The best Daft Punk tracks ranked
Ranking the biggest bangers from everyone's favourite robots, Daft Punk
Disclaimer: Everyone has their favourite Daft Punk track. And whilst we aren’t saying Mixmag’s Top 33 will match your own, our number one was technically voted for by Mixmag readers (as not just their greatest tune but the greatest tune by anyone, or all time - albeit back in 2013). Our list does not include remixes they made or others made of them (we’ll save that for another day), tunes they made alone (so no 'Together', 'Gym Tonic' or 'Music Sounds Better WIth You') or tracks that sampled them. All clear? Then cometh the time, cometh the robots…
The opener of ‘Homework’, ‘Daftendirekt’ sets the tone of what’s to come in their iconic album. It’s loaded with freaky warped vocal loops, that funk swing they love so much, trippy riffs and hefty drum kicks, the latter turning into KO hits in the final 30 seconds. These elements all run through the album and ‘Daftendirekt’ tees it up brilliantly. Not one for peak-time club action, but definitely a leveller to weird you the fuck out mid sesh. The sleeve notes for ‘Homework’ state ‘Dafterndirekt’ was originally recorded live at a Fuse party in Ghent, which seems to be a point of confusion for some Daft Punk heads. C’mon guys, sort it out! I guess it makes sense why they called their 1997 live tour Daftendirekt.
We all know Daft Punk can do stadium-sized dance hits, but they can work wonders on the other end of the spectrum as well, as ‘Motherboard’ attests. In 2013 the duo described the track as "A futuristic piece, which could be from the year 4000", and that starts to ring true as the track progresses into its second half. But to me, it’s the opening section which evokes the feeling of sitting in the smoky haze of an old fashioned lounge bar sipping a Martini as session musicians lay an elegant soundtrack that really makes it. The bassline is so warm and inviting you could almost wrap yourself up in it to hibernate.
31 Give Life Back To Music
When Daft Punk announced ‘Random Access Memories’ they broke the internet. When they announced they’d be collaborating with disco legend Nile Rodgers they gave the servers in the Nevada desert an extra kicking. ‘Give Life Back To Music’ opens ‘RAM’, introducing the luxurious 70s sound that the robots chose to explore on their long-awaited fourth studio album. It’s a light and breezy jam, made extra plush by Rodger’s trademark guitar licks.
30 Face To Face
Call Daft Punk Electric Light Orchestra fan boys if you dare, but there's enough reason to do it. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo sample the UK group twice on ‘Face To Face’, first with the wriggly riff from ‘Evil Woman’ and second with a subtle use of a vocal from ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’. Let’s not forget another more obvious vocal sample of ‘House At Pooh Corner’ by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina. And yep, you guessed it, that track is based on the honey-lovin’ Winnie The Pooh. What samples to choose, though. The production is a fruity pop-funk compote, with US producer Todd Edwards, a huge influence on Daft Punk, laying down the vocals. Bangalter once told Pitchfork: "Todd Edwards sings sometimes but not like that. I think we were all very excited and surprised by the way he could sing this song.” This wouldn’t be the last time Daft Punk and Todd collaborated, with the latter also featuring on ‘Fragments Of Time’ from ‘Random Access Memories’.
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Thudding kick drums punctuate the opening to ‘Alive’, laying the foundation for the track to build into a fist-pumping anthem via the simple power of repetitive synth and bass patterns. The track was built from elements of Daft Punk’s first ever single ‘The New Wave’ which was released on Glaswegian house and techno powerhouse Soma Quality Recordings in 1994. In its final form, ‘Alive’ is scaled up from a heads-down basement cut to something that’s equally simple but feels grander in scale with those echoey effects. It hinted early on that the duo would soon outgrow clubs and become one of the biggest electronic acts on the planet.
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On ‘Superheroes’ the itchy energy of previous Daft Punk techno like ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’ gets smoothed out with silky French Touch synths and strings, making for a robotic walloper that’s aimed straight at galaxies far beyond Planet Earth and humans’ mortal realm. There’s a dose of space rock at the end too, hinting at where the likes of Daft Punk and their successors Justice would eventually end up, and the Barry Manilow sample is pure genius.
27 The Son of Flynn
Daft Punk haven’t been shy in shouting Giorgio Moroder out as an inspiration on their work. His features on ‘Random Access Memories’ are testament to that, but a few years before that album came out, Daft Punk recorded the soundtrack for Disney film Tron: Legacy. The influence of Moroder - a soundtrack OG with credits for Scarface, Midnight Express, American Gigolo and more - is clear on the sparkling synth cut ‘The Son Of Flynn’. Just over a minute long, the track has comparisons to ‘Moroder’s Theme’ from Scarface in that eerie, WTF is happening type way. The bubbling synths leave you teetering on the edge, with no idea what’s around the corner.
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26 Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablancas)
Julian Casablancas’ unfiltered New York drawl helped make him one of the most iconic voices in indie rock music this side of the Millenium, but naturally, when called upon for a feature by Daft Punk they whacked it through a vocoder. It works. The effect gives an unmistakable Daft Punk feel to his vulnerable and affecting vocal that looks back upon a missed opportunity to follow a crush through to love. “What might have been…” is a thought that can torture the best of us, and one that might feel particularly troubling for some during this coronavirus-induced period of lockdown. Through the wistfulness Daft Punk and Casablancas weaved into this track, you can at least take comfort in not being alone in your thoughts.
25 The Weeknd 'Starboy' feat. Daft Punk
Daft Punk purists might well take umbrage with ‘Starboy’ being in this list but there’s no denying that the collaboration is a huge hit for the pair, giving them a number two in the UK singles chart and their first ever number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the US. Legend has it that the two parties linked via a mutual friend in the Canadian music scene and that The Weeknd wrote the lyrics after being inspired by a beat Guy-Manuel was playing in the studio in Paris. The vocalist is in prime form on ‘Starboy’ while our protagonists deliver a noirish pop beat with the kind of luxe production that we’re used to from them since ‘Random Access Memories’.
The single and another collab between the artists, ‘I Feel It Coming’, bookend the ‘Starboy’ album and a performance of ‘I Feel It..’ at the GRAMMYs in 2017 is also one of the more recent sightings of Daft Punk playing live.
24 Make Love
“One of my favorite Daft Punk tracks,” one comment reads on a Reddit thread about ‘Make Love’ from ‘Human After All’. They continue: “It's so romantic to play when actually making love.” I couldn’t imagine getting down to Daft Punk myself, but whatever you’re into, eh? It’d have to be ‘Make Love’ into ‘One More Time’in the playlist, though. Jokes aside, ‘Make Love’ is a dreamy, hair-blowin’-in-the-wind number, sandwiched between the intense ‘Steam Machine’ and ‘The Brainwasher’ on the album. Something like this - chilled, relaxing, downtempo - is always welcome within a collection of hard-hitting tracks, exactly what ‘Human After All’ is full of.
23 ß Wax feat. DJ Kevin
A deep cut that was given away free with a subscription of French electronic music magazine Coda in 1995 (the professional jealousy is real). This rare track titled ‘ß Wax’ (or ‘Beta Wax’) is credited as a collaboration with fellow French producer Kevin Scherschel aka DJ Kevin. It fizzes with dancefloor energy, with ravey feedback squeaks and acid synths driving through the body of the track. Arriving in 1995 between the release of their 1994 debut single ‘The New Wave’ on Soma and 1997 debut album ‘Homework’, it’s an early cut in the Daft Punk canon that outlined their star potential. The Betamax format may have died out but this near namesake lives on as a banger. If any artist wants to give away a track this good with our magazine, hit me up.
22 Revolution 909
‘Revolution 909’ is a bumpin’ house beat from ‘Homework’ that’s a protest cry against the cops who were shutting down parties in Paris around the time of its release. “I don't think it's the music they're after, it's the parties... I don't know. 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. They don't understand this music which is really violent and repetitive, which is house; they consider it dumb and stupid,” Bangalter said in an interview.
The track is also famous for its Roman Coppola-directed video, which begins with a party being broken up by the police and turns into an instructional video about how tomato sauce is made.
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‘Phœnix’ is just a bunch of fun. One of those uplifting, playful house tracks that picks you up and puts a massive, ear-to-ear grin on your face. The incessant hi-hats provide the energy and a sample (that joyous spraying of whatever it is) lifted from Elton John and Kiki Dee’s 1976 hit ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ give it that fairground-type elation and whizz. It’s not a track you hear spoken about a lot, but listen to the catalogue of labels such as Studio Barnhus and you’ll certainly hear aspects of this lingering. House music that’s been plied with E-numbers, but still got enough oomph for a sweat-inducing dancefloor workout. Basement Jaxx turned in a wild remix of it, which features on the remix album ‘Daft Club’.
20 High Life
A shot of serotonin in song form, and also one of the finest examples of how to get the most out of a sample. The source of the short vocal loop was uncredited on ‘Discovery’ and the subject of much interest upon the album’s release, until internet sleuths eventually discovered it in Tavares’ 1980 soul record ‘Break Down For Love’. Taking small snippets of the vocal and instrumental, Daft Punk reshaped them into an ecstasy-inducing ride through good vibes. If you’re ever in need of a confidence boost, stick this in your headphones and go for a stroll: you’ll feel invincible.
19 Lose Yourself To Dance feat. Pharrell Williams
The holy quartet of Daft Punk, Pharrell and Nile Rodgers proved to be an unbeatable formula on ‘Random Access Memories’ and ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ is another hit from the band that the robots had always dreamed of putting together. Pharrell sounds like pure silk and Nile Rodgers’ guitar playing is so graceful it sounds like the dude is levitating. Legendary session musicians Nathan East and J.R. Robinson also feature, with the slow tempo perfect for getting those snake hips out on the dancefloor, as evidenced on the glitzy video. Daft Punk make it look too easy by this point.
18 Robot Rock
With the word ‘rock’ in the title, you’d be silly not to expect some sort of heavy guitar playing to dominate throughout. That’s exactly what you get on ‘Robot Rock’: rousing electric guitar chords, buzzy synth riffs and vocals, given extensive vocoder work, repeating the words ‘rock, robot rock’. Bangalter told Q Magazine in 2007 that the tune was a tribute to heavy rock chords (wouldn’t have guessed!), so he must have been buzzing when it was combined with Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ on the video game DJ Hero. At the time of release ‘Robot Rock’ got a fair bit of stick for being repetitive, but Bangalter explained “to take a riff and loop it is to explore the core of rock.” As divisive as it might have been, there’s no denying its worth and it got a Hollywood outing with its inclusion on Iron Man 2.
On an album called ‘Homework’, ‘Teachers’ is the most didactic track. Across it Thomas Bangalter lists many of electronic music’s most important figures, paying homage to their influence on Daft Punk’s output. Techno legends like Jeff Mills, Robert Hood and Joey Beltram are named alongside house greats such as Derrick Carter, Gemini and Louie Vega. There’s shout outs for key players in styles like hip hop, surf pop, funk and ghetto too, with Dr. Dre, Brian Wilson, George Clinton and DJ Deeon among the mentions. The track is extremely infectious with its pitch-shifted vocals bopping along over punchy percussion and funky synth squelches, and it’s also an interesting insight into the many reference points Daft Punk have incorporated into their gamechanging sound. On the duo’s debut album, it helped confirm that now “Daft Punk are in the house” among dance music’s pantheon.
Crescendolls is the name of the intergalactic band that stars in Interstella 5555, the anime movie that accompanies ‘Discovery’. The track of the same name is classic Daft Punk filter house and exemplifies their knack of finding an epic sample and turning it into a bonafide party anthem. The accompanying video also shows the 'Dolls at a particularly crucial moment as they battle with fame and the dark presence of a major label owner.
There’s no questioning the impact of 2004 single ‘Technologic’. Spearheaded by a choppy onslaught of robotic vocals, ‘Technologic’ has done the rounds, from iPod, Motorola and Alfa Romeo adverts to sun-kissed teen drama The O.C. It’s also been sampled by the likes of Busta Rhymes, Nicki Minaj, Will.I.Am and Hannah Wants & Chris Lorenzo. Even if you’ve got no idea what’s said - (it’s "Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it, Charge it, point it, zoom it, press it, snap it, work it, quick erase it, write it, cut it, paste it, save it, load it, check it, quick rewrite it, plug it, play it, burn it, rip it, drag it, drop it, zip, unzip it, lock it, fill it, call it, find it, view it, code it, jam, unlock it, Surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it, cross it, crack it, switch, update it, name it, read it, tune it, print it, scan it, send it, fax, rename it, touch it, bring it, pay it, watch it, turn it, leave it, stop, format it", by the way!) - you still have a jumble of words ringing in your head after you’ve heard it. Learning the words can be done by watching the video, the third to be directed by the duo.
14 Digital Love
DJ Sneak may be known as one of the biggest bad boys in dance music with his self-ascribed “house gangster” attitude and penchant for beefs, but he has a more tender side, as evidenced by the fact he wrote the heartfelt lyrics for this Daft Punk anthem. Sweetly sung by Daft Punk through a vocoder, they tell a tale of longing and unspoken love that evokes imagery of summer romances or romantic Parisian evenings. If you’re ever stuck in conversation with one of those “real music” bores saying emotion is lacking from electronic music, this track is a perfect counterpoint - it even has an outrageous solo that Slash would be proud of.
13 Rollin’ & Scratchin’
This is raw, upfront techno in the Daft Punk style. Made on a Juno 106 with a Boss MT-2 distortion pedal, the manic banger from ‘Homework’ was originally released as a B-side to ‘Da Funk’, their second ever 12” back in 1995. It’s similar to the stripped-back workouts Bangalter was releasing via his Roulé imprint around the same time and was inspired by Jeff Mills. “He represents an important statement that we were trying to do with tracks like ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’ that were harder edged, that these noises are music and it’s not just noise and can be accessible and experimental,” he explained in an interview in the early 00s.
The robots called on Canadian artist Chilly Gonzales for ‘Within’, with him providing a glorious piano solo at the start of the track. Familiar vocoder-heavy vocals soon come in, singing about loneliness and confusion. Deep, very deep. If it wasn’t a robot pouring its heart out, then some tears might be shed. A bit harsh, maybe. There’s no denying the beauty of ‘Within’, though, and that’s probably down to Chilly’s input on piano.
11 Veridis Quo
If electronic music was around in Medieval times it might have sounded like ‘Veridis Quo’. It has a kind of anachronistic throwback feel while still maintaining Daft Punk’s interest in contemporary production. A mournful Baroque style (but played on a synthesiser not a harpsichord) melody carries the emotional weight of the tune, sounding a bit like the soundtrack to a monarch’s funeral pyre if it were acted out by cosplayers at a Renaissance fair. ‘Veridis Quo’ is also the roundabout pseudo title-track of ‘Discovery’. It’s based on the Latin phrase “Quo vadis?” which can be translated as meaning “Where are you going?” and “To what purpose?”, tying into the meaning of ‘Discovery’. Not only that, but ‘Veridis Quo’ is also a pun that sounds like the phrase “Very Disco”, which becomes ‘Discovery’ when its component words are flipped.
10 Something About Us
Is there a more poignant song about fleeting love than ‘Something About Us’? If there is, we're yet to hear it. One of the most beautiful songs in the Daft Punk canon, it nails warm melancholy perfectly and is an early example of the robots’ sensibility for crafting sublime pop records, something that would take their fame truly stratospheric on their later work on ‘Random Access Memories’.
Cosmic comes to mind when thinking of a single word to describe ‘Voyager’, the ninth track on ‘Discovery’. Synths curl and growl throughout, and the riff gives it that space-funk swagger. All of this builds up to a serene, glistening breakdown - the kind you hear in countless Four Tet productions - just over two minutes in, before the continuation of the otherworldly funk jam. Of course, this all ties in with the fact ‘Discovery’ is the soundtrack for anime film Interstella 5555: The 5tory Of the 5ecret 5star 5ystem, with each track’s video being scenes from the Japanese film. If you wanna drop ‘Voyager’ into a playlist, maybe title it something like Space Funk For Otherworld Escapades. No wonder they called it ‘Voyager’, you feel like you’ve been to Mars and back by the final drum kick.
8 Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Perhaps Daft Punk’s most recognisable track and undoubtedly one of their best. It heavily samples 1979 song ‘Cola Bottle Baby’ by experimental funk artist Edwin Birdsong, bolstering the springy instrumental with a typically robotic Daft Punk lyrics and rounding the track out with a phenomenally funky breakdown. The subsequent heavily sampling of Daft Punk’s version in Kanye West’s track ‘Stronger’ concludes an interesting timeline to trace, from the sample’s funk beginnings through French touch to contemporary hip hop. Two Grammy Awards were picked up on the way, with West winning Best Rap Solo Performance for ‘Stronger’ in 2008 and Daft Punk’s live version of ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ from the ‘Alive 2007’ album scooping the Best Dance Recording prize the following year, beating competition from Hot Chip, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Rihanna and Sam Sparro.
7 Get Lucky feat. Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers
We love Daft Punk for their hard-edged techno and their sumptuous house. We give thanks for the club music they’ve gifted us. The music we’re discussing here is, after all, some of the best dance music ever made. But, as we’ve seen, they’ve always had an unashamed pop side and an ear for crafting stone-cold classics. So this is it, the peak, the world-dominating single they’ve been on course for since ‘Da Funk’ and ‘Around The World’ first hit the singles charts in the late 90s.
A love letter to Chicago house, ‘Burnin’’ is built on a cheeky, bumpin’ bassline that reeks of the ‘90s. That ain’t a bad thing, the ‘90s are cool now remember. The duo’s tribute to where house music began brings the likes of DJ Sneak, Paul Johnson, Roger Sanchez, Derrick Carter and Roy Davis Jr. to the fore, all featuring in the music video, as well as Bangalter and de Homem-Christo themselves. The vid’s centred on an apartment party which is evacuated due to the block setting on fire, which makes a load of sense taking into account the pure, house heat DP generate on the track. It sits on that fine line of being suitable for at-home jams and rave boogies. Not only released as part of ‘Homework’, parts of ‘Burnin’’ feature on ‘Alive 2007’, their 2007 live album, alongside ‘Too Long’.
‘Discovery’ may be an album built heavily upon samples but Daft Punk were very clear about not wanting to make by-numbers house music built around obvious disco. ‘Aerodynamic’ is a shining example of their success, with that furiously tapped guitar solo that dramatically takes over the track about a minute in sounding more Download Festival than Saturday Night Fever. Like previous entrant in this list ‘Veridis Quo’ there’s some Baroque style influence at work here filtered and updated through Daft Punk’s own futuristic vision. ‘Aerodynamic’ has since provided sample inspiration of its own as Daft Punk’s influence has proliferated through electronic music, with the likes of grime originator Wiley, Belgian brothers Soulwax and French electro pop producer Madeon incorporating elements into tracks.
4 Kanye West 'Black Skinhead'
‘Black Skinhead’ is one of the big moments from Kanye West’s experimental album ‘Yeezus’ and the latest result of a long working relationship between the rappers and the robots that stretches back to 2007, when he sampled ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ on ‘Stronger’. Daft Punk recorded live and programmed drums for West in a process that Bangalter says was “very raw”, with the sound harking back to the duo’s early techno-leaning productions.
3 Da Funk
You come out of listening to ‘Da Funk’ like you’ve touched loose electrics with soaking wet hands. Kinda like Marv in Marv in Home Alone after Kevin connects power to the taps. Hair up on end, skull on show you’re so frazzled. OK, not quite, but the meowing, sizzling synth bassline work, created on a Roland TB-303, certainly gives you that electric feel. Thomas Bangalter told Swedish magazine Pop #23 they opted for this sound after listening to Warren G and Nate Dogg’s G-funk classic ‘Regulate’. Listening now, it’s mad to think ‘Da Funk’ didn’t get that much attention upon its initial release in 1995 (before being included on ‘Homework’ in ‘97). It’s reckoned The Chemical Brothers including it in their live show ensured it got people talking about it, though. Add the fact that the Spike Jonze-directed video features a dog on crutches listening to the track through a boombox, and there’s a whole load of stuff to discuss.
2 Around The World
Topping the dance charts in the UK and US upon its release in 1997, ‘Around The World’ stood out amidst the predominantly jagged techno of ‘Homework’ for its simple structure and upbeat mood. It’s composed of repeating patterns from five different instruments, including one of my all time favourite basslines, which weave together into a spellbinding club classic that DJs across the board couldn’t get enough of. The track’s structure also inspired Michel Gondry’s iconic music video, on which he worked with choreographer Bianca Li to present a captivating routine of skeletons, mummies, robots, athletes and disco girls dressed like synchronised swimmers, each representing an individual element of the track. The lyrics repeat “Around the world” 144 times and it doesn’t get tiring for a moment. To paraphrase the quip of one YouTube commenter, you have to be a flat earther to dislike this one.
1 One More Time
Is it the loop? Slower than the average house tune, somehow the breathless, chiming slice of compressed euphoria seems to be constantly accelerating, pulling us along after it, further and higher into ecstasy. And then, just as you think you may smile yourself to death – boom! The bass and beat drop and we are off.
Or is it that extended breakdown? So soon into the track that it's almost the track itself, a confident inversion of the usual template that contributes to 'One More Time' being one of the single most suspenseful, dramatic slices of dance music ever made.
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