Music History

Did You Know That This Song Was About a Robot Prostitute? Neither Did I.

In the late 70s, I began a brief besotted-ness with the earliest techno-pop that was arriving from the UK. Being both a fan of Bowie and Kraftwerk, it was only natural for me to gravitate to the cold, robotic tones of Gary Numan. The first single of his I ever bought was “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” For all this time, I could never figure out why ‘Friends’ was written in quotes inside the title. What did it signify? What was Numan trying to say?

Now we know. quotes Numan in an interview with NTR, a Dutch TV network.

It was a futurist version of getting pornography in the post, what comes in a brown envelope so your neighbours don’t know what it is,” he told Dutch TV NTR. “These machines that look human are doing various services in these grey coats and they all look the same. If the BBC had known what it was about they would never have played it. They would never have let me go on Top of the Pops. Thumbs up for obscure lyrics.

When you think about a hit single it really doesn’t have any of the things going for it that you would expect,” he said. “You can’t dance to it, it doesn’t have a chorus, it is really long and it’s about robot prostitutes.

Ah. Now I understand. “Friends.” Right.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37438 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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