Are 'Friends' Electric?

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"Are 'Friends' Electric?"
Single by Tubeway Army
from the album Replicas
B-side "We Are So Fragile"
Released 19 May 1979
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded January–February 1979 at Gooseberry Studios, London, England
Genre Synthpop, new wave
Length 5:25
Label Beggars Banquet
BEG 18
Producer(s) Gary Numan
Tubeway Army singles chronology
"Down in the Park"
(1979)
"Are 'Friends' Electric?"
(1979)
"Cars"
(1979)
Music sample

"Are 'Friends' Electric?" is a song by English band Tubeway Army from their 1979 album Replicas. It was released as a single in May 1979 and reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart, staying there for four weeks.[1] It was written and produced by Gary Numan, the band's frontman and lead vocalist.

Production[edit]

Despite being over five minutes long and possessing, in the words of its composer, "no recognisable hook-line whatsoever",[2] the single topped the UK charts. Whilst the track's distinctive sound stood out at the time, sales also benefited from the record company's use of a picture disc and Numan's striking, "robotic" performance on the TV shows The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops.[3] "Are 'Friends' Electric?" has been a mainstay of Numan's concerts since its release and appears on all ten of his official live recordings to date. A semi-acoustic version appeared on the 2006 Jagged tour setlist. "Are 'Friends' Electric?" was featured in the video game Need for Speed: Carbon. It was also covered by Information Society on their 1997 album Don't Be Afraid. The song has also been referenced as the inspiration for the theme song of the British TV show The IT Crowd.

Music[edit]

"Are 'Friends' Electric?" features three different sections: a recurring "verse" with a synth riff in C and B flat, a recurring section with spoken word over slow arpeggiated seventh chords, and an instrumental break in F. The instrumentation is quite minimal: there is a conventional drum and bass guitar backing track, some additional heavily flanged guitar (particularly in the instrumental break), subdued vocals and, most prominently, a Minimoog synthesizer. These synth parts include a slow-paced sawtooth bass riff, and some soaring portamento background lines.

Numan stumbled upon synthesizers by accident. While intending to record a punk album, he noticed a Minimoog synthesizer that had been left in the studio.[4][5] The keyboard’s massive sound became the inspiration for the Replicas album, and is the dominant sound for this song.

Writing for Smash Hits in 1979, Cliff White described the song as "a dark, threatening wall of synthesized sound" which "throbbed ominously behind a gloomy song of paranoia and loneliness".[6] White went on to say it was "gripping stuff, but cheerful it isn't".

B-side[edit]

The B-side of the single was a more rock-oriented number, "We Are So Fragile". It was performed on Numan's 1979 "Touring Principle" series of concerts and appears on the album Living Ornaments '79.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Gary Numan. 

No. Title Length
1. "Are 'Friends' Electric?"   5:18
2. "We Are So Fragile"   2:46

Personnel[edit]

Tubeway Army
Production
  • Gary Numan – production

References[edit]

  1. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 369–70. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  2. ^ Stephen Webbon; Gary Numan (December 1985). "Complete Gary Numan UK Discography". Record Collector (76): 14. 
  3. ^ Paul Goodwin (2004). Electric Pioneer: An Armchair Guide to Gary Numan. pp. 38–39. 
  4. ^ Simpson Dave. "Gary Numan and Mary Vango: how we made Are 'Friends' Electric?". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  5. ^ BBC documentary: Synth Britannia.
  6. ^ White, Cliff. "Singles". Smash Hits (May 31 - June 13 1979): 24-25. 
Preceded by
"Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward
UK number one single
30 June 1979 – 21 July 1979
Succeeded by
"I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats