Famous Sounds

"Famous sounds" are sounds that have been created or used by somebody, liked and then copied by many others, and thus earned a "classic" status.

I'd like to open this section of Synth Mania utilizing as a starting point portions of an article appeared in the October 1995 issue of Keyboard magazine titled "20 Sounds That Must Die", in which the author David Battino analyzes many sounds that have, over the years, been used, re-used and abused again.  I added audio examples to the list for those who might not be familiar with those sounds.  From there, I'll start adding my own examples of more sounds, including loops.  When possible, audio examples are available.


Keyboard magazine List:



1. The square/triangle wave solo

Lucky Man

This flutey, highly synthetic lead sound sure stands out, but already belongs to someone. Still, add portamento and maybe you'll get lucky, man.  (Note:  the author is referring to the song "Lucky Man", by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.  Emerson's Moog solo is regarded as the first rock synthesizer solo in history)

2. The sample-and-hold-to-pitch computer processing effect


"Professor, why don't you ask the computer?"  Bee-poo-bee-bee-boo-poo-bah-pah... has anyone ever really heard a computer make this noise? (Note:  I used an Alesis airSynth for this sound.)

3. Rez zaps


Feed white noise through a rapidly closing VCF with the resonance cranked.  Kraftwerk did.  And now most every techno band does.  Psheeeew!  Replace the noise with a sawtooth wave and you've got another offender, rez bass.  Now play wet eight-notes ad nauseam.  On second thought, please don't.  (Note:  the mp3 example is an excerpt from Kraftwerk "Numbers", from Computer World)

4. Simmons-type syndrum

  A burst of noise and a sine wave that pitch-bends down, this synthetic tom-tom may have single-handedly killed disco.

5. Roland TR-808 kick drum

TR-808 bass drum

An impossibly low hum, this sound could crumble concrete.  But it always gets a bad rap.  (Note:  the author is referring to the fact that the TR-808 was at the time the de facto standard in rap music) - Note - In the mp3 example I am playing a TR-808 sample set from the Roland Drums & Cymbals Vol. 1 CD-ROM for the S-series of Roland samplers.

6. TR-808 cowbell

A Last Request

This clangorous noise never disappears in a mix, though sometimes we wish it would.  You can spot it on Kashif's "Ain't no woman (like the one I got))" from Kashif, George Michael's "A Last Request" from Faith, and "Anything you want" from EWF's Heritage, among zillions of others.  And let's not forget the TR-808 hi-hat, a short, metallic noise useful for playing expressionless machine-gun sixteenth notes.

7. Yamaha DX7 Rhodes

The Greatest Love Of All

The DX7's screeching overtones (generated by digital frequency modulation) punched through a lot of mixes.  Way too many.  Check out any pop ballad for an example of this crispy electric piano.  (Here's Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love Of All" for a particularly well-produced FM ballad piano.)

8. DX7 anything

see DX7 page

(A special nomination from Will Alexander, Keith Emerson's collaborator, programmer, and producer.)  Marimba ostinati, Wimpy brass.  "Super" bass.  FM sound recently had a resurgence on computer soundcards, but we may be free of it any decade now.

9. E-mu Emulator II shakuhachi


This bamboo flute sound is readily identifiable by the sudden upward pitch-bend at the end of the note.  Experience it again on "Sledgehammer" from Peter Gabriel's So, "Yellowstone Park" from Tangerine Dream's Le Parc, "Love Is Stronger Than Pride" from Sade's Stronger Than Pride, "Wake up, Stop dreaming" from Wang Chung's To Live and Die in L.A., and Roger Waters' Radio KAOS, where it's actually singled out in the liner notes.

10. Orchestra hits

Owner of a lonely heart

A brilliant idea the first time they were used (by Art of Noise?  Malcolm McLaren?  We forget), these stabbing samples of exuberant orchestras become gritty and doubly annoying when transposed.  Will Alexander believes the hit on Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart" from 90125 was sampled from Kool & the Gang's Celebration.  Roland's Eric Persing notes that the original Fairlight orch hit ended up in a lot of ROM sets, including on a Kawai drum machine.

11. Roland D-50 Soundtrack


A simple yet irresistible sound, Soundtrack is a chorused, filter-swept, sawtooth fifth.  Easily spotted on Seal's "Violet" from Seal and Gary Numan's "America" from New Anger.

12. D-50 DigitalNativeDance


A raspy metallic vocal sample that blooms, then suddenly dances a little jig, this preset opens countless songs.  At the beginning of Miles Davis's "Catémbe" (from Amandla) and Gary Numan's "Devious" (from New Anger), it's even the same note.  (Yep, that's two presets in a row from Numan.  He must have liked his D-50, because he also used the Fantasia preset on the song "Cold Metal Rhythm.")

13. D-50 Fantasia


An evocative, mysterious sound, this was an otherworldly bell layered with a synth pad.  And used with wild abandon.

14. James Brown grunts and screams

  "Huh!"  "Haaieyah!"  "Hit me!"  Okay, settle down.  That's quite enough hitting already.

15. Pan Flute

Behind the Veil

None of us are free

This windbag has got to be one of the most overused solo sounds.  It lives in the Korg M1, the Roland D-50 (as Living Calliope and Breathy Chiffer), the Fairlight (as Steamer), and many other synths.  Just when we thought it was hopelessly overexposed, Tony Hymas made interesting use of it in "Behind the Veil" (from Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop) by playing afterbeat chords.  Adding a marimba attack produces the ubiquitous M1 Pan Mallet preset, recently heard in "None of Us Are Free" on Ray Charles' My World.

16. Korg M1 Lore

Korg M1 Lore

The underwater windchimey thing heard on a thousand commercials.  But what is it?  Jack Hotop of Korg reports, "Originally, Michael Brecker brought the sample back from England, passed it to Robbie Kilgore, I got it from Robbie, and we stuck it in the DSS-1 library.  But when it came time to do the M1 ROM, we had to truncate stuff, so I gave the file to Charlie Bright at Korg R&D.  He relooped it, remapped it, and trunc'ed it down.  When we used it in subsequent ROMS, it would keep getting chopped up, and when you chop up something rhythmic like that, the loop changes somewhat.  So people who have the DSS-1 version will have one kind of loop; if anyone's lucky enough to have the files that Robbie and Michael had, that's a different version of it, and the M1 version is different from the M3R version, which is kind of similar to the 01/W version and the X version.  So it exists in many forms, ant it's a really cool sound.  No one knows what it is.  Not even the people at Korg."  There's some speculation, though, that Lore was originally a Fairlight sound.

17. M1 Pole

Korg M1 Pole

Who'd have thought that tapping a metal pole would have so many repercussions?  As Kim Aikin noted in a March '90 Keyboard Report, the Pole sample even ended up in the Peavey DPM 3's ROM.

18. M1 Magic Organ

Korg M1 Magic Organ

A burbling, tinkling digitalian, this sample has built more pads than a mattress factory.  Jack Hotop reveals that the original sample was created in Digidesign's Turbosynth program.  There was some doubt that it could be looped successfully because it's a rhythmic, evolving sound, but they pulled it off.  Magic Organ will return in the ROM of an upcoming instrument.

19. Gated Snare

Against All Odds

First heard on Peter Gabriel's third album, then virtually trademarked by Phil Collins, this is what happens when you run a drum through excessive reverb and then chop off the decay.  So don't do it.  In the example, Phil Collins' beautiful '80s hit, "Against All Odds".

20. High-pitched snare

She drives me crazy

Possibly a reaction to the deep, space-hogging gated snare, this thin, light sound dances through untold numbers of pop tunes.  Can you Fine Young Cannibals?
Overused but Not Cool Award:  Stuttering sampled vocals (B-b-b-b-baby!)


I can't find a "b-b-b-b-baby" sample at the moment, so how about a "n-n-n-n-nineteen" instead?  The 1985 hit "Nineteen", by Paul Hardcastle (who now plays smooth jazz and is still very successful) is a perfect example of this technique.  Hardcastle used an Emulator II for the Vietnam documetary samples).


SynthMania List:


Drum Loops / Breakbeats / full groove samples
Funky Drummer Loop Funky Drummer This loop has been used as the backbone of countless tracks.  Deservedly one of the classic breakbeats, it opens the first sample CD of the classic  "Datafile" trilogy, by Zero-G.
Amen breakbeat Amen my brother From "Amen my brother" by the Winstons, this is the jungle/drum'n'bass loop.
Apache breakbeat Apache Pitch-shift it up to 160 bpm, and you get a groovalicious beat that many a jungle producers find irresistible.  From "Apache", by the Incredible Bongo Band.
The loop of '88 (The "Ooh! Yeah!" loop) The loop of '88 An irresistible loop, this was perfect to build up a House track.  Ooh! Jazz!  Ooh!  Yeah!  Ohh! Jam!  Or, what is it that they say?  This loop is from the song "Think" by Lyn Collins and was very popular at the end of the '80s/beginning of the '90s.
The loop of '89 Set Adrift

Girl You Know It's True

I have this and the previous loop identified this way in a double sample LP package by Simon Harris, that contained many other loops and sounds suitable for scratching and backbeat purposes.  P.M Dawn used this one for their hit "Set adrift on memory bliss", where they also sample Spandau Ballet's song "True"!  Other examples:  Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True"

Roland TR-909

Pump up the Jam

This Beat Is Technotronic



The Techno-House drum-machine.  Over the years its sounds have been eagerly sought after by every dance music producer, and it has truly defined a genre.  An analog/digital hybrid, its bass drum, snare, open hat and all of its onboard sounds have ended up in every sample cd with the name house/techno on it. Check out Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" and "This Beat Is Technotronic, Speedy J's "Pullover", and Dee-Lite's "Power Of Love" from the album "World Clique".

Roland TR-808


Sexual Healing

The classic Hip-Hop and House drum machine.  All of its sounds - just like its sister, the TR-909, are famous:  the tight, small snare, the characteristic rim shot and cowbell, the analog tom-toms.. and the biggest bass drum boom ever made.  Used by everybody, its sounds are still widely used for so many different musical genres.

Check out Mantronix doing an homage to this drum machine, Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing",

The "Stutter edit"

The Rockafeller Skank Fat Boy Slim (Norman Cook) and the "Big Beat" movement (Propellerheads, Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy et alii) were one of the first to popularize the stutter edit (utilizing a software sequencer to arrange small snippets of sounds together).  Artists like BT (Brian Transeau) took the Stutter edit further - creating the Micro edit.  BT is the champ in this department.  Just listen to any of his songs and you'll realize how much work he put in arranging very small portions of sound in his sequenced songs.  In the example, a snippet from Fatboy Slim hit "The Rockafeller Skank" aka "The funk soul brother".

The "Pump Up The Volume" loop

Pump up the volume Characteristic early house loop - from MARRS' hit - TR-909 galore, with analog 808 bongos.

The "When the levee breaks" loop

When the levee breaks Notably used by the Beastie Boys in "Rhymin' and Stealin'", this loop was taken from a Led Zeppelin song.

Casio VL-1 rhythms and tones

Da da da


German group Trio's hit "Da da da" and Dee-lite's "Who Was That", among others, use this wonderful, little machine.  It's actually a cross between a keyboard and a calculator, but the "Fantasy" tone is pretty groovy.. (and you can make your own tones too.)

The "Genie in a bottle" bass-drum pattern

Genie In A Bottle Very cool 16th drum bass programming in this song.

The "Glory Box" loop

Glory Box

Hell is round the corner

A very beautiful loop, used in the background of  Portishead's "Glory Box", from Dummy, and Tricky's "Hell is round the corner", from Maxinquaye.  Scratchy vinyl noise, a melancholic string loop, a great bass, Rhodes with tremolo, wha-wha guitars. . . aaah, I like Trip-Hop.  Slick people, too.  Any song is going to sound nice with that dreamy loop in the background.  The original music is from Isaac Hayes.

The busy 1980s 16th-beat programmed percussion pattern

You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)

Weird Science

Wow.. what a crazy track this was!  "You Spin Me Round" was a huge hit for Dead Or Alive in 1985, and countless bands imitated their arrangement afterwards.  The programmed drum machine pattern, in combination with other sequenced parts, was absolutely phenomenal and ground-breaking. I wonder what equipment they used. The bass could be DX7, or maybe was obtained with a sampler?  Still a great party song!  :-)
This type of percussion programming is also featured in Oingo Boingo's "Weird Science"

The "Rockit"

Rockit Everything about this song is great:  the scratches, the rez-zap loop, the percussion, and finally the synth sound used for the melody.  And let us not forget the Vocoder :-)Herbie Hancock during his rap-electronic phase.  A synthesizer cult-song of the '80s.

The "I've got the power" drum loop


I've got the power A classic sound from Snap's hit:  the characteristic bell loop is a signature drum pattern or the early '90s.

The "Blue Monday" drum pattern

Blue_Monday The classic Blue Monday, by New Order, featured clever Oberheim DMX programming.
Bass / Synth Bass/ Bass Lines

The Brooklyn Bounce synth bass

Get ready to bounce A great-sounding TB-303 synth bass gives this '90s hit great character.  Also used - the typical techno pizzicato very in vogue at the time.

The "Oh, Yeah" samples & synth bass

Oh Yeah From great pioneer of electronic pop Swiss band "Yello".  The song was featured in several '80s films and is a feast of samples made with early samplers, and punchy 80s drum machines.

The ARP Odyssey "biting" synth bass

Chameleon As played by Herbie Hancock in "Chameleon", from Headhunters.  Great synth bass sound!  As you can tell, quite different from the Minimoog bass... Back in the '70s, the Odyssey and Minimoog were contenders in the monophonic portable/performance synth market.

Yamaha TX81Z Lately Bass

Pussycat Meow This unassuming 4-operator FM module contains many strong sounds, and certainly one of the best is this.  For Rap, Hip-Hop or House, you can't go wrong by using it.  Check out Deee-Lite's "Pussycat Meow", ________________ or _____________ .

Korg MS-20 "Flatbeat" bass sound

Flat Beat Made famous by the French movie director and techno composer Mr. Oizo, this warbly bass sound is strange and immediately hooking.  "Flatbeat" was a hit (at least in Europe), also thanks to the adorable yellow puppet that moved his head to the beat in the song's video.  My bet is that this sound will become a classic and will appear in the factory patches of new synths.

The "Deutsche" Euro synth bass

DeutschBas An aggressive, highly resonant and powerful synth bass sound that was very much in vogue during the 1990s.  This example in particular comes from a preset on the Alesis QS8.

The ring-modulated / vibrato bass


Take my breath away This was a very typical bass sound heard in the 1980s.  I was able to get a GREAT rendition of it just adding ring modulation to the preset synth bass in my Casio CZ-1000!  In the examples, Commodores' "Night Shift" and Berlin's "Take my breath away".

The Paul Hardcastle style Prophet-5 bass


King Tut Paul Hardcastle has used this type of bass patch, with lots of "bite", in many of his compositions, including "Rain Forest" and, in the mp3 example, "King Tut".

Roland TB-303


Everybody needs a 303
The mythical TB-303, aka the "Silver Box", aka the "Acid Dream Machine", but more simply "the 303".  A genre, Acid-House (or Acid-Techno), was created around this machine.  Has spanned a series of emulators, both in hardware and software.  In the examples:  Hardfloor's "Acperience" and Fatboy Slim's "Everybody needs a 303" - yes, everybody does... or at least a 303 emulator :-)

The "Persuaders" synth bass

This is the incredibly beautiful "Persuaders theme", by the great John Barry of the James Bond 007 theme.  I was always fascinated by this song, since watching the show when I was a child.  The supremely analog, creamy, oscillator-detuned bass is very characteristic.  I'm trying to find out which synthesizer was used for this song!  - so, if you know, contact me, please at 
Synth/Synth Pad/Synth Lead

Roland α-Juno What the...? (aka "the Hoover")




Joey Beltram's "Mentasm", as well as Prodigy's "Charlie" helped popularize this Techno-Rave must-have sound.  Human Resource's "Dominator" is also a great example of this classic type of rave sound.

The Techno pizzicato sound


Encore Une Fois

In a Future Music interview... Faithless reveal that the sound is an edited version of a Roland JD-990 patch.  In "Encore une fois" DJ Sash popularized it.

Roland D-50 "Pizzagogo"

Orinoco Flow Yet another famous D-50 preset, this is a lovely sound that defines New Age pieces.  Enya and her "Orinoco Flow" come to mind.

Roland JP-8000 SuperSaw

  The sound of euphoric Trance

Roland D-50 "Staccato Heaven"

Staccato Heaven One of the reasons why I bought a D-50 in 1989 instead of an M1.  Eric Persing is one talented sound designer...

D-50 "DigitalNativeDance"

DigitalNativeDance An innovation at the time, this famous D-50 preset utilized short loops that gave the instrument instant character.

Roland D-50 "Fantasia"

Fantasia One of the most easily recognizable synthesizer sounds of all time.  It's now become a standard in the ROM of most new digital workstations.

Roland D-50 "Glass Voices"

Glass Voices The perfect pad for many applications.  Haunting, dramatic, evolving...

Korg M1 "Universe"

Korg M1 Universe Together with "Staccato Heaven", one of my favorite presets of all time.

The "Popcorn" sound

Popcorn Hot Butter's success is an irresistible electro-pop piece.  The sound probably comes from a modular Moog.

The Polymoog "Vox Humana" sound

Cars Gary Numan used that Polymoog preset for the great mega-analog synth lead in his hit song.

Minimoog lead

Minimoog in "Catherine Parr" The Moog Minimoog is probably the most famous synthesizer ever made.  Rick Wakeman (he played in Yes) used it, among other classic keys, in his album "The Six Wives of Henry VIII".

The "Night in motion" synth stab

Night in motion From Cubic 22 "Night in motion".  This song was very popular during the early nineties.  The stab is in the "I got the power" vein - a cross between a distorted guitar sample and an aggressive synth... great sound.

Moog "From the Beginning" sound

From the Beginning Different and rich in personality, this sound appears, as usual with ELP, at the end of a pretty standard guitar song, and changes the atmosphere completely.  More recently, From the Beginning has become part of the Alesis QS7 and 8 sound arsenal.

Oberheim Four Voice lead sound

Pat Metheny's keyboardist Lyle Mays popularized this sound - a hollow-sounding square wave with a soft tonality.

The "Worm" squiggly monosynth sound

Classic '70s synth lead

The "Enola Gay" synth sound

“Enola Gay” cover

Enola Gay Famous hit song by the new wave band "Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark" (OMD)  This cool sound was apparently sourced from the unpretentious Korg micro-preset!

The "Axel F" synth


Axel F A 1980s hit for Harold Faltermeyer.  The synthesizers involved were apparently Roland Jupiter-8, Roland JX-3P, and Yamaha DX7.

The Prophet-5 synth pad


In the air tonight


Phil Collins for "In the air tonight" and Spandau Ballet for "True" both reportedly used this great analog synth for their pads.

The "I've got the power" synth stab

I've got the power A characteristic early house stab, popularized by the band "Snap".  Probably a digitally manipulated distorted electric guitar sample.

Oberheim OB-Xa "Jump" patch

Jump Great analog synth brass, made famous by the song "Jump", by Van Halen, and by the great - ironically - guitarist Eddie.  I remember a great patch for the Roland D-50 called "OB-Xa Jumper" that was an uncanny recreation.

The Super-Detuned Sawtooth Wave sound

Who is Elvis

This is mothaf**ker

Yet another Techno classic sound, this was introduced with Phenomenia's "Who is Elvis" and used by countless others (Digital Boy in "This is mothaf**ker" for example).

The "Rydeen" sound

Rydeen From Yellow Magic Orchestra's hit, this is a cross between an organ and a synth sound - a popular combination in the late '70s.  I'm not sure what synthesizer(s) was used. update; apparently it was a Korg PS-3100.

The No Limit techno lead

No Limit From 2Unlimited's hit song, this was a typical detuned-synth Techno sound.

The Chick Corea FM+analog fusion lead synth

Rumble This was a sound that Chick Corea used very often during his "electrik" period in the eighties.  It's based on FM (Yamaha TX-802) mixed with an analog (in the audio example, excerpt from "Rumble", from "The Elektric Band".

Fluke's "Absurd" vocal sample bass fx

Absurd This is a great sample found at the beginning of Fluke's hit "Absurd" (from the album "Risotto").  I guess it consists of some kind of guttural vocal sampled with added fx and something that reminds of a cabasa.  Great sound.

The Macarena delayed synth

Macarena Say what you want about the Macarena, but the synth that opens the Bayside Boys' super-popular remix of the song is very particular and recognizable.

The "Smack My Bitch Up" distorted reso-synth

Smack My Bitch Up Liam reportedly used a Korg Prophecy for this infectious, distorted TB-303ish synth lead.  From the Prodigy's "Fat Of The Land".

The "No Coke" synth & bass

No Coke Very particular-sounding, highly-resonant synth and dance hall reggae bass.  Exclusively done on synth.  From Dr. Alban's hit of the early 90s.  I received an email from a reader and it looks like the synth used was a Roland Juno-106.

The "Sexy Boy" voco-synth

Sexy Boy Featured all through Air's "Sexy Boy" (from their breakthrough album "Moon Safari"), this is a characteristic guttural, vocal-like and vocoded synth that gives the song a robotic aura.

The "Duel" soft pad

Duel I've always loved this song by Propaganda.  The marvelous, incredibly haunting soft pad featured in the chorus is one of the best analog soft pads I've heard.  I'm not sure what synth was used for this, but I know they used a lot of PPG.   Pure '80s nostalgia.

The "Fade To Grey" synth bass, fx and pad

Fade To Grey A triumph of analog synthesis, this was Visage's big hit.  Lovely analog string pad throughout the song.

The "Benny Benassi sound"

Satisfaction Very, very cool dance synth lead.  Is that PWM in action?  In the example, the Italian DJ's hit "Satisfaction".

The "Sandstorm" techno synth lead

Sandstorm Darude's dance hit features an infectious (some would say annoying), piercing techno synth lead.  Very effective at high volume.

The "Pullover" techno synth lead

Pullover "Pullover" was a big hit by Speedy J in the early '90s.  "Pullover" features a repetitive techno synthesizer line to which pitch bend is applied, over an evolving TR-909 drum pattern.

The Cars' "Let's Go" oscillator-sync lead

Let's go Possibly taken from the Prophet-5 "Sync II" patch, this is a great-sounding, characteristic patch, with a great resonant filter effect.

Vocoder (Kraftwerk style)

Trans Europe Express The Vocoder is..
Check out "Trans Europe Express", by Kraftwerk.  More recently, the Beastie Boys used it in "Intergalactic".

Vocoder (Cher style)

Do you believe Yes, pop mega-diva Cher created a trend applying some kind of vocoding to her voice in "Do you believe in Life after Love".  It's not clear how they did it (some say with Antares Auto-Tune ...), but it seems her producers used a Digitech Talker and a Nord Lead. Edit: it looks it was indeed Auto-Tune.
Piano/Electric Piano

The Dream-House piano -  aka the "Children" sound

Children These are basically standard piano, syn bass and string/pad sounds bathed in delay and reverb, but they are particular nonetheless.  Italian dj/producer Robert Miles wrote this hit using a Kurzweil K2000 to "calm down" the kids before they drove back home from the discos (he even used the great K2000 "Thunder" patch in this song).  His song also created a genre, "Dream-House".  The Roland JV-2080 would feature several patches inspired by these sounds.

Rhodes electric piano


Riders on the Storm Beautiful sound used by many 70's fusion players and more recently by Incognito with the Acid Jazz trend of the 90's.  For me, "Riders on the Storm" by the Doors does it.

Wurlitzer electric piano

The Logical Song A different sound from the Rhodes, and very, very characteristic.  Comes in fun colors, too, like green.  Listen to Supertramp's "The Logical Song".

The layered acoustic+FM piano - aka "L.A. piano"

L.A. Piano Glossy, highly produced mega-expensive Hollywood studio type sound typically produced combining an acoustic grand piano with a Rhodes/FM type sound.  In this examples I'm using the preset "Pf:For Ballads" on the Yamaha EX5R.

Korg M1 House piano

Ride on Time Used in a lot of House tracks, especially in the "Italo-House" genre for its percussive tone.  "Ride on Time" by the Italian group Black Box was a huge success.

Hohner Clavinet



In the 70's, it was the Funk instrument par excellence.  Run through a wah-wah, it's even better.  Stevie Wonder (Superstitious ) and Herbie Hancock (Head Hunters'  Chameleon) surely knew how to use it.

The '60s-style harpsichord

played in a pop/rock, not classical, fashion:  Mancini, ....F

Korg M1 Perc Organ

Please Don't Go The mythical "17 Organ2" preset on the M1 defined House music of the early 1990s.  Listen for example to Double You's version of KC & the Sunshine Bands's classic "Please don't Go", which was a hit in Europe in the early '90s.

Jimmy Smith-style Hammond Organ

Back at the Chicken Shack C3 vibrato, 3rd harmonic percussion, the first three drawbars all out...this is the sound of jazz organ.  "Back at the chicken shack" was the first Jimmy Smith album I ever bought... and I was immediately hooked.

Vox Continental

Light My Fire The sound of The Doors and many other 60's bands.  According to Ray Manzarek, it's the "California sound".  "Light My Fire" is one of the Doors' most loved songs.


Rock Lobster Similar to the Vox yet different, sligthly warmer and more nasal-sounding, deservedly one of the classic 60's combo organs.

The "Won't get fooled again" phased / filtered organ sound

Won't get fooled again At the beginning of the great Who song.  The Alesis Ion offers a great recreation of this sound.

The "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" intro organ sound

Lucy in the sky with diamonds I remember reading that the organ used by the Beatles for the introduction to this hit was a Lowrey.  Pretty cool retro sound.



An awesome sounding, expressive early electronic keyboard!   --- Del Shannon's "Runaway", The Tornadoes' "Telstar" are examples of this precursor to the modern synthesizer.


You list the Del Shannon hit "runaway" as featuring a clavoline. I listened to the audio sample of the pertinent section, and I'm assuming that you refer to the high, reedy sort of solo that plays.

That's not a clavoline, though. That's a sax played through an organ leslie.

Several years ago, PBS ran a series called "The history of rock n' roll" - and one of the songs it touched on was Del Shannon's runaway. Survuving members of the band were interiewed and it was revealed that that's what the sound was - people had been trying like mad for decades to figure out what it was, and all it was, was a sax through a leslie.

I searched google but was unable to find anyone who had this info posted, so your best bet is to try and hunt up a copy of that old PBS series, and view the interviews for yourself.


-cobalt* "

The reggae organ ver. 1

No Woman No Cry Awesome chorused sound, with some high drawbars out and leslie running.  Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry", the live version, is a great example.

The reggae organ ver. 2


ARP String Ensemble - also known as Solina

One of the best analog string machines ever.

The Solina through phaser sound

  Used in a lot of classic "teutonic rock", or "kosmische musik", and Jean Michel Jarre.

The "Goldfrapp" sound

Lovely Head A wonderful sound.  Truly innovative not becase it's the first time that somebody filters vocals, but because of her amazing operatic technique combined with technology.  I call this "Goldfrapp" sound, because Alison Goldfrapp uses this technique with beautiful results.  She sings through a microphone whose signal is being processed by a synthesizer filter (at a Goldfrapp concert in D.C., I noticed it was a Korg MS-20).  Yep, it's not a Theremin or a synth... even though the first times you hear the songs, one can't exactly figure out how they produced it..  it's her voice going through a synthesizer filter - I've seen it with my eyes at their concert.

UPDATE FROM A READER:  "I think she's actually singing into the MS-20's control voltage input. The
MS-20 is drawing its pitch information from Alison Goldfrapp's voice, via the CV input. Korg's Legacy VST edition of the MS-20 has a preset which does this, and it produces a similar effect, particularly the "squally" sound in between the notes, which must come from the microphone picking up noise, or Goldfrapp's breath. It's one of those interesting techniques that is little-used because it requires pitch-perfect singing in order to sound right.
She could probably have the same effect with another old CV/Gate synthesiser, but I wonder if the different voltage standards might make it impossible to control in the audio range."

The "Frampton" sound

The famous sound obtained with a "talk box".

The Elka Synthex Laser Harp

The famous Laser Harp sound used by Jean Michel Jarre - utilizing the classic Elka Synthex.

The typical '80s comp synth

Propaganda, Madonna

The Proteus/2 "X-Files whistle"

The X-Files Originated from an E-mu Proteus/2 sound module (source:  Keyboard magazine article with Mark Snow, xx/199x)
Choirs/Vox/Syn Vox

The Anasthasia techno choir


James Brown is dead

I truly loved this song when it came out! in the early '90s!  Belgian group T-99 created this techno standard sound sampling the sound of an orchestral choir (supposedly a recording of The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky) and shifting the starting point of its wave so to obtain a very fast attack, indispensable to play the characteristic riff.  Tons of other artists copied it (for example, LA Style in "James Brown is dead") - Update:  reader Anders writes: I've bought an old Roland S-330 sampler and guess what i found!! Original System Disk nr-2 contains some orchestral sound, and one called "Ending 1" is that famous "James Brown Is Dead" choir sound :)

E-mu Emulator choir

Enjoy The Silence


Depeche Mode used Emulators in the '80s.  I believe the choirs in their incredibly beautiful "Enjoy The Silence" are from the Emulator II.  Also, here's a gritty choir sound from the Emulator, 1st version:  Italian New Wave band Litfiba's "Tziganata".  Listen carefully and you'll notice the "Mellotronish" choir sound in the background.

Gated choir sequenced triplets

Nowhere Land A few years ago this sound was created by some producer gating a choir sound and utilizing a hi-hat pattern to open and close the gate and this is the - impressive - result.  Or maybe it's all done with a sequencer..  Anyway,  "Nowhere Land" was a hit (in Europe, at least) and countless other tracks imitated this technique.

The Fairlight Syn Vox

Moments In Love

O Superman

The uber-famous Fairlight syn vox.  This breathy synthetic voice was also part of the Emulator II library, the Roland S-series samplers (Mary Ann vox), and made it even in the GM standard bank.  Check out Art Of Noise's "Moments In Love", Laurie Anderson's "O' Superman" (probably not a good example but is reminiscent of that sound)

D-50 "Star Trek Voices"

STAR-TREK Voices A gorgeous, Fairlight-esque vox pad that sparkles and swims in space.  Contained in the PN-D50-04 Roland card.

The Fairlight syn vox

Shout The most beautiful and famous CMI Fairlight factory sample, this was, and still is, widely used in the ROM of many sample-based, modern era synthesizers.  In the example, the solo in Tears For Fears' 1984 hit "Shout".

The "I Can't Wait" early-sampler sampled vocals

I Can't Wait A very cool 1980s song, Nu Shooz "I Can't Wait" features a very characteristic vocal sample, very "Fairlight like".  An early, low-bit rate, limited-memory sampler was probably used.

im almost 40 now... but i have seen
nu shooz when they have the i cant wait hit...
they came here to my town laredo...

the bass player played a synth with a bass patch... dont know what it was but...
i see this one

Sequential Circuits • ProphetVS

being played on the main riff.... so i think that was it.."

Mellotron flute sound


Strawberry Fields Forever Played polyphonically by the Beatles in their song "Strawberry fields forever", this haunting sound is very beautiful, and the original instrument  is still very sought after today.  Noteworthy is its appearance in the Vintage Keyboard expansion board for the Roland JV/XP series.  Other Mellotron sounds, like strings and choirs are very, very evocative.

The '80s synth harmonica sound


What's love got to do with it The synth used for this famous harmonica sound was the Yamaha DX7. (actually, a preset on a DX7 library cartridge).
Brass/Synth Brass

The "Wish you were here" analog synth-brass


Wish You Were Here From Pink Floyd's popular song

The "Africa" FM brass sound

Apparently, an early FM synth, the Yamaha GS-1, was used for the brass sound of this famous 1980s hit.

The '80s "Hair-Metal" synth brass

The Final Countdown Do you remember the hit "The Final Countdown" from 1985, by the band "Europe"?  This song was so overplayed on the radio that every kind of people, from a 4-year-old child to the octogenarian grandma, were whistling in the street.  I don't remember what keyboards were used, but I'll find out. Update: several Swedish and Norwegian readers have contacted me and confirmed that the synth used was a Roland JX-8P - apparently a preset, "Stab..." something.

The Tangerine Dream classic analog sequencer pattern

Cherokee Lane Excerpt from "Cherokee Lane", from the live Album "Encore".  Analog sequencers were at the base of Tangerine Dream's music during the '70s.

The "I feel love" Moroder 16th sequenced pattern

I feel love A classic disco song, "I feel love" by Donna Summer was produced by Giorgio Moroder and is based on a fabulous analog sequencer pattern.  Giorgio went on to produce many other (synthesizer-based) hits all throughout the '80s and beyond.

The Jupiter-8 arpeggio

Save A Prayer Featured at the beginning of Duran Duran's beautiful "Save A Prayer".  There's also a great syn-flute with pitch bending that's prominent in this track.

The Jupiter-4 random arpeggio

Hungry like the wolf Famously used by Nick Rhodes in the intro to Duran Duran's "Hungry like the wolf"

The "Get Your Freak On" koto loop


Get Your Freak On A repetitive koto loop, this was a hit for Missy Elliott.  A characteristic use of new-sounding sampled instruments in modern hip-hop production

The "THX" sound

[sound clip removed at request of the copyright owners] This shouldn't probably be here, but I've always been curious.  Does anybody know what synthesizer was used for this great portamento effect?  Lucas?  Anybody? ANSWER: here's an email from reader Gilles, with the answer to this question:  This sound comes from a Synclavier 2, intensively used in SkyWalker studio, managed by George Lucas (according to Harmony Central web site) - UPDATE:  you can read the real and very interesting story about how the THX sound was made (by Andy Moorer on a mainframe computer at LucasFilm) here at Music Thing