success on his own.
5. This much is “True“: Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp reveals the influence behind the band’s biggest hit.
It was about a “very unrequited romance with [Altered Images singer] Clare Grogan,” says the singer. She gave Kemp the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, from which he appropriated some lyrics, including the now-famous couplet: “Take your seaside arms and write the next line.” They weren’t called New Romantics for nothing!
4. Simon Le Bon believes Duran Duran‘s “Girls on Film” could have been written by Patti Smith — and he makes a strong case.
“She was probably, at that time, the single most influential person upon my lyric writing,” the Duran frontman said. Meanwhile, bassist John Taylor said the filming of the video was almost like making a porno.
3. Morrissey felt like a prophet without honor in his own band.
“I think the lyrics embarrassed the other Smiths,” Moz revealed. But bassist Andy Rourke pooh-poohed the notion, saying the singer’s words “were truthful and down to the bone.” However, “I was embarrassed to show my dad the first Smiths 45, ‘Hand in Glove,’ because it had a guy’s naked butt on the cover,” he said.
2. New Order‘s Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook shared exactly one phone call in 35 years.
“I think Bernard ever only phoned me once,” said Hook. “The only time was to ask for a lift to rehearsals because his car battery was dead.”
1. Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch despises Bono — no, he really despises Bono.
“What a gibbering, leprechaunish twat,” McCulloch said. “He’s up to no good. He’s more out of his mind than I’ve ever seen anybody, and that includes Mel Gibson on [the Late Show With] David Letterman when his head spun around 360 times.”
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