Expert site founder Russ Hughes cut his teeth programming synths in the early 80s. Here is an article that was first published on Pro Tools Expert where Russ gives 25 songs every synth lover should hear and why.
I make no secret of the fact of my love for synths; perhaps it was because this was the music that influenced me in my teens. When it comes to music, I’m glad I was born in the mid-60s and was around for the birth of UK synth-pop.
Here are 25 tracks with synths in them that I love and why, if you have not heard them all then check them out. I guess there are some missing that would be on your list, but as with every list some drop off the bottom.
25 songs that every synth lover should hear and why.
Just Can’t Get Enough -Depeche Mode
The opening riff, the bass line, the rhythm parts, the arp - need I say more?
Released - 7 September 1981
The Model (Das Model) - Kraftwerk
German synth pioneers were way ahead of many others. Their use of synths in such an understated way is a pleasure to behold - this is one of many tracks that could have made a list, released in 1978 and still sounds great now.
Released - 1978
Only You - Yazoo
Vince Clarke is one of the founding fathers of synth pop. This track is a lesson is sequenced synth music and is a truly beautiful arrangement and was made way before presets and MIDI-based DAWs.
Released - 15 March 1982
Don’t Go - Yazoo
The second entry for Yazoo and shows the energy that possible with a synth-based track - highlights are the claps and of course the opening riff.
Released - 1982
Enola Gay - OMD
Right from the off the pretty hectic pace of this track, the use of subtle synth layers, the beautiful woodblock sound that runs throughout this pop hit about dropping the H-Bomb makes it a classic.
Released - 1980
Love Action - The Human League
From the outset the synths in this track are the star - the oww synth sound kicks off the track like a brooding alien pulse, and then we get a nice tight synth bass. Listen in headphones for the ultra-stereo arrangement.
Released - 27 July 198
Tainted Love - Soft Cell
The combination of some synths soaked in reverb and others dry as a bone along with the voice of Marc Almond made this a monster synth love song in the 80s.
Released - 1981
Rock Me Amadeus - Falco
Now, this sounds dated, but the use of fat synth stabs in the riff along with the drum sequence all weaving around the vocal makes this a pop synth classic.
Released - 16 June 1985
Jump - Van Halen
The massive synth brass pad sound announcing this rock song is the star of this track, everyone trying out brass sounds in music stores played this riff. Of course don’t forget the synth solo in the middle 8, pure 80s synth magic.
Released - December 21, 1983
Ghosts - Japan
While many were reaching for zippy pop sounds this track shows just how versatile the synth can be, no drums just brooding synths. The tight synth stabs that appear in the track are beautiful.
Released - March 1982
Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy
One of the many tracks in the 1980s to feature the plodding bass synth part, but Bronksi Beat brought something uniquely real to their tracks with the voice of Jimmy Somerville.
Released - 1984
Stephen Duffy - Kiss Me
Every club in the mid-80s was playing this track, you can hear the use of samples in the voice at the start, but the syncopated synth and rhythm are a master class in synth programming.
Released - 1982
1999 - Prince
In much the same vein as ‘Jump’ the star of this track is the massive synth sound that permeates throughout the entire song, just imagine this song without the synth riff.
Released - September 24, 1982
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) - Eurythmics
There are a lot of theories about the synths making the riff on this track; many think it was an Oberheim OB-X, setting that aside the synth riffs are the hero of this song, that takes a lot when Annie Lennox is singing.
Released - 21 January 1983
Alison Moyet - Love Resurrection
The combination of synths with real instruments makes the entire ‘Alf’ album a masterpiece, crafted by Swain and Jolly. Highlights in this track are the clav type synth and the organ in the first verse.
Released - June 1984
New Order - Blue Monday
A lesson in synth minimalism - the synth bass on this track drives along with the simple drum part, keeping the listener hanging for 2 minutes before the vocals start. Classic!
Released - 7 March 1983
Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper
I was torn over this and ‘True Colors’, both tracks show how to use synth pads, they sit there as the bed that the entire track sits on without being mushy. Listen to the way the synth works with the guitar on ‘True Colours’, it’s simply beautiful.
Released - January 27, 1984
Pop Muzik - M
If you ever have any doubt about synths being funky, then this 1979 track from ‘M’ shows how to do it. From the synth bass, the arps, use of synth rhythm and incidental synth part made this a huge hit.
Released - 25 March 1979
Cars - Gary Numan
Apparently, Gary Numan found a Moog synth sitting in a rehearsal room, played it and the rest (as they say) is history. If that story is true, then I’m glad people leave things lying around - Numan brought an almost alien sense to the synth world. This track is one of many of his that could have made this list. The use of the synth lead part riffing with the drums is pure synth genius.
Released - 21 August 1979
Enjoy The Silence - Depeche Mode
From the pop riff of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ to this more grown up Depeche Mode in ‘Enjoy The Silence’ shows just what masters these guys are of synth based music.
Released - 16 January 1990
The Robots - Kraftwerk
Not only cool synth programming but some vocoder to boot. This tightness of this track is a lesson in synth programming; it doesn’t seem to have a hair out of place.
Released - 1978
Are Friends Electric - Tubeway Army
If you ever thought that synth music was rock solid timing quantized to within one inch of its life, then this track will prove you wrong, but even with the drifting rhythm, this is a classic synth track.
Released - 19 May 1979
West End Girls - Pet Shop Boys
Just listen to the bass line. Tightly programmed synth bass and drums, often using the hottest synths and samplers of the time, love or hate the Pet Shop Boys their contribution to synth pop is undeniable.
Released - 9 April 1984
Wood Beez - Scritti Politti
Super tight, samples everywhere but the entire album is a work of synth art, it was recorded in some of the biggest studios of the time and is full of Synclavier. You might hate it as over-produced 80s synth pop, but it is worth a listen, if for no other reason to see how much you could throw at an album.
Released - December 1983
Vienna - Ultravox
The thunder sound is apparently a Synare electronic drum; other sounds include an Oberheim, an Elka string synthesiser and a Roland CR-78 drum machine. Vienna is 80s synth pop at its best.
Released - 9 January 1981
Are these the best 25 synth songs?
So there are 25 every synth lover should hear and why… so what’s missing from the list?