On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Gary Numan & Tubeway Army – Are “Friends” Electric? (1979)
We’re continuing in the UK, dear reader, and find ourselves in London. Formed in 1976, Tubeway Army were fronted by the enigmatic Gary Numan. The band is famous for their use of synthesisers but did not begin this way. It was an instrument that gradually found its way into their studio. In 1979, the band were working on their second album, Replicas, which would incorporate both synthesisers and a science fiction theme. From that record, 1001 Songs have gone with Are “Friends” Electric?
Are “Friends” Electric? was written by Gary Numan and he would later recount that the song dealt with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Numan has Asperger’s Syndrome and he attributed this to some of his feelings as a teenager. Numan wrote stories of what London would be like in 30 years and imagined a sci-fi setting with friends being electronic. The song does capture Numan’s maladjustments with strangers on the street and the surroundings being somewhat sinister. He makes reference to a “friend” and how intimacy with them means a lot to him but clearly not to them. Numan stated in an interview that this “friend” is a robot prostitute, which suggests the narrator was potentially looking for a meaningful and romantic connection but was unable to find it with a synthetic being.
Are “Friends” Electric? remains a classic track to this day and there is something unnerving about the music whenever you listen to it. Numan’s unorthodox vocals blend smoothly with the heavily synth driven number and although I only learned about the robot prostitute today, it has in no way diminished this song for me. It would become the first synthesiser no.1 in the UK and signalled the peak of Numan’s career. His star would fade in the years that followed but as the 20th century came to an end, a new appreciation and recognition came Numan’s way.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Roxanne (1978)