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Ranking New Wave Vocalist Solo Debuts: Sting, Debbie Harry, David Byrne and More

by Ryan Book   Jun 1, 2015 14:35 PM EDT

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On this date 30 years ago, Sting released his first solo album—The Dream of The Blue Turtles—after the inevitable split of the feuding Police. Some band vocalists have the chops to make it on their own, and some don't. Based on how Turtles did, we'd say that the bassist was doing alright, and since then he's been nominated as a solo performer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...so it seems both fans and critics have taken a liking. You can argue that Sting's solo debut has nothing on Synchronicity, The Police's last album (and tough competition), but it deserved kudos nevertheless. Music Times looked at the first album from a number of other New Wave vocalists and ranked them, from best to "shoulda never left." Check out individual releases from David Byrne, Debbie Harry, Ric Ocasek and more.

07) KooKoo by Debbie Harry (1981)

Debbie Harry of Blondie was among the first to release a solo album and it made sense...after all, she was certainly the most eye-catching member of any of the bands featured in this list. There's no doubt that her band would be nowhere without her dynamic range (from "One Way or Another" to "Heart of Glass") and stage presence. That said, one of the most notorious issues that drives music snobs nuts is when people refer to Blondie as "she." Blondie itself was a band, not merely Harry with a backing band. Guitarist Chris Stein and bassist Nigel Harrison were almost equally involved in perfecting the band's signature sound. If someone needed proof that the band worked best as just that, they should check out Harry's debut KooKoo. About the only thing working here is the excellent H.R. Giger cover.

06) Beatitude by Ric Ocasek (1982)

Perhaps we're just biased based on the age of the album, as indeed, both of the oldest entries onto this list are situated toward the back. The good news for Ric Ocasek, the lead singer for The Cars, is that his initial solo album Beatitude really ain't that bad (suggesting that the rest of the New Wave frontmen knew what they were doing when they went solo). The only problem here is that Beatitude doesn't live up to what we came to expect from The Cars, and ultimately comes across as just a weaker version of his previous act.

05) Paper Monsters by Dave Gahan (2001)

As with Harry, there's little doubt that most of the people who flocked to Depeche Mode during the '80s were there to hear from vocalist Dave Gahan. Even more so than Blondie however, the music and lyrics of that band was largely written by guitarist Martin Gore, making him the "true" star behind classics such as Violator. Gahan, upon finally going to solo route with Paper Monsters during 2001, was left with just his voice, and no help from Gore. He's not totally incompetent, not at all, but he certainly doesn't use the pen as well as he uses his mouth. The result is a largely "meh" product for fans of his primary band.

04) Michael Hutchence by Michael Hutchence (1999)

The one and only solo album from longtime INXS frontman Michael Hutchence was, unfortunately, released under gloomy circumstances. The vocalist had died in a suicide during 1997 while on tour with the band. Which of course leads to the question: "Would he have wanted the material on this album released as a solo project?" Regardless of the answer to that question, the resulting product was far from bad. The finished album featured work from Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill and some additional vocals added by Bono, but we're left to guess where it would have ended up, quality-wise, if Hutchence himself had the chance to sort it all out.

03) Candleland by Ian McCulloch (1989)

Ian McCulloch served as frontman for perhaps the least appreciated, and perhaps the best new wave band in general: Echo & The Bunnymen. Although none of the band's commercial releases never merited as much attention as the standout efforts from acts such as Blondie and The Cars, the Bunnymen were more consistent across the decade of the '80s. It's not that surprising then that McCulloch continued putting out strong albums when he went solo with Candleland during 1989, including an appropriately ambient appearance from Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins on the title track.

02) Lostboy! AKA Jim Kerr by Jim Kerr (2010)

We would advice anyone who's seeking to become a solo performer while changing their name to not build an "AKA" statement into their first album. At first glance, we almost assumed that Kerr—the longtime frontman of Simple Minds—would fail miserably, based on the desperation of the title alone. However, just like his primary act's most recent album Big Music, Kerr ends up coming out on top. Even with a plentitude of "bonus tracks," this album doesn't sound old across singles "Shadowland" and "She Fell In Love With Silence," not to mention a cover of "Bulletproof Heart" from fellow Scots The Silencers.

01) Rei Momo by David Byrne (1989)

David Byrne had been involved with other projects while with the Talking Heads, however it seemed unfair to consider My Life in The Bush of Ghosts as his solo debut. That album would have topped this list, as well a great many others, for its innovative use of sampling circa 1981. However, that was actually a collaborative project with Brian Eno and can't truly be considered a "solo" record. Byrne's first, certified record by his lonesome might not live up to the aforementioned landmark, but Rei Momo is still great. The title references the King of The Carnivals across several South American nations, and Byrne does well by his title, incorporating cumbia, samba, merengue and a multitude of traditional song styles. He released it on his own Luaka Bop label, which he had started the year before to promote Brazilian exports.

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