Much less anarchistic than the Sex Pistols, the Clash positioned themselves as rebels with a cause, willing to be a voice for idealistic righteousness with a left-wing bent. With musical influences from reggae, funk and rock, the Clash used their three-minute quasi-pop songs to lash out against the British government, cry out for Jamaican immigrants, protest the Sandinista regime, and campaign musically against racism everywhere. The Clash lasted from 1976 to late 1983, one of the longest runs for punk bands.
Several other bands began with punk roots and spun off into more commercially successful ventures. Blondie, fronted by Deborah Harry, left their trashy punk beginnings to gain more success with a melodic punk/techno sound. With her cool Marilyn Monroe sexuality, Harry and Blondie became early darlings of television video.
Other new wave bands built visual gimmicks for their commercial punk/techno sounds. Devo (short for De-evolution, the idea of a gradual breaking down of society) performed as futuristic automatons, dressed in glossy yellow nuclear-reactor jumpsuits and inverted flowerpots on their heads. With jerky robot like movements, the five geeky-looking band members built their mechanical sound around a synthesizer, a heavily digitized bass and drums. Their one break-through song “Whip It” (1980) more closely resembles a techno-funk sound than a Sex Pistols punk song.
Another new wave band that built on a visual just as bizarre and unique as Devo, was the B-52’s. The band, who dressed in go-go boots, miniskirts, bouffant (beehive) wigs and thrift store castoffs, originally formed as a joke and performed most of their early gigs to taped backup, since few of the five had any musical experience. Their classic retro look, together with lyrics filled with ‘50s and ‘60s trivia, made them the ultimate party band of the ‘80s and naturals for the exploding video market. After an early hit single “Rock Lobster” (1978) the band had Top 30 hits with “Legal Tender” in the mid-’80s and “Love Shack” in 1990 (#3 on pop charts).
The novelty act the Go-Go’s began as a comic lark; five musically inept girls performing a 1 ½ song set for friends, but after some replacements, the group had a #1 chart hit with “We Got the Beat” in 1981. Although they were barely more than a realized and expanded version of the bubble-gum cartoon group Josie and the Pussycats, the Go-Go’s showed that enthusiastic amateurs with a solid beat and a cheerleader attitude could have a hit in the ‘80s. Belinda Carlisle, one of the original five, did extend her solo career beyond the group’s life with “Mad About You,” “Heaven Is A Place On Earth,” and “I Get Weak”; all of which were in the Top Three on the charts in 1986 and 1987.
The influx of new wave bands in the ‘80s merged the essence of punk (insistent rhythms, de-emphasis of musical skill and shock value) with a variety of other influences to evolve into a pop-oriented style. Instead of spiked orange hair and torn t-shirts, the new wave band aligned themselves with the anti-chic: plastic robots, retro-’60s and geeks. The visual aspect of the new wave band prepared western culture for the arrival of the revolutionary new media-monster: MTV.