Great Lost Synth Sounds Of The Eighties

Whenever people start getting misty-eyed about vintage pre-digital synthesiser sounds, it's always 8-Bit this and monophonic that and someone that sounded a bit like a cut price Top Of The Pops album version of a Factory Records-inspired outfit who couldn't even get signed to Cherry Red the other. Nobody ever seems to wax similarly lyrical, however, about the next evolutionary step - that Roland/Korg-fuelled Whole Band In A Box sound, or rather infinite(ish) permuation of sounds, that dominated most of the eighties and made Go West records sound like, well, Go West records.

And, as you might have guessed, it's high time that somebody actually did. Here are five of the greatest synth sounds that you once couldn't turn on the radio without hearing, but which now everybody tries to pretend never happened...

1. The 'Squiggly Synth'
As heard in... Mama Used To Say by Junior

Weaponised sine wave doodle initially much beloved of the Pigeon Street Soul brigade (see here if you have no idea of who or what they might actually have been), but which later became a staple fixture of early to mid eighties primetime TV themes, most notoriously deployed for Nigel Havers-centric divorcecom Don't Wait Up and long forgotten post-Whirly Wheelgate Noel Edmonds 'soft launch' reboot Whatever Next?, which was a corker, especially in conjunction with the 'teleporting Edmonds' visuals.

2. The 'Flattened Trumpet'
As heard in... Love And Pride by King

Weedy yet widely adopted analogue approximation of a vaguely 'trumpety' sound, which gained huge popularity on account of the relative cheapness of getting the Barry Andrews-haired 2000AD-jacketed Synth Wizard every early eighties band had by law to provide the illusion of a brass backing rather than hiring a small army of real live session musicians. Most infamously used for the instrumental break in Nikita by Elton John, which still finds its way into the minds of office workers on a loop at 11am precisely to this day.

3. The 'Tin Can Orchestral Sweep'
As heard in... Feel So Real by Steve Arrington

Less aesthetically successful variant on the above, attempting to mock up the sonic experience of a full orchestra with some ham-fisted ADSR-fiddling that sounded more like someone scrunching up some inadvertently tonal tinfoil backed up by a malfunctioning washing machine calling you on an old-school telephone where the magnet's gone in the earpiece. A surprisingly enduring example which lasted to the end of the decade, last sighted hidden somewhere behind Big Fun's cover of Blame It On The Boogie.

4. The 'Kamizake Portamento'
As heard in... Yellow Pearl by Phil Lynott

'Future Is Now!'-heralding plummet down the musical scale, possibly intended as a call-to-arms for robots, New Romantics and people drinking Quatro, but ending up more as something that the most annoying kid in your year in school would be able to provide a note-perfect emulation of without anyone ever asking them to. One of the most short-lived examples on this list, spending a short time as a go-to effect for everything from Heartache Avenue to Say Say Say, but ditched in favour of the 'orchestra hit' even before The Tripods began striding across our screens.

5. The 'Existential Flute'
As heard in... Does Caroline Know? by Talk Talk

Introspective Blue Jam-friendly soft-toned World Music-esque woodwind pretence usually reserved for when they were trying to get a bit 'soundscape', doubtless intended to convey a sense of zenned-out globally aware musical mindfulness but invariably ending up with nobody listening to the lyrics and just whacking it alongside Anita Baker and Oran 'Juice' Jones (who had his own neglected synth tones, but that's another story...) in the average local radio 'Love Zone'. Peter Gabriel was not available for comment.

6. The 'Entirety Of The Blockbusters Theme'
As heard in... The Entirety Of The Blockbusters Theme 

Requires no explanation.