Imagine that a weird time accident happened and all the singers from the ’80s never performed a single a note… except for one… who would you keep?
Sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking that the entire decade only spawned 10-15 good songs, but the reality is that it was a really vibrant period for music and there was an enormous number of top quality acts including Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Spandau Ballet, Tina Turner, Wham, Bon Jovi, Heart, Echo And The Bunnymen, Talk Talk, Depeche Mode, OMD, Tears For Fears, XTC, Madness, Bronski Beat, Ultravox, Pat Benatar, Culture Club, Adam And The Ants, Madonna… the list goes on and on…
But for me the answer to the question is simple: Gary Numan.
Numan made me want the future to come, and for it to be as cool as he was making it sound. I wanted the connectivity and electronic wonders. I wanted the energy and drive he was projecting. I wanted to be as cool as the stuff he was singing.
His music captured everything the ’80s were about. It was a unique, new sound, that sounded like the future but was relevant now, that was exciting but thoughtful, that sometimes made you want to dance and sometimes to listen.
Don’t get me wrong, Numan is not a great singer, and his live recordings can be pretty bad, but his studio-produced recordings are usually superb. I’ve been listening to his album ‘Telekon’ for over 35 years and still find it as riveting today as the first time I heard it.
If you only ever listen / watch Gary Numan perform three songs, these are my recommendations:
- “I Dream of Wires” – from Telekon – 1980
- “Are Friends Electric” – from Replicas – 1979
- “I’m an Agent” – from Telekon – 1980
Yeah, I know, technically that’s four songs. You didn’t think I could stick at three did you?
One of my best Numan memories is from an Eighties airshow at Biggin Hill, watching him fly his AT-6 Harvard (dressed up as a Japanese Zero). How many times do you get to watch your pop star hero flying at an airshow? Thinking of that still brings tears to my eyes, he gave a wonderful performance! There are no good recordings online of him flying, this is the best I could find from Barton Airshow, 1992.
Numan’s career got going when he formed Tubeway Army in the ’70s. Initially playing punk sounds, he then moved towards sci-fi influenced synthesiser music… and that is the sound that grabbed me! From “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Cars” (technically ’79 tracks but I’m adopting them for my list anyway!), to “We Are Glass”, “I’m an Agent”, “I Die: You Die”, “I Dream of Wires”, “This Wreckage” and “Music for Chameleons”, his sounds define a decade. He didn’t just stop after those successes and he has released 18 solo albums between 1979 to 2017, or roughly one every two years. How many singers can claim such a long track record (pun intended)?