Open Mic: What’s The Best Synth Song Of All Time?

At the beginning of the 70’s, synthesizers were largely considered a novelty. There were dozens of novelty ‘switched on’ albums, ranging from Switched On Beatles to Switched On Buck.

By the end of the decade, though, Keith Emerson had blown minds with his synth solo on Lucky Man, Kraftwerk had created the template for synth pop and Moroder and Summer had transported dance music into the future with I Feel Love. Synths have had a prominent place in music ever since.

What’s the best synth song of all time? Is it one of the 70’s classics, something from the synthpop heyday or something more modern?

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103 thoughts on “Open Mic: What’s The Best Synth Song Of All Time?

  1. Does it have to be 100% Synth exclusive? If not I am thinking either Arthur Russell “Make,1,2” or SOS Band “your Love” Haha. If it has to be primarily synth than its a battle among “Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia”, “Tin Drum” and “Japanese Whispers”( Lets pretend these albums are just one big song).

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    1. Autobahn is superb indeed, but can’t deny that Pretty Hate Machine by NIN started a new genre by using their “typical” sound, later generously copied by others (not only synths of course ;-)).

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  2. I suppose it depends on the definition of “best,” but I would say it would have to be something Kraftwerk. narrowing it down from there is tough, though. The Model, Radioactivity, Europe Endless, The Robots (original version), Autobahn…

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  3. Sooo many landscapes and electrodance… Between a Kraftwerkian Robot and a Tangerinean Stratosfear, we could also enjoy a Visage Fading to Grey, and dreaming on a Vangelian Blade Runner.

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  4. I’m not very knowledgable about all the great synth music there is. I always thought Thomas Dolby’s record, “Flat Earth” had some lovely music on it– the title track is really cool. I especially liked that the synths weren’t the center of attention– cool lyrics, harmonically interesting, great melodies.

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    1. Such a great album! I Just purchased an immaculate original pressing of it for pennies at a middle of nowhere central Illinois record store. The shop owner could have cared less. He was so eager to buy my Jeff Beck records and even more eager to get rid of Flat Earth. Screen Kiss is wonderful.

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  5. Despite all the years, I still like the simplicity of Ballet Statique, from Conrad Schnitzler.
    I still also like very much Departure from the Northern Wasteland, from Michael Hoenieg.
    Timesteps, from W. Carlos is also à great piece.

    On the “pop” side, I still have fun listening to Numbers, from Krafterk.

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  6. Depends on how you define “best.”

    Best, as is favorite? At this moment is would be Surface to Air by Zombi. (subject to change at mere whim)

    Best, as in most influential? Definitely Autobahn by Kraftwerk.

    Best, as in most technical? Probably something like Philomel.

    Best, as in highest sales? Cher’s Believe (this is a travesty if that is right. I just looked at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_singles and looked for the first one going down that seemed synth heavy).

    Best, as in best in most categories of possible bests? So, something I like, that is influential, is technical and sold well?! Um, hmm, I … Oh, wait, Come To Daddy by Aphex Twin. But … that isn’t a very “synthy” song. Ok … how about I Feel Love by Donna Summer. Not very technical. Ok … there has got to be something that fits all of this? No, probably not.

    I don’t think there is a best synth song. Just like there is no best guitar song.

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    1. Ah, you mean “Die Roboter”

      I always bought the German language versions. They seemed more poignant somehow.

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  7. Either Phaedra or Rubycon by Tangerine Dream, or anything from Gong’s Radio Gnome trilogy, with Tim “Moonweed” Blake coaxing those beautiful timbres from his modified EMS set-up.

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    1. Many pieces mentioned set certain standards, but both “Timesteps” and Johannes Schmoelling’s “Windblown Reeds” define the fuller range of what a synthesizer can do that other instruments cannot. The range of colors is jaw-dropping. Tangerine Dream’s entire album “Stratosfear” deserves mentioning in that same vein. Not much has come close since then, although Amin Bhatia has released a couple of winners.

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  8. Wow…so many….but here are the ones that still move me to no end….goosebumps sometims…..

    Flock of Seagulls – “I Ran (So Far Away)”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_Pq0xYr3L4

    Gary Numan – ” Cars”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldyx3KHOFXw

    Berlin – “The Metro”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pRUGsB1qGY

    The Cars – “Moving In Stereo”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6Ksrmbwr1s

    Rush – “Between The Wheels” (Actually….just about every song from Grace Under Pressure

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  9. Kraftwerk is out of competition of course 🙂 But beside Kraftwerk I would like no name Icon Of Coil – Faith Not Important and Front 242 – Headhunter (especially nice is Icon Of Coil remix) as well as VNV Nation – Belowed

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  10. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
    Vangelis – Heaven And Hell
    Jean-Michel Jarre – Ethnicolor
    Giorgio Moroder – Chase
    Peter Gabriel – Shock The Monkey

    …And if you were alive in ’83 and Nick Rhodes didn’t blow your mind… You’re frontin’.

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      1. Nick Rhodes, my friend. OK, he may not be Oscar Peterson, but the man had some amazing synth parts. Check out practically the entire Seven And The Ragged Tiger album (which is not the best written album in history, granted) and listen to the interlocking grooves he was coming up with, along with Andy Taylor. The same can be said about “Is There Something I Should Know”, and the “Too Shy” single he produced for Kajagoogoo. This is a sound he moved away from on the “Notorious” album, but to me it’s still one of the most awesome periods of creativity for a synth player in a pop band, like, ever.

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  11. My fave depends on my mood, but close to the top….
    Goldrush and Oh Yeah from One Second by Yello
    Sweet Dreams from Eurythmics
    I really like the Parlaiment synth freak outs, too.

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  12. I couldn’t get with the new wave stuff when it was new – the flippant vocal style and the plasticity was a turn off, but I was crazy for Jan Hammer on Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum”. Albums were made back then with “no synthesizers were used” on the sleeves, and I just couldn’t understand why that was supposed to be good! I also loved Jean Michel Jarre, but my absolute favorite synth stuff was Synergy, especially Audion, and Cords, which I have on clear vinyl (i’ll never forget my very first girlfriend, during a moment of pubescent passion, suddenly stopping and saying “what the hell is this music we’re listening to”) Zappa had healthy doses of synth always, and he was a terrific gateway drug to the wonderful wide world of musical riches . . .

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  13. I hate to say it–and it’s incredibly dated–but ‘Axel F’ was a serious hit on the radio–and it’s an instrumental all-synth piece. I think only ‘Chariots Of Fire’ can even make the same claim for radio success.

    ‘Alpha’ by Vangelis is unsurpassed for epicness and musical bravery…recorded (somehow) in 1975.

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  14. The soundtrack to Liquid Sky is absolutely an amazing digital synth album – all Synclavier, I believe.

    Another nominee – Tonto’s Expanding Head Band.

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  15. “Best” is too nebulous, I’d vote “Tonto’s Expanding Headband” for their solo album and for their work with Stevie Wonder. Also Pierre Henry’s “Mass for the Present Time” though I am unsure whether that was synth or just generally “electronic”. So far as the UK is concerned, the piece heard by most people most often must surely be the Dr Who theme (again electronic rather than synth per se).

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  16. Glad to see that someone mentioned Synergy. Amongst my favorites: White Rock by Rick Wakeman, Pulsar by Vangelis, Oxygene by JMJ, Stravinky’s Firebird by Tomita,

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  17. Atmosphere- joy division, groundbreaking and a great song, with just a string synth featured.
    Supernature-cerrone a forgotten classic

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  18. Too many to choose one:

    Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.”
    Devo’s “Jocko Homo.”
    Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park.”
    Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights.”
    Peter Gabriel’s “Games without Frontiers.”
    Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant.”
    Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker.”
    Vangelis’ Bladerunner Soundtrack

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  19. I have decided. The best synthesizer song is “Ghosts” by Japan. Its astonishing that it reached number 5 on the charts. I havent looked but Im sure it stuck out like a sore thumb among the rest of the lot in the top ten at that time. It has this power to compel me to sing along with it every time i playr it too!

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    1. I shall see your “Blade Runner” soundtrack and raise you the “Forbidden Planet” soundtrack!

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  20. Wow tricky to choose the best ever. Here is a few of my faves

    Clair de Lune by Tomita (Debussy tune on The Snowflakes are Dancing album)
    Acquiring the Taste by Gentle Giant (played entirely on Minimoog I think)
    Equinoxe 5 or Oxygene 4 by Jean Michel Jarre
    Pump Up The Volume by M.A.R.R.S
    Little Fluffy Clouds – The Orb
    Rockit by Herbie Hancock

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  21. “Axel F” blew my mind as a kid when I realized it was just one guy and a synth. I’ve been obsessed with synth music ever since! 😀

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  22. The best synth song of all time????
    That is a BIG question!
    I just can’t pin it down to one!
    “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer with Giorgio Moroder.
    “Chariots Of Fire (Theme)” by Vangelis.
    “Popcorn” by Gershon Kingsley.
    “Funeral Music For Queen Mary (Theme From Clockwork Orange)” performed by Wendy Carlos..
    “Theme From Peewee’s Playhouse” by George McGrath, Mark Mothersbaugh and Peewee Herman (featuring Cyndy Lauper on vocal)…

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  23. Shake the Disease by Depeche Mode! (and many others by them)

    Or do samplers qualify as “synths”? (There’s synths in there as well..)

    Seems to me they set the high water mark (over and over again) for what you could achieve doing electronic music.

    Lots of great songs you all have listed though for sure!

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  24. In addition, there’s Entangled, and pretty much every other song on Genesis’s A Trick of the Tail. I love ELP and Yes and Rush and a ton of others, but A Trick of the Tail is my favorite melodic and lyrical album.

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