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by Barry Walters

July 29, 2014

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs

by Barry Walters  |  July 29, 2014

There's a simple concept behind Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s. Authors Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein pick 36 New Wave classics and get their musicians to talk about them. Majewski and Bernstein characterize the book as "a random sampling of the decade," but Mad World is a little more methodical and substantial than that.

It opens with Adam and the Ants' "Kings of the Wild Frontier," one of the wildest, noisiest, most explicitly race-themed singles to reach No. 2 in the UK (its parent album of the same name topped the charts in late 1980). Typically portrayed as a crazy fop, Ant instead comes across as an astute student of the Native American culture he appropriated as a metaphor for both his outsider status in the punk scene and his own Gypsy blood. Furthermore, he proved himself a gentleman when Michael Jackson in turn appropriated his hussar jacket from Bermans, a London costume shop. "I sent him down to my friend who worked there. He said, 'I want an Adam Ant jacket,' and they gave him one."

Most of Majewski and Bernstein's choices were created by androgynous Brit males, and that's OK: Pretty Anglo dudes were most certainly running things in this scene. It's revealed that one of the era's subversively feminist exceptions was written by an Akron, Ohio, dude attempting to get inside the heads of the women who turn him down. "The dirty little secret about [the Waitresses' 1980 cult hit] 'I Know What Boys Like,'" says former Tin Huey frontman Chris Butler, "is that it's me going, 'What's wrong with me? Go home with me! I'm horny!'"

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