Forget 'Video Phone': Top Songs About Technology
Like the rest of the world, when "Video Phone" appeared, we were left feeling slightly deflated. The two divas, when combined, couldn't come up with anything better than babes, breasts, and guns (not to mention weird, choppy editing, and Beyoncé at her most watered down). It wasn't a celebration of 21st century living and the intercommunication we all share; instead, it was typical pop music dreck.
So, our Switched team gathered around our warm (digital) fires and came up with 20 videos about tech. Debates raged, names were called, and ground rules were laid: Space isn't technology (That opens a whole other can of worms, mostly starring David Bowie and George Clinton.); gadgetry can't be mentioned in passing (nixing 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake's "AYO Technology"); and a mere mention of a TV, radio, or stereo didn't count; the entire experience of the analog-to-digital world had to be covered. So here is our list -- the 20 tech tunes that shape our computers, Internet, and most definitely our iTunes libraries.
If you think we missed something, leave a comment with your argument and a link. Also, try the hashtag #TECHTUNES on Twitter to see what everyone is saying (and to add something of your own).
"The Robots," Kraftwerk
Geek Lyric: "We're functioning automatik, / And we are dancing mechanik. / We are the robots."
The influential German group Kraftwerk's minimalist use of synthesizers and electronic instruments provided a stark contrast to most pop music coming out in the '70s. The band's 1977 hit, "The Robots," from the album 'The Man-Machine,' captured the counter-culture's frustration with rising automation, hyper-productivity, and organization in the late 20th century.
"Delete Yourself," Atari Teenage Riot
Geek Lyric: "One day will come you enter the cyberspace / And you never ever want to get out, / 'Cause reality is shit and cyberspace is gone. / Delete yourself."
This mid-'90s electro-punk group almost single-handedly invented a new genre with their loud, glitchy sound. "Digital Hardcore" referred to a community of musicians that took the punk aesthetic to the next level, but instead of rioting against the government or their parents, delved into technology and gaming. Think "Hackers" or "Firestarter" from Prodigy. These guys, and their call to video gaming arms, helped lead the way toward techno-fetishization. (Is that a word? It is now.)
"Skypager," A Tribe Called Quest
Geek Lyric: In a song flush with quotable lines, "Beeper's goin off like Don Trump gets checks. / Keep my bases loaded like the New York Mets" stands out simply because of the Donald's longevity.
Hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest developed a reputation for insightful political and social commentary, but the group also celebrated gadgets and tech. They frequently trumpeted the swinging benefits of one particularly awesome status symbol of the '80s and '90s: the pager.
"Love for Sale," Talking Heads
Geek Lyric: "I'll be a video for you if you turn my dial"
"Love For Sale," part of the soundtrack for the film 'True Stories,' may not have aged (musically) as well as the rest of the Heads' discography, but it does capture a disturbing side of pre-Internet television, commercialism, and mass media.
"D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," Jay-Z
Geek Lyric: "This is anti-Auto-Tune, death of the ringtone. / This ain't for iTunes; this ain't for sing-along."
We sure do wish Hova's rhymes had the power to put Auto-Tune six feet under. Unfortunately, this rap probably just made the software program, which is used by rappers and country musicians alike, even more popular. We've come to the conclusion that Autotune must be immortal. If T-Pain's endorsement won't kill it, perhaps nothing will.
"(21st Century) Digital Boy," Bad Religion
Geek Lyric: The entire thing reeks of modern malaise, but the outro chorus of "21st century schizoid boy, / 21st century video boy, / 21st century digital boy" really sums it up.
Actually penned in 1990, this song about being over-sold and hyper-connected to the point of apathy still strikes a chord with those who grew up with it. Though this was the closest thing to a commercial hit for Bad Religion, the band still has a cult following of Cali-punkers who do know how to read, and probably have a lot of toys, too.
"My Toshiba Is Alive," DAT Politics
Geek Lyric: "My Toshiba is alive / [Something] black and brown [something].."
We can't really understand what this insane French quartet is saying, but we were able to catch the titular lyric, and that's good enough for us. And, really, lyrics are only incidental to the sample-crazy collective DAT Politics, as the frenetic "Toshiba" NES-worthy melody keeps our geek pulse pumping for hours.
"Mindphaser," Front Line Assembly
Geek Lyric: "A war of technology / Threatens to ignite / Digital murder, / The language of machines."
Canadian industrial group Front Line Assembly (or F.L.A. for die-hards) formed after the lead singer spun off from genre-defining band Skinny Puppy. "Mindphaser," one of the group's most popular songs, imagines 'The Matrix' before Keanu: a horrifying, cyber-punk existence of humans versus machines. Technology's relationship to music wouldn't be the same without the industrial genre.
"Modern Things," Björk
Geek Lyric: "All the modern things / Have always existed. / They've just been waiting / To come out / And multiply, / And Take over. / It's their turn now."
"Hyperballad" and "Army of Me" may have been the breakaway hit singles from Björk's popular third album, 'Post,' but "The Modern Things" is still one of our favorites. The song, featuring an unnaturally buzzing bass line, under which staccato rhythms fade in and out, finds Björk singing about technology's takeover of the natural world.
"Get Off the Internet," Le Tigre
Geek Lyric: "Get off the Internet! / I'll meet you in the street. / Get off the Internet! / Destroy the right wing."
Appearing on electro-grrl group Le Tigre's 'From The Desk of Mr. Lady' EP in 2001, "Get Off the Internet" predicted our nigh obsession with social networking in place of human contact. That's ironic, though, as Le Tigre rose to fame in the heyday of Napster. Their third-wave feminist "roller skate jams," though, sought social action over frivolous virtual gifting.
'Search and Destroy,' Iggy Pop and the Stooges
Geek Lyric: "Look out, honey, 'cause I'm using technology. / Ain't got time to make no apology -- / [Soul, or sole] radiation in the dead of night, / Love in the middle of a fire fight." The ambiguity of the third line's first word cleverly portrays Iggy as both possessing an inherent danger and toxicity, and being out on his own.
If the Stooges' 1969 debut was the final nail in the Love Generation's coffin, 1973's 'Raw Power' was the final shovelful of dirt on top of it. The album's lead-off, barn-burning track, "Search and Destroy," dealt with love, alright, but not that "All You Need Is" tripe. Instead, the song portrays love as a high-tech, militaristic expedition through a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape -- Iggy Pop prowling the desolate boulevards of Detroit equipped with an arsenal of lust and rage.
"Turn Your Radio On," gospel favorite
Geek Lyric: The smart word play around "host" in: "Come, and listen in to the radio station,/Where the mighty hosts of Heaven sing."
Penned by Albert E. Brumley (whose "I'll Fly Away" is arguably the most recorded song in gospel music), "Turn Your Radio On" came at a time when the recently introduced home radio was the object of public fascination. Artfully comparing prayer to radio signals, the tune also makes a winking point about technology and society. Due to the proliferation of home radio, such country gospel songs as "Turn Your Radio On" were able to take wing from their Appalachian and Southern roosts, and alight in living rooms across the country, if not the world.
"Technologic," Daft Punk
Geek Lyric: "Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it, drag and drop it, zip... unzip it"
We couldn't compose this list without them. Normally technology- and robot-obsessed, Daft Punk reduce our high-tech consumer culture to a series of mundane actions, thereby making us question our decisions in life. Plus, the lyrics are delivered like a schoolyard taunt by a robot child.
"Synthesizer," Outkast (Feat. George Clinton)
Geek Lyric: "Synthesizer, microwave me. / Give me a drug so I can make seven babies"
For a group so cutting edge, Outkast sure isn't thrilled about the latest developments in medical technology. This rant, off the album 'Aquemini,' targets everything from Viagra and plastic surgery, to cloning and fertility drugs.
"Online," Brad Paisley
Geek Lyric: "When you got my kind of stats, it's hard to get a date, / Let alone a real girlfriend. / But I grow another foot, and I lose a bunch of weight / Every time I log in."
When he first sang the lyrics above, Paisley summed up the lives of many MySpace addicts huddled in their parents' dank basements. Anybody who's spent much time on social networking sites knows that people aren't always what they seem. Paisley managed to convey that with funny lyrics and a great melody.
"The Becoming," Nine Inch Nails
Geek Lyric: "All pain disappears. It's the nature of my circuitry, / Drowns out all I hear. / There's no escape from this, / My new consciousness."
Nine Inch Nails' front man Trent Reznor could be the poster boy for the digital generation (and Switched staffer Leila Brillson's ultimate crush), but his description of machinization is all too foreboding. Off of the seminal 1994 album 'The Downward Spiral,' this song's gear noises and machine grinds paint images of a bleak, metallic future.
"Virus," Deltron 3030
Geek Lyric: "I wanna devise a virus / To bring dire straits to your environment, / Crush your corporations with a mild touch, / Trash your whole computer system and revert you to papyrus."
The incredible Deltron 3030 concept album -- a collaborative effort by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Kid Koala, and Dan the Automater -- investigates the future of music and individuality in the year 3030. The record, which focuses heavily on space and technology, describes a rebellion against a conformist, soulless world dominated by corporations and a single governing body.