I purchased my first Apple Computer in 1984 and have been a faithful user ever since. Personal computers were still fairly uncommon then even though, in 1982, Time magazine had declared them the first non-human recipient of its “person of the year” award. “The ‘information revolution’ that futurists have long predicted has arrived”, declared the magazine, “bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, perhaps even in the way they think. The world will never be the same.” How right they were.
But everything Time magazine said, in hundreds of words, had already been expressed the year before in the song that opened our program: HOME COMPUTER by Kraftwerk, and in just two lines of lyrics too! “I program my home computer, beam myself into the future.” The group has been incredibly influential ever since. Am I the only one to recognize the theme to Six Feet Under in there somewhere?
Music’s relationship with intelligent machines has been a mass of contradiction. On the one hand, there are songs that express a fear of technology – the harshness the unreliability and the lack of humanity. And on the other, there are songs that yearn for the simple life that machines seem to offer, especially when it comes to your love life. Way back in the 60’s Connie Francis was of the opinion that a ROBOT MAN would solve all her problems. Years later, in 2004, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls also thought that an artificial partner could possibly have its advantages. The song was COIN OPERATED BOY.
YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS Pt 1 is from The Flaming Lips’ high concept album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The Lips were in top form in 2002 when this track was released. Apparently, the total destruction of evil robots is the name of the game here. More from the mighty Kraftwerk in the form of POCKET CALCULATOR: “By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody”. That one was for all the book-keepers and accountants out there.
On a show about machines we had to have a song about a Juke Box and what better than Joan Jett, with I LOVE ROCK N ROLL: Yeah, “Put another dime in the jukebox baby”. Other machines included a TIME MACHINE from Grand Funk Railroad and a FRUIT MACHINE from the Tings Tings. As Katie White tells it, she’s fed up with being treated like a gambling device.
Gary Numan and Tubeway Army recorded DOWN IN THE PARK in 1979. It was Numan’s first composition on keyboards and his first release to feature the electronic sound that would become his tradmark. The theme of the song is typical of Numan’s work at the time as it both embraced and feared technology. Here’s a clip from the DVD Urgh! A Music War (1981). Lady Gaga, eat your heart out:
Sufjan Stevens’ contribution to our theme was DEAR MR. SUPERCOMPUTER, from his Avalanche album, and we followed with Electric Light Orchestra and YOURS TRULY 2095 where we are asked to pity the “cold as ice” IBM that must tolerate a two-timing user.
Melbourne based, Swedish artist Jens Lekman’s A POSTCARD TO NINA has a shaky connection to this weeks theme. It’s really about him acting as a cover for a friend who is a lesbian but she doesn’t want her family to know. There is a mention of emails, and – wait for it – a lie detector – so hey, how could I leave it out? It’s also quite a nice song. Here’s a clip from a concert he did in Melbourne in 2006. His guitar died, so he played on the uke. Gorgeous. And love the reference to cult film ‘Buffalo 66″.
Are you a fan of Flight of the Conchords? I am. The song ROBOTS, also known as “Humans Are Dead”, is sung by both Bret and Jermaine. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic “distant future” where all humans are dead and robots have taken over the world. Within the context of the plot of the show, it’s the band’s first music video. Since the band has very limited funds, Murray constructs the robot costumes himself, (“they don’t look like Daft Punk -we wanted ones like Daft Punk”), and films the video using a mobile phone. Crazy stuff.
Hip-hop trio Deltron 3030 gave us a cartoon villain who loves the idea of creating a “VIRUS to bring dire straits to your environment”. It’s from their debut album Deltron 3030, released in 2000.
The only cover of a Who song to reach the Top 10, anywhere, is Elton John’s version of PINBALL WIZARD. It was featured in Ken Russell’s film version of the Tommy opera. The lyrics are forever planted in every baby boomer’s consciousness: “that deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.” Here’s an outtake from the film. Makes me want to play pinball again!
James Brown reckons he’s a SEX MACHINE and who am I to argue? Well we had to have at least one song about man as machine didn’t we? And James Brown is the bomb.
I had to play, not one, but, two tracks from Radiohead’s OK COMPUTER ALBUM. First up it was FITTER, HAPPIER. It consists of samples of music, background sound and lyrics recited by a synthesized voice from the Macintosh Simple Text application. Written after a period of writer’s block, FITTER HAPPIER was described by Thom Yorke as a checklist of slogans for the 1990s, which he considered, the most upsetting thing he’s ever written. We followed with one of their biggest hits, PARANOID ANDROID. This clip was filmed at the 2003 Glastonbury Festival. I so wished I’d been there!
A nice piece of R&B followed with COMPUTER LOVE by Zapp Roger, featuring vocals by Shirley Murdock and Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band. And then it was Robin Gibb’s interesting attempt at reinventing himself in the 80’s with ROBOT. Sort of a techno/reggae/disco sound. Not sure what I think of it.
Swedish pop star Robyn contributed ROBOT BOY and then it was back to some electro with Daft Punk’s ROBOT ROCK. I’m not crazy about this French duo but of all their releases ROBOT ROCK is one of their best.
More to my liking is the theme to ROBOT CHICKEN, from the cult stop motion animated television series. Brilliant stuff. It was written by Primus lead man Les Claypool.
Styx contributed their classic ROBOTO, from their concept album Kilroy Was Here. The lines in the chorus DOMO ARIGATO, MR ROBOTO have become a catchprase and mean ‘
thank you very much’ in Japanese.
Kraftwerk deserved another outing. This German band came to prominence in the 70’s and 80’s and their distinctive sound was revolutionary then and continues to be highly influential across many genres of music today. We closed the show with COMPUTER WORLD.
This was my last week in the 2-4pm time slot. I’ll still be broadcasting on Tuesdays but I’m very happy to be moving to Drive Time 4-6pm. I hope you’ll continue to tune in to find out what crazy themes I get up to. I’ve been influenced by the move to create a playlist next week based on CHANGE. So if you have any requests, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.
Here’s this week’s complete playlist:
Home Computer – Kraftwerk
Robot Man – Connie Francis
Coin Operated Boy – The Dresden Dolls
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1 – The Flaming Lips
Pocket Calculator – Kraftwerk
Percolator – The Ventures
I Love Rock and Roll – Joan Jett
Time Machine – Grand Funk Railroad
Fruit Machine – The Ting Tings
Down In The Park – Gary Numan
Dear Mr. Super Computer – Sufjan Stevens
Yours Truly, 2095 – Electric Light Orchestra
A Postcard To Nina – Jens Lekman
Danger Will Robinson! (Sound grab from Lost in Space)
Robots – Flight Of The Conchords
Virus – Deltron 3030
Pinball Wizard – Elton John
Sex Machine – James Brown
Fitter Happier – Radiohead
Paranoid Android – Radiohead
Computer Love – Zapp & Roger
Robot – Robin Gibb
Robotboy – Robyn
Robot Rock – Daft Punk
Robot Chicken Theme – Les Claypool
Mr. Roboto – Styx
Computer World – Kraftwerk
All tracks available on iTunes.
Next week: CHANGE
Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park on BayFM, Tuesdays 4-6pm, Sydney time
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