Are "Friends" Electric?

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"Are 'Friends' Electric?" is a 1979 song by the English band Tubeway Army. Taken from their album Replicas, it was released as a single in May 1979 and reached number one in the UK Singles Chart, staying there for four weeks.[2] It was written and produced by Gary Numan, the band's frontman and lead vocalist. It was also the band's last single before breaking up.

"Are 'Friends' Electric?"
Are Friends Electric? (Tubeway Army single - cover art).jpg
Single by Tubeway Army
from the album Replicas
B-side"We Are So Fragile"
Released4 May 1979 (1979-05-04)[1]
RecordedJanuary–February 1979
StudioGooseberry Sound Studios (London, England)
GenreSynthpop, new wave
LabelBeggars Banquet (BEG 18)
Songwriter(s)Gary Numan
Producer(s)Gary Numan
Tubeway Army singles chronology
"Down in the Park"
"Are 'Friends' Electric?"
Audio sample

Music and productionEdit

"Are 'Friends' Electric?" was originally written on an old out-of-tune pub piano. It was initially two different songs that were combined. Numan recorded it on a Polymoog synthesizer with conventional bass and drums.[3]

The song features three different sections: a recurring "verse" with a synth riff of B flat - E, a recurring section with spoken word over slow arpeggiated seventh chords, and an instrumental break in F. The instrumentation is quite minimal: a conventional drum and bass guitar backing track, some additional heavily flanged guitar (particularly in the instrumental break), subdued vocals and, most prominently, Minimoog and Polymoog synthesisers, an ARP Odyssey synthesizer, and an [RMI] Electrapiano. These synth parts include portamento background lines on the Odyssey.

Numan stumbled upon synthesisers by accident. While intending to record a punk album, he noticed a Minimoog synthesiser that had been left in the studio.[3][4]

In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Numan commented on the song's lyrics;[3]

"All my early songs were about being alone or misunderstood. As a teenager, I'd been sent to a child psychiatrist and put on medication. I had Asperger's and saw the world differently. I immersed myself in sci-fi writers: Philip K Dick, JG Ballard. The lyrics came from short stories I'd written about what London would be like in 30 years. These machines – "friends" – come to the door. They supply services of various kinds, but your neighbours never know what they really are since they look human. The one in the song is a prostitute, hence the inverted commas. It was released in May 1979 and sold a million copies. I had a No 1 single with a song about a robot prostitute and no one knew."


The B-side of the single was a more rock-oriented number, "We Are So Fragile". It was performed on Numan's 1979 "Touring Principle" series of concerts and appears on the album Living Ornaments '79. The song was covered by bis on the compilation album Random.


Despite being over five minutes long and possessing, in the words of its composer, "no recognisable hook-line whatsoever",[5] the single topped the UK charts in mid-1979. Whilst the track's distinctive sound stood out at the time, sales also benefited 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.[6]

Writing for Smash Hits in 1979, Cliff White described the song as "a dark, threatening wall of synthesised sound" which "throbbed ominously behind a gloomy song of paranoia and loneliness".[7] White went on to say it was "gripping stuff, but cheerful it isn't".

The song has retrospectively been described as "an atmospheric, almost frigid-sounding monologue spliced over creepy after-dark synthesizers" that "had not a hook or chorus in sight".[8]

Live versionsEdit

"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.

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Gary Numan.

1."Are 'Friends' Electric?"5:18
2."We Are So Fragile"2:46


Tubeway Army


  • Gary Numan – production

Charts and certificationsEdit

Sampling and cover versionsEdit

The song was sampled by Richard X in a song titled "We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends" as a mashup with vocals from Adina Howard's "Freak like Me", which the Sugababes then recorded under the latter title and achieved a number one UK hit in 2002 (Numan considered this track to be better than "Are 'Friends' Electric?"[18]). It was also covered by Information Society on their 1997 album Don't Be Afraid, and The Dead Weather for their B-side of "Hang You from the Heavens".

The song was covered by American rock band Weezer and released alongside their 2008 single, "Pork and Beans". "Are 'Friends' Electric?" was featured in the video game Need for Speed: Carbon, JJ Abram's Fringe, and the AMC Television show Halt and Catch Fire. The song was also sampled by Kryder and The Cube Guys in their 2016 single, "You & Me". In 2018, Kevin Max covered the song for his concept album Romeo Drive.

In popular cultureEdit

The song was featured in the 2006 video game Need for Speed: Carbon. It plays whenever the player is using a car in the tuner class.[19] In IO Interactive's Hitman, the mission 'Club 27' has a reference in the form of an Objective of the same name.


  1. ^ a b "British single certifications – Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Simpson Dave. "Gary Numan and Mary Vango: how we made Are 'Friends' Electric?". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  4. ^ BBC documentary: Synth Britannia.
  5. ^ Stephen Webbon; Gary Numan (December 1985). "Complete Gary Numan UK Discography". Record Collector (76): 14.
  6. ^ Paul Goodwin (2004). Electric Pioneer: An Armchair Guide to Gary Numan. pp. 38–39.
  7. ^ White, Cliff. "Singles". Smash Hits (31 May – 13 June 1979): 24–25.
  8. ^ Peter Buckley (ed.) The Rough Guide to Rock, Rough Guides 2003
  9. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  10. ^ "Tubeway Army – Are 'Friends' Electric?" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  11. ^ "Tubeway Army – Are 'Friends' Electric?" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  12. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Are Friends Electric". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  13. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 34, 1979" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  14. ^ "Tubeway Army – Are 'Friends' Electric?" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Tubeway Army – Are 'Friends' Electric?". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  16. ^ " – Tubeway Army – Are 'Friends' Electric?". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Top Singles 1979". Music Week. London, England: Spotlight Publications. 22 December 1979. p. 27.
  18. ^ "Gary Numan - Interview". Designer Magazine. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Need For Speed Carbon Soundtrack Burns Rubber". IGN. IGN. Retrieved 1 March 2020.