Last month we put out a call to our readers: “Tell us your top five electronic tracks of all time” we asked, blithely…
The idea was to take the temperature of the Electronic Sound readership, to check we’re all on the same page, so to speak. We were taken slightly by surprise at the speed and the number of responses, not to mention the anguish making the choices caused. Sorry about that. Using clever maths and lots of pieces of paper with scribbling all over them, we managed to collate all those top fives into a definitive Top 100, which we now present for your argumentative pleasure. Let’s do it all again next year.
1. Donna Summer
‘I Feel Love’
It’s a tune so huge and familiar, it’s easy to forget just how beautifully produced it is; the machines being teased into providing new textures every few measures, repetitive but constantly shifting timbres from the bassy depths of the Moog modular system. It was a huge leap forward for electronic music. It’s every bit as important as any Kraftwerk from the same period. In fact, the similarity between ‘I Feel Love’ and Kraftwerk’s later ‘Spacelab’ from ‘The Man-Machine’ was certainly noted at the time.
The unexpected UK Number One hit single, swiped from the B-side of the ‘Computer Love’ single by radio DJs who for some reason thought it was time to place a three-year-old track on heavy rotation. No one was complaining, of course, apart from Kraftwerk, who didn’t much like it when EMI bunged it in a new sleeve with ‘The Model’ as the apparent A-side. It spent 21 weeks in the UK Top 75 and remains the band’s only Number One single.
3. Gary Numan
(Beggars Banquet, 1979)
As if ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ wasn’t enough of a jolt of electronic strangeness to top the charts, within months Numan did it again with ‘Cars’. The entire lyric is delivered in 90 seconds, leaving the synths to wreak oscillator havoc on daytime radio for another two and a half minutes, thus birthing an entire generation of British synth freaks for whom the sound of wailing Polymoogs and Arp Odysseys would become as comforting as Kaolin and Morphine.
4. The Human League
(Fast Product, 1978)
Whether you came at this from the sepulchral first release on Fast Product in 1978 or the fattened-up re-recorded version that came on the ‘Holiday ’80’ EP courtesy of Virgin Records, there’s no doubt ’Being Boiled’ is a triumph of darkwave synth with impenetrable lyrics about Buddha. It probably remains the only pop lyric in all time to include the word ‘sericulture’, and for that alone deserves widespread respect.
5. New Order
Nothing could prepare the world for ‘Blue Monday’, the non-album single released upfront of their second album, ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’. There was a familiar calling card on ‘Blue Monday’ too – the haunting Vako Orchestron choral wash as heard on ‘Uranium’ from Kraftwerk’s ‘Radio-Activity’ album was worn bold as brass.
6. Jean-Michel Jarre
‘Oxygene (Part IV)’
Jarre’s 1976 concept album (released in mid-1977 outside France) straddled the world of progressive rock and electronic music, a bit like Tangerine Dream. It was progressive in that it was a sophisticated series of movements bound together by a theme (an ecological statement of some sort) and shared a classical music pretension with the likes of Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Genesis, all of who were keen synthesiser botherers.
7. Tubeway Army
‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’
(Beggars Banquet, 1979)
The title is a riot of grammatical tics, what with the question mark and the quote marks. The artwork was murky and foreboding, on a label associated with second tier punk like The Lurkers, and the music… five and a half minutes of a beefy Moog bassline augmented with a bass guitar and very simple drums, a series of hollow synthesiser patterns rather than a song as such. And then there’s the singing, Numan’s nasal whine, his sneer almost audible. A stunning moment of pop history.
8. Frankie Knuckles
Not long after Jesse Saunders’ pioneering 1984 floorfiller ‘On And On’, Knuckles was given a tape of ‘Your Love’, a track based around a cascading synth sequence by a young man named Jamie Principle, whose vocals sounded like Smokey Robinson channelling Marc Almond. So it wasn’t the first house tune. It might not have been the best either, but Frankie Knuckles, who died in 2014, wasn’t called the Godfather of House for nothing.
9. Aphex Twin
(Mighty Force, 1991)
Of all the bedroom experimentalists who discovered the joys of a MIDI connected Atari computer controlling a samplers and some synths in the early 1990s, it was Cornish savant Richard D James who really grabbed the imagination of the wider listening public. His first single made a virtue of its rough DIY production and introduced a simple ecstatic melody adorned with sweet chirrups. It sounded like ‘The Clangers’ had got hold of the mixing desk, and everyone loves ‘The Clangers’.
(Philips/ Vertigo, 1974)
Kraftwerk’s fourth album was the first to reach a wide audience. It was partly thanks to the edit of the title track (sliced to three minutes from 22 minutes), but the success was really down to the fact that Autobahn’ had a beautiful synthetic and melodic fluidity and a witty and easily remembered “chorus”. Not only that, but behind Kraftwerk’s breakthrough moment is an entire rich seam of German electronic music, from the grand figure of European electronic high art music, Stockhausen, to Neu! and beyond.
11. The Normal
‘Warm Leatherette’ was famously influenced by JG Ballard’s novel ‘Crash’ and nudged the synth/sci-fi axis into a more literary and intellectual orbit, away from Mozart in space and more towards ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
12. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Their 1979 debut single was released on the Manchester’s legendary Factory imprint, which, looking back, is akin to crossing the streams in ‘Ghostbusters’. The worlds of Kraftwerk and Factory colliding thanks to OMD.
13. John Foxx
(Virgin/Metal Beat, 1980)
The last-minute addition to the ‘Metamatic’ album became the single which announced the new decade and soundtracked the concrete brutalism which was reality for millions of suburban and inner city dwelling kids who took Foxx’s bleak white noise and synthetic rhythmatism into the UK Top 40.
‘Fade To Grey’
It was only a matter of time before Blitz club prime movers Rusty Egan and Steve Strange got it together, and when they did, helped create a classic of electronic pop. French girl talk-over? Check. General mood of melancholy and faded European glamour? Check. Lush synth masterpiece? Check.
15. A Guy Called Gerald
Gerald Simpson’s 1988 barricade vaulting hit was done on the quiet while he was still a part of 808 State. A stew of samples, 808 drum machine, a metallic clanging bassline and acid chirruping, ‘Voodoo Ray’ was the tune of year, and reached Number 12 in the proper charts.
16. Cabaret Voltaire
After a 1970s spent exploring the murk of found sound and extreme signal processing, by 1984 Cabaret Voltaire were forging the Sheffield dancefloor. A new cleanliness delivered the Cabs’ polemic to a 1980s audience readying themselves for acid house and techno. ‘Sensoria’ is a landmark of British electronic innovation.
17. BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Its influence abides, and how could it not, given its shrieking banshee opening and unearthly bassline was beamed weekly into the homes and minds of terrified children from 1963 onwards? Delia Derbyshire’s realisation of Ron Grainer’s tune is a monster in time and space.
18. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
What a mighty tune ‘Messages’ surely is. In attempting to rip off their heroes, Kraftwerk-fixated Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys managed to outshine them and produce a record emotionally charged and in tune with the mood of the times that it still raises goosebumps 36 years later.
19. Depeche Mode
‘Enjoy The Silence’
From a career that produced a clutch of familiar hits, it’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that you voted for. The synth bass chunters, the vox sample swirl, and King Gahan shares his downbeat misery with us. The combination of classic synthpop and emerging mainstream Brit dancefloor wave was, frankly, masterful.
20. Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force
(Tommy Boy, 1982)
Invent the future, why don’t you? With a little help from Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, now fully credited for the Kraftwerk sample on board, the skeletal street jam of ’Planet Rock’ is the sound of New York showing the world the future. It also introduced the orchestral sample to the sonic palette.
(Kling Klang/EMI, 1978)
The moment where man and machine became one and Kraftwerk’s alien, asexual roboticism was born. A nightmarish synth epic from the imagination of Fritz Lang.
22. Front 242
(Wax Trax! 1988)
The song they were born to make, a rough hewn tune that opened ears for rave that was just around the corner. EBM had arrived…
23. Model 500
Not content with having invented electro as Cybotron, with ‘No UFOs’ Juan Atkins only went and provided the template for Detroit techno as well.
24. The Human League
(I Believe In Love) (Virgin, 1981)
The less obvious signature moment from ‘Dare’. An infectious, loved-up pop track that really has stood the test of time.
25. Tangerine Dream
A dreamy, evolving seven-minute modular synth-and-guitar masterpiece from Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream that overcame its inherent progginess. Simply Krautrocktabulous.
26. David Bowie
(RCA Victor, 1977)
A transcendent moment on the most depressing of depressing albums. Bowie at his wordless, electronic peak and the inspiration for that most miserable quartet, Joy Division.
(Junior Boys Own, 1993)
Former new wave wannabes hook up with an Essex DJ and head for the dancefloor with unexpectedly fine results. Underworld at their hypnotic, inventive best.
In which Kraftwerk become global spokesmen, teach the world to count, and provide the basis for the whole electro genre. Talk about a triple threat.
An epic, triumphant, towering moment of grandeur from Midge Ure that said je ne regrette rien to Austria’s capital and whose noir video made overcoats cool.
30. Aphex Twin
‘Come To Daddy’
Utterly, utterly bonkers and quite possibly unhinged, ‘Come To Daddy’ found Richard James sloughing off his ambient past and becoming an electronic music anarchist.
‘Chime’ was perfect enough but ‘Lush 3-1’ somehow went and bettered it. Mournful yet euphoric, the Hartnoll brothers’ masterpiece was melodic electronica on a festival-sized scale.
32. 808 State
Evocative melodies, an infectious synth-sax hook and classic beats: its feet may have been in a Manchester club but its heart was somewhere off the coast of California.
33. Boards Of Canada
Warp Records’s second coming was spearheaded by the brothers Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin. Furiously inventive and maddeningly unplaceable, this was electronica completely redefined.
34. Heaven 17
‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’
Oh yes we do. Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and Glenn Gregory proved that synths can be funky too and got banned by the BBC in the process.
35. Thomas Dolby
(Venice In Peril, 1982)
The weird scientist makes a spirited case for renewable energy over laboratory-grade synths. These are themes and topics that could only work in 1980s pop.
The combination of Alison Moyet’s gutsy blues vocals and Vince Clarke’s synth mastery should never have worked. The insistent ‘Don’t Go’ proved that it could.
37. The Orb
(Big Life, 1992)
Alex Paterson and Thrash’s 40-minute ambient house epic, best contemplated while either floating through space or totally off your face.
An urgent, rattling skeletal riff on dance music’s trademark 4/4 rhythm from Richie Hawtin that made any track it was mixed with sound infinitely better.
39. Pet Shop Boys
‘West End Girls’
A flop on its initial release, ‘West End Girls’ got a pop gold remix and launched the career of another of synthpop’s many odd couples.
Annoying? You bet. Insistent? Yep. Responsible for making more people aware of synth pop’s potential? Undoubtedly. Fun, irrepressible and oh-so subversive pop.
‘Blade Runner (End Titles)’
(East West, 1994)
The legendary Greek composer genius scores the dying moments of an android and creates the most poignant synth moment ever written for a film soundtrack.
42. Cabaret Voltaire
‘Nag Nag Nag’
(Rough Trade, 1979)
Rough, punky and raw, with early sampling to boot. ‘Nag Nag Nag’ was the sound of incessant industrial equipment turning on its operators to devastating anarchic effect.
43. The Human League
‘Don’t You Want Me’
Unrequited love and cocktail bars? The Human League 2.0’s pop monster could only have sounded more quintessentially 80s if it had been sung in French.
(Red Star/Bronze, 1978)
The late Alan Vega and Martin Rev put the shivers into the synths. A spooky, paranoid road trip through the dangerous and haunted streets of 1970’s New York.
45. Tubeway Army
‘Down In The Park’
(Beggars Banquet, 1979)
The looming influence of Philip K Dick hovers over Numan’s spirited lyrics, while neo-classical synths point to a shimmering, alien future. A call to arms for outsiders everywhere.
46. Manuel Göttsching
(Inteam GmbH, 1984)
An evolving masterpiece of minimal synth composition from the Ash Ra Tempel guitarist Manuel Göttsching, acting as a neat precursor to house music later in the decade.
47. Massive Attack
(Wild Bunch, 1991)
Achingly beautiful and utterly beguiling in all the right places: Shara Nelson and Massive Attack’s collaboration effortlessly put the soul into the samples.
48. Dave Clarke
‘Wisdom To The Wise’
Aggressive, brutal and noisy – Dave Clarke offered a new, diamond-edged take on industrial-strength techno on this signature moment from his landmark ‘Red’ series.
49. Chris & Cosey
‘Walking Through Heaven’
(Rough Trade, 1984)
Post-industrial instrumental pop from one half of Throbbing Gristle. A stirring and beautifully melodic moment from Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti.
50. Brian Eno
The former Roxy Music keyboardist single-handedly invents the entire ambient genre with an ephemeral antidote to life on the move, courtesy of Robert Wyatt’s piano.
51. Kraftwerk Trans-Europe Express (Kling Klang, 1977) 52. Space Magic Fly (Pye International, 1977) 53. Fad Gadget Back To Nature (Mute, 1979) 54. S-Express Theme From S-Express (Rhythm King, 1988) 55. Factory Floor Fall Back (DFA, 2013) 56. Venetian Snares Bonivital (Planet Mu, 2004) 57. Japan Ghosts (Virgin, 1982) 58. Art Of Noise Beatbox (ZTT, 1983) 59. Devo Whip It (Virgin, 1980) 60. Kraftwerk Computer Love (EMI, 1981) 61. Herbie Hancock Rockit (CBS, 1983) 62. Can Spoon (United Artists, 1971) 63. Grimes Oblivion (4AD, 2012) 64. Erasure Chorus (Mute, 1991) 65. New Order Bizarre Love Triangle (Factory, 1986) 66. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark Enola Gay (Dindisc, 1980) 67. Phuture Acid Tracks (Trax, 1987) 68. Newcleus Jam On It (Sunnyview, 1984) 69. Tangerine Dream Phaedra (Virgin, 1974) 70. Ultravox Slow Motion (Island, 1978) 71. Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (RCA, 1983) 72. Silver Apples Oscillations (Kapp, 1968) 73. Goldie Angel (FFRR, 1995) 74. Rhythim Is Rhythim Strings Of Life (Transmat, 1987) 75. Kraftwerk Neon Lights (Capitol, 1978) 76. Future Sound Of London Papua New Guinea (Jumpin’ & Pumpin’, 1991) 77. Orbital Belfast (FFRR, 1991) 78. Basic Channel Phylyps Track (Basic Channel, 1993) 79. Simple Minds I Travel (Arista, 1980) 80. LFO Tan Ta Ra (Tommy Boy, 1991) 81. COLDCUT Doctorin’ The House (Ahead Of Our Time, 1988) 82. Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft Der Mussolini (Virgin, 1981) 83. Kate Bush Running Up That Hill (EMI, 1985) 84. Sparks The Number One Song In Heaven (Virgin, 1979) 85. Warp 9 Nunk (Arista, 1982) 86. John Carpenter Escape From New York (That’s Entertainment, 1981) 87. Yello The Race (Mercury, 1988) 88. The Human League Open Your Heart (Virgin, 1981) 89. Pet Shop Boys Love Comes Quickly (Parlophone, 1986) 90. Jean-Jacques Perrey EVA (Vanguard, 1970) 91. RUPERT Hine I Hang On To My Vertigo (A&M, 1981) 92. Aphex Twin Digeridoo (R&S, Outer Rhythm, 1992) 93. Soft Cell Tainted Love (Some Bizzare, 1981) 94. The Orb Little Fluffy Clouds (Big Life, 1990) 95. Depeche Mode Personal Jesus (Mute, 1989) 96. Neu! Hallogallo (Brain, Metronome, 1972) 97. Sigue Sigue Sputnik Love Missile F1-11 (Parlophone, 1986) 98. Fad Gadget Ricky’s Hand (Mute, 1980) 99. Dead Or Alive You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (Epic, 1984) 100. Blondie Heart Of Glass (Chrysalis, 1979)