Are "Friends" Electric?
|"Are 'Friends' Electric?"|
|Single by Tubeway Army|
|from the album Replicas|
|B-side||"We Are So Fragile"|
|Released||4 May 1979|
|Studio||Gooseberry Sound Studios (London, England)|
|Genre||Synthpop, new wave|
|Label||Beggars Banquet (BEG 18)|
|Tubeway Army singles chronology|
"Are 'Friends' Electric?" is a 1979 song by the English band Tubeway Army. Taken from their album Replicas, it was released as a single in May 1979 and reached number one in the UK Singles Chart, staying there for four weeks. It was written and produced by Gary Numan, the band's frontman and lead vocalist.
Music and production
"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, Minimoog and Polymoog synthesisers. These synth parts include portamento background lines.
"All my early songs were about being alone or misunderstood. As a teenager, I'd been sent to a child psychiatrist and put on medication. I had Asperger's and saw the world differently. I immersed myself in sci-fi writers: Philip K Dick, JG Ballard. The lyrics came from short stories I'd written about what London would be like in 30 years. These machines – "friends" – come to the door. They supply services of various kinds, but your neighbours never know what they really are since they look human. The one in the song is a prostitute, hence the inverted commas. It was released in May 1979 and sold a million copies. I had a No 1 single with a song about a robot prostitute and no one knew."
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. The song was covered by bis on the compilation album Random.
Despite being over five minutes long and possessing, in the words of its composer, "no recognisable hook-line whatsoever", 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. "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 set list.
Writing for Smash Hits in 1979, Cliff White described the song as "a dark, threatening wall of synthesised sound" which "throbbed ominously behind a gloomy song of paranoia and loneliness". White went on to say it was "gripping stuff, but cheerful it isn't".
All tracks are written by Gary Numan.
|1.||"Are 'Friends' Electric?"||5:18|
|2.||"We Are So Fragile"||2:46|
- Gary Numan – Minimoog and Polymoog synthesizers, guitar, vocals
- Paul Gardiner – bass guitar
- Jess Lidyard – drums
- Gary Numan – production
Charts and certifications
Sampling and cover versions
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The song was sampled by Richard X in a song titled "We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends" as a mashup with vocals from Adina Howard's "Freak like Me", which the Sugababes then recorded under the latter title and achieved a number one UK hit in 2002 (Numan considered this track to be better than "Are 'Friends' Electric?"). It was also covered by Information Society on their 1997 album Don't Be Afraid, and The Dead Weather for their B-side of "Hang You from the Heavens".
The song was covered by American rock band Weezer and released alongside their 2008 single, "Pork and Beans". "Are 'Friends' Electric?" was featured in the video game Need for Speed: Carbon, JJ Abram's Fringe, and the AMC Television show Halt and Catch Fire. The song was also sampled by Kryder and The Cube Guys in their 2016 single, "You & Me". In 2018, Kevin Max covered the song for his concept album Romeo Drive.
In popular culture
The song was featured in the 2006 video game Need for Speed: Carbon. It plays whenever the player is using a car in the tuner class. In IO Interactive's Hitman, the mission 'Club 27' has a reference in the form of an Objective of the same name.
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- "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
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- BBC documentary: Synth Britannia.
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- Stephen Webbon; Gary Numan (December 1985). "Complete Gary Numan UK Discography". Record Collector (76): 14.
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- White, Cliff. "Singles". Smash Hits (31 May – 13 June 1979): 24–25.
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
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