What does that song mean?

I Sing the Body Electric - Songs About Computers

Posted Apr 8th 2011, 11:47 by Penguin Pete

IBM just won the TV game show Jeopardy with its Linux-powered dynamo named 'Watson,' an event which record-winner Ken Jennings hailed with the meme "I for one welcome our new computer overlords!" With all the digital technology in our lives, it's about time we started seeing songs about computers. Thanks to the rapidly-advancing field of artificial intelligence, computers will soon be able to write songs about us.

"Deep Blue" - Arcade Fire
Mascot computer: The real-life Deep Blue

This is one very literal example; Arcade Fire points to the historic 1996 chess match between IBM's Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov as the end of human innocence and the dawn of the cynical world of digital, but sterile, perfection. "We watched the end of the century, Compressed on a tiny screen."

"Computer Age" - Neil Young
Mascot computer:
A DEC VAX running Unix/32V

From Neil Young's oh-so-controversial and notorious album Trans, this is one of his takes on technology's effect on music. It's felt here the only way Neil Young delivers anything, with both barrels. The vocoder-voiced computer strains its memory banks to sound human and nurturing, but instead is limited because it is, after all, a machine of plastic. Panned by almost everyone at the time, but Neil Young has since revealed that this whole album was his way of shutting down emotionally in reaction to the life struggles he was going through.

"Computer God" - Black Sabbath
Mascot computer:
An eMachines desktop running Windows 98

You don't get much scarier than lyrics like "Digital dreams, And you're the next correction. Man's a mistake so we'll fix it, yeah! Take a look at your own reflection." This was originally written for Geezer Butler's band, but it ended up on the Dehumanizer album, fittingly enough. Good thing, because Dio made it 100x scarier, as only he could. Bow to your master and accept your fate, human!

"Blame the Machines" - Duran Duran
Mascot computer:
Apple Machintosh System 7

Back when there were such a thing as photocopy shops, you used to see these photocopied cartoons stuck to the wall that said "To err is human. To really foul things up requires a computer." And that's the kind of sentiment expressed here. Actually, it goes far deeper; if you look at the lyrics, the song seems to blame technology for dehumanizing us while providing us the illusion of reality to substitute for the reality. Oh, and the video shows scenes from Barbarella, the classic science fiction film from which Duran Duran gets its name.

"I Love My Computer" - Bad Religion
Mascot computer:
A Gateway laptop running Ubuntu Linux

Wow. From their album The New America. Bad Religion puts the record for hammy declarations of undying affection out of reach forever, and all over a pile of circuit boards! "I love my computer; you make me feel alright. Every waking hour, and every lonely night." It's creepy because... well, we act that way now, don't we?

"Computer" - Electric Six
Mascot computer:
A Dell workstation running Windows Vista

From their album Don't Be Afraid Of The Robot: Live At The Gold Dollar "These machines were never meant for love. These machines were never meant to be girls." Oh, the sad, lonely loser, who can afford the very best in the comfort of mother's basement, but discovers that it can't buy him a ticket to self-respect.

"Pocket Calculator" - Kraftwerk
Mascot computer:
A Texas Instruments TI-99/4A

Whoo-boy! Leave it to Kraftwerk, the German techno-dance wunderkind, to make a digital song about using digital machines and make it the coolest ditty you've ever danced to. Kraftwerk is more than a synthpop group - they've branched the divide to become bona-fide music hackers! Sing along with us now: "I'm the operator with my pocket calculator!"


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