5 songs producers need to hear… by Moby

(Image credit: Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)

Moby returns this spring with his 17th album, All Visible Objects, via Mute Records.

Over the last three decades, the New York-based producer has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at his adoring - and, at times, not so adoring - public. They've embraced his dance output, endured his animal-rights punk and completely lapped up his late 20th century career-high album, Play.

The proceeds from Moby's new album go to a raft of charities - which are basically saving the world - and, as we discovered while perusing his history for five choice Moby cuts, he may have swerved from rave to ambient and rock to gospel, but he's always been willing to plough some of his rich rewards back into the 'spare change tin' that is life…

So then, here we, ahem, go...

1. Go 

The first face of Moby was as a 90s' raver, and while Feeling So Real was his later fast-paced Prodigy-esque entry in that arena (or field near the M25), Go was the more polite face of early dance music, featuring  'that' mesmerising synth pad/string riff sampled from Twin Peaks, a swirling beat and a couple of main vocal snippets - 'yeah' and 'go'.

One suspects that just those elements alone would have filled the memory of his hardware sampler of the time, but, ah, how technology limitations breed beauty. The combination of the three, plus an undulating arrangement that set a precedent for the highs and lows of dance music that followed in that decade, meant that Go - and variations and remixes of it, the most famous being the Woodtick Mix - shifted a couple of million copies. He's also got hair in the video.  

2. God Moving Over The Face Of Waters 

Back in the ‘90s, with every yin of a rave anthem there was the yang of a comedown track. You danced until you fell and then you chilled out until the sun came up… or so middle-aged arthritic ex-ravers tell us.

Moby was an all-night kind of a lad, so catered for the entire shift - night and morning. As well as providing the uptempo delights of Feeling So Real and Anthem, he also gave us the antidotes like Hymn and God Moving Over The Face Of Waters, two outstanding examples of 'classical chill' from his 1995 album Everything Is Wrong.

The first is too obvious a choice and we're getting paid by the word, so it's the latter we're opting for. Insistent arpeggiated, almost Steve Reich-ian piano, beautiful strings and a simple chord sequence are all you need if the ingredients are right - and if you've taken enough drugs to come crashing down through the floor - and God Moving Over The Face Of Waters (50 cents right there) remains a classic of the genre and even a classic in the classical music genre, if you think about it.

3. Natural Blues

It's hard not to listen to 1998 gazillion-selling Moby comeback album Play without imagining the huge piles of cash in Moby's apartment - it sold millions, and every single song on the album was licensed by some corporation or other -  but it's also hard, over two decades after its release, not to be impressed by its sheer depth of quality. Indeed we could have easily filled all five slots here with rich pickings from the 18 tracks from this particularly long player, so have shown remarkable restraint to choose just two.

The synth rock of Bodyrock was a contender, as was the delicate muse of piano, acoustic guitar and strings from Everloving, but Natural Blues is our first and more obvious choice. 

With elements of everything that Moby had done before - big strings, clever vocal samples, ridiculously memorable melodies and simple arrangements -Natural Blues grabs you with the vocal just like Go did, lifts you up high with the strings and then even higher with more strings just because… well, why not? (Moby has never been coy about his love of strings – just check out his track called, erm, Love Of Strings.)

And if you think we sound excited, just imagine how frothing of the mouth those be-pony-tailed ad execs were after one listen to the monster 10-million plus seller that Play eventually became. 

4. Porcelain

We were going to try for something a little less obvious for our second choice from Play - the brevity, delicacy and impact of the strings make The Sky Is Broken a close second and My Weakness is a fittingly-excellent closing track to the best Moby album - but we're bowing to peer pressure a little, as Porcelain sits at the top, or close to the summit, of many a Moby 'best of' (not to mention its 35 million plays on YouTube).

And it's easy to hear why. It sets out a template for the Moby sound on Play very early on, with well-chosen vocal samples, vocoded Moby vocals, reverse strings and that delicate piano (of course). But the strings serve both as a chorus and then to lift you on a Moby cloud made of beautiful female vocals and dreamy pianos into another more heavily layered verse, then a breakdown, before it all comes charging back in like some kind of electronic unicorn. 

He's basically taking the 'stop, start, build it' formula from his dance music days and shoving it into a synth ballad, and it works, dammit. So much so that Porcelain helped shift millions of products and those copies of Play. (Incidentally, shortly after the coffers must have been full to bursting with cash from the album, we saw Moby stuff a large amount of the proceedings into a homeless man's tin in New York, after which we chased him down the street for an interview. Only our rave-induced arthritis held us back from a world exclusive chat about what a nice guy Moby actually is…)

5. We Are All Made Of Stars

Moving finally away from Play - look, just buy it if you are one of the few people who doesn't already own it - we touch on 18, its follow up, often regarded as Play Mk 2 as some of its songs do sound like cast-offs from the former record.

However, opener We Are All Made Of Stars again reveals Moby's knack for a strong chorus, but this time within a song structure, rather like he'd taken all of what has come before - the catchy riffs from rave songs, the catchy vocals from Play and 18 - and started to mould more traditional pop songs around them.

We Are All Made Of Stars, Extreme Ways and later tracks like Beautiful and Spiders from the album Hotel showed a more middling, dare we say standard, but no-less catchy side of Moby. But just as you start to think Moby might have wanted to be a pop star all along - before all of that dance success got in the way - you’re forced to think again. New track Power Is Taken from his new album All Visible Objects is most definitely a return to his dance roots. That ‘90s dance revival gathers yet more momentum... 

Andy Jones

Andy has been writing about music production and technology for 30 years having started out on Music Technology magazine back in 1992. He has edited the magazines Future Music, Keyboard Review, MusicTech and Computer Music, which he helped launch back in 1998. He owns way too many synthesizers.

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