Don’t you hate that: You know the song you’re just hearing but can’t remember the title or who the artist is. Well, you’re not alone – and there’s a big amount of songs that most people recognize, but don’t know the title, let alone the artist’s name. “Popcorn” probably is the perfect example: Everyone knows the bouncy melody, but who can honestly say, who recorded it? Some might know the version by Hot Butter – but that’s not the original…
Oxygene Part 4
This might be better known than I suspect, maybe I’m a bit too pessimistic… But often enough I heard people talking about that song without knowing that it’s “Oxygene Part 4” by French electronic pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre. Just try to whistle the melody to someone, and you’ll probably get a recognising smile, but just don’t ask who wrote that melody 😉
Originally released in 1976, the album “Oxygene” (consisting of six songs titled “Oxygene Part 1” through “Oxygene Part 6”) wasn’t an instant hit with the press (at least not in the UK, where journalists didn’t want to hear electronic music anymore due to the upcoming Punk scene), but still reaching number one on the French charts, number two on the UK charts and number 78 in the US charts, selling 15 million copies. Bad press aside, it is regarded as one of the genre defining works in electronic instrumental music.
“Oxygene Part 4” was released as a single in 1977. The song’s melody can be seen as a variation of the aforementioned, infamous “Popcorn” (we’ll get to that one later), although both songs have quite a different vibe, I would say. I remember seeing ice dancers dancing to “Oxygene” as a child (and yes, back then I also was one of those not knowing what the hell I’m listening to), but the song was also used countless times in film and TV since its release.
Here’s the original video with the cute penguins 😉
Gentle guitars, a cool breeze, Hippie bliss. A lot of people think this instrumental is a Donovan song, but it actually was written by Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac lineup. Released as a single in 1968 it was a hit in several countries and the Mac’s only Number-1 hit in the UK. I’ve heard it countless times on TV, most recently it was used in the shows “Parenthood” and “Wasted”.
Oh, and The KLF sampled it on their landmark 1990 album “Chill Out” (another genre defining work). You can hear “Albatross” in the song “3 AM Out Of Beaumont” – the sample starts at 4:19 and fades in and out for the rest of the song.
Another one of these typical 1970’s electronic instrumentals, that you’ve probably heard umpteen times, but never knew what it was. The French band Space was founded in 1977 by Didier Marouani, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top, with Marouani being the only member in the band today. Their music genre is called Space Disco, a description I never heard before, but really think it fits: They use typical 70’s Disco drums, groovy Bass plus spacey Synthesizers. With this they created three acclaimed albums, with “Magic Fly” being the first one (some say it’s also their best) and it’s title song being one of their most famous hits.
I vividly remember the last scene in the last episode of “Friends”, when they all have left, the camera pans around the empty apartment and this acoustic guitar piece plays – somehow melancholy but not too sad, still sending positive vibes. That’s “Embryonic Journey” by Jefferson Airplane. The little instrumental was released on their 1967 album “Surrealistic Pillow” (which featured singer Grace Slick for the first time, and also included the two big hits “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”).
Yes, it’s that catchy tune from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the entrance music for Duff Man in “The Simpsons”. Everyone knows it, right? And it’s not hard to guess its title, although there are more lyrics to it than just “Oh Yeah”. They’re also talking about “The moon, beautiful. The sun, even more beautiful, ha ha ha”.
So, whose song is it? Of course it’s by Swiss Electro Pop (in their earlier years a bit Punk) pioneers Yello – Pop’s innovative Dada guys. Recently the song or one of his remixes and variations has been used on diverse TV shows like “Workaholics”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, “The Carrie Diaries” and “The Goldbergs” (of course in an episode called “Barry Goldberg’s Day Off”).
Ok, that’s five already, but I don’t want to embezzle the one that started this article: “Popcorn” – so here’s the bonus song:
That melody – I bet you’ve heard it often, maybe sometimes it was too much of an earworm and haunted you in your dreams. No way of telling how often it was used in film and TV around the world, and it’s definitely still a licensing staple. And although you might know the version Hot Butter released in 1972, the original was produced and released by Gershon Kingsley on his 1969 album “Music To Moog By”.
He re-recorded the track in 1971 with his First Moog Quartet, and one member of that band, Stan Free, re-re-recorded the song in 1972 with his band Hot Butter. So there we are at the better known version that became the second electronic song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #9) and go on to become a world hit:
Not surprisingly, the song has been used on “That ’70’s Show” several times, as well as countless other programmes.
PS: The first electronic song to enter the US charts was “The Minotaur” by Dick Hyman & His Electric Eclectics.