Gary Numan: We Are Glass – UK – 7″ 
- We Are Glass
- Trois Gymnopedies (First Movement)
Here was another song that I believe I heard on Mike Cooper’s weekly program, “The Import Hour,” which was must-listening in the ’79-’80 period on WORJ-FM, the hipper of Orlando’s two FM Rock™ stations, back when I was still in my brief phase of commercial “album rock” radio listening at a point when the format was getting calcified to within an inch of its life. Later in 1980 I would stop listening to commercial radio completely.
To paint the picture, the same station had actually played “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” from “Replicas” when US-Atco had licensed the album in 1979. Once I heard this, my friends and I were all Gary Numan fans. We were primed for “Cars” and the “Pleasure Principle” album which appeared in the same year! “Cars” managed to go high in the US charts so Gary Numan had all eyes on him by 1980, when a new single appeared.
“We Are Glass” was a non-LP single from May of 1980, though it anticipated the design motif of the “Telekon” album that appeared in September of that year. Numan had purged “The Pleasure Principle” of all guitars for a more homogenized sound that I found somewhat soporific. Fortunately, he came to the same conclusions that I had reached, and made sure to bring back guitars for his next move. This single had only an endlessly pleasing urgency to it that was vastly more interesting than I found “The Pleasure Principle.”
Phased drums lead right into a motorik chug of rhythm guitars and synths soloing over the top of it all as Numan was reaching deep into the Krautrock users manual to give this song just the right hint of La Düsseldorf that made my brain engage. The effects was not unlike “White Overalls” with a slower tempo. Numan was still using handclaps for his arresting percussive hooks of that period, and the descending, serrated guitar riffs all added to the brilliant song’s unceasing forward momentum.
The B-side was something unique; the first Gary Numan cover version! And in an unusual move, this was not a Rock song at all. He’d reached back to Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies [First Movement]” to indulge in his penchant for a beautiful melody as embodied by the proto-ambient composer’s 102 year old song. By 1980; Satiesque music was in the ether, as JAPAN would release the Satie-with-vocals “Nightporter” on their “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” album later in the year.
The arrangement here was far more elaborate than the normal Satie minimal piano, with bass, guitar, and the usual complement of synths added as well to fill out the arrangement this time. The cover tune was part of a sea change as Numan moved away from riff rock to something a little more crystalline in its melodic beauty. A trait that would manifest on the “Telekon” album to follow hot on the heels of this non-LP single.
If I had only a single Numan 7″ to take to that proverbial desert island, this would be my choice. I have never tired of hearing this one for 42 years, now. The A-side showed the acme of his Krautrock/Synth/Pop fusion efforts that marked the first phase of his career. And the B-side cover of Satie showed his reveled in his taste for melodic beauty. His next album would show him moving away from the glammy riff rock on synths he had made his name on for something more atmospheric and melancholy.
The shocker with this single was that it was never released in the United States! Even as US Atco swapped the next non-LP single from Numan [“I Die, You Die” – Aug. 1980] into the running order of the US version of “Telekon” for the uncharacteristically flat “Sleep By Windows.” But I have owned a copy of this single since day one. For me it was the apex of Numan’s entire career.
Both tracks are absolute classics,you are right.
Numan and Japan both fed my fascination for Satie,which continues to this day and has bled into my own piano pieces.
The Telekon album really does have a unique sound and production quality that seems timeless to me.The combination of synths ,piano and guitars, with less obvious bedfellows like the violas and ubiquitous handclaps,make for a delicious mix
Gavin – The “Telekon” album is maybe the last point in popular music where handclaps were still real and not synthetic! As they were also recording at Rockfield stuidios in Wales at the same time, Simple Minds were famously conscripted to provide handclaps on the track “Aircrash Bureau.” Making “Telekon” the first recording of Simple Minds [whose name I recognized by 1980, but nothing more] that I would be hearing. Alas, the evidence was inconclusive!