He was the first electronic rock star. Shy Gary Numan got his start playing aggressive punk inspired music with Tubeway Army, already exploring sci fi themes, along with introspective looks at loneliness and alienation. Legend has it, while recording the first Tubeway Army full length, he stumbled on a synthesizer in the studio, and by his next album, keyboards became the prominent part of his sound. The chilly yet warm tones were perfect for his paranoid anthems, and Tubeway Army’s next album yielded the amazing “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”. Numan then went solo and upped the synths on the classic Pleasure Principle, as “Cars” gave him a worldwide smash. His career has had its ups and downs since then, as he discovered he had Asperger’s Syndrome and that he influenced legions of keyboard rock acts (like Nine Inch Nails). He is still a vital artist and a must see live performer. In honor or Mr. Numan, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Graham Parker – Between You And Me (Howlin’ Wind): A fine slice of early GP. He pretty much sprang up fully formed, with his Van Morrison inspired, literate R & B fueled rock. This is nice acoustic guitar driven mid-tempo tune.
Eleventh Dream Day – You Know What It Is (Lived To Tell): A quintessential Eleventh Dream Day barnburner, with Janet Beveridge Bean not only pounding on the drums, but taking the lead vocal, while Rick Rizzo slashes and burns on guitar in a punk-meets-Crazy Horse fashion.
The Ophelias – Clash Of The Titans (The Ophelias): This San Francisco art-pop band’s debut album is a hidden gem. There is a strong mid-‘60s Kinks influences throughout, but there’s so much more here. This song has a bit of psychedelic menace with edgy guitars and horns giving it a fun house mirror effect.
Green – I’m Not Going Down (Anymore) (Green): A peppy, jangly power pop number from this classic Chicago band of the ‘80s and ‘90s. This song has a bit of a garage rock quality to it in the vocals, but this is still a rockin’ pop tune at heart.
Todd Rundgren – Izzat Love? (Todd): Speaking of art-pop, Todd Rundgren is one of the godfathers of that corner of music. This is a quick bit of soulful pop, somewhat in the vein of songs like “I Saw The Light”.
Green Pajamas – Song For Christina (Indian Winter): This masterful psych-pop band is best known for the song “Kim The Waitress”, which was covered by Material Issue. This song is pretty typical of the band’s sound, as a crunchy guitar riff meshes with a lighter, melodic sound, and it blends quite well.
XTC – Everyday Story Of A Small Town (The Big Express): This track is a bit dated, between the obviously fake horns to the ‘80s drum sound. But Andy Partridge’s Kinks pastiche is too well constructed, chock full of melodic ideas without getting too cluttered.
Radiohead – I Might Be Wrong (Amnesiac): I suppose this could be considered one of the “hits” from this particular Radiohead album. Maybe that’s due to Johnny Greenwood’s repeating guitar figure giving this more of a rock base. The riff is pretty bluesy, while the rest of the sound is repetitive and kind of Krautrock-y, while Thom Yorke does his floaty thing.
The Action – Something To Say (Rolled Gold): A track from one of the great lost albums of the ‘60s. The Action were a fine mod/R & B band that, by all rights, should have been the next Small Faces, but they never gained a commercial foothold. So their first proper album never got released until decades later. This is a shame, as it is a gem. The Action didn’t go whole hog into psychedelia like many of their contemporaries, instead taking on a more relaxed and introspective sound that still showed their R & B chops in a new pop/rock context. It’s really a great album.
Nines – Melanie (Properties Of Sound): A gem from this Canadian act that got accolades from the power pop cult in the early part of this century. The lead singer has a bit of Andy Partridge thing going in his voice, while the songs verge from straightforward XTC pop to pure ‘70s AM gold. This song is on the gold side of the spectrum, and is simply wonderful.