Saturday, April 18, 2020


Let's not forget the full glory of the title, not least as it is the how and why they happened to be together that underlines this piece. Hearing a snatch on the radio, I rather guess most civilians assume this to be the Human League, so similar it is to the template already riding high the charts. Indeed, wise to that, the record company contrived to include the song on 1988's Greatest Hits collection of that band. But it wasn't, it arising purely from the serendipity of movie producer Steve Barron rejecting Giorgio Moroder's original choice of singer for a tune he had been hired to write.

Electric Dreams was a film made by Barron, earlier better known as the director of innumerable music videos, such as Take On Me/Aha and Money For Nothing/Dire Straits. In truth, that is as much as you need to know about the film, it being somewhat lightweight tosh, with a soundtrack album, Electric Dreams, featuring many of the great and the good of the day. As I look back at this, Jeff Lynne jostling with Culture Club, plus a couple of Moroder instrumentals, it is remarkable how little else has stuck. It is, really, only the Oakey/Moroder collaboration I can recall. Or anyone else recalls. Room for confusion arises in that the duo produced an album called Electric Dreams. The song and several more they cooked hastily together. Again, only the title track has had any real posterity.

Be My Lover Now/Oakey & Moroder

Moroder seems an interesting guy, and certainly lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Whilst his website might describe him as the founder of disco, a claim he seems on shaky ground with, it correctly asserts he was a trailblazer of electronic music, seeing the more popular opportunities in synthesisers , still then more the domain of serious prog-rockers. I had not before appreciated that the song, Son of My Father, taken to the UK chart by band Chicory Tip, was one of his writes. Pretty slim fare, it's true, but it was certainly the first synthesiser led track I can recall on Top of the Pops. As a producer and studio mogul, Moroder pumped out a slew of singles, embracing the twin idioms of disco and electronica. If by attrition alone, some of these had to be hits, with Donna Summer's I Feel Love being his biggest and best known breakthrough. If many of his themes and backing tracks sounded the same, that seemed no bad thing, and he took the launch into film scores. Here, Midnight Express was clearly his high water mark, but the list of his other involvements is immense, from work with David Bowie and Blondie. And Electric Dreams, of course.

The Chase (Midnight Express)/Giorgio Moroder 

A couple of decades silence and he was again suddenly the rage, taken up by Daft Punk and celebrated once more, delighting in being able to remind the world of his modest contributions to music.....

Giorgio by Moroder/Daft Punk

Phil, or Phillip, as he now prefers, Oakey, has also made the most of his opportunities. As lead singer for Sheffield electronic noise terrorists, The Human League, beleaguered and embattled by lack of success, he was left high and dry when the musicians in that band left for Heaven 17,  alone, with only the name of the band. By some enormous quirk of fate he hired a couple more players, added in two schoolgirls he had seen dancing at a club and they were huge. And rightly so. Dare, courtesy some fabulous songs, strident yet simple synth melodies, Oakey's shaky stentorian voice and the glorious naffness of the girls, leapt into the charts as an album, the singles vying with each other to get higher and higher than the one before. Culminating, inevitably, with the joy of Don't You Want Me, number one forever over the Christmas and New Year of 1981 into 82, buoyed by a never more memorable video. If their pinnacle, it certainly wasn't all they had, that line up managing a decent follow-up ahead of creeping personal differences. Another rebirth, as Jam and Lewis picked up the band and gave them a shake, and provided much of the material, with Human shaking the rafters worldwide. Since then they plod on, Oakey, the girls and whomsoever, surviving on the oldies market and the flurries of hope that each new release provides. I think I would certainly still cross the street to see them live.

Never Let Me Go/The Human League

So, the actual song? Well, as described, Barron suggested Oakey and, seemingly, ten minutes in the studio and it was the first take that was used, achieving a 1984 number 3 hit in the UK, but only featuring in the Billboard Dance Chart, if still a not unhealthy 20. In their (electric) dreams, not.


Friday, April 17, 2020

Electricity: Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

Gary Numan/Tubeway Army: Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

I suggested this theme a while ago, and when it was finally chosen, my first thought was to write about this song. We chose this theme to get away from things like “Alone” that relate to the “current situation” in which many of us are under various degrees of “stay at home” orders. So, of course, in doing my research of the song, I found out that in some ways it relates exactly to the current situation—even though it was released back in 1979.

Gary Numan’s band, Tubeway Army, was a punk band that had released a couple of singles in 1978 with a fairly standard guitar/bass/drum sound, and featuring Numan’s distinctive vocals. However, when in the studio recording their self-titled debut album, they found a Minimoog synthesizer. As Numan told Rolling Stone:

I remember it clearly. I had been sent to a studio by [my label] Beggars to record my first album. It was going to be a punk album and we were going to play the songs live. But as soon as I walked into the control room, there was a mini Moog. I had never seen one before. I just thought it was the coolest looking thing, just fantastic. Quite, quite small. 

Apparently, a company was going to come pick it up but the man said I could try it out until they came to collect it but they never turned up! I had this thing for the whole day and it was the most amazing experience. Very luckily, it had been left on that sound which had become famous: a huge big bottom bass roar. It was just huge. I didn't know how to set it up. All I did was press a key and the room shook! And I just thought, "F--k me! That's the most amazing thing I'd ever heard! The power!' Imagine, if the sound had been something that went ping!, I would've thought, 'This is rubbish' and none of this success would've ever happened to me. So much of this was luck. 

The Tubeway Army album mixed the standard punk sound with synthesizer, but by the time they recorded their next album, Replicas, the sound had become mostly synth-based, including “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” As Numan told The Guardian:

All my early songs were about being alone or misunderstood. As a teenager, I'd been sent to a child psychiatrist and put on medication. I had Asperger's and saw the world differently. I immersed myself in sci-fi writers: Philip K Dick, JG Ballard. The lyrics came from short stories I'd written about what London would be like in 30 years. These machines – "friends" – come to the door. They supply services of various kinds, but your neighbours never know what they really are since they look human. The one in the song is a prostitute, hence the inverted commas. It was released in May 1979 and sold a million copies. I had a No 1 single with a song about a robot prostitute and no one knew. 

So, here we are, 41 years later, and we are stuck at home, with many, if not all, services, being delivered to our homes, although not by robots. And, at least as far as I know, we don’t have robot prostitutes, but the “current situation” has, by some accounts, led to an explosion in online porn, which is even easier to hide from your neighbors.