It was May 1979 when most of us got our first ever look at Gary Numan as he fronted Tubeway Army and enjoyed a #1 hit:-

mp3 : Tubeway Army – Are Friends Electric?

He was a very peculiar looking individual, looking more like a dummy or a robot from a sci-fi film than a human being. It’s only when doing the research for this post did it hit me that he was just 21 years of age when he achieved this mainstream success – he was only five years older than me but I remember watching him on Top of the Pops  and thinking that he was ancient.

The mentality of the school playground was such that I can’t recall any of my male peers being fans as he was considered an out-and-out weirdo. The girls didn’t fancy him either, probably on account that he didn’t ooze sex appeal. Looking back, we were of an age that didn’t get it.

You had those of us who loved the fast spiky guitars of new wave while others were at the other extreme of appreciating nothing but the bombastic noise of hard rock, and, for both camps, the very thought of synthesisers blasting out of the cheap stereo speakers in our bedrooms was too much to handle. There were some who had a love for keyboards via their prog rock collections, but their contempt for Numan was ever worse given his haircut and the fact he wouldn’t be caught dead wearing patchouli oil.

But it’s amazing what a difference a few months can make. Most of the gang had left school in the summer of 1979, with many finding work as cheap labour in the banking and retail sectors, while others got a foot on the bottom rung of the civil service ladder.  The luckier ones found themselves an apprenticeship/trade and and the unluckiest found themselves on the dole, from where they would eventually be plucked and put into some sort of training scheme for not much more than slave wages.  Only about a quarter of us returned to school in August 1979, into 5th Year to sit exams that would possibly see us eventually go to college or university, and the biggest single change was that we now had a common room in which we could congregate when we weren’t attending lessons. A common room in which we could play music, mostly via radio but very occasionally someone would bring in a cassette player, having saved all their pocket money to buy the six large batteries that powered it. It was in that very common room that I would have first heard this:-

mp3 : Gary Numan – Cars

It seemed the weird looking bloke had gone solo and cut a record that was tailor-made for radio. He still had a squeaky, robotic-type voice but there was something rather immediate about the song which made it an enjoyable listen. Being know-all 16/17 year-olds, there was a bit of a competition to come up with the songs/records that were closely related to Cars, with, as you’d expect, David Bowie being mentioned, and in particular, Heroes. Those who had older siblings were dropping he names of Roxy Music and Brian Eno into the conversation and I threw in the name of a new band that had just come across my radar, Magazine, but was quick to point out that their songs also had loads of guitar and bass on them.

So…..we now had a situation where is it was now very acceptable to like Gary Numan, and indeed there were a number who were now saying that they had liked Are Friends Electric? all along (I’ll plead guilty to that charge…..). Little did any of us realise that an electronica revolution was just around the corner, and that just over a year later, a number of us would be making our way to the Glasgow Apollo to our first ever synth-gig where the headliners were Orchestral Manoeuvres in Dark, a duo that had just taken the singles chart by storm. Little did we know, until Andy McCluskey spoke during the set, that this was not OMD’s first appearance at the hallowed venue, having been there 12 months earlier as support to, yup, Gary Numan.

I now recognise just how big and important and how brilliant Gary Numan/Tubeway Army was back in the day. He paved the way for what would come next, enabling the likes of The Human League and Soft Cell to enjoy chart domination at the start of the 80s. But I still can’t get my head around the fact he was in his early 20s at the time.

Here’s the b-sides of the two songs featured above:-

mp3 : Tubeway Army – We Are So Fragile
mp3 : Gary Numan – Asylum

The latter, an instrumental, is like something out of a horror movie.



  1. I once saw a school band cover Cars but with a flute replacing the main synth riff. It was surprisingly good

  2. I was introduced to Tubeway Army via a friend’s sister. She was besotted. She was definitely at Glasgow Apollo gigs – I would guess ’79 and ’80. I do remember her telling me how out-of-this-world the stage show was and also recall just how quickly she fell out of love with him to embrace mod-revival.

    In 1980 the same friends mum bought me I Die You Die for my birthday. I treasured it. I still do.

    Are Friends Electric? and Cars are deserving of the acclaim they receive but Mr Numan has so much more up that musical sleeve of his.

    Note: The Android in La La Land documentary is well worth the watch.

  3. In the summer of 1979 I was working as a waiter in North Berwick (sounds like a line from a Human League song)
    I shared a room with two pals one of whom had a record player with him and one album Tubeway Army.
    it can get a bit repetitive after a while.

  4. We managed to hear “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” once or twice on the FM Rock we listened to in ’78-’79 and were immediately struck by what we’d heard. US FM radio was moving quickly then from being a freeform thing that DJ’s controlled the playlists for to “consultants” picking the playlists [of 20 new records and 50 old ones] which made me abandon listening to commercial radio by 1980. But, thankfully, not before we heard Gary Numan slip through the cracks. I managed to record AFE from the radio and even was cheeky enough to play the song on my own radio show [I was a DJ on my high school station – 10 watts of power!] even before I knew the name of the artist, so i had to fudge on the playlogs that we had to register with the Federal Communications Commission in the USA. I remember I called the artist the “The NuWaves.” I got the first syllable right!

    It was later that year that he released “Cars” and that, surprisingly, took off in America. I then learned the name and even saw Numan on Saturday Night Live, performing live. This was quite a sweet gig for musicians in America. The late-night program was must-see TV for my peer group and the live nature of it was certainly exciting. He performed “Cars” and “Praying To The Aliens” and managed to hit the US Top 10 for the only time with “Cars.”

    By that time, my friend chasinvictoria had bought “Replicas” and we were all seriously into it. I remember calling him “The New Bowie” which was a but much, but I was only 16! We spent ’79-’80 listening very heavily to Numan’s first four albums. “Telekon” was on constant play at my friend Dave’s home. But by September of 1980 we finally heard this band that we’d read Numan mention in the occasional interview. And they were called Ultravox. The game had seriously changed upon hearing/seeing the vid for “Passing Strangers.”

  5. I always liked ‘Down in the park’ from Replicas though I never had the album. It seems Dave Grol is a big fan because the Foo Fighters covered it link here:

    ‘Cars’ is just a great pop single – is it my age or were there quite a lot of great singles in 1979? Transmission, Heart of Glass, Good times, Don’t stop till you get enough, Oliver’s Army, Up the Junction, Gangsters, Is she really going out with him?, London Calling, Eton Rifles – to name but a few.

  6. Thanks Mopy – never heard the Foo’s cover before.
    What I like about cars and ‘AFE’ are they are so different yet still both big hits. Cars is a relatively simple tune whereas ‘AFE’ doesn’t sound anything like anything else before or since. The other thing I observe about Numan are that he is like marmite. His fans love him and are so passionate about his music whereas other people hate him. As flimflanman says if you watch the documentary I think most people will have a lot more time for him.

  7. I loved Numan and Tubeway Army. I tried to persuade my mum to let me get my hair dyed but she wouldn’t let me, I did get the half blue half red straight tie though. Bought everything up until She’s Got Claws which really was pish. Still got the Tubeway Army and Pleasure Principle albums and the Living Ornaments box set.

  8. I purchased both Are Friends Electric and Cars as a relatively uncynical 13 year old – if it wasn’t Abba or “disco”, it was OK as far as my peers and I were concerned.

    Just over 40 years later – last month – I finally saw Numan live and loved the show. His more recent stuff is great and although many of the old numbers are in his set, they have a much more modern take, which I have no problem with. 2017 track “My Name Is Ruin” is excellent and there’s a new album due next year.

  9. I loved Are Friends Electric at the time (and still do), but lost interest soon after and was fairly hostile to the Tory stuff and the general image.
    I met Gary and his wife in the late 90s when he played in Glasgow and found him honest, self-deprecating, unpretentious, funny, regretful about the Tory thing which was mostly a perverse and shallow over-reaction to right-on 80s attitudes, and mainly a really genuine bloke doing what he loves for really loyal fans.

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