The Linn LM-1 (1980) and Linn Drum (1982) had a profound effect on the musical landscape. At the time, adding drums to a record, whether acoustic or synthesized, was a considerable potch. In terms of the former, a real drum kit takes up considerable room and requires copious amounts of equipment/expertise to produce an adequate outcome; this before you factor in an unpredictable human player!
note: There is a selection of Linn Samples with crunch, converted from Amiga format on our Patreon
Synthesized drums weren't always satisfactory either; if you weren't happy with the pokey rhumbas & bossa-novas of preset units (now rightly loved as their own thing) it took considerable synthesis know how to create a dynamic, driving drum track. Here's an example, showing how the Human League achieved rhythmic perfection by using the Roland System 100; as you can see it's quite involved!
The arrival of Linn's machines caused great excitement. Now one could achieve a "real" drum sound (early 80's ears didn't quite have the same uncanny valley as ours do now!) by simply punching in the information (once!) and recording the output into the desk, just like a synthesizer. What's more, the perfectly-quantized sound might have even been preferable over nuanced, human imperfection to many musicians at the time.
It's no surprise that the machines ended up on a huge number of records; that punchy kick and slightly deadened (but oh so perfect) snare helping to define the sound of the early 80's. As soon as I mentioned Linn, a song or album probably came to mind; perhaps Prince's 1999, The Human League's Don't You Want Me? or ABC's The Look of Love.
Today however, we'll take a look at 5 lesser-known records, all cracking, that used either the LM-1 or Linn Drum to great effect:
1. Icehouse - Primitive Man
For some of these recommendations I might link one song. Not so with Icehouse's 1982 work, it's essential listening from start to finish. In this eclectic album, the Linn joins a Sequential Prophet 5, several guitar layers & a wash of reverb, before being given a workout over multiple styles that altogether feels supremely, well, 1982-ish. One to put on & zone out to.
2. Lindsey Buckingham - Go Insane
I simply must post 2 different videos of this song here. The video above is too much of a stellar 80's VFX reel (goldfish, spinning globes, etc) to ignore, yet the 12-inch mix, below, has a number of exposed elements that will be of particular joy to those who enjoy such mixes; I've always felt that a good 80's 12-inch allowed you to live inside the song for an extended period of time.
On using the Linn Drum for this solo effort, Buckingham said: "I certainly can't play drums as well as a Linn can. If I wanted to play something myself, it was just as easy to do it on the Fairlight 'cause the sounds are already there and you don't have to set up a whole kit. Not only that, being able to play drums with two fingers cuts down considerably on the fatigue factor." Layering played Fairlight percussion over the Linn seems to have been a winning combination for Buckingham, as the song was famously used in Miami Vice, can't get more 80's than that.
3. Stephanie Mills - I've Got the Cure
What a powerhouse of talent & 1984 production-skills this album is! Stephanie's "Never Knew Love Like This Before" (one of a handful of magical songs that can calm my 1-year old!) was a mega-hit that closed-out the disco era, yet I enjoy her later work too; especially this George Duke-produced cut.
The album is full of catchy melodies & great arrangements. An obvious recommendation would be "The Medicine Song" but I'm going to go with "Outrageous", an extremely danceable Memorymoog workout featuring nostalgic synth brass, charming lead work, pristine quacky guitars & that perfect Linn beat underpinning it all. Some Simmon's toms too I think? Outrageously Good.
4. Hubert Kah - The Picture
This will probably send some of you down a Youtube rabbit hole, but oh well...there's a Youtuber by the name of "NaHg" that posts full 80's classic albums on the video streaming platform, and I've discovered some wonderful music there. Usually searching "NaHg" and a certain year will bring up a treat, like Tim Feehan's 1987 album that is the most 1987-thing I've ever heard (Vanna!).
It's here that I discovered Hubert Kah, the 80's German pop sensation. Initially I listened to their 1989 release and enjoyed songs like "Military Drums" and "Welcome, Machine Gun", but going back further I found this gem.
This feels so 1984 in a completely different way to Outrageous, and shows how much range the (pretty limited, by modern standards) Linn had. Soft androgynous vocals, a driving analogue bassline, plenty of 'verb, those digital DX7 synthetic-bells and the Linn combining to create a mysterious but comfortable sound world that I could live in for days. Decent guitar work too! The original German version is called: "Wenn der Mond die Sonne berührt."
5. Life and Love - Leon Russell
And finally, something a little different. Leon Russell used Linn's Prototype LM-1 on this 1979 track, and became one of the first twinkling stars in a galaxy of songs that the machines inspired. When I listen this I am taken aback by the machine's appearance in what is otherwise a very warm, soulful piece of music.
The vocal delivery, guitar style, Hammond organ and pretty harmony (full of major 7ths, inversions and slash chords) are surely all trappings of 70's music, yet the LM-1's insistent, robotic patterns (in place of a human percussionist) take this into weird, parallel-universe territory. Surprisingly, the warm man - cold machine hybrid isn't ungrounding in the slightest, instead inviting the listener's curious ear, with a hypnotic interplay between the snare and clap. Magical.
Let us know your favourite LM-1 or Linn Drum track in the comments!
Posted by MagicalSynthAdventure an expert in synthesis technology from last Century and Amiga enthusiast.
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