It was a geographical thing back in the day.
The Feelies and The Bongos were probably my two favorites. Of course, I lived in Hoboken, NJ at the time and both bands based themselves there, so maybe I'm a little prejudiced on this one.
From out of town, The Replacements and Husker Du were the Minnesota reps, Arrogance, Let's Active and The dBs were from North Carolina, Oingo Boingo and X from LA, Pere Ubu from Cleveland, The Romantics from Detroit, Romeo Void from San Francisco etc, etc...
Some emphasized the rock influence, some were more pop, the southerners jangled, and one or two (see Pere Ubu!) were more aggresively "artistes", but they were all among my favorites from that particular pop music movement.
I thought INXS kicked ass in those days...Big Country was another one. Peter Gabriel (!), first 2 Police albums...that was a really interesting musical era and I played a lot of that stuff in cover bands during that time. First Cars album...man...most new bands today sound wimpy and unoriginal compared to the best of those days.
Marty makes a great point with his geographical perspective. I am from Atlanta and enjoyed a healthy dose of the Athens bands from that era:Guadalcanal Diary, Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love, Pylon, Love Tractor,Swimming Pool Q's,the Connells, Let's Active, the DB's, Drivn N'Cryn,the Windbreakers (Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff have great solo projects as well)the B-52's,and of course REM. I also am particularly fond of the paisley underground movement from that era although it is more old fashioned rock and roll as compared to power pop. Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, Green on Red, Danny and Dusty, etc. The Dream Syndicate is one of my favorite bands. Steve Wynn continues to release great music and the solo work from the various paisley bands is great: Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas, Mazzy Star,etc. The German label Blue rose Records is a great source for a lot of these artists.
This era was alot of fun...with even established artists churning out psuedo new wave lps to go with the times...Billy Joel "Glass Houses", J Geils "Love stinks",
even Alice Cooper "Flush the Fashion" haha
"Glass Houses" had some great songs along with the overplayed stuff. For musicians like me who had been playing rock since the 60s the whole "new wave" thing was a nice jolt out of the 70s doldrums and disco thing...as Linda Ronstadt said it was sort of "whitey's last stand".
How about Big Star, Matthew Sweet, Syd Straw, and Marti Jones?
The Shoes...almost as good as Cheap Trick...
The Motels were hard to categorize. Their music ranged from post punk to adult contemporary. Another plus was Martha Davis, she was both eye and ear candy! Even with some chart success they are mostly forgotten.
Speaking of Linda Rondstadt, "Mad Love," her new wave album was a killer album. I played the heck out of that one in the early 80s. Don't have a copy of it anymore, wonder if it sounds dated. Might have to check Amazon.
I was in a cover band in Hawaii when the Motels were in town for a concert (early 80s)...we were playing 6 nights a week in a giant hipster dance club so we were tight, and Martha came in and sang with us...we already did a few of their songs and it was really cool (and spooky) to hear the actual voice from a song coming through the monitors...we even did a song that the Motels touring band DIDN'T do and she nailed it. Nice person that Martha.
Saw the Motels on campus while attending college in Wisconsin, '82 or '83, I believe. They made a lasting impression on me. Had an excellent time.
Since I was in Boston during that period, definitely:
Scruffy the Cat
Club scene in Beantown was amazing.
The Shoes are really great,have all their recordings.They always to me sounded like The Cars.
i'm not sure the shoes are new wave--they're largely synth-free power poppers (who needs labels?)--but they really were great. surprisingly, they have a brand new record, ignition, which sounds almost as good as their classic 70s stuff. in the same underrecognized realm, check out the records, off broadway and bram tchiakovsky.