Are 'Friends' Electric? (5:54)

Cover of Premier Hits

From Premier Hits and 60 other releases

Despite being over five minutes long and possessing, in the words of its composer, “no recognisable hook-line whatsoever”, the single topped the UK charts and is notable for being the first electronic/synthesizer-based record to become a hit in the post-punk era. Whilst the track’s new and distinctive sound stood out at the time, sales also benefitted from the record company’s use of a picture disc and Numan’s striking, “robotic” performance on the TV shows The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” has been a mainstay of Numan’s concerts since its release and appears on all ten of his official live recordings to date. A semi-acoustic version appeared on the 2006 Jagged tour set list.

Music and lyrics

The song tells the tale of a lonely and paranoid man; its themes of alienation and isolation were a Numan hallmark at this time in his career. The lyrics were inspired by a failed relationship with Beggar’s Banquet employee Susan Wathan (cryptically referred to as “S.U.”) mixed with and filtered through imagery drawn from Philip K. Dick’s science fiction story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (later the basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner). The music is notable for its plaintive, emotional qualities, which were in stark contrast to the deliberately cold and computerized sound preferred by other synthesizer-based artists like Kraftwerk.

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