Lost in the ’80s: Gary Numan

Written by Lost in the '80s, Music

Another example of a one-hit wonder in the States while huge in the U.K., paranoid android and Bowie Low cop artist Gary Numan can lay the blame for his lack of U.S. hits solely on his American label, Atco.  After the tremendous success of the iconic New Wave single “Cars,” Atco probably thought it was the right choice to release Numan’s first huge overseas hit (with Tubeway Army) “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” as the follow-up, even though it wasn’t featured on Numan’s then-current The Pleasure Principle LP.  After all, “Are ‘Friends'” was a massive U.K. #1 single, so it only made sense to consolidate his successes to break Numan big in the States.  Problem was, American radio, still in the thrall of the likes of Journey, Boston and Styx, was just not ready for “Are ‘Friends'” (and probably still aren’t), and the single topped out at #105, a pathetic showing for a Top Ten follow-up.

Meanwhile, over in the U.K., the downbeat, moody “Complex” (download) was chosen as The Pleasure Principle’s second single, a bewildering choice.  Almost half the song is a somber, synth instrumental, while the second part is a ballad about disconnection and alienation (on a macro level, you could almost say both halves were ripped off from Low – one moody vocal side, another instrumental).

Numan nearly had carte blanche on the U.K. charts in the early ’80s, so shockingly enough, “Complex” was a Top Ten hit.  However, to this day I can’t imagine why Numan’s record companies on both sides of the Atlantic chose to overlook the obvious choice for a second single, the groove-focused  “Metal,” (download) with its insistent guitar-like synth riff and soaring chords.  Its similarity to “Cars” wouldn’t have hurt its chances either.

Another possible choice for a single from the album could have been the sinister “M.E.” (download) Recognize that synth riff?  That’s because the Basement Jaxx sampled and sped it up a few years ago where it became the centerpiece of their huge dance single, “Where’s Your Head At?”

Unfortunately, the closest Numan ever came to a second U.S. hit was later in 1980 when “I Die: You Die” peaked at #102.  He did however continue to sustain a sizeable cult audience, signing to IRS Records in the late 80s/early 90s, then creating his own label.  He continues to record and tour to this day and his influence is felt not only in samples like the Basement Jaxx single, but in various covers from adoring fans, like Nine Inch Nails’ cover of “Metal,” the Numan single that shoulda been.

None of the songs charted.

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