Kids and Family

(Home) School of Rock: The Cool Parents’ Guide to New Wave Music for Kids

Mike Brooks
David Byrne singing to a brain. Another reason you should get your kids into new wave.
Wavers, rejoice: It’s time to show our kids that being a little weird isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty cool. If your child shows interest in the experimental or the obscure and prefers to march to the beat of his or her own synthesizer, this list is your ticket to higher music education. New wave music came about in the late 1970s, on through the early ’90s, and was heavily influenced by experimental music, synth, pop, post punk and Goth rock. It was an era that saw a transformation of rock music into something that related nicely to nonconformists. We’ve compiled a list of the best new wave artists and their albums to introduce to your children — just don’t get mad at us if they emerge with a drum machine and new hair color.

The B52’s

This Georgia-born new wave band cranked out some of the silliest, most fun songs of the 1980s. Kids will love the kooky performance style of vocalist Fred Schneider, who uses a technique that combines speaking and singing, juxtaposed with Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s operatic — at times comedic — vocals. Most new wave enthusiasts may not consider the B-52s as a strictly new wave band, but that’s sort of what makes them so fun, especially for a kid. They blended mid-century surf rock and pop with some rockabilly sensibilities, and seemingly wrote songs based on how fun the title would be to sing, like “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho,” and regularly used “instruments” like walkie-talkies, toy pianos and smoke alarms. Give their self-titled album (which includes the aforementioned hits) a spin, and watch your toddler or young child erupt into dance.

Tears for Fears
Songs From the Big Chair

England gave us some of the best new wave bands during the genre’s early days in the late 1970s and through the ’80s and early ’90s. Tears for Fears was one of them. The duo perfected the use of the synthesizer, and their remarkable pop hooks caught fans the world over. Tears for Fears broke into international mainstream pop charts as their career took off, but unlike most ’80s pop stars, their music retained a sense of depth and timelessness; classics like “Mad World” and “Shout” can reflect any young person’s own dealings while observing the world around them. This is a great band for young people, but especially teenagers, and Songs From the Big Chair is a fantastic album to hear, especially while stuck at home with the parents.

New Order
Power, Corruption & Lies

Talk about a fun synth-heavy band to dance to, New Order was quintessentially new wave, and when tracks like “Blue Monday,” “Age of Consent” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” come on, no one  — not even a moody pre-teen — can resist a little shoulder swaying. Another highly popular new wave band from England, New Order’s origin stems from the demise of the popular Goth rock band Joy Division in 1980 and the suicide of its frontman, Ian Curtis. Joy Division’s remaining three band members formed New Order and created some of the best dance music of the decade. In fact, their popular club track “Blue Monday” became the highest selling 12-inch single of all time. Power, Corruption & Lies is considered to be the band’s best release and includes the ever-catchy “Age of Consent.” It’s a great album for any kid who shows interest in experimental and electronic music, though you should be forewarned that it must be listened to played on repeat.

The Cure
Disintegration or Mixed Up
Honorable mention: Standing on a Beach

The Cure dominated the “sad boy” new wave scene in the 1980s, with singles like “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Just Like Heaven” and pretty much any song off their seminal album Disintegration. Frontman Robert Smith was a cheerleader for weirdos, and we say that with a tip of the hat. Fans of this band hold them very near and dear to their hearts, and it’s a great band for any kiddo to get acquainted with immediately. The Cure wrote some of the best love songs during the new wave movement, like “Lovesong” and “Pictures of You,” and Smith’s eccentric and Goth-inspired wild, black hair, eyeliner and pale skin are a great visual for any kid who doesn’t fit the norms of the mainstream. The band’s music, heavy on synths and Simon Gallup’s bass, was inspired by Goth rock and post punk, although their infectious melodies could destroy any chart-topping pop star at the time. This is another band great for an older kid, who’s maybe a little sad, or just different, or just likes good music, and we recommend two albums to introduce to your child, because it’s just too damn hard to narrow down to one: Disintegration and Mixed Up. OK, three, but it's just an honorable mention: Standing on a Beach, a singles compilation.

Talking Heads
True Stories

New wave pioneers Talking Heads are a must-hear for any kid interested in music. Considered by many to be one of the best bands of all time, and fronted by artist extraordinaire David Byrne, Talking Heads would lay the groundwork for future new wavers. Combining punk, art rock and funk while maintaining an avant-garde approach to performance also makes Talking Heads one of the most interesting bands of its time (just watch the music videos for “Once In A Lifetime” or “And She Was,” or their concert film Stop Making Sense). But we’re recommending the soundtrack to Byrne’s film True Stories for your kid as a great introduction to the band. Just as the satirical musical comedy itself goes, the genre-spanning soundtrack of the same name follows characters within one small, fictional Texas town. The album is fun and easily presentable to a kiddo, but even more than that, it’s smart, with sublime rhythmic melodies and lyrics, and since the music in the film itself is mainly performed by its characters, this soundtrack offers a chance to show kids how music can be made differently in movies than on an album.

Depeche Mode

Another fantastic band and album to introduce to any kid interested in the makings of electronic music, Depeche Mode’s Violator is considered one of their very best, and for good reason. It showed the Essex, England, band at its height, and while it included catchy hits like “Enjoy the Silence,” they got their hands a little dirtier on tracks like “Personal Jesus” (even still with a catchy bass line) and “Halo.” Main songwriter, co-vocalist, keyboardist and guitar player for the band, Martin Gore, said this of the band’s intent: "My dream was to combine the emotion of Neil Young or John Lennon transmitted by Kraftwerk's synthesizers. Soul music played by electronic instruments."

Pop! The First 20 Hits

Erasure sure can perk up even the moodiest of children. The English synth-pop duo hit the radio waves in the mid '80s and became highly successful with pop-tinged ballads like “A Little Respect” and “Oh L’Amour.” Erasure is one of the more pop-friendly new wave groups on this list, and it just makes their music even more approachable for kids, not to mention worthy of some dancing. Go ahead and throw on Pop! The First 20 Hits for all their best tracks.

Devo’s Greatest Hits

Devo is one of those bands that became more popular than they probably should have. We don’t mean that as a jab, but it’s hard to believe the mainstream would take to their deadpan humor and off-kilter songwriting. We happen to think it’s what makes them pretty cool, though, and if their music alone doesn’t immediately pique your kid’s interest, show them some live performances and music videos. This new wave band was known for donning yellow Tyvek suits and red-tiered “energy dome” helmets during live performances and included themes of science fiction and comedic satire. Band member Mike Mothersbaughs even wrote the theme music for TV shows Beakman’s World and Nickelodeon’s Rocket Power, and the theme for the 1991 Super Mario World. Kids will likely want to stick with the band’s hits, so Devo’s Greatest Hits is a great place to start. It includes classics “Whip It” and “Girl You Want.”

Siouxsie and the Banshees

A cool “weird” girl, frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was a breath of fresh air among the decade’s many bubblegum pop stars and is great inspiration for any girl who feels she doesn’t fit societal norms. Rooted in the early days of post-punk in the late '70s, Siouxsie and the Banshees experimented with their sound at the start of the new decade with synthesizers and drum machines, and a few years later released the multifaceted and critical darling Peepshow. They were a mainstay in the new wave scene and incorporated elements of Goth and alternative rock. Give your teenager time to listen to Peepshow and it may just inspire a life-long interest in one of the best eras of music.