Play (Moby album)

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Moby play.JPG
Studio album by Moby
Released May 17, 1999
Recorded 1998–1999
Length 63:12
Producer Moby
Moby chronology
I Like to Score
Songs 1993–1998
Singles from Play
  1. "Honey"
    Released: August 31, 1998
  2. "Run On"
    Released: May 18, 1999
  3. "Bodyrock"
    Released: July 26, 1999
  4. "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?"
    Released: November 17, 1999
  5. "Natural Blues"
    Released: March 28, 2000
  6. "Porcelain"
    Released: June 12, 2000
  7. "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? / Honey (remix)"
    Released: October 16, 2000
  8. "South Side"
    Released: November 7, 2000
  9. "Find My Baby"
    Released: February 2001

Play is the fifth studio album by American electronica musician Moby, released on May 17, 1999 on V2 Records.

While some of Moby's earlier work garnered critical and commercial success within the electronic dance music scene, Play was both a critical success and a commercial phenomenon. The album introduced Moby to a worldwide mainstream audience, not only through a large number of hit singles (that helped the album to dominate worldwide charts for two years), but also through unprecedented licensing of his music in films, television, and commercial advertisements. It eventually became the biggest-selling album of its genre, with over 12 million copies sold worldwide.[1]

In 2003, the album was ranked number 341 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[2] It was nominated for both a Grammy Award and Brit Award, was the UK's biggest selling independent album of 2000, and certified platinum status in more than 20 countries.[3]


The second half of the 1990s saw Moby in career turmoil after years of being a successful techno wunderkind. The release in 1996 of Animal Rights, a dark, eclectic, guitar-fueled record built around the punk and metal records that he loved as a teenager, proved a critical and commercial disaster that left him considering quitting music altogether and going back to school to study architecture. He explained: "I was opening for Soundgarden and getting shit thrown at me every night onstage. I did my own tour and was playing to roughly fifty people a night." However, he claimed, "I got one piece of fan mail from Terence Trent D'Arby and I got a phone call from Axl Rose saying he was listening to Animal Rights on repeat. Bono told me he loved Animal Rights. So if you're gonna have three pieces of fan mail, that's the fan mail to get." [4]

When he finally recorded its follow-up, Play, there was no sign that the album would perform any differently than Animal Rights. According to Moby, he shopped the record to every major label (from Warner Bros. to Sony to RCA) and was rejected every time. After V2 finally picked it up, his publicist sent the record to journalists, and many of them made a huge production of saying they weren't even going to listen to it. According to manager Eric Härle in an interview with HitQuarters, their original goal was to sell 250,000 copies, which was what Everything Is Wrong, Moby's biggest selling album at the time, had sold.[5]



Play's musical style has been described as electronica, techno, and breakbeat.[6] One of the notable aspects of Play, as opposed to other electronic albums of the time, was the way in which it combined old gospel and folk music rhythms with modern house sensibilities.[citation needed] Moby sampled heavily from the collected field recordings of Alan Lomax in songs such as "Honey", "Find My Baby", and "Natural Blues", while the track "Run On" was inspired by the traditional "God's Gonna Cut You Down". The album also has more purely electronic tracks, as well as the rock-influenced single "South Side" and the more ambient "Porcelain".

Use of samples and additional vocals[edit]

The album was particularly notable for its extensive use of samples from the field recordings as they were collected by Alan Lomax on the 1993 Sounds of the South: A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta. Most of the samples were short and constantly repeated throughout the songs. For example, "Honey" used a sample from Bessie Jones that consisted of a conjunction of four verses that was repeated over twenty times. In the liner notes for the album, Moby gave "special thanks to the Lomaxes and all of the archivists and music historians whose field recordings made this record possible."[7]

  • "Honey" features samples from the Bessie Jones recording "Sometimes" (1960), produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corp. by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
  • "Find My Baby" features samples from the Boy Blue recording "Joe Lee's Rock", produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corp by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
  • "Bodyrock" contains a sample of "Love Rap" (1980) as performed by Spoonie Gee & The Treacherous Three. Used under license from Enjoy Records, Inc. Additional Vocals by Nikki D.
  • "Natural Blues" features samples from the Vera Hall recording "Trouble So Hard" (1937), produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corp. by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
  • "Run On" features samples from "Run On for a Long Time" (1949) by Bill Landford & The Landfordairs, used courtesy of Sony Music.
  • Moby – vocals on "Porcelain", "South Side", "Machete", "If Things Were Perfect", and "The Sky Is Broken"
  • Pilar Basso – additional vocals on "Porcelain".
  • Shining Light Gospel Choir – vocals on "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" (also sampled)
  • Reggie Matthews – additional vocals on "If Things Were Perfect"


The album packaging continues Moby's penchant for including a number of short, self-penned essays exploring ongoing concerns—his support for veganism and humanitarianism, and opposition to fundamentalism.

Release and unexpected success[edit]

Released on May 17, 1999, Play received some good reviews, but initially underperformed commercially. Moby stated, "First show that I did on the tour for Play was in the basement of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square. Literally playing music while people were waiting in line buying CDs. Maybe forty people came."

First sales of Play were poor. In the UK, it debuted at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart on May 29, 1999, but during the rest of the year only spent five further weeks inside the charts. It was on January 15, 2000 that the album re-entered the UK charts, slowly climbing positions and finally reaching number 1 three months later. According to Moby, "almost a year after it came out in 2000 I was opening up for Bush on an MTV Campus Invasion Tour. It was degrading for the most part. Their audience had less than no interest in me. February in 2000, I was in Minnesota, I was depressed and my manager called me to tell me that Play was #1 in the UK, and had beat out Santana's Supernatural. I was like, 'But the record came out 10 months ago.' That's when I knew, all of a sudden, that things were different. Then it was #1 in France, in Australia, in Germany—it just kept piling on. [...] The week Play was released, it sold, worldwide around 6,000 copies. Eleven months after Play was released, it was selling 150,000 copies a week. I was on tour constantly, drunk pretty much the entire time and it was just a blur. And then all of a sudden movie stars started coming to my concerts and I started getting invited to fancy parties and suddenly the journalists who wouldn't return my publicist's calls were talking about doing cover stories. It was a really odd phenomenon."[4]

Play has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Despite only reaching number 38 in the United States Billboard 200, over two million were sold there, with the album enjoying steady sales for months and constant popularity. In the UK, Play reached number 1 on April 15, 2000 (spending five weeks at the top) in the wake of the success of the "Natural Blues" single. It remained high in the charts during the rest of the year, particularly supported by the huge success of its successors, "Porcelain" and "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?". Spending almost the entire year 2000 in the charts, and achieving a total of 81 weeks overall the lists, it became the fifth best-selling album of 2000 in the UK.[citation needed]

Play found its major strengths on the support of its impressive string of nine hit singles, an unprecedented feat for an electronica album. Seven of those singles were UK Top 40 hits – "Honey", the first single, was already in the market in August 1998, nearly ten months before the release of the actual album. The final single choice was "Find My Baby", which appeared on some national charts three and a half years after. One of the most notable aspects of the singles releases is that some of the strongest titles were released late ("Porcelain", for example, was the sixth single from the album, released over a year after Play), on the way of securing a steady presence of the album in the charts.

The apparent result of the marketing strategy was that the album, after an unremarkable debut, stayed on the charts for several years and broke sales projections for Moby and for the dance music scene, which was not seen to be a dominant commercial genre in the US in the 1990s (as compared with in Europe, where Moby had initially found fame). In many ways this album helped to establish Moby as a mainstream musician. His later albums have been more downtempo-oriented,[citation needed] frequently featuring his own distinctive singing, often with female vocalists and samples similar to those on Play, as opposed to his earlier more club- or alternative-oriented records where he rarely sang.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[6]
Alternative Press 4/5 stars[8]
Robert Christgau A+[9]
Entertainment Weekly A−[10]
NME 8/10[11]
Pitchfork Media 5/10[12]
Q 4/5 stars[13]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[14]
Spin 9/10[15]
Sputnikmusic 5/5[16]

Play received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 84, based on 20 reviews.[17] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, said that the album's sampled recordings would not "shout anywhere near as loud and clear" without Moby's "ministrations—his grooves, his pacing, his textures, his harmonies, sometimes his tunes, and mostly his grooves, which honor not just dance music but the entire rock tradition it's part of."[9] In his review for Playboy, he added that, although it is "no more focused" than Moby's previous "brilliant messes", Play is "one of those records whose drive to beauty should move anybody who just likes, well, music itself."[18]

AllMusic's John Bush felt that Play showed Moby "balancing his sublime early sound with the breakbeat techno evolution of the '90s".[6] Barry Walters of Rolling Stone said that "the ebb and flow of eighteen concise, contrasting cuts writes a story about Moby's beautifully conflicted interior world while giving the outside planet beats and tunes on which to groove."[14] David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, said that despite some needed editing, Moby's graceful soundscapes filter out the original recordings' antiquated sound and "make the singers' heartache and hope seem fresh again."[10] In a mixed review, Pitchfork Media's Brent DiCrescenzo said that the "raw magnetism" of the sampled recordings is lost to "innate digital recording techniques" and results in music that is "fun and functional, yet disposable."[12]

Play was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice‍ '​s Pazz & Jop critics poll.[19] In 2003, the album was ranked number 341 on Rolling Stone‍ '​s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[2]

Licensing of songs[edit]

Play was the first album ever to have all of its tracks licensed for use in films, television shows, or commercials and this proved a major contributor to the album's success.[20] This is a feat that has been accomplished by only three other artists; Celldweller, Meiko, and The Crystal Method.[citation needed] At the time the album came out, Moby explained that he licensed the songs because it was the only way he could get the music heard.[citation needed] Moby's previous album, Animal Rights, a foray into the alternative rock scene, had not drawn many listeners, while Moby's earlier music was known primarily to fans of dance and ambient music and had not achieved mainstream recognition in his home country of the United States.

According to his manager Eric Härle, although many people believed the songs were pitched for advertisements as part of the marketing campaign for an album that didn't fit with mainstream radio, the licensing actually came as a result of agencies asking for permission to use the music as soundbeds.[5] Härle told HitQuarters that the music was so popular because it is evocative and emotional. Despite the heavy licensing, the advertisements selected were nevertheless carefully chosen and more requests were turned down than accepted.[5]

One of the more notable commercials featured golfer Tiger Woods playing a round of golf around New York City to the tune of "Find My Baby", but countless other uses of the album's songs are documented. According to Wired magazine, the songs on Play "have been sold hundreds of times ... a licensing venture so staggeringly lucrative that the album was a financial success months before it reached its multi-platinum sales total."

Among the films which have used music tracks from the album are Danny Boyle's The Beach, Gone in 60 Seconds and Swing Vote, which featured the B-side "Flower", which sampled "Green Sally Up", a children's playground song sung by vocalists Mattie Garder, Mary Gardner and Jesse Lee Pratcher, from the 1961 album Sounds of the South (re-released in 1993). The television show The X-Files featured the track "My Weakness" in the opening and closing scenes of the seventh season episode "Closure", and the track "The Sky is Broken" in the seventh season episode "all things".

In addition, Stanton Welch choreographed a ballet piece using several tracks from the album including "Porcelain", "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad", "Rushing", "Run On", "Guitar Flute and String", "My Weakness", "Honey", and "Natural Blues". Initially, it was created for BalletMet Columbus in 2004 and then premiered for the Houston Ballet in 2006. Play was a great success recognized by both The New York Times and The Columbus Dispatch.[21]

Music videos[edit]

The album Play was also notable for producing a large number of music videos. In an impressively extensive period of three and a half years (between August 1998 and February 2002), twelve music videos were commissioned for a total of eight different singles ("Bodyrock" received three music videos, and "Natural Blues" and "Porcelain" received two). They were produced by a large number of directors, which included Jonas Åkerlund ("Porcelain"), Roman Coppola ("Honey"), Joseph Kahn ("South Side"), and David LaChapelle ("Natural Blues").


According to Rolling Stone, "Play wasn't the first album to make a rock star out of an insular techno nerdnik, but it was the first to make one a pop sensation. [...] Play made post-modernism cuddly, slowly but surely striking a chord with critics and record-buyers alike."[4]

Subsequent releases[edit]

Play: The B Sides[edit]

Play: The B Sides
Compilation album (B-sides) by Moby
Released October 24, 2000
Genre Techno, electronica, electronic dance
Length 60:34
Label V2
Producer Moby
Moby chronology
MobySongs 1993–1998
Play: The B Sides
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[6]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[22]

In late 2000, Play was re-released as a special edition entitled Play: The B Sides, including an extra disc of B-side tracks (that disc would be also released separately in 2004). In addition, a mix of the song "South Side" which featured a duet with No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani was released as a single (becoming his only song to ever appear on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 14).[citation needed] Thanks to its music video and heavy airplay, the song helped to push the success of the album even further. Later on, Play was re-released with the single version of "South Side" featuring Gwen Stefani replacing the original. (Other copies had an additional CD with the newer version of the song shrink-wrapped in the same package.) The original version was re-released on the U.S. edition of Moby's Go: The Very Best of Moby compilation.

Moby explains: "The B Sides is a collection of songs that weren't quite appropriate for Play, but that I still love enough to release as B-sides. Some of these songs might not be instantly accessible, but I (immodestly) think they are all quite special."[23] A few of the album's songs are somewhat similar to the ones found in Play, but the tracks were criticized as inferior. Moby realized this and even admitted that if not for the overwhelming success of Play, the songs would not have been given a wide release.[6]

B-sides not featured on the album:

  • "Ain't Never Learned" from the single "South Side"
  • "Arp" from the single "Bodyrock"
  • "Down Slow (Full Length Version)" from the maxi-single "Run On (Extended)"
  • "Micronesia" from the single "Honey"
  • "Princess" from the single "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad ?"
  • "Sick in the System" from the single "Natural Blues"

Play: The DVD[edit]

A DVD titled Play: The DVD was released as a companion to the album, featuring most of the music videos of Play (except for "South Side"), a Megamix, a performance on Later... with Jools Holland, a Moby's tour diary entitled Give an Idiot a Camcorder, and a DVD-Rom component where users are able to remix two of Moby's songs (the DVD also included a separate CD featuring the Megamix on a single track). Moby: PlaytheDVD was released in July 2001. Produced by Moby and Jeff Rogers (Swell), the DVD was nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award. The DVD included various sections: "Live on TV", most of the music videos from the album (excluding "South Side" with Gwen Stefani), "Give An Idiot a Camcorder" (Moby was given a camcorder and the tape was later edited by Tara Bethune-Leamen), and an 88-minute "Mega Mix" of all the remixes created for the album. The "Mega Mix" was accompanied by visuals created in Toronto at Crush, led by director Kathi Prosser.

  • Give an Idiot a Camcorder (a 20-minute movie "by Moby starring Moby")
  • Play the Computer (this section allows to use the Beatnik Player to remix two of Moby's songs.)

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Honey"   3:27
2. "Find My Baby"   3:58
3. "Porcelain"   4:01
4. "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?"   4:23
5. "South Side"   3:48
6. "Rushing"   2:58
7. "Bodyrock"   3:34
8. "Natural Blues"   4:12
9. "Machete"   3:36
10. "7"   1:00
11. "Run On"   3:44
12. "Down Slow"   1:32
13. "If Things Were Perfect"   4:16
14. "Everloving"   3:24
15. "Inside"   4:46
16. "Guitar Flute & String"   2:07
17. "The Sky Is Broken"   4:16
18. "My Weakness"   3:37
Total length:



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External links[edit]

Preceded by
Supernatural by Santana
UK number one album
April 15, 2000 – May 19, 2000
Succeeded by
Reload by Tom Jones
Preceded by
On How Life Is by Macy Gray
Australian ARIA Albums Chart number-one album
February 28 – March 5, 2000
July 31 – August 13, 2000
Succeeded by
Supernatural by Santana