Per Gessle’s Nine Peaks of Nordic Rox – New wave

In the latest episode of Nordic Rox on Sirius XM, Per presented his 9 favourite new wave songs.

In the beginning of the program, Sven asks if it’s still called the new wave. PG laughs and replies it’s the old wave. It was a very influential era in his life. That’s when he started writing songs and formed his first band. In Sweden, the new wave was considered very much an English thing, but there were a lot of Swedish acts coming out of this movement, not only Per. Sven asks Per if he can tell when it was exactly when he first heard the term ”new wave” or a new wave song. Mr. G says it was punk rock and it was new wave. When he thinks of new wave, he doesn’t think of a particular track or an artist. He thinks about a movement, when it was allowed to start a band or perform without being any good. Per says they were terrible on their instruments, nevertheless they had a reason to exist and he loved it. Still does. It was encouraging for teenagers.

The mid 70’s was very much an era of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis and progressive music. Everyone had to be really good. Then suddenly, the Sex Pistols came around and alternative stuff happened and it changed Per’s life forever. Sven thinks the ambassadors of the whole thing were the Ramones. They kicked it off and spread it like a wildfire. They were incredibly limited music-wise, but Sven thinks no other band could make so much out of their limitations as the Ramones. Per adds that the punk scene in England became a much more political thing. He thinks that’s a little bit what happened in Sweden as well. Sven says the Ramones had their pop sensibility and humor. The Clash was the English version of Ramones, but Ramones had much better songs. Mr. G thinks Ramones is one of the best bands ever. They were almost like a surf band on amphetamine.

The guys discuss what the difference between punk and new wave is. Per thinks there is no real difference. Some of the new wave artists can be considered as power pop artists. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was almost like a new wave band, but someone told them they played traditional rock with a little bit more energy.

Per’s Top9 new wave songs

9. Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the U.K.
8. Talking Heads – Psycho Killer
7. Wreckless Eric – Whole Wide World
6. The Pretenders – Brass in Pocket
5. Nick Lowe – I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass
4. The Clash – London Calling
3. Ramones – Blitzkrieg Bop
2. Blondie – Hanging on the Telephone
1. Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen in Love

Anarchy in the U.K. by Sex Pistols made an impact on everyone. The song is from 1976, which was a great year for music. It reached Per in the Swedish West coast and landed with a bang. It still sounds so good today. It’s produced by Chris Thomas. Sven says the Sex Pistols record sounded like a big commercial stuff. Per says God Save the Queen sounded amazing. Mr. G thinks Johnny Rotten sang perfectly in those days when there were no computers to fix everything. He is a great singer. Anarchy in the U.K. created a big stir and put Sex Pistols on as the bad boys of punk rock.

The guys are heading from London to New York into the CBGB click around 1977. Per says lots of interesting things happened there at the CBGB’s [legendary music club in NYC]. Mr. G picked Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads as the next song. He never really listened to their albums, but he listened to this particular song. He thought it was a really catchy pop song with an all new sound. It was really fresh at the time. It has passed the test of time. It still sounds really cool. The New York new wave sounded very special.

Per tells he gained self-confidence in the new wave era, because he realized one doesn’t necessarily has to be a magnificent musician to start a band. The first band he had sounded terrible at the beginning, but it sounded pretty cool after 6 months or a year. Then they got a recording deal. Sven says the lesson is ”stick with it”.

The next song is a typical one-hit wonder for Per. It’s Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric from 1977. It’s a wonderful weird production by Nick Lowe, one of Per’s favourite producers and artists and writers. This was one of Stiff Records first and biggest songs. Nick was a house producer at Stiff Records before Rockpile started taking up all his time. The guys could talk about Stiff Records for hours. They loved their sense of humor, their slogans. ”If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a Fuck.” ”If they’re dead we sign them.” Per adds their sleeves also looked really cool. Mr. G always loved Whole Wide World, it’s got a great lyric, it makes you smile. This was the pop side of the new wave movement. It stood the test of time as well.

The Pretenders is next. They came out with their first album in 1979 and it sums up very much what new wave is all about. It’s a rock thing with pop melodies and that has nothing to do with punk. Songs were kept short. That’s how pop music used to be in the 60’s as well. Per picked Brass in Pocket from the band, the third single from their debut album. Stop Your Sobbing, the first single was also a very good one. The way Chrissie Hynde sings and the way the band play is amazing according to Sven. Per adds that SYS was a Nick Lowe production as well. The Pretenders became a big band in the US, especially in the 80’s for good reason. Sven thinks they are a bit like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they survived the new wave era, however, two of the band members died very early. Sven says James Honeyman-Scott was a brilliant guitarist. For Per The Pretenders were a singles band. Later on there was I’ll Stand by You, for example. They worked with some of the best producers, eg. Bob Clearmountain, Jimmy Iovine, Chris Thomas. The guys agree that Chrissie Hynde looked cool, Sven even says she looked menacing and you hadn’t heard anyone sound so incredibly pissed off how she sounded.

No. 5 is a Nick Lowe song. Per still enjoys a lot his album, Jesus of Cool. Sven tells in the US it was reconfigured and retitled to Pure Pop for Now People, not to offend the man upstairs. Per picked I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass from 1978. It was a big hit for Nick in England and it was a big hit in Sweden. Per loves the whole album though. It’s got a typical Nick Lowe production to it. It’s not that many instruments playing, there are some echoes, some dubbing here and there. Nick has got a great pop sensibility, he makes a lot of noise with quite few things. He puts focus on what’s important: great short intro, great melodies. It’s classic pop production. He is not a wizard when it comes to strange sounds, his production is pretty straightforward and efficient. After releasing his first single in 1976, it took 1.5 year for Nick to release his debut album. He was busy producing everyone else. He got married to Carlene Carter, stepdaughter of Johnny Cash.

Next band is The Clash. Per says he never really listened to them. He picked London Calling, which he thinks was the first song that really got him from the band. There were other new wave bands Per preferred to The Clash at the time. London Calling is an amazing track from 1979, a killer single for Per. The Clash became a brilliant band later on. They kept the new wave, but it became something else. Should I Stay or Should I Go or Rock the Casbah, excellent singles. Pop songs with an edge. London Calling was produced by Guy Stevens. He produced Mott the Hoople as well. The album, London Calling started The Clash’s big era in the US, however, Sven thinks it’s an overrated album. He tends to like the songs that Mick Jones sings. Train in Vain is a superb song.

Sven asks Per whether he bought new wave albums preferably or singles or both. Per replies he bought both. He bought e.g. The Damned debut album, but actually, most of the albums were crap except for the singles. One of the greatest albums he bought was the Ramones debut album, which he still considers to be one of the best albums ever made. Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones from 1976 is No. 3. It’s like a revolution, it makes you feel young. The Ramones never got on the radio, it was like a curse. They hoped with every new record ”this is gonna crack it”, but it didn’t happen, not even with Sheena Is a Punk Rocker. Per thinks Blitzkrieg Bop is a perfect pop music. Sven says the Ramones kicked in a new door, but nobody wanted to look in. They had a big influence on Per though. The guys discuss where the name Ramones came from. It was Dee Dee’s idea. He was a Beatles freak and he took it from Paul McCartney who checked into hotels as “Paul Ramon”. Danny Fields became their manager. He was the one who signed MC5 and The Stooges to Elektra Records. He got a tip to check out the Ramones at CBGB. He didn’t want to go because he thought they were a Spanish lounge band. Haha. The first album was produced by their drummer, Tommy Ramone. Per says it sounds amazing. It sounds like putting on a vacuum cleaner with a B tone. The melodies are really cool, a weird mix of everything put together and played very fast. Sven thinks the first albums, where Tommy was the drummer sound the best. Blitzkrieg Bop was written by Tommy with a little help from Dee Dee. The original third verse had the line “shouting in the back now”, but Dee Dee changed it to “shoot ’em in the back now”. While the song was playing, Per checked who were on the charts in 1976. Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Eagles, Bee Gees. So soft music was ruling the charts and the Ramones didn’t get airplay.

No. 2 is Blondie on the list. It’s one of Per’s favourite bands. Ramones, Blondie and The Beatles. Sven asks Per if he saw Blondie in the 70’s. He didn’t. Sven tells they played Malmö in 1978, the week after they released Denis as a single. Per has that single, it’s a cover version. Parallel Lines produced by Mike Chapman was one of the best albums Per ever heard in his life. He picked Hanging on the Telephone, the opening track. It’s a perfect pop song. Heart of Glass was something you never heard before. Sven says he read Debbie’s biography and she is a fascinating character. There is something mysterious about her. Per adds she is an amazng singer. She sounds and looks like no one else. Per says she was just mesmerizing when you saw her. Hanging on the Telephone was written by Jack Lee. He was in the band The Nerves with Paul Collins and Peter Case. Per likes The Nerves version of the song as well. Mr. G thinks Mike Chapman made Blondie clean up the arrangements. There was a big difference when he came in. He is a little bit more organized and tightened things up a lot. Clem Burke is an amazing pop drummer, in Keith Moon style, he is very energetic and that puts the adrenaline level high all the time. Parallel Lines became one of the biggest albums of all time. It sold zillions for good reason. Per got goosebumps from listening to the song.

No. 1 is Ever Fallen in Love by Buzzcocks. This is one of Per’s favourite songs ever made, the biggest and brightest new wave songs of all. He bought it on a single and it was a big inspiration for him when he started his first band in 1978. He doesn’t think it was a big hit in the US and it wasn’t a huge hit in Sweden either, but in the new wave world it was gigantic. The chorus is a masterpiece according to Per. The Buzzcocks was very much a singles band. Mr. G remembers buying a vinyl box with all of their singles. All of them are really amazing. A big part of the magic is the voice of Pete Shelley. He sounds very unique. The whole sound and the porduction is very simple and very efficient. You could hear that it’s a low budget record, but it just smacks you in the face, Per says. It still sounds great in the car. Pete Shelley’s solo single, Homosapien is also very cool.

Pic by Patrícia Peres was taken at the Book Fair in Gothenburg 2014.


Thanks for the technical support, János Tóth.