Playlist: Synth-Pop is for Saturday Nights

The first ‘synthesizers’ were invented early on in the 20th century but didn’t truly find their way into popular music until the 1960s and 1970s. Then, a handful of punk followers took the ethos further and started making music with these ‘synthesizers’, all but completely dispensing with the tried and true rock music instruments. A lot of terms were and still are thrown about to describe the style of music that grew out of these first pioneers’ efforts and it’s often hard to differentiate between and or even define them.

‘Synth-Pop’, the genre that is the subject of today’s playlist, might be the easiest to define, being the most apt description for these acts that put ‘synthesizers’ and drum machines at the forefront of their sound. It was, in fact, a sub-genre of ‘New Wave’, as was the ‘New Romantic’ movement. Both of these are terms that are more difficult for this particular blogger to define, though I may make an attempt with a future playlist, more likely with the former than the latter. The term ‘New Wave’ especially, was misused, even more so where it was seen as a synonym for ‘Synth-Pop’ and ascribed to popular artists that came after the original explosion.

This twenty song playlist is a tale in two halves. The first ten tracks span the years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, from the years where ‘Synth-Pop’ first appeared to the years that saw intense backlash and we saw the return of guitar rock prominence. The last ten tracks start things off with The Postal Service’s single from 2003, “Such great heights”, and flows on from there, through a sampling of the side of the 21st century indie explosion that was enthused with reviving the ‘Synth-Pop’ sounds.

Besides the just mentioned collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, other highlights include:

  • “Cars”, Gary Numan’s debut single released under his own name, save for the bass, drums, and a tambourine, it’s all synths
  • “Don’t you want me”, the best known single by The Human League, originally released as an afterthought off 1981’s “Dare”
  • A trio of tracks written or co-written by Vince Clarke: Depeche Mode’s “Just can’t get enough”, Yazoo’s “Don’t go”, and Erasure’s “A little respect”
  • “Seventeen”, the first single off Ladytron’s sophomore album, 2002’s “Light & magic”
  • “Lose it”, my favourite track off Canadian synth-pop act Austra’s 2011 debut “Feel it break”, an album written mostly in minor key, just like the best of Depeche Mode
  • “New balance point”, the brand new single off Lust for Youth’s self-titled fifth album

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Gary Numan “Cars”
2. The Buggles “Video killed the radio star”
3. The Human League “Don’t you want me”
4. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Enola gay”
5. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
6. Depeche Mode “Just can’t get enough”
7. Men Without Hats “Safety dance”
8. Yazoo “Don’t go”
9. Pet Shop Boys “West end girls”
10. Erasure “A little respect”
11. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
12. Ladytron “Seventeen”
13. The Bravery “An honest mistake”
14. Chairlift “Evident utensil”
15. M83 “Kim & Jessie”
16. Cut Copy “Feel the love”
17. MGMT “Kids”
18. Austra “Lose it”
19. Purity Ring “Fineshrine”
20. Lust For Youth “New balance point”

But why is Synth-Pop made for Saturday nights? Eh, I guess it can work just as well on Fridays, or even Sundays, when indeed all Retro 80s nights seem to be scheduled at the clubs. I went with Saturday for the alliteration effect, really, and for the party vibe that many of these tracks elicit. So get out there on your dancefloor, wherever you might be.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.

Best tunes of 2002: #29 Primal Scream “Miss Lucifer”

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Primal Scream’s “Loaded” as my third favourite tune of 1991. That particular ditty turned me on to the Primals and then, after buying and listening to “Screamadelica”, I quickly grew obsessed.

I got to see them live in 1994, when they opened for Depeche Mode at Kingswood Music Theatre, a show I saw with my friend Tim, my eventual wife Victoria, and her cousin Rosa. By this time, Primal Scream were touring “Give up but don’t give out”, a blues-rock hippie jam that I didn’t love quite as much as its predecessor but that had some great, great tunes. After that album didn’t perform quite as well critically or commercially, the band regrouped and dropped “Vanishing point” on all of us in 1997. I survived that bomb but 2000’s “XTRMNTR” almost killed me. In its wake, a handful of years needed to be taken before I was ready to dip my toe back in, eventually doing so with “Riot city blues” in 2006.

So yeah, I completely missed their 2003 album “Evil heat” upon its release. I only got to it after I warmed to the next few albums, building a lasting love rather than the meteoric lust and infatuation I suffered with “Screamadelica”. And only then was I able to revisit their back catalogue without such a black demeanour. I still don’t think it’s their best work but after the maelstrom that was “XTRMNTR”, Bobbie Gillespie and his cohorts really needed a bridge album and in that, “Evil heat” was successful.

“Miss Lucifer” is one of the album’s hot spots, the first single released off it, and it’s a real dancefloor razer. Don’t go looking for any witty or deep lyrics here because you’ll find none. It’s your typical femme fatale/evil woman motif and warning. It’s the drone and angry beat that’s special here, hoofing it like Saturday night’s leftovers from Prodigy’s Friday rave and tumble. Gillespie whispers and hisses and spits venom before getting to the chorus and turning admonitions into invitations to “shake it baby”, over and over and over again.

It’s not “Loaded” but it’s a trip nonetheless.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Doves “The last broadcast”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Doves
Album Title: The last broadcast
Year released: 2002
Year reissued: 2019
Details: Limited edition, reissue, 2 x 180 gram, orange vinyl, numbered 0177

The skinny: My first words of the year on this blog was care of a post counting down my top 5 Doves tunes. I was fresh off the excitement generated the previous month that one of my all-time favourite bands was putting an end to their hiatus and getting back to performing live. Back in January, we didn’t know if this meant anything more but the success of the first spate of live shows and the interest generated with the buying public has got them talking and working on new material. And yes, they have reissued their first three albums as 180 gram, double LP, numbered, and coloured vinyl. You can be sure I jumped on those pre-orders as soon as they became available and now I’ve got them in my grubby hands. Their sophomore album, “The last broadcast”, is my favourite of all their albums (though the debut is a very close second) so it had to be the one to first hit my turntable on Friday and yes… once again this morning. Can’t wait to spin the others…

Standout track: “There goes the fear”