Rock Moment: New Wave Hits The U.S.

It’s kind of difficult to pinpoint exactly when punk turned into New Wave, circa 1978 or so.  When the Sex Pistols flamed out early that year, able bands like the Clash and the Ramones carried on with even more success. Two years earlier,  the Stiff Records label was born in England and that could be the genesis point for what was later to become New Wave music.

Stiff Records entrepreneurs Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera capitalized on the new music coming out the London suburbs and ghettos, and signed a handful of bar bands that they could promote as punk and New Wave.   So they recruited the likes of Nick Lowe, Brinsley Schwartz, Graham Parker, Ian Dury and Elvis Costello right out of the pubs.  They put together a highly successful U.K. package tour with some of these artists, called “Live Stiffs.”

The first official Stiff Records release in the United States came late in 1978, in the form of Live Stiffs Live, a short album featuring live performances by Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Larry Wallis, Elvis Costello and Ian Dury from the package tour.  Distributed in the States by Arista, the album attracted attention mostly because of Costello, who had released his debut My Aim Is True to great success the previous year.

Live Stiffs Live documented a typical night on the Live Stiffs tour, with Lowe offering his take on classic rock styles, the underrated Wreckless Eric getting lost in the shuffle, and Costello virtually blowing everyone off the stage.  The audience still considered these guys “punk” – at the beginning of the all-hands-on-deck finale “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” Ian Dury yells to the audience to “cut out the f—in’ spittin’!”

Americans, however, later came to recognize these artists as the forefront of the New Wave movement that continued well into the early 1980s.  One could argue that Costello and Lowe have never been better; possibly, but it was a moment that started a movement.

MP3: “I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock and Roll)” by Nick Lowe

MP3: “Miracle Man” by Elvis Costello & the Attractions

MP3: “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll & Chaos,” by Ian Dury with the entire Live Stiffs lineup

Stiff Records official website

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