6o electronic singles you must own

Following the theme explored in the Ten Influential Albums posts, it was clear how many important signposts on the road of electronic music over the decades weren’t represented on a particular album (I’m an album guy, I’m drawn to the long form) but as a one-off release, or a lead-0ff single, or even a one-hit-wonder (and sweet jeezly crow, was there ever a more glorious collection of one-hit-wonders than the synth pop fly-by-nights that helped populate the Golden Age of the early to mid 80’s?). So accordingly, chronologically once again, I give you a selection of the electronic singles that lit the way, that traced the journey of the blips and bleeps that have entertained and moved us over the years…Many of these are songs I got sick of many years ago, some are tracks I never particularly liked myself, but each played their part, each built on what came before and made its own contribution. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list, and I could easily have made this 200 singles you must own list but one must draw the line somewhere and so I do at this utterly arbitrary juncture. 

This is not an easy list to compile when you consider the dozens and dozens of sub-genres involved in electronic music (Wikipedia helpfully lists 191 subgenres of what we know as “electronic music”) so how can we possibly summarize the whole shebang? Well, we can’t, not really, but we can at least scrape the surface:

Hot Butter: Popcorn, 1972

Can: Future Days, 1974 (More krautrock than purely electronic, but hugely influential on the genre, particularly those who went the ambient, worldbeat route, from Tangerine Dream, to Enigma to The Orb)

Kraftwerk: Autobahn, 1974 (The title track from the influential album, 21 minutes long and constantly surprising, not exactly a chart monster on the Hot 100 chart, but made its mark in spades)

Throbbing Gristle: United, 1977

Cabaret Voltaire: Nag Nag Nag, 1977

ABBA: Souper Trouper, 1979 (Say what you will about the cheesemeisters from Sweden, but they sure knew their way around a pop song, and this was as perfectly crafted a pop song as we’ve ever known)

Blondie: Heart of Glass, 1979 (shifting from punk to disco they recorded their most enduring song, one that has found cult status among many in the synthpop community resulting in a share of inspired cover versions)

The Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star, 1980

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark: Enola Gay, 1980

Fad Gadget: Ricky’s Hand, 1980 (Complete with electric drill effect!)

Human League: Being Boiled, 1980

Gary Numan: Cars, 1980 (I posit, possibly the greatest, most perfectly constructed single released in the modern era)

Visage: Fade to Grey, 1980

Ultravox: Vienna, 1980

Soft Cell: Tainted Love, 1981 (Come on, how could it not be here? One of the longest charting singles in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, and though not even in my top 20 Soft Cell songs, still a killer take on this northern soul classic they so made their own)

Depeche Mode: Just Can’t Get Enough, 1981 (World’s catchiest/”easiest to play on a keyboard” song? Maybe. One fingered synth fills were never better)

Brian Eno and David Byrne: The Jezebel Spirit, 1981

Human League: Don’t You Want Me Baby?, 1982

Yazoo: Don’t Go, 1982 (Perfection.)

Robert Gorl: Mit Dir, 1982

Blancmange: Living on the Ceiling, 1982

New Order: Blue Monday, 1983

Eurythmics: Love is a Stranger, 1983

The The: This is the Day, 1983 (combining electronic and some traditional instruments {violin, anyone?}, a near-perfect pop song)

Ministry: (Every Day is) Halloween, 1984

Cabaret Voltaire: Sensoria, 1984 (A truly affecting song that represents this key year for electronic music beautifully, bringing together the industrial with synthpop and showing the genesis of sampling fun)

Art of Noise: Close to the Edit, 1984

Talk Talk: It’s My Life, 1984 (One of the most enduring songs of this or any other era)

The Assembly: Never Never, 1984 (This Vince Clarke/Feargal Sharkey collaboration is treacly in the extreme but was a huge hit in its day and stands up today)

Depeche Mode: Shake the Disease, 1985 (This one-off non-album track marked the change from DM as uncertain electro pop band to black leather clad gods of the genre, doom and dispair everywhere, and a slick, moody triumph of bass as a dominant electronic staple)

New Order: Bizarre Love Triangle, 1986

Book of Love: Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls, 1986

Nitzer Ebb: Control, I’m Here, 1986 (taking the industrial, minimalist beats and metal-pipe-banging and adding in a more melodic touch, and the Ebb demonstrated how the boundaries between the sub genres of electronic music were tissue-thin)

Ministry: Over the Shoulder, 1986 (shortly before the band’s dive into metal they reconciled their synth pop past with something darker, something more sinister and the blend was a thing of beauty, if short lived…)

New Order: True Faith, 1987

Pet Shop Boys: It’s a Sin, 1987

Renegade Soundwave: Cocaine Sex, 1987

Front 242: Headhunter, 1988

The Orb: Little Fluffy Clouds, 1990

Depeche Mode: Enjoy the Silence, 1990

Apotheosis: O Fortuna, 1991 (From Carl Orff’s opera ‘Carmina Burana’, then heavily sampled and twisted into a legendary dance club song {interesting note, the Orff estate sued and had the record pulled; as it happens I have an original vinyl copy of this which is said to be quite valuable…}, the only vinyl record I inadvertently hung on to when I unloaded my vinyl collection recently)

Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy, 1991

Fortran 5: Heart on the Line, 1991

Moby: Go, 1992 (Said to be the fastest song ever recorded {vis-a-vis BPMs}, I believe it)

Bjork: Big Time Sensuality, 1993

Nine Inch Nails: Closer, 1994 (NIN at the height of their powers, bringing vital anger to the beats and blending it together into an uncomfortable mix)

Nine Inch Nails: Hurt, 1994

Daft Punk: Da Funk, 1996

The Prodigy: Smack My Bitch Up, 1997

Sneaker Pimps: 6 Underground, 1997

Madonna: Ray of Light, 1998

Apoptygma Berzerk: Deep Red, 1998

Radiohead: Idioteque, 2000

The Postal Service: Sleeping In, 2002 (Ben Gibbard demonstrating he can be dominant in multiple genres)

Goldfrapp: Strict Machine, 2003

Annie: Heartbeat, 2004

Imogen Heap: Goodnight and Go, 2004

Goldfrapp: Number 1, 2005 (Showing almost unimaginable creativity and songwriting strength, Goldfrapp show us the future of the genre on this note-perfect song)

Ladytron: International Dateline, 2005

LCD Soundsystem: North American Scum, 2007 (Largely performed, rather than programmed, reminding us that it’s not just the sequencer that can create meaningful electronic music)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Zero, 2009 (Showing there are bands that simply get it and know how to make the world of electronic music relevant, no matter the year)

What’s missing? Add your own.

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10 Responses to “6o electronic singles you must own”

  1. Revolutionary electronica:

    White Noise – Your Hidden Dreams (1968). Experimental electronica, The White Noise pioneered cut-and-paste composition and the use of the first British synthesizer, the EMS Synthi VCS3.

    Donna Summer – I Feel Love (1977). Electronic disco, Giorgio Moroder’s production also invents hi-nrg, synthpop, house and techno along the way.

    Gary Numan – Are ‘Friends’ Electric? (1979) – The first synthesizer-based song to top the UK charts (much to the annoyance of The Human League’s Phil Oakey).

    M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume (1987). The first British house music hit, M/A/R/R/S’s pioneering use of music sampling meant they were doomed to die under a pile of lawsuits.

    Personal electronic favourites from the 1980s include “Atari Baby” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik and “It’s Not You Lady Jane” by Black.

  2. “Love is a Stranger” over “Sweet Dreams”? “Anniemal” over “Heartbeat”? “Sleeping In” over, well, anything else on Give Up? (And not to be TOO picky…but the latter two were never singles).

    In terms of your modern stuff, The Knife’s “Heartbeats” is your most glaring omission. There’s a bunch of other tracks I’d consider – MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” Ratatat’s “Seventeen Years” – but the only other one I’d make a strong case for is “My Girls” by Animal Collective, which I bet will end up being pretty definitive for 2009 and beyond.

    • softsynth Says:

      Actually Anniemal was a typo (went album instead of single) and should have been Heartbeat, good catch; I will amend.

      Lots of really good (and a few obvious I shouldn’t have forgotten {MARRS, MGMT}) additions (though I would still go with “Love is a Stranger”, I think it’s the more innovative song…)

  3. I think the inclusion in this list of tracks released within the last ten years or so is open to debate, but a classic is a classic, whether it falls within the range of one’s personal preference or not.

  4. What a wonderful list and very complete that brings up so many wonderful memories (I know and love almost all of the list). I think the first half of your list is slightly stronger than the second half. Other things I might have added…

    Donna Summer: I feel Loved
    Art of Noise: Moments in Love
    Meatbeat Manifesto: Mindstream
    808 State: Pacific
    Orbital: Halcyon and On
    Armond/Tori Amos: Professional Widow
    Delerium: Silence
    Everything but the Girl: Wrong
    Portishead: Dummy (album)
    Future Sound of London: Lifeforms (album)
    Chemical Brothers: Dig your own hole (album)
    Royksopp: Eple

  5. You try and compile a definitive collection of the top 60 electronic singles of all time and fail to mention even one Erasure song??

    This renders your entire list useless.

  6. softsynth Says:

    Nothing like a list to get folks animated. Love it.

    Re. Erasure, I thought long and hard about an Erasure track I would add to the list. I guess I tend to think of Erasure as more of an album band. Wonderland as a whole was stronger than any single track on the album, ditto I Say I Say I Say. And there are lots of classic tracks that were album cuts or b-sides (In The Name of the Heart, Push Me Shove Me, Lie to Me), but hard pressed to think of a single that belonged on the list. Sometimes felt too thin with the passage of time, Always too inconsequential. Breathe and A Little Respect would be the obvious additions. If I just bit the bullet and had done the 100 singles they would both make the cut…

  7. I appreciate the audacity to tackle a list like this and that you came up with so much that is right on. The only songs I can think of off the top of my head to add are Portishead’s “Sour Times”, Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin Beats” and Underworld’s “Born Slippy”. Just a note but “Thousand”, which I think was the bside to Moby’s “Go” in the US, was the record holder for fastest bpms recorded. An excellent call on “Love Is A Stranger” because revisiting past the 80s it has held up remarkably well and is by far the Eurythmics finest contribution to electronic music.

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