I had an entirely different show planned when I got the question stuck in my head: What was the first New Wave song? New Wave was a descendant of punk and post-punk, so it couldn’t have come before “New Rose” by the Damned. But “X-Offender” by Blondie predates that! These are the questions I ask myself whilst live on the air while exploring the history of New Wave in (almost) chronological order while the Capitol was being assaulted by terrorists. What a day!
- The Modern Lovers “Roadrunner” [The Modern Lovers] 1976
- The Neon Boys “That’s All I Know (Right Now) – 2013 Remaster” [Spurts: The Richard Hell Story (2013 Remaster)] Recorded in 1972-3
- The Boomtown Rats “Lookin’ After No. 1” [The Boomtown Rats]
- The Damned “New Rose” [Damned Damned Damned] 1977
- Ramones “Beat on the Brat – 2016 Remaster” [Ramones (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition; 2016 Remaster)] 1977
- Metro “Criminal World” [b/w Precious] 1976
- Thompson Twins “Squares and Triangles” [b/w Could Be Her .. .. Could Be You] 1980 Recorded 1979
- Blondie “X Offender – Remastered” [Blondie (Remastered)] 1976
- Wire “Mannequin – 2006 Remastered Version” [Pink Flag] 1977
- The Cars “Just What I Needed” [The Cars] 1978
- Wire “Another the Letter – 2006 Remastered Version” [Chairs Missing] 1978
- Public Image Ltd. “Public Image” [First Issue] 1978
- XTC “This Is Pop? – 2001 Remaster” [White Music] 1978
- Gary Numan “Cars” [The Pleasure Principle] 1979
- The B-52’s “Planet Claire” [The B-52’s] 1979
- Talking Heads “Don’t Worry About the Government – 2005 Remaster” [Talking Heads ’77 (Deluxe Version)] 1977
- DEVO “Uncontrollable Urge” [Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!] 1978
- Joe Jackson “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” [Look Sharp!] 1979
- Rachel Sweet “Truckstop Queen” [Fool Around] 1978
- The Knack “My Sharona” [Get The Knack] 1979
- The Human League “Empire State Human – Remastered 2003” [Reproduction] 1979
- Joy Division “Transmission – 2020 Digital Remaster” [Transmission] 1979
- The Teardrop Explodes “Sleeping Gas” [Kilimanjaro] 1980
- Siouxsie and the Banshees “Hong Kong Garden” [The Scream] 1978
- Eddie & The Hot Rods “Do Anything You Wanna Do” [Life On The Line] 1977
- Japan “Don’t Rain On My Parade” [Adolescent Sex] 1978
- Visage “Tar” [Visage] 1980
- Ultravox “Dangerous Rhythm” [Ultravox!] 1977
- Flash and the Pan “Hey St. Peter” [Flash and the Pan] 1979
- Deaf School “Don’t Stop the World” [Don’t Stop The World] 1977
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. TL;DR at the bottom. Punk was referred to as New Wave before that genre was established, but I’m we’re talking about what we commonly think of as New Wave now.
New Wave sprang from post-punk which sprang from punk– while there are a lot of songs that could be considered proto New Wave, I don’t think any of them count as the actual thing until post-punk was a thing, and the earliest post-punk album (probably) was Real Life by Magazine, which was Howard DeVoto’s band after he left the Buzzcocks. It was released in June of 1978. Public Image: First Issue by Public Image, Ltd. came out in December of 1978 (all of this happened within a year, which is just an insane burst of creative energy).
Wire’s first album Pink Flag, which came out in December 1977 was right on the cusp of punk and post-punk, but their second album Chairs Missing fully made the leap in August of 1978, especially with the prevalent use of keyboards. There are a couple of synth based poppy post-punk songs on the album, in particular the third track “Another the Letter” which is upbeat and synth heavy.
So yeah, I’m going to posit that “Another the Letter” by Wire is the first true New Wave song.
I was about to post this, but then thought about the Damned. “New Rose” was the first punk single released in October 1976, which means “X-Offender” by Blondie comes right before it in June of 1976. In retrospect “X-Offender” sounds pretty New Wave, but on consideration it’s more of a punk song with Phil Spector-like sounds, so I don’t think it counts. Their debut album Blondie is also more punk/pub rock with that same sound. To me, they don’t actually start playing “New Wave” until their third album, Parallel Lines which was released in December of 1978.
Okay, I’ve convinced myself back to thinking it’s “Another the Letter” again.
EDIT: Hold up. The Cars’ self-titled debut was released June 6th, 1978, beating Chairs Missing which came out August 7th. “Just What I Needed” was released as a single in May of 1978. I think that wins.
TL;DR the first true New Wave track is
“Another the Letter” by Wire, released in August of 1978. “Just What I needed” by the Cars, released May 29th, 1978