Tag: Freeez

A Beginner’s Guide To ARTHUR BAKER

Boston-born Arthur Baker began as a DJ, but aspired to be a producer following taking an engineering course at Intermedia Studios. He wanted to make music, rather than play records.

After some early experiences, Baker became wise to the swindling ways of the music industry. He eventually released his first single ‘Kind of Life (Kind of Love)’ under the name NORTH END in 1979.

But his breakthrough as a producer came after he moved to New York in 1981. Working for urban label Tommy Boy Records, where he met engineer and keyboard player John Robie, they came up with ‘Planet Rock’.

Utilising the-then new Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer, in particular its distinctive analogue cowbell, rimshot and snare sounds, its lasting effect on the future of music came about more by chance.

Baker wanted to employ a more mechanised electronic aesthetic in the vein of KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA to the output of Tommy Boy and saw an advert in The Village Voice: “Man with drum machine, $20 a session”… the rest is history. But the programmer of the track’s iconic 808 beat pattern remained unknown, thanks insisting on cash for his services, having declined a cheque.

‘Planet Rock’ featured sampling without a sampler, its ‘Trans Europe Express’ synth parts manually recreated by Robie.

Although Baker did use a Fairlight CMI for the orchestra hits, he considered it “a $100,000 waste of space”. Released in 1982, ‘Planet Rock’ put electro, as it came to be known, on the map.

Never one to waste a good thing, Baker produced ‘Play at Your Own Risk’ for PLANET PATROL, taking unused recorded parts from ‘Planet Rock’. His midas touch continued with the similar sounding ‘IOU’ for FREEEZ, once again maximising the rigid character of the 808.

Always in touch with what was going on at street level, Baker often tried out his rough mixes at clubs like Paradise Garage, The Danceteria and The Fun House. Although missing out on THE BEASTIE BOYS, Baker achieved major worldwide success when he signed NEW EDITION to his Streetwise Records. The label also released Eartha Kitt’s Boystown favourite ’Where Is My Man?’ , while other artists on the roster included Colonel Abrams, Cuba Gooding and Loleatta Holloway.

In 1989 with THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES, Baker gathered a diverse all-star cast of Al Green, Andy McCuskey, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho to sing on the ‘Merge’ album, a pop hybrid record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop.

Reflecting his trailblazing reputation in dance music with an ear for a good tune, Baker was commissioned to provide remixes for a wide range of mainstream artists including Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Neneh Cherry and Tina Turner, as well as more middle of the road acts like FLEETWOOD MAC, HALL & OATES and WET WET WET.

Baker’s varispeeded treatment of ‘Spaceman’ by BABYLON ZOO was used in the 1995 Levi’s TV commercial ‘Planet’, but many were disappointed to be met with the dirge rock original when the track was released as a single.

Now based between London, Miami and Ibiza, Baker continues to DJ while he notably co-produced and appeared in the 2015 documentary film ‘808’ directed by Alexander Dunn about the machine which he helped turn into a cultural icon.

Featuring reminisces by Phil Collins, Jori Hulkkonen, Felix Da Housecat, Richie Hawtin, Rick Rubin and Norman Cook among many, Baker himself interviewed the late Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi who had deliberately purchased faulty transistors to create the machine’s distinctive sizzling sound. Continuing his interest in documentaries, Baker is currently making one about NEW ORDER.

With such a varied career, The Electricity Club presents a Beginner’s Guide to Arthur Baker featuring 18 tracks that cover the breadth of his influential music portfolio.


AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Planet Rock (1982)

Recorded by Baker at Intergalactic Studios, the ‘Planet Rock’ synth leadline interpolated KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ while the Roland TR-808 drum machine mimicked ‘Numbers’; the track even included a chant of its Japanese count. But where there’s a hit, there’s a writ so when Baker later had to pay up for using elements of KRAFTWERK, he just put up the price of the record to fund the settlement. ‘Planet Rock’ eventually sold one million copies and paid for its debt.

Available on the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE album ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat 1980 -1985’ via Tommy Boy Records

https://www.facebook.com/ArthurBakerDJ/


PLANET PATROL Play At Your Own Risk (1982)

More in the vein of classic soul groups like THE TEMPTATIONS, PLANET PATROL offered an electro twist on that five way vocal template and even featured a member named Melvin Franklin! ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ was made from recorded parts that did not make the final version of ‘Planet Rock’, with Baker even saying that both came from the same multitrack. Listening back, it was also the blueprint for Baker’s ‘IOU’ which became a huge hit for FREEEZ.

Available on the PLANET PATROL album ‘Planet Patrol’ via Tommy Boy Records

http://www.roland.co.uk/blog/arthur-baker/


ROCKERS REVENGE featuring DONNIE CALVIN Walking On Sunshine (1982)

Mechanising Eddie Grant’s funky favourite in the sparkly pulsing vein of D-TRAIN, Baker’s cover of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ was specifically made for the Paradise Garage. Baker assembled ROCKERS REVENGE as a studio project with vocalists Donnie Calvin, Dwight Hawkes and Baker’s wife Tina B. While there an electronic feel, its looseness pioneered a more freestyle form that would later emerge in its own right. Continuing the covers theme, a version of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘The Harder They Come’ came out in 1983.

Available on the ROCKERS REVENGE album ‘Walking On Sunshine’ via Acrobat

https://www.facebook.com/RockersRevengeOfficial/


AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Looking For The Perfect Beat (1983)

With a funky urban twist over colder European electronics, ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ with its freestyling and mighty breakbeats took hip-hop up to the next level. With its self-prophesising title, it was far more complex and varied than ‘Planet Rock’, with nearly a year taken in the making. It showed ‘Planet Rock’ was no fluke, but Baker later remarked that the track was motivated as a taunt at Tommy Boy’s rivals and pioneers of rap, Sugar Hill Records. “Beat Dis”!

Available on the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE album ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat 1980 -1985’ via Tommy Boy Records

https://www.facebook.com/808themovie


FREEEZ IOU (1983)

Originally a jazz funk combo, FREEEZ had fragmented to the duo of John Rocca and Peter Maas when they became fascinated by ‘Planet Rock’. Meeting Baker in New York, he suggested recording his self-penned ‘IOU’. While there was a appearance from the ubiquitous Roland TR808, an Emulator was used for the staccato voice passages but key to the song’s appeal was Rocca’s falsetto. It was co-mixed by John Jellybean Benitez, the DJ at The Funhouse who later worked with Madonna and had a solo career.

Available on the FREEEZ album ‘Gonna Get You’ via Cherry Red

https://www.discogs.com/artist/8670-Freeez


NEW EDITION Candy Girl (1983)

Signing what was effectively the modern electro incarnation of JACKSON 5 to his Streetwise label, Baker hit paydirt with NEW EDITION and their sweet worldwide No1 ‘Candy Girl’. With the tune’s writers Maurice Starr and Michael Jonzun working in the studio with the young quintet, Baker was executive producer and did the final mix with Starr. Unusually for a boy band, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe all went on to have successful careers after the group.

Available on the NEW EDITION album ‘Candy Girl’ via Streetwise Records

https://www.facebook.com/newedition4life/


NEW ORDER Confusion (1983)

With NEW ORDER’s interest in dance music, having opened the Haçienda with New York clubs in mind, a collaborative union with Baker was inevitable. But Baker wanted to make ‘Blue Monday’ while and the Mancunians wanted to make ‘Planet Rock’, so the result was quite literally ‘Confusion’! Drummer Stephen Morris in particular had admitted frustration during the recording sessions as Baker would not let him alter his Roland TR808’s already-programmed patterns, fearing he would lose his trademark sound.

Edited version available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA

http://www.neworder.com/


ARTHUR BAKER Breaker’s Revenge (1984)

For the film ‘Beat Street’, Baker helped produce its soundtrack and contributed the frantic beat and sample laden instrumental ‘Breakers’ Revenge’ to the score. The movie itself was a based around New York’s hip hop and breakdancing scene, with part of the plot based on the graffiti documentary ‘Style Wars’. Noted figures such as GRANDMASTER MELLE MEL & THE FURIOUS FIVE, THE SYSTEM, DOUG E. FRESH and THE SOULSONIC FORCE all appeared.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER mix album ‘Breakin’ via Mushroom Records

https://twitter.com/arthurhbaker


ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID ‎ Sun City (1985)

ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID was formed by Steven Van Zandt and Baker to protest against apartheid in South Africa, while drawing parallels with the plight of Native Americans. “A song about change not charity, freedom not famine”, ‘Sun City’ highlighted the hypocrisy of the South African government allowing entertainment there that was banned in the country, with a call to reinforce the international boycott. It featured Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, U2 and RUN DMC.

Originally from the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID ‎album ‘Sun City’ via Manhattan Records, currently unavailable

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artists_United_Against_Apartheid


FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS Ever Fallen In Love – Club Senseless remix (1986)

‘Ever Fallen in Love’ was a noted song of punk and disaffection written by the late Pete Shelley and performed by his band BUZZCOCKS. But FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS caused  a stir with a dance friendly version co-produced by TALKING HEADS’ Jerry Harrison for the film ‘Something Wild’. With his Club Senseless remix, Baker exploited the track’s funkier possibilities, his theory being “if you had a really groovy bassline, the drums don’t have to be a straight kick, because people dance to the bassline.”

Available on the FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS album ‘The Raw & the Cooked’ via Edsel Records

https://www.facebook.com/RolandGift.Tour/


PET SHOP BOYS In The Night – Arthur Baker remix (1986)

‘In The Night’ was the B-side for the first single version of ‘Opportunities’ and saw PET SHOP BOYS reusing the same chord progression as its A-side. The lyrics referred to Les Zazous, an apolitical group in France during the Second World War who were disliked by the Nazis and the Resistance. Although Phil Harding produced, Baker did a more percussive 12 inch remix which opened the ‘Disco’ collection. This was later edited and used as the theme music for the BBC’s ‘The Clothes Show’ between 1986 and 1994.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco’ via EMI Records

https://petshopboys.co.uk/


NEW ORDER Touched By The Hand Of God (1987)

Arthur Baker developed an enduring relationship with NEW ORDER, both in the studio and as friends, having co-written ‘Confusion’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’ like he was a member of the band. Working as the music supervisor for the movie soundtrack of Beth B’s parody of televangelism ‘Salvation’, NEW ORDER contributed six tracks. The best known was ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’, its title inspired by the controversial Argentine footballer Diego Maradona and mixed by Baker for singular consumption.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘(The Best Of)’ via London Records

https://newordertracks.wordpress.com/


WILL DOWNING A Love Supreme (1988)

Will Downing had sung with Baker’s project WALLY JUMP JR & THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT on the single ‘Turn Me Loose’ in 1986. So when the New Yorker signed as a solo artist with 4th & Broadway, the US-based subsidiary of Island Records, Baker was a natural choice as producer. A cover of the John Coltrane jazz piece with additional lyrics by Downing, the arrangement made the most of a soulful deep house vibe that was emanating from the US at the time.

Available on the WILL DOWNING album ‘A Love Supreme – The Collection’ via Spectrum

https://www.willdowning.com/


ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES featuring MARTIN FRY Mythical Girl (1989)

A&M Records offered Baker an album deal, but rather than facing the opportunity alone, he recruited a studio collective comprising of John Warren, Tiny Valentine, Mac Quayle, Bobby Khozouri, Philip Damien and Cevin Fisher, several of whom were to become notable in their own right. ‘Merge’ consisted mostly of dance flavoured pop; ‘Mythical Girl’ was an ABC track in all but name, involving not just Martin Fry but musical partner Mark White too, with Baker and his team producing.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records

https://www.abcmartinfry.com/


NEW ORDER 1963 – 95 (1995)

‘1963’ came from the 1987 sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to the annoyance of Peter Hook, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out, only making a brief appearance at the end of the original version. Released as a belated A-side in a 1995 remix, Baker took the opportunity to make the bassist’s presence heard throughout the song in this dreamier cinematic reinterpretation.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA

https://www.facebook.com/NewOrderOfficial/


TINA TURNER Whatever You Want – Massive Jungle Remix (1996)

Written by Baker with Taylor Dayne and one-time studio associate Fred Zarr who had worked with Baker on several recordings, ‘Whatever You Want’ for Tina Turner was an archetypical production from Trevor Horn in its single variant. Baker’s Massive Jungle Remix though did exactly what it said on the tin, but crucially kept Turner’s mighty vocal while also retaining the key cinematic essence that had made the song appealing within its mainstream context.

Originally from the TINA TURNER 12″ single ‘Whatever You Want (The Arthur Baker Mixes)’ via Parlophone Records, currently unavailable

http://www.tinaturnerofficial.com/


NEW ORDER Behind Closed Doors (2001)

“I listen to The Coors behind closed doors” suggested Bernard Sumner ominously on this 21st Century NEW ORDER B-side produced by Baker. With its dark cinematics, the introspective tone of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was very different to the more rocky tension of the ‘Get Ready’ comeback album. Sumner’s observations on domestic violence, lack of parental responsibility and chemical dependency coupled with mournful bass from Hooky made for sinister listening.

Available on the NEW ORDER single ‘Crystal’ via WEA

https://twitter.com/neworder


HURTS Wonderful Life – Arthur Baker remix (2010)

‘Wonderful Life’ had an epic cinematic backdrop with noirish synths and brooding woodwinds that saw singer Theo Hutchcraft telling the story of a suicidal man saved by love at first sight. The sub-six minute Arthur Baker remix took away the big compressed drums and replaced them with the tight electro snap of an 808. Adding a squelchy bassline sequence reminiscent of a 303, Baker kept the song intact and satisfied those who felt HURTS were nothing more than TAKE THAT dressed like ULTRAVOX.

Available on the HURTS single ‘Wonderful Life’ via RCA Records

https://www.informationhurts.com/home/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th September 2019

TEC’s 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH SONGS BY NON-SYNTH ACTS

Keith Emerson MinimoogWhen the recently departed Keith Emerson used a Minimoog for the solo on EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER’s ‘Lucky Man’ in 1970, little would he predict that nearly half a decade later, the floodgates would start to open for many rock bands eager to exploit the synthesizer as an alternative lead instrument to the electric guitar.

Pete Townshend’s use of the EMS VCS3, ARP 2500 and ARP 2600 on the ‘Who’s Next’ album was another key recording which featured electronics within an experimental rock context. Meanwhile PINK FLOYD famously took an EMS Synthi AKS with its built-in digital sequencer into the stratosphere for ‘On The Run’ from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.

Although these tracks used synthesizers, they could hardly be classified as synthpop. But what of the occasions when rock artists go the full hog and enter the murky world of synths, sequencers and drum machines? While occasional dabbling in the electronic world has been common, a full volte-face has been rare.

And when it has happened, tracks like ‘Yellow Pearl’ were so draped in the involvement of artists from the electronic field such as Midge Ure and Rusty Egan, it was almost forgotten that the figurehead of the song was the frontman of THIN LIZZY!

One of the most recent examples of an artist transferring allegiances has been JOHN GRANT, former vocalist with THE CZARS who recorded his 2010 debut solo album ‘Queen of Denmark’ in collaboration with the American folk-rock band MIDLAKE.

Grant said to The Quietus in 2013: “I wanna be the guy who is surrounded by all this synth hardware on stage. Like Jean-Michel Jarre, or Vangelis or one of those guys. I wanna be the guys from Yello and Cabaret Voltaire. I wanna understand, it’s such a subtle art form. I wish I was a robot, like Kraftwerk!”

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So here is a list of The Electricity Club’s favourite 25 synth songs by non-synth acts. All songs feature the synth as the dominant melodic instrument and are by artists who are generally perceived to be guitar or rock driven.

Those considered to have a strong association with the synthesizer, like DAVID BOWIE, SPARKS, SPANDAU BALLET, NEW ORDER, ASSOCIATES, TALK TALK and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM have not been included.

So presented in chronological and then alphabetical order, here are The Electricity Club’s choices…


THE MOTORS Airport (1978)

THE MOTORS AirportThe traditional Pub Rock sound of THE MOTORS was transformed with ‘Airport’, its intro and chorus ARP Odyssey synth riff being one that wouldn’t have felt out of place on an OMD song. The piece itself was an anti-paean to an airport, one which had cruelly flown the lead vocalist Andy McMaster’s love interest away from him, and the addition of ABBA-esque pianos sealed its fate as a one of a kind single for a band who wouldn’t go on to trouble the Top Ten again.

Available on the album ‘Approved By’ via Captain Oi!

http://www.andymcmaster.net/


SQUEEZE Take Me I’m Yours (1978)

SQUEEZE Take Me I'm YoursWith A&M getting concerned that there were no obvious singles on their debut album, Glenn Tilbrook made the decision to hire “lots of synths and a bloke who knew how to work them” and then went about “pretending to be Kraftwerk”! A squelchy synth bass and lo-fi drum machine dominates throughout ‘Take Me I’m Yours’. THE DROYDS reworked it as a wonderfully deadpan, fully electronic interpretation, revealing it as the true slice of synthpop it was always destined to be.

Available on the album ‘Greatest Hits’ via A&M Records

http://www.squeezeofficial.com/


JOY DIVISION Atmosphere (1980)

JOY DIVISION AtmpsohereWhile JOY DIVISION had played around with syndrums and electronic effects on ‘Unknown Pleasures’ to complement their gloomy guitar driven sound, they had yet to produce a song that featured synths as a melodic lead. Recorded using an ARP Solina, the chilling ‘Atmosphere’ with its tender bass playing and percussive grandeur was JOY DIVISION’s most complete recording to date. But it was given just a limited run of 1578 copies by French art label Sordide Sentimentale, before a wider re-release.

Available on the JOY DIVISION album ‘Substance’ via Rhino

http://joydivisionofficial.com/


JONA LEWIE You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen At Parties (1980)

JONA LEWIE Kitchen At PartiesThis VERY electronic Polymoog-driven single was almost entirely self-produced by Lewie with the exception of some live bass by Norman Watt-Roy and hi-hats from Bob Andrews. It was rumoured that Kirsty MacColl provided backing vocals, although this was denied by Lewie. Maccoll eventually appeared on Top Of the Pops to perform ‘You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties’ in an appearance which one could imagine a young Phil Oakey watching and thinking, “hmm, this is a good idea!”

Available on the album ‘The Best Of’ via Union Square Music

http://www.jonalewie.com/


PAUL McCARTNEY Temporary Secretary (1980)

McCARTNEY Temporaraty Secretary 12Having explored art funk on ‘Coming Up’ and impersonated Ron Mael from SPARKS in its video, Macca went the full electronic dance hog with the quite bizarre ‘Temporary Secretary’. With prominent sequencer patterns to simulate a typewriter and detached deadpan vocals, this oddball experiment confused fans of both WINGS and THE BEATLES. Self-produced, the single was issued on 12 inch only to accommodate a 10 minute B-side ‘Secret Friend’ and failed to chart.

Available on the PAUL McCARTNEY album ‘McCartney II’ via EMI Records

http://www.paulmccartney.com/


HAZEL O’CONNOR Eighth Day (1980)

HAZEL O CONNOR Eighth DayOne of the two pivotal, charting songs featured in the O’Connor starring movie ‘Breaking Glass’, ‘Eighth Day’ was written by the singer to parallel the biblical story of Genesis, but with machines taking over on the final day. Produced by Tony Visconti, synths are used effectively throughout to echo the content of the song and whilst the look of the film may not have dated so well, the lyrics to ‘Eighth Day’ still feel relevant and paint a picture of a future world slowly pulled apart by developing technology.

Available on the album ‘Breaking Glass’ via Spectrum Music

http://www.hazeloconnor.com/


ROBERT PALMER Johnny & Mary (1980)

robert-palmer-johnny-and-mary-islandAfter surprisingly recording GARY NUMAN’s ‘I Dream of Wires’ on his album ‘Clues’, another album track ‘Johnny & Mary’ also showcased some impressive electronics. Although not a huge UK hit when released as a single (only reaching No.44), ‘Johnny & Mary’ with its hypnotic synth bassline and narrative-driven lyrics got a new lease of life in 2015 with BRYAN FERRY providing vocals in a more down-tempo incarnation featuring on TODD TERJE’s 2015 debut ‘It’s Album Time’.

Available on the ROBERT PALMER album ‘Clues’ via Island Records

http://www.robertpalmer.com/


GODLEY & CREME Under Your Thumb (1981)

GODLEY & CREME Under Your ThumbFor those familiar with their presence in 10CC, the GODLEY & CREME single ‘Under Your Thumb’ certainly came as a surprise curveball with its hi-hat driven drum machine and primarily electronic instrumentation. The song echoed KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’, with its rhythmic nature tying in with the train journey narrative of the lyric. An epic ghost story set to a synthpop template, the track saw the duo became more established as promo video directors for artists including DURAN DURAN and VISAGE.

Available on the album ‘Cry: The Very Best Of’ via Polydor / Universal Music

https://www.discogs.com/artist/104312-Godley-Creme


BILL NELSON Living In My Limousine (1981)

BILL NELSON Living in My LimousineFrustrated by the limitations of BE BOP DELUXE, guitar virtuoso Nelson formed RED NOISE in 1978 with a more electronic focus. But when Nelson recorded the decisively Bowie-esque ‘Quit Dreaming & Get On The Beam’, his label Harvest refused to release it. Nelson bought the unreleased songs for his own label, Cocteau. A solo single ‘Do You Dream In Colour?’ gained radio play and the album was released by Mercury Records; ‘Living In My Limousine’ with its Numanesque detachment was one of the highlights.

Available on the BILL NELSON album ‘Quit Dreaming & Get On The Beam’ via Mercury Records

http://www.billnelson.com/


PETE SHELLEY Homosapien (1981)

Pete-Shelley-Homosapien‘Homosapien’ came about after the aborted fourth BUZZCOCKS album; producer Martin Rushent suggested to frontman Shelley that the two of them should work using the latest electronic equipment. Seen as Shelley’s coming out song, synths and 12 string guitar combined for a wonderful futuristic snarl. The lyric “Homo Superior in my interior” got the initial single release a Radio1 ban and while it was recorded before THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’, label politics ensured the parent album was not issued until 1982.

Available on the PETE SHELLEY album ‘Homosapien’ via Active Distribution Ltd

http://www.buzzcocks.com/


DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN It’s My Party (1981)

DAVE STEWART & BARBARA GASKIN It’s My PartyKeyboardist Dave Stewart (not to be confused with one half of EURYTHMICS) was best known for being part of progressive rock acts NATIONAL HEALTH and EGG, although link-ups with Colin Blunstone and Barbara Gaskin gave both hits with reworked electronic cover versions of ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ and ‘It’s My Party’ respectively. The latter topped the UK charts in 1981 after successfully jumping on the coat tails of the first wave of British synth acts.

Available on the album ‘Up From The Dark’ via Broken Records

http://www.davebarb.com/


NEIL YOUNG Transformer Man (1982)

NEIL YOUNG TransBetween 1980-1982, Young was carrying out a therapy program for his young son Ben who had cerebral palsy. The music of KRAFTWERK reflected Young’s attempts to communicate with his son. Acquiring a Vocoder, Synclavier and Linn Drum Computer, while much of the eventual ‘Trans’ album did not work, there was an ethereal ‘Neon Lights’ beauty in ‘Transformer Man’. For his troubles, Young was sued by his label Geffen Records for “deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative work”!

Available on the NEIL YOUNG album ‘Trans’ via Geffen Records

http://www.neilyoung.com/


THE CURE The Walk (1983)

THE CURE The WalkBy this point, THE CURE were down to a duo with Lol Tolhurst ditching his drum kit for keyboards, leaving Robert Smith with a far wider artistic freedom outside of the act’s previous band-based context. The resultant fantasy single ‘The Walk’ arguably started the tit-for-tat war with NEW ORDER, its octave synth bassline and machine-like kick drum blatantly templating ‘Blue Monday’. Legalities aside, ‘The Walk’ had all the ingredients for perfect synthpop with its sawtooth hook and off the wall lyrics.

Available on the album ‘Japanese Whispers’ via Fiction Records

http://www.thecure.com/


FREEEZ IOU (1983)

Freeez_IOU_single_coverFollowing their 1980 hit ‘Southern Freeez’, jazz funksters FREEEZ had fragmented to a duo. Fascinated by the urban electro hybrid of AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE’s ‘Planet Rock’ produced by Arthur Baker, they jetted off to meet him in New York. Baker suggested recording his self-penned ‘IOU’. The similarity to the Roland TR808 rhythms heard on ‘Planet Rock’ and NEW ORDER’s ‘Confusion’ can be explained by Baker refusing the let anyone tamper with his beloved machine.

Available on the FREEEZ album ‘Gonna Get You’ via Cherry Red

https://www.discogs.com/artist/8670-Freeez


GENESIS Mama (1983)

GENESIS mamaWhile Tony Banks’ keyboards have always been a key factor in the sound of GENESIS, 1983 saw a distorted Linn LM-1 Drum Computer taking centre stage alongside some sinister minor key synthesizer lines played on a Prophet 10 at the start of ‘Mama’. Building in a similar fashion to ‘In Your Room’ by DEPECHE MODE, the story of a young man with a mother fixation, longing for a prostitute, took an unexpected genre twist with Phil Collins’ creepy laugh inspired by Grandmaster Flash.

Available on the album ‘Genesis’ via Virgin Records

http://www.genesis-music.com/


QUEEN I Want To Break Free (1984)

QUEEN I Want To Break FreeQUEEN used to famously declare “no synthesizers” on their albums, but by 1980’s ‘The Game’, an Oberheim OBX had entered the ranks. Recording ‘I Want To Break Free’ had been tense, due to writer and bass player John Deacon’s insistence that the guitar solo had to be played on a Roland Jupiter 8 by session musician Fred Mandel. For its single release, the Linn Drum driven song was extended to include more synthesizer in the intro and the bridge after the solo, emotively enhancing the less synthy album cut.

Available on the album ‘Greatest Hits II’ via EMI Music

http://www.queenonline.com/


LEONARD COHEN First We Take Manhattan (1988)

LEONARD COHEN First we take ManhattanOriginally recorded by Jennifer Warnes in 1985, the doom laden Canadian poet recorded his own monochromatic synthpop interpretation in 1988 with additional verses. Tightly produced with sequenced digital slap bass, Linn Drum and sombre synth sweeps, ‘First We Take Manhattan’ was Cohen’s commentary on terrorism and its unsettling mindset where “there are no alibis or no compromises”. Contrasting with a soulful interlude in the bridge from Anjani Thomas, it made Cohen’s vocal even more resonant.

Available on the album ‘I’m Your Man’ via Sony Music

http://www.leonardcohen.com/


JULIAN COPE Just Like Pooh Bear (1995)

Julian_Cope_-_20_mothersIt doesn’t take a musical genius to work out just who Mr Cope is parodying here… the bassline, sequencing and drum programming on ‘Just Like Pooh Bear’ hilariously rip-off DEAD OR ALIVE’s ‘You Spin Me Around’ to the point where if this track had gone anywhere remotely near the charts, some sort of legal action would surely have ensued. As it stands though, the song judged on its own merits is an uber-catchy piece of synthpop work with some pretty filthy lyrics.

Available on the album ’20 Mothers’ via Echo Records

https://www.headheritage.co.uk/


THE BLOODHOUND GANG The Bad Touch (2004)

bloodhound gang the bad touchTHE BLOODHOUND GANG’s ‘The Bad Touch’ with its double-entendres and very un-PC promo video easily pushed all the necessary synthpop buttons.. The promo video itself went on to prove itself a little too controversial with a scene involving two gay characters being bashed with baguettes getting cut, resulting in singer Jimmy Pop offering to “…give any gay man two tickets to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of his choice if he could describe exactly who’s going to become violent based on that scene”.

Available on the album ‘Hooray For Boobies’ via Interscope Records

http://www.bloodhoundgang.com/


KELLY OSBOURNE One Word (2005)

Kelly_Osbourne_-_One_WordAfter her initial pop punk adventures, Ozzy’s youngest daughter surprised everyone with the classic synthpop of ‘One Word’, a number penned by 4 NON BLONDES’ Linda Perry. However, it was perhaps a little bit too classic sounding, with a more than passing resemblance to VISAGE’s ‘Fade to Grey’. The resemblance was so uncanny that legal action was launched. The matter was eventually settled out of court with Midge Ure, Billy Currie and Chris Payne each awarded a share of the royalties.

Available on the KELLY OSBORNE album ‘Sleeping In The Nothing’ via Sanctuary Records

http://kellyosbourne.com/


BLOC PARTY Flux (2007)

BLOC PARTY FluxAfter starting life as an angular indie guitar band, frontman Kele Okereke steered the act into using synths, culminating in his own 2010 electronic-based solo album ‘The Boxer’ and the BLOC PARTY single ‘Flux’. The latter revealed itself as a high octane romp of a tune, with its fast-paced sequencers and drum machines leaving space for only minimal guitar textures. The song itself was a brave departure and sonically bears little resemblance to the spiky guitar sound of their earlier work.

Available on BLOC PARTY album ‘A Weekend In The City’ via Polydor Records

http://blocparty.com/


THE KILLERS Human (2008)

Human_TheKillers_SingleWhile the synth was the rogue element of THE KILLERS’ debut album ‘Hot Fuss’, reflecting singer Brandon Flowers’ love of NEW ORDER and DURAN DURAN, it wasn’t until ‘Human’, co-produced by Stuart Price, that THE KILLERS came up with a true synthpop anthem. Effectively a soaring rework of the ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Forever Young’, the thundering motorik dancebeat confused their more rock-inclined fanbase, as did the Hunter S Thompson referencing refrain of “are we human or are we dancer?”.

Available on THE KILLERS album ‘Direct Hits’ via Island Records

http://www.thekillersmusic.com/


MGMT Time To Pretend (2008)

MGMT Time To PretendOriginally recorded for the 2005 EP of the same name, ‘Time To Pretend’ was stoner rock gone synthpop. Re-recorded for the ‘Oracular Spectacular’ album, Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden used a number of piercing monophonic synth lines to aurally represent the hatching of eggs laid by a deceased praying mantis. A lyrical fantasy about leading the rock star life of drugs and models, the overdriven drums and dominant synth bass pattern provided a perfect crossover record for MGMT.

Available on the MGMT album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ via Columbia Music

http://whoismgmt.com/


EDITORS Papillon (2009)

EDITORS-PapllonEDITORS followed a similar keyboard-based trajectory to BLOC PARTY with their third album ‘In This Light & on This Evening’. It spawned the Flood-produced ‘Papillon’ which was their most synth-dominated single to date, although a pure electronic fix of the song was provided by the fantastic TIESTO remix. The decision to “go synth” didn’t go without ramifications though, with lead guitarist Chris Urbanowicz departing in 2012 citing the band’s “future musical direction” as his reason to bail from the outfit.

Available on the album ‘In This Light & On This Evening’ via Kitchenware

http://www.editorsofficial.com/


JOHN GRANT Pale Green Ghosts (2013)

JOHN GRANT Pale Green GhostsWith JOHN GRANT, there are echoes of when hardcore folk fans screamed “JUDAS!” as Bob Dylan introduced electric guitars into his sound. Grant chose a folk festival for his we hope you enjoy our new direction moment, premiering a brace of synth/drum machine-based songs which prompted half the audience to walk out. ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, produced with Biggie Viera of GUS GUS, showcased an artist unafraid to embrace a polar opposite style and actually pulling it off successfully.

Available on the album ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ via Bella Union

http://johngrantmusic.com/


Text by Paul Boddy and Chi Ming Lai
31st March 2016, updated 23rd April 2020