Play (Moby album)

Play is the fifth studio album by American electronica musician Moby. It was released on May 17, 1999, through Mute Records internationally and V2 Records in North America. Recording of the album began in mid-1997, following the release of his fourth album, Animal Rights (1996), which deviated from Moby's electronica style; his goal for Play was to return to this style of music. Originally intended to be his final record, the recording of the album took place at Moby's home studio in Manhattan, New York.

Moby play.JPG
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 17, 1999 (1999-05-17)
RecordedAugust 1997–1999
StudioMoby's home studio, Manhattan, New York
Moby chronology
I Like to Score
MobySongs 1993–1998
Singles from Play
  1. "Honey"
    Released: August 24, 1998 (1998-08-24)
  2. "Run On"
    Released: April 26, 1999 (1999-04-26)
  3. "Bodyrock"
    Released: July 12, 1999 (1999-07-12)
  4. "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?"
    Released: October 11, 1999 (1999-10-11)
  5. "Natural Blues"
    Released: March 6, 2000 (2000-03-06)
  6. "Porcelain"
    Released: June 12, 2000 (2000-06-12)
  7. "South Side"
    Released: November 7, 2000 (2000-11-07)
  8. "Find My Baby"
    Released: November 2000 (2000-11)

While some of Moby's earlier work garnered critical and commercial success within the electronic dance music scene, Play was both a critical success and a commercial phenomenon. Initially issued to lackluster sales, it topped numerous album charts months after its release and was certified platinum in more than 20 countries.[1] The album introduced Moby to a worldwide mainstream audience, not only through a large number of hit singles that helped the album to dominate worldwide charts for two years, but also through unprecedented licensing of his music in films, television, and commercial advertisements. Play eventually became the biggest-selling electronica album of all time, with over 12 million copies sold worldwide.[2]

In 2003 and 2012, the album was ranked number 341 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[3][4]


The second half of the 1990s saw Moby in career turmoil after years of being a successful techno wunderkind. The release in 1996 of Animal Rights, a dark, eclectic, guitar-fueled record built around the punk and metal records that he loved as a teenager, proved a critical and commercial disaster that left him considering quitting music altogether and going back to school to study architecture. He explained: "I was opening for Soundgarden and getting shit thrown at me every night onstage. I did my own tour and was playing to roughly fifty people a night." However, he claimed, "I got one piece of fan mail from Terence Trent D'Arby and I got a phone call from Axl Rose saying he was listening to Animal Rights on repeat. Bono told me he loved Animal Rights. So if you're gonna have three pieces of fan mail, that's the fan mail to get."[5]

Moby started work on the album in August 1997 and put it on hold several times to complete touring obligations.[6] Recording sessions took place in Moby's Mott Street home studio in Manhattan, New York. At the time, Moby planned on making the album his last before ending his career.[7] Play was delayed due to Moby's dissatisfaction with the initial mix of the album that he had produced at home. A second mixing was completed in an outside studio before attempts in two other studios displayed similar results. After returning home and producing a mix by himself, Moby felt happy with it. In the end, Moby said that he had "wasted a lot of time and money".[6] Moby recalled a moment from March 1999, after Play had been mixed and sequenced, where he sat on the grass in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park: "I was sitting by the little tire swings that had been chewed apart by the pit bulls [...] thinking to myself, 'When this record comes out, it will be the end of my career. I should start thinking about what else I can do.'" At that point, he considered returning to school to become an architect.[8]

When he finished recording, there was no sign that the album would perform any differently than Animal Rights. According to Moby, he shopped the record to every major label, from Warner Bros. to Sony to RCA, and was rejected every time. After V2 finally picked it up, his publicist sent the record to journalists, many of whom declined to listen to it.[5] According to Moby's manager Eric Härle, their original goal was to sell 250,000 copies, which was what Everything Is Wrong, Moby's biggest-selling album at the time, had sold.[9]

Composition and musicEdit

According to Spin magazine's Will Hermes, Play was "the high-water mark for populist electronica" and a "millennial roots and blues masterwork",[10] while John Bush from AllMusic said it balanced Moby's early electronica sound with "the breakbeat techno evolution of the '90s".[11] Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis noted its incorporation of such disparate musical influences as early blues, African-American folk music, gospel, hip hop, disco and techno, "all within the context of his own distinctly melodic ambient stylings."[12] Complex described Play as "an organic downtempo masterpiece" that fused live studio recordings and "found sounds".[13] The album was particularly notable for its extensive use of samples from field recordings collected by Alan Lomax on the 1993 box set Sounds of the South: A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta. Moby was introduced to the collection through a friend, Dimitri Ehrlich, who loaned the CDs to him.[5] Most of the samples were short and constantly repeated throughout the songs. For example, "Honey" used a sample from Bessie Jones that consisted of a conjunction of four verses that was repeated over twenty times. In the liner notes for the album, Moby gave "special thanks to the Lomaxes and all of the archivists and music historians whose field recordings made this record possible."[14]

Release and promotionEdit

When Play was released on May 17, 1999, it underperformed commercially. In the United Kingdom, it debuted at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart, but sales declined in the weeks immediately following its debut and the album spent only five further weeks inside the charts for the remainder of the year.[15][16] Moby stated, "First show that I did on the tour for Play was in the basement of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square. Literally playing music while people were waiting in line buying CDs. Maybe forty people came."[5] Despite the album's strong critical reviews, Play's songs received little airplay from radio stations or television networks such as MTV.[17] While this lack of airplay further damaged the album's commercial prospects, Moby and his record label soon found another approach to increasing public exposure of the album, by way of licensing its songs to films, television shows, and commercials.[17] According to Moby, the goal behind the licensing of Play "was simply to get people to hear the music," adding, "Most of the licenses weren't particularly lucrative, but they enabled people to hear the music because otherwise the record wasn't being heard."[18] Eric Härle later clarified that although many people believed the songs were pitched for advertisements as part of the marketing campaign for an album that did not fit with mainstream radio, the licensing actually came as a result of agencies asking for permission to use the music as soundbeds, attributing the music's popularity to its evocative and emotional nature.[9] Despite the heavy licensing, the advertisements selected were nevertheless carefully chosen and more requests were turned down than accepted.[9]

The licensing approach proved successful in increasing exposure to Play, and subsequently radio and MTV airplay for the album's songs began to pick up.[17][19] On January 15, 2000, the album re-entered the UK charts, slowly climbing positions and finally reaching number one three months later on April 15, 2000, spending five weeks at the top.[16] On April 20, 2000, the producers of a British television program asked to use "7", the only track from Play that no one else had yet to license, for a television program. "When the fax arrived", said Moby's manager Barry Taylor, "we celebrated."[20] Remaining on the chart for the remainder of the year and achieving an overall total of 81 weeks, Play became the fifth best-selling album of 2000 in the UK,[16][21] as well as the year's best-selling independent album.[1] By October 2000, Play had attained platinum certifications in seventeen countries and topped the charts in seven.[22] Despite reaching only number 38 on the Billboard 200, over two million copies were sold in the United States, with the album enjoying steady sales for months and constant popularity.[23] Moby would later recall:

Almost a year after it came out in 2000 I was opening up for Bush on an MTV Campus Invasion Tour. It was degrading for the most part. Their audience had less than no interest in me. February in 2000, I was in Minnesota, I was depressed and my manager called me to tell me that Play was number one in the UK, and had beat out Santana's Supernatural. I was like, 'But the record came out 10 months ago.' That's when I knew, all of a sudden, that things were different. Then it was number one in France, in Australia, in Germany—it just kept piling on. [...] The week Play was released, it sold, worldwide around 6,000 copies. Eleven months after Play was released, it was selling 150,000 copies a week. I was on tour constantly, drunk pretty much the entire time and it was just a blur. And then all of a sudden movie stars started coming to my concerts and I started getting invited to fancy parties and suddenly the journalists who wouldn't return my publicist's calls were talking about doing cover stories. It was a really odd phenomenon.[5]

Play also found its major strengths on the support of its impressive string of eight hit singles, an unprecedented feat for an electronica album. Seven of those singles were UK top 40 hits—"Honey", the first single, was already in the market in August 1998, nearly ten months before the release of the actual album. The final single choice was "Find My Baby", which appeared on some national charts three and a half years after. Twelve music videos were commissioned for a total of eight different singles, produced by a large number of directors, which included Jonas Åkerlund ("Porcelain"), Roman Coppola ("Honey"), Joseph Kahn ("South Side"), and David LaChapelle ("Natural Blues"). The apparent result of the marketing strategy was that the album, after an unremarkable debut, stayed on the charts for several years and broke sales projections for Moby and for the dance music scene, which was not seen to be a dominant commercial genre in the US in the 1990s (as compared with in Europe, where Moby had initially found fame).[citation needed]

In October 2000, a compilation album entitled Play: The B Sides was released, consisting of tracks released as B-sides on the album's singles.[24] A DVD titled Play: The DVD, produced by Moby and Jeff Rogers, was later released in July 2001 as a companion to Play, featuring most of the accompanying music videos for the album's singles, an 88-minute megamix of all the remixes created for the album accompanied by visuals created in Toronto at Crush, led by director Kathi Prosser, a performance on Later... with Jools Holland, a tour diary shot by Moby and edited by Tara Bethune-Leamen entitled Give an Idiot a Camcorder, a DVD-ROM component where users are able to remix two of Moby's songs, and a bonus CD containing the aforementioned megamix.[25] The package was later nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video.[26]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic     [11]
Chicago Sun-Times    [12]
Christgau's Consumer GuideA+[28]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[29]
The Guardian     [30]
Q     [33]
Rolling Stone     [34]

Play was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 84, based on 20 reviews.[27]

Reviewing for The Village Voice in 1999, Robert Christgau said the album's sampled recordings would not "shout anywhere near as loud and clear" without Moby's "ministrations—his grooves, his pacing, his textures, his harmonies, sometimes his tunes, and mostly his grooves, which honor not just dance music but the entire rock tradition it's part of."[36] He deemed the album "no more focused" than Moby's previous "brilliant messes" but still "one of those records whose drive to beauty should move anybody who just likes, well, music itself."[37] AllMusic's John Bush felt Play showed Moby "balancing his sublime early sound with the breakbeat techno evolution of the '90s".[11] Barry Walters from Rolling Stone said "the ebb and flow of eighteen concise, contrasting cuts writes a story about Moby's beautifully conflicted interior world while giving the outside planet beats and tunes on which to groove."[34] David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, said despite some needed editing, Moby's graceful soundscapes filter out the original recordings' antiquated sound and "make the singers' heartache and hope seem fresh again."[29] In a more critical appraisal, Pitchfork reviewer Brent DiCrescenzo believed the "raw magnetism" of the sampled recordings was lost to "innate digital recording techniques", resulting in music that was "fun and functional, yet disposable."[32]

At the end of 1999, Play was voted the year's best album in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics published in The Village Voice.[38] Christgau, the poll's supervisor, ranked it second best on his own year-end list.[39] The following year, the album was nominated for Best Alternative Music Performance at the 42nd Grammy Awards.[40] Since then, it has frequently been named one of the greatest albums of all-time; according to Acclaimed Music, it is the 316th most ranked record on critics' all-time lists.[41] NPR named Play one of the 300 most important American records of the 20th century, as determined by the network's news and cultural programming staff, prominent critics, and scholars.[42] It was also ranked number 341 on Rolling Stone's 2003 and 2012 lists of the 500 greatest albums of all time,[3][4] and in 2005, a panel of recording industry pundits assembled by Channel 4 voted Play the 63rd-best album ever.[43] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[44]


According to Rolling Stone, "Play wasn't the first album to make a rock star out of an insular techno nerdnik, but it was the first to make one a pop sensation. [...] Play made postmodernism cuddly, slowly but surely striking a chord with critics and record-buyers alike."[5] According to Wired magazine, the songs on Play—which became the first album ever to have all of its tracks licensed for use in films, television shows or commercials—"have been sold hundreds of times ... a licensing venture so staggeringly lucrative that the album was a financial success months before it reached its multi-platinum sales total."[20] In a retrospective piece for Wondering Sound, Robert Christgau wrote:

Although some techno futurists still disparage the gorgeous Play, it qualified as a futurist work simply by redefining the concept of "commercial." Clubs would never take a CD mega, and no way could these anonymously sung tracks crack any hit-based radio format. So Moby's handlers swamped the mass market through the side door, placing swatches of all 18 songs (most many times) on movie and TV soundtracks and in ads for the likes of Volkswagen, Baileys Irish Cream and American Express. FM exposure followed. But the main reason this album will sound familiar the way Beethoven's Ninth does to a classical ignoramus is that little bits of it have seeped into most Americans' brains. For this be grateful, because those bits are intensely pleasurable as melody or texture or sometimes beat, and because Moby has ordered, paced, and segued them and their intimate surroundings into something that suggests a surging and receding whole. A Treacherous Three rap powers "Bodyrock," but most of the identifiable sources are little-known blues and gospel singers first archived by folklorist Alan Lomax. Folk purists might well claim this re-use cheapens them. But here's betting musical folk like the singers themselves are plenty proud somewhere.[45]

Furthermore, in an interview with Rolling Stone, English singer-songwriter Adele credited Play as a major influence on her 2015 album 25,[46] stating:

There's something that I find really holy about that Play album... The way it makes me feel. Even though there's nothing holy or preachy about it. There's just something about it—maybe the gospel samples. But it makes me feel alive, that album, still. And I remember my mum having that record.[46]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Moby, except where noted.

2."Find My Baby"
  • Moby
  • Willie Jones
3."Porcelain" 4:01
4."Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" 4:23
5."South Side" 3:48
6."Rushing" 2:58
8."Natural Blues"
9."Machete" 3:36
10."7" 0:58
11."Run On" 3:44
12."Down Slow" 1:32
13."If Things Were Perfect" 4:16
14."Everloving" 3:24
15."Inside" 4:46
16."Guitar Flute & String" 2:07
17."The Sky Is Broken" 4:16
18."My Weakness" 3:37
Total length:63:03
Sample credits[14]
  • "Honey" samples "Sometimes" by Bessie Jones, produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corp. by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
  • "Find My Baby" samples "Joe Lee's Rock" by Boy Blue, produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corp by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
  • "Bodyrock" samples "Love Rap" by Spoonie Gee and the Treacherous Three, produced under license from Enjoy Records, Inc.
  • "Natural Blues" samples "Trouble So Hard" by Vera Hall, produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corp. by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
  • "Run On" samples "Run On for a Long Time" by Bill Landford and The Landfordairs, used courtesy of Sony Music.


Credits for Play adapted from album liner notes.[14]

  • Moby – engineering, mixing, production, writing, instruments, vocals on "Porcelain", "South Side", "Machete", "If Things Were Perfect", and "The Sky Is Broken"
  • Pilar Basso – additional vocals on "Porcelain"
  • Mario Caldato Jr. – mixing on "Honey"
  • Nikki D – additional vocals on "Bodyrock"
  • Graeme Durham – mastering
  • I Monster – mixing on "Natural Blues"
  • Reggie Matthews – additional vocals on "If Things Were Perfect"
  • The Shining Light Gospel Choir – additional vocals on "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?"

Artwork and design

  • Corinne Day – photography
  • Ysabel Zu Innhausen Und Knyphausen – artwork design



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[71] 4× Platinum 280,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[72] Gold 25,000*
Belgium (BEA)[73] 2× Platinum 100,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[74] 3× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[76] Diamond 1,105,400[75]
Germany (BVMI)[77] Gold 250,000^
Ireland (IRMA)[78] 6× Platinum 90,000^
Italy (FIMI)[78] 2× Platinum 200,000*
Netherlands (NVPI)[79] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[80] 7× Platinum 105,000^
Norway (IFPI Norway)[81] Platinum 50,000*
Sweden (GLF)[82] Platinum 80,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[83] 3× Gold 75,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[85] 6× Platinum 1,819,938[84]
United States (RIAA)[87] 2× Platinum 2,700,000[86]
United States (RIAA)[88]
Gold 50,000^
Europe (IFPI)[89] 4× Platinum 4,000,000*

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


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External linksEdit