TABLES TURNED: Stop Light Observations Picks 5 Songs That Exemplify the Evolution of 808’s

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Photo Credit: Vincent J. Musi

Charleston’s alt-indie rock band Stop Light Observations is aware of the guiding influence of the past, taking inspiration from days when vinyl reigned supreme for their new project The Volume - a series of digital 45’s each with an A-side and B-side. Vol. I presented three hauntingly stark songs that marked the beginning of the ongoing project. Now the band has released their two latest singles, “h d w g h?” and “VANDERLIGHT” paired together in Vol. II, which you can listen to below:

SLO’s John Keith Culbreth explained the band’s fascination with musical evolution, and specifically shared their expertise on the significant role electronically programmed drums have played in the history of modern music:

“‘Drummers are the backbone’ is a saying any musician has heard 1,000 times. But what happens when there isn’t a drummer? Is there still a backbone?

As a songwriter and producer in a band with live drums and a beastly drummer I can still say that we personally appreciate all forms of honest music and sound. The evolution of sound and its effects on culture and attitude fascinates me, and there is no bigger influencer than the kick and snare. The sound of kicks and snares are the biggest influencers of musical culture in the past 40 years by far. And there is no bigger influencer of the sound of the kick and snare than the Roland TR-808… aka the “808.” In 1980 Roland released the world’s first analogue drum machine, the TR-808. It was discontinued after 3 years with mixed reviews of its unrealistic sounding drums, but shortly after, the 808 would go on to change the musical world and its crucial backbone forever.

Here are 5 songs that show the evolution of the 808 and how it has changed the world.”


Yellow Magic Orchestra - “1000 knives” (1981)

The 808’s first use.

This song is by the Japanese band YMO who quickly saw the potential of the 808 drum sound and incorporated it into their early electronic dance sound. It would later influence some of the biggest artists of all time.


Marvin Gaye - “Sexual Healing” (1982)

The 808’s first hit.

This song is the first hit recorded with full 808 drum production. After taking influence from underground electronic artists, Gaye released his first single since leaving Motown with a drum machine. After, the 808 took off and became the sound of the 80’s.


Talking Heads - “Psycho Killer (Live)” (1983)

The 808 learns to rock.

To testify against the robot drummer is understandable, especially if you are an avid rock n’ roller. But what about when Rock & Roll Hall of Famer David Bryne used it? This performance went on to influence big-time rockers like Beck and Nine Inch Nails.


Kanye West - “Love Lock Down” (2008)

The 808 comes back.

Kanye left his celebrated hip hop sound and sought inspiration from 80’s pop songs like the ones mentioned above. What he created is a pop resurrection of the 808 on his single from his album titled ‘808s & Heartbreak.’


Kendrick Lamar -“HUMBLE” (2017)

The 808 comes down.

In the past 8 years the popularity of trap-rap has exploded, and in the past year has become the most on-the-rise style of music. And what makes up its sound…? The 808. Only now it is tuned down and used as both the kick and the bass. This song has gone on to bring the 808 yet again to the top of the music world. Wonder where it will go next?

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