Daft Punk is one of the most influential musical act of the last 20 years. Dance and electronic music defines the musical movement of our era. It's leaked into rock, rap and even country. It is the pop sound of the day, and Daft Punk has most certainly played a heavy hand in that sonic domination.
At almost every turn, and with almost every release in its career, Daft Punk has been derided by critics only to be hailed in years to come. Daft Punk is the kind of band other bands write songs about (looking at you, LCD Soundsystem). When Skrillex accepted his first Grammy, he was all “I think Daft Punk should have won Grammys.” The French duo invented the concept of the bedroom producer with its first album Homework in 1997, yet Daft Punk has had only two tours in 20 years, the second of which launched the modern dance music stage production concept.
Its latest album, Random Access Memories, reignited the careers of legends Nile Rogers and Giorgio Moroder and sparked a return to live dance instrumentalism that continues to catch among a younger generation. Pick any Daft Punk song or album from its 20-year history, and it sounds good enough to be released tomorrow. Daft Punk is conceptual, simple, cinematic, and timeless. Ranking this music is almost impossible, but here are Billboard's top 20 Daft Punk songs.
#20 - "Doin’ It Right" feat. Panda Bear
Panda Bear is iconic as an experimental electronic artist both for his solo work and in his band Animal Collective. Guess what group sparked his interest in the genre? He admitted in an interview he’d asked Daft Punk to remix both an Animal Collective and Panda Bear song, though the duo declined both offers. The robots made up for it with an invite to Paris for the Random Access Memories recording sessions. “Doin’ It Right” was the final song recorded for the LP. It’s the sweetest ode to letting go, a perfect dance floor call for wallflowers the world over.
#19 - "Phoenix"
Before Daft Punk, members Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were in a rock trio called Darlin’. One critic reviewed the band as “a bunch of daft punk.” Darlin’ broke up, and Daft Punk was created in a nod to that review. The third guy, Laurent Brancowitz, eventually became famous as the guitarist of French alt rock band Phoenix. That has no relation, as far as we know, to this incredibly beautiful funk beat from the electronic duo’s debut album, but it is a good excuse to tell the story. This Homework deep cut features one of Daft Punk’s best walking basslines underneath a signature rhythmic repetition. It is not to be overlooked.
#18 - "Instant Crush" feat. Julian Casablancas
We actually really like Julian Casablancas' synth pop solo stuff, but he left the electronics to Daft Punk on this titanic collaboration. The Strokes' frontman does provide the lead guitar and, of course, the beautifully-pained, love-sick vocals. Daft Punk approached the singer with a demo and a clear storyline as far back as when recording the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. It all came together perfectly in the studio as one of RAM's most inwardly infectious moments.
#17 - "Make Love"
Human After All, as a concept, is brilliant. It's the duo's harshest electronic sound, yet it explores the group's most humanistic themes. It was initially panned by most reviewers who expected more disco funk in the wake of Discovery's huge success, though, in hindsight, it's jarring, heavy rock influence can be seen throughout the EDM community. “Make Love" is an exception. It's a subtle, sensual take on the LP's themes of repetition. Piano, drum machine, and funk guitar create an atmosphere of pure tenderness. Juxtaposed between “Steam Machine” and “Brainwasher,” two of the album's hardest points, “Make Love” is a moment of sweet stillness.
#16 - "Human After All"
Of course the title track of the album would be its most thematically relevant. Robotic voices sing a simple message of mankind's universal commonality. Nothing sounds organic. Every noise is jagged and electric, even as they play the part of the chunky rock guitar. Human brains operate like highly-advanced computer technology. Human brains use computer technology to create soulful, synthetic sounds. Brilliant. This is the only single from Human After All not to have a proper music video, because what would have been the video turned into the mini-film Electroma. If you like Daft Punk, robots, you don't mind silent films and you find yourself with an hour to kill, I recommend it. Minds blown -- literally.
#15 - "Lose Yourself to Dance" feat. Pharrell
Dance music is all about dancing. It's the name of the genre, and still sometimes people just do a lot of jumping, or fist pumping, or even just standing there. “Lose Yourself to Dance” is a primal call to get fun and funky on the floor. Pharrell is your friend dragging you out when you'd rather sink into the couch. “C'mon, c'mon” the vocoder urges. The song hits its peak with layered robotic vocal harmonies that throw back to Discovery-era textures. It's got great groove, and to think, it's only clocking 100 bpm.
#14 - "Revolution 909"
Not only is this groove totally stellar, “Revolution 909” features the absolute best song intro ever. The sound is muffled through warehouse walls. The cops come to break up the party, but they don't succeed, and soon, you're walking into a stuffy room filled with fresh-faced, carefree, cool kids. Just when you look around through the smoke and lasers in complete wonder, the bass kicks in. This song just conjures every late night adventure I've ever had. I can just see the bodies moving under strobe lights, the sweat-dripped smiles. Those times are as gritty as they are pretty, and so is this beat.
#13 - "Superheroes"
What even is this song? It's got a beat so heavy, it is sometimes reminiscent of hardstyle's affront. The arpeggiated synth comes in like piñata candy that rains in slow motion. There are ray-gun pew pews, space-travel noises. There really is no other song like this I can think of, simultaneously anxiety-inducing and balls-to-the-wall fun. It is like the soundtrack to an interstellar superhero final fight. I spent my entire childhood trying to figure out what these lyrics were saying. Turns out, it's Barry Manilow singing “something's in the air,” from his 1979 deep cut “Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed.” One of life's great mysteries, finally solved.
#12 - "Face to Face"
Just wow. How could you not love this song? All those samples cut up and mashed together to create this awesome, chunky melody. Much of this song's signature style is thanks to Todd Edwards, the American house producer Daft Punk credits as one of its biggest influences. He co-produces and sings on this Discovery favorite, and c'mon. These lyrics? This is what great songwriting is made of.
#11 - "Something About Us"
Any time my buddy plays a closing DJ set, this is the last track he plays. It's honestly the perfect send-off, wrap-up jam. Try it next time you have the chance and watch everyone embrace their friends with happy tears in their eyes. This song expresses something so deep but not often celebrated. We've all had a love like this, the passionately doomed love you know can only fail, but it doesn't really matter. Those loves matter, too. Also, this is the least cheesy smooth jazz funk love song I've ever heard. You know it emulates the weird stuff your parents listened to that made you feel slightly uncomfortable as a kid, and yet, this fits like a warm hug.
#10 - "Robot Rock"
Whenever people complain about sampled music, I ask them, "Do you like Daft Punk's 'Robot Rock'? And of course they say yes, because it's amazing. And then I'm like, “Well, it's basically one giant repetitive sample of Breakwater's 'Release the Beast,' and it doesn't make 'Robot Rock' any less of a dope-ass song that you love.” I can just see Daft Punk listening to that song, like, “Dude! That beat is so good. Loop it again!” Of course, they embellished it with original textures, hit it with some robot voices, hooked a guitar pedal up to a Moog and had some fun. It's one of the most repetitive offerings in the Daft Punk song catalog, but dude, this beat is so good! Loop it again.
#9 - "Technologic"
“Technologic” came out in 2005. It was the beginning of a new era. Music, business and your social life had a completely new set of vocab words. Daft Punk dedicate these lyrics to the wild, new universe of Internet-based creation, collaboration and consumption. Having said lyrics memorized is a true testament to one's Daft Punk fandom. The song became a bigger hit when it was sampled by Busta Rhymes for the track “Touch It.” In the video, we again see the robots blur the lines between humans and computers. That baby bot is the stuff of absolute nightmares. Like, you gave him gums, but not a mouth? What a twisted creator, indeed.
#8 - "Crescendolls"
The fifth track of Discovery is pure rising motion, hence the title, right? The song loops the funkiest break from Little Anthony and the Imperials' “Can You Imagine” and amps the energy to 5 million. It's the sound of rainbow pastel confetti in a ticker-tape parade. It's a sugary cupcake smashed all over your face, and you have to jump up and down to get the icing off. Ironic how Daft Punk juxtapose this overwhelming joy with the complete disassociation of the main characters in Interstellar 5555, the full-length anime counterpart to Discovery's sonic majesty.
#7 - "Aerodynamic"
Can you say “best guitar solo in electronic music history"? Nah, dude. One of the best guitar solos of all time. This song came out in 2001, and I'm pretty sure the world had never heard anything like it. I know it rocked the face off of me and my friends. My dad was like, “Hey, this makes me think of Eddie Van Halen.” Thomas Bangalter noted that the song exists in three parts. The first is an edgy funk build, the second is a rampage of a double-hand heavy metal guitar solo. The two combine beautifully before giving way to the third of “completely baroque music, a classical composition we put into synthetic form.”
#6 - "Da Funk"
Back to Homework and Daft Punk's fabulous use of street sounds and urban nightlife samples. This is the beginning of Daft Punk's great love affair with repetition, layers and funky synthesized roars. Bangalter once quipped that “Da Funk” was the band's attempt at a gangsta rap beat, inspired by the warped G-Funk of Warren G's “Regulate.” Of course, it moves much faster than West Coast herb crushers care to drive. Don't try to interpret the music video. Just enjoy it for what it is.
#5 - "Get Lucky"
The biggest hit and first single from Random Access Memories, “Get Lucky” is the full-circle moment of Daft Punk's career. They'd spent two decades clipping, chopping and rearranging '70s and '80s disco and soul records. Suddenly, they move away from the computers and begin recording soul and funk grooves of their own, and holy crap, they're doing it with Nile Rogers of Chic. Here, Daft Punk proves they can interpret these influences in wholly original compositions using the analog equipment of their youth. It was a big departure from the heavily electronic sounds of earlier work, and some fans were indeed alienated, but historically speaking, Daft Punk has been anything but predictable or a la mode.
#4 - "Digital Love"
There could not be a better teenage love song ever written. It's the perfect song for every love you've ever been afraid to start. The sample is “I Love You More” by George Duke. The lyrics are written by DJ Sneak and performed by Daft Punk. The bridge was recorded on a Wurlitzer piano, the same that gave Supertramp its signature sound, and the solo was not played on guitars but by mixing the effects of music sequencers. Altogether, it becomes one of the sweetest, most romantic tunes of the last few decades. Collective "awww."
#3 - "Around The World"
Michel Gondry's iconic choreography and cinematography helped launch the clubby tune into -- wait for it -- worldwide popularity. It also marks the beginning of the filmmaker's own obsession with repetition and layered moving parts. You see these themes again in later videos he directs for the Chemical Brothers and Kylie Minogue. In 1997, “Around The World” was a game changer, and in 2017, it still will be. It's quite simple, but it builds beautifully. You could listen to this song and focus on a different sonic element each time and have an endless amount of fun. For an audiophile, there's a lot within to be discovered and enjoyed. Gotta say, though, that bassline takes the cake.
#2 - "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"
I, like many kids I know, fell in love with this song when it played on a special presentation by Cartoon Network's Toonami. As I get older, it becomes ever-more relevant to my life. That robot voice really knows what's up. This is a downright generational anthem, which is why A-Trak first tried to convince Kanye West not to sample it. It was “too soon,” or so he thought, but he was ultimately proved wrong when West's “Stronger” went on to be a massive hit. It's still the original I favor, though. It's colorful, playful nature brightens any moment, and that killer vocoder-turned-guitar sample is just ultimate cool.
#1 - "One More Time"
This is it, everybody. Daft Punk wrote the greatest party anthem of all time. You can make like “Revolution 909,” stop the music and go home. Nah, just kidding, let's celebrate and dance so free one more time! Seriously, when I die, play this track at my funeral. This brilliant, timeless classic was written in 1998, and Daft Punk sat on it for two years because they are insane geniuses who wanted to be sure it would sound good two years later. Congrats, guys. “One More Time” is gonna sound great in 2098, 3098, whatever. This song rules. What other song has a one-and-a-half slow break that DJs will actually play through in its entirety? None. That is crazy talk, and yet to mix out of Daft Punk's opus without allowing its heightened resolution is sheer blasphemy. When this song came out, people criticized its use of vocoder, but nothing could stop its meteoric rise on the charts. It just goes to show, if someone doesn't get your genius at first, keep going. Eventually, they will.
The ascent of Daft Punk into the most upper echelons of pop culture royalty is one of the most remarkable rises in music history. It is the story of two punkish boys (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) from a privileged Parisian life working their way through a subculture dismissed as drug-fueled hedonism who would go on to reach the pinnacle of the music industry, receiving its highest honor and a level of fan adoration rarely seen outside the standard pop-star mould. And all of this without ever showing their faces.
This story, like any, must begin somewhere. And in the case of Daft Punk, it all began with their debut album Homework. Exactly 20 years ago today it was given its first physical release, and in spite of the myriad of musical innovations that have occurred since, time has done little (if anything) to dilute its power to funk you into oblivion.
So to celebrate two full decades of one of the greatest and most influential electronic albums ever written, here are 10 facts about Daft Punk’s Homework that may surprise you.
1. It Was Written in Thomas Bangalter’s Bedroom
Homework is a dense record, clocking in at 75 minutes and utilizing a smorgasbord of electronic instrumentation, particularly by mid-’90s standards. So it seems all the more unbelievable that the entire thing was written in Bangalter’s bedroom.
What his parents thought the boys were doing is anyone’s guess, but they were clearly cooler than your parents. And since the whole thing was written from there, it makes sense that…
2. There Were Close to Zero Production Costs
Despite the rich sounds that dominate each track, the only instruments on the record that the boys used were the Roland TR-909 drum machine, three samplers and an assortment of synthesizers.
And as Bangalter stated in an interview at the time of its release, there were “no studio expenses, producers, engineers.” It is a prospect that may seem commonplace in today’s music scene, but one that must have been a feat of Herculean proportions in 1997.
3. It Was Written and Released Before the Robot Helmets
It may seem particularly hard to believe in the wake of Daft Punk’s pop culture ubiquity, but there was indeed a time where they functioned as a band without their iconic robot helmets.
However, this does not mean that they felt comfortable showing their faces. During their fist live shows, they would frequently employ cheap Halloween masks, which goes without saying is hella scarier than an emotionless robot face.
4. Not One, But Two Academy-Award Winning Screenwriters Made the Music Videos
The monster singles of “Da Funk” and “Around the World” were of course given the full music video treatment. Both of them were helmed by directors on the come-up, making their way through the industry through small-scale projects like these. As fate would have it, both would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay.
Who are these two people? “Da Funk” was directed by Spike Jonze, who would take Oscar gold for his 2013 film Her. Meanwhile, “Around the World” was conceptualized by Michel Gondry, the visionary director behind numerous other music videos of the era who would collect an Oscar for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004.
5. Single “Da Funk” Sold More Copies Than the Album
“Da Funk” is one of the greatest songs ever written, electronic or otherwise, and it frankly does not seem like much of a hyperbole to say that. People immediately recognized this, and for many it was their first introduction to the French duo about to revolutionize the genre. It sold just over 30,000 units in 1997.
It was in fact so successful that Daft Punk did not intend on including it on Homework at all. “More people own it anyways than they would if it had been on the album,” Bangalter said somewhat dismissively in an interview at the time. But just what is it about this song that made it so great? Well the thing is…
6. “Da Funk” Was Daft Punk’s Attempt at Making Hip-Hop
“Da Funk” doesn’t really sound like anything else before or after it, but it is most certainly something of the electronic variety. Which makes the fact that it was written after Daft Punk spent weeks listening to old school West Coast G-funk and trying to recreate it mystifying, to say the least.
“We wanted to make some sort of gangsta-rap and tried to murk our sounds as much as possible,” Bangalter said at the time. “No one agree with us that it sounds like hip-hop.” On that point, we can all agree.
7. The Song “High Fidelity” Is Built Around a Billy Joel Sample
The track “Teachers” is a tongue-in-cheek way of Daft Punk presenting all of their influences for the album while simultaneously getting your ass to move. However, that song does not disclose the fact that the boys were serious Billy Joel fans, serious enough to chop and screw his music into oblivion on the song “High Fidelity.”
Which is only a surprise in the fact that the band has, to this day, never confirmed it. Multiple musical experts have come to the conclusion that the song is indeed a reworking of Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” though it is essentially wrought unrecognizable.
8. “Revolution 909” Is a Protest Song Against the French Government
One of the first songs on the album, “Revolution 909” seems a typically pleasant floor-stomper. Until Daft Punk revealed that it is indeed a commentary on the brutality of French police towards the rave scene that birthed them.
“They pretend it’s drugs, but I don’t think it’s the only thing. There’s drugs everywhere, but they probably wouldn’t have a problem if the same thing was going on at a rock concert, because that’s what they understand,” Bangalter said in regards to the frequent scuffles that broke out between Parisian police and the electronic music scene. Try dancing with the same amount of fun now.
9. “Around the World” Is Inspired By One of the First Synth-Pop Songs
“Around the World,” much like the repetitive phrases from which it is built, has become inescapable. Yet the iconic song is yet another example of Daft Punk honoring their inspirations. This time around it’s a song called “Popcorn” by Hot Butter.
Which as fate would have it, one of the first and most popular songs that could be classified as synth-pop. While the boys didn’t directly sample the song, its chirrupy synth-line is unmistakably what informed the near-identical sound in “Around the World.” Which while we’re on the subject of this song…
10. “Around the World” Says ‘Around the World’ 144 Times
“Around the World” holds the unique distinction of being one of the easiest songs to learn the words to ever. If you have a memory, you’ve already learned them. But it is actually insane to think that each time you listen to the song in its entirety, you have heard that phrase 144 times.
Oh, and a little bonus trivia about this song: it was written using only five instruments. Which means that both lyrically and sonically, this is the most economical thing the band ever made.
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