On April 4th, 1979, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army released their second and final studio album.
During the band’s beginnings, Numan credits his father for getting the band off the ground,” If I owe anything to any one person, it’s my father,” he said. Tony Webb donated his savings and worked as a roadie to help finance the band’s in the beginning. Gary’s uncle Jess Lidyard also joined the band and would remain in the lineup for the debut LP, and its follow-up Replicas. The addition of former bassist for The Lasers Paul Gardiner completed the band’s initial lineup.
Tubeway Army, initially punk rock in sound, quickly signed to new independent label Beggar’s Banquet, which was at the time part of a London record store. The band released a series of 45s (“That’s Too Bad” and “Bombers”) that failed to chart.
This indicated a new direction was needed, but Numan had to initially fight with the label to develop the sound that would ultimately lead to their mutual success.
Numan explained during an interview with The Guardian:
“They were not entirely happy. Martin Mills, to his great credit, decided to take a chance but I almost had a fight with the other director at Beggars at that time. Lost of shouting and swearing. To be fair they had put me into the studio to record a punk album as we had been signed as a punk band. When I got to the studio I found a Mini Moog lurking in the corner which I was allowed to borrow and so hastily adapted my punk songs to pul-elctro songs. It wasn’t what the label expected or wanted. I think Martin agreed to release it because they couldn’t afford to send me back to the studio to make the punk album but I could be wrong. It all worked out very well for everyone though.”
Around the time that the Tubeway Army album came out in a limited edition of 5,000 on blue vinyl, Numan, birth surname Webb, initially chose the stage name Valerian from the Science Fiction comic of the same name. Not being satisfied with his choice, He would famously flip through the Yellow Pages and picked the surname “Numan” from an advert in the Yellow pages for a plumber whose surname was “Neumann”.
The next album Replicas, taking influence from Ultravox, Bowie, and Kraftwerk, was completed in only a week. The record fully transitioned the band to an electronic music sound, and was a game-changer for the music industry.
Built around his Minimoog, Replicas showcased Numan’s rapidly developing aptitude as a songwriter and producer resulting in “Are “Friends’ Electric?”, the second single from the album, reaching number one in the British charts. The album itself was soon to follow as well.
The album’s meteoric success was an alien concept to the newly christened Numan:
“I couldn’t believe how much of an anticlimax it was when [‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’] got to number one,” said Gary. “When it got to number two it was such a dream come true that I wouldn’t let myself believe it’d go to number one, so that I wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t.” He was elated when notified by phone of his chart triumph, but “then I hung up, and I went back to watching television. It took me well over a year for it to sink in, and for me to get used to it.”
“The first single from Replicas was “Down in the Park”, which they put out as a 12-inch in a picture bag. Then they put out “Are Friends Electric?” as a picture disc, which was unusual for someone at our level because our work was unknown.”
This packaging, along with a striking robotic appearance on BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test, launched “Are Friends Electric” to the top of the UK charts for four weeks.
“I’d never been on the telly and I hadn’t gigged in over a year. I used to just stand there with my guitar, very nervous, not moving, and that was in front of like a hundred people. Now I had to go in front of millions on television. I started practicing in front of a mirror.”
The Gary Numan android-like stage persona, which would later be credited to the singer’s diagnosed Aspergers was perfect for the new electronic sound.
“The Whistle Test’s lighting’s all bilious green and amber, and the same for everybody. But I said, ‘No colors, just white lights,’ and they were pleased that somebody was taking an interest in the show’s presentation.”
The presentation of Replicas was so strong because it was a concept album based on a dystopian book Numan was developing,
The setting, strongly inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick, was in a not-too-distant future metropolis where androids known as Machmen govern and police human on orders from the shadowy Grey Men (shadowy officials).
Details from this story unfold within the lyrics of the album’s 10 tracks:
- “Me! I Disconnect from You”
- “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”
- “The Machman”
- “Praying to the Aliens”
- “Down in the Park”
- “You Are in My Vision”
- “It Must Have Been Years”
- “When the Machines Rock”
- “I Nearly Married a Human”
The record’s cover art displays Numan as a Machman staring out from a window in his room at a waning crescent moon hovering above “The Park” as a barely visible man stands outside while Numan’s reflection stares back at himself.
The 1999 and 2008 reissue editions of the Replicas include several bonus tracks, including three single B-sides: “We Are So Fragile” (from “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”), and “Do You Need the Service?” and “I Nearly Married a Human (2)” (from “Down in the Park”). “The Crazies”, “Only a Downstat” and “We Have a Technical” were outtakes from the Replicas sessions.