4 Classic Rock Songs Pondering the Realities and Impact of Technology

When it comes to the subject of technology, it can be hard to discuss. In one way, technology rules our world. It drives commerce, it helps the sick, it allows us to communicate and even travel to the furthest reaches of the planet. In another way, however, it consumes. Perhaps one day (soon?) human beings will be all but replaced by mechanical creations.

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But just because it’s hard to talk about and parse doesn’t mean many haven’t tried—even in music. Here below, we wanted to dive into four incredible classic rock songs that highlight the impact of technology on the lives of human beings. Four songs from four well-known musical acts that might just inform as much as they entertain. Let’s dive in.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of the Song that Reinvented Elvis Presley’s Career, “If I Can Dream”]

1. “Computer Love,” Kraftwerk

The very essence of the German-born band Kraftwek deals with technology as the group was one of the first to bridge the possibilities of electronic music with traditional songwriting. This song from the band’s 1981 album, Computer World, talks about loneliness, and needing human connection and just gives off a general sense of vague despair. Is the computer a good conduit for connection or is it tearing us apart with every 0 and 1? Here, the band offers these lyrics,

Another lonely night
Another lonely night
Stare at the TV screen
Stare at the TV screen
I don’t know what to do
I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous
I need a rendezvous

2. “Mr. Roboto,” Styx

This iconic song comes from the concept album from rock band Styx. That record is about what might happen if rock music was outlawed. The song is sung from the perspective of someone who is part-man and part-machine. The song from some four decades ago highlights the issues that may arise with creativity and expression if we continue to bridge tech with flesh and blood. Sings lead singer Dennis DeYoung,

You’re wondering who I am (secret, secret, I’ve got a secret)
Machine or mannequin? (Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret)
With parts made in Japan (secret, secret, I’ve got a secret)
I am thee modern man

I’ve got a secret, I’ve been hiding under my skin
My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain IBM
So if you see me acting strangely, don’t be surprised
I’m just a man who needed someone and somewhere to hide to keep me alive
Just keep me alive, somewhere to hide, to keep me alive

3. “Computer Age,” Neil Young

From Neil Young’s 1983 album, Trans, this song is about the possible perils of giving your life over to tech. In a 1988 interview with Rolling Stone, Young said, “If you listen to Trans, if you listen to the words to … “Computer Age” .. you’ll hear a lot of references to my son and to people trying to live a life by pressing buttons, trying to control the things around them and talking with people who can’t talk, using computer voices and things like that. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s right there.” Indeed, on the song, Young sings,

Cars and trucks
Fly by me on the corner
But I’m all right
Standin’ proud before the signal
When I see the light
I know I’m more than just a number.
And I stand before you
Or else we just don’t see the other
Computer age computer age
Computer age

4. “(Nothing But) Flowers,” Talking Heads

This song from the cerebral rock band Talking Heads is from the group’s 1988 LP, Naked. Substantively, the song is about a post-apocalyptic world where there is no more modern tech. But is this a good thing? Singer David Byrne wonders whether a life without any mechanical assistance is good, if natural beauty is all we need. He sings,

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it’s nothing but flowers

There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
You got it, you got it

We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
We got it, we got it

Photo by Echoes/Redferns

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