Welcome to Science Fiction Mix Tape: The Robot Edition. Instead of just featuring one song like we usually do, we’re going to feature ten in honor of Science Fiction November. More of a mix tape then the other way around, am I right?
The short version is: I love music and I love science fiction. Story songs, as I hear the kids are calling them these days, are some of the best short fiction out there. Science Fiction Mix Tape is a series in which I share some of my favorite science fictional story songs. If before we get started you want to find out more about the Science Fiction Mix Tape series, you can do that right here. Otherwise, bring on the robots. They’re killing humans, they’re replacing humans, they just want to love humans…
PS This list is done in a backwards count down style, which means my favorite songs are at the end of the list.
The Humans Are Dead by Flight of the Conchords
This is the most obvious (recent) answer to the “name a few songs about robots” question, so let’s get it out of the way. Or not, because if you listen to this song, you are likely to have it stuck in your head for a year. Feel free to skip ahead.
“The humans are dead. We poisoned their asses, with poisonous gases. The humans are dead.”
Mr. Roboto by Styx
And this is the second most obvious answer to the robot song question.
“You’re wondering who I am-machine or mannequin with parts made in Japan, I am the modern man.”
Now that we’ve got the two that are already on the tip of your tongue out of the way, let’s move on to something more interesting, something you might not have heard ten thousand times already.
10001110101 by Clutch (from the album: Robot Hive Exodus)
OK, so I can’t fucking stand this song because I don’t really like this brand of hard rocking rock rock rockity rock. It is also totally fucking ridiculous. But hey, it does contain a robot story, a weird, maybe mostly nonsensical robot story, but also kind of funny in an over-the-top sort of way or maybe even totally deep if we all take enough acid and have another beer.
Any song with lyrics in fucking binary wins massive geek points, annoying as the music it is embedded in might be. I’ll include some of the non-binary lyrics here in case, like me, you can’t actually stand to listen to this song for more than 15 seconds.
“Robot Lords of Tokyo, SMILE TASTE KITTENS!
Did you not know that the royal hunting grounds are always forbidden?
Are you rolling tape now? Bits and pieces large and small
Sector, vector, eat them all.
It’s already in their eyes.
Among the metal ones a messenger will soon arrive.”
Robot Factory by Jimmy Eat World
Moving away from hard rock and in the *general* direction of punk rock, we arrive at Jimmy Eat World’s song Robot Factory. The story is kind of vague—if it weren’t for the title, I might not have noticed that this song was even about robots—but my guess is that an angry robot is our pov character here. Apparently the robot uprising didn’t work out so well. Or it’s just starting to brew and will break out in full force in another couple of revenge songs.
“I can’t believe they knew it. We blew it, our fortunes have been retrieved by humans who knew me. They used me to get what’s mine. They’ll never replace me. I’ll be back. I want revenge.”
Joe Robot by The Network
Have some weird 80s new wave. Admittedly, there is something very SF about the sound of the music in this genre, so why not write a song about a robot named Joe? You have to admire the weird simplicity of the chorus: “It’s alive, it’s Joe Robot. Have tin can, have Joe Robot.”
The Robot by Alessi’s Ark
Fuck, I love this woman’s voice. I also happen to be partial to human-on-robot love songs, so this sweet little number pushes all the right buttons. Get it, BUTTONS?! Like on a ROBOT?!?! Hahahahahaha. Oh just go listen to the song.
“He’ll take you hiking, keep you in shape. His games of scrabble keep you awake. And though his body’s stiff, that’s nothing like his kiss.”
Robots by Dan Mangan
So, now that we’ve gotten Styx, Jimmy Eat World, and Clutch out of the way, how about we stick to music I can actually stand for the entire rest of the list? Robots by Dan Mangan checks that box with its robot gang war story line and sort of poppy sort of indie sound (now served with banjo!). Love.
“Tried to be the robot king
And settled for a robot boy
Ring the bells that still can ring
And sing your stupid head off to
The ones who are not listening
“But don’t, don’t, don’t
Don’t let them go
Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t
Don’t let them go to waste
The fire in my eye
Is fleeting now
Your robot heart is bleeding out
“And I’ve spent half of my life
In the customer service line
Flaws in the design
A sign of the times”
There is—honest to fucking pod—a choral bit where happy voices just keep repeating “Robots need love too, they want to be loved by you.” *Snort.* Fun, amusing robot story song. Go listen to it already.
Citizens of Tomorrow by Tokyo Police Club
How had I never heard this song before? It is one of the most complete SF short stories on this story song list. And it’s all indie rock in a way my college radio show DJing self would have been all fucking over. I’m all over it now.
“See the ruins of the old world below
That’s what our ancestors left us.
Our robot masters will know
How to clean this mess up
And build a better world
For man and machine alike
For the boys and the girls
Who are slaves building spaceships at night
In the fluorescent light.
Guys, these people get microchips implanted in their hearts so that the robots can try to kill them if they try to escape. Science Fiction mixed tape is supposed to be about sharing music with you all. But it has just become all about me discovering new music I love. Win-win-win-win.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips
So yeah, we totally just covered this song in its own SF Mix Tape post, but it is close to being my favorite robot song of all time, and it deserves a revered spot on the list of robot songs for science fiction lovers.
Jed the Humanoid by Grandaddy
If you want to listen to songs about robots, throw a dart at a Grandaddy album; you’re likely to hit one. Like I’m on Standby, a Grandaddy song about a robot on his/her/its way into the repair shop. But Jed the Humanoid might be their best (or at least their most serious) robot song. This is a low-key but emotional story song about a robot named Jed and his tragic demise.
“Last night something pretty bad happened. We lost a friend, all shocked and broken, shut down, exploded. JED-E3 is what we first called him. Then it was “Jed,” but Jed’s system’s dead. Therefore, so’s Jed. We assembled him in the kitchen made out of this and made out of that and whatever was at hand.”
Stay tuned for the next couple of week’s episodes of Science Fiction Mix Tape, when we look at songs about the end of the world and ten more songs about robots (El-P! The Futureheads! They Might Be Giants!). Because ten just wasn’t enough. Not for me, and if you love science fiction, probably not for you.