Moby's 15 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Moby performs with his band at The Fonda Theatre on Oct. 3, 2013 in Los Angeles. 

One's appreciation for Moby must first start at the fact that he was a man who long pushed the envelope in the dance music world. Here is a producer who found himself couped up in an abandoned warehouse in New York City, nothing to his name but a few pieces of gear and basic recording materials, and who still managed to pump out some of the most refined chaotic techno and rave music the early '90s had ever known.

He's also an artist who rose to international heights, only to fall into utter desperation and despair just before completing his opus. When he recorded Play, he was all but certain his career was over, that he was sweating over an album no one would hear. It went on to be a defining album of millennial electronica, a road map by which future dance music creators could forge new paths. He is fabulously ambient and utterly industrial. He can play the punk rocker or the kandi-covered rave kid. His music is erratic and despondent, solemn and joyful. And he writes these songs in record time.

Play is surely his seminal work, its popularity made ever more potent by each of its 18 tracks being commercially licensed. That doesn't mean it's the be-all, end-all of the Moby catalog, though: To this day, Moby works tirelessly to make music that makes him happy, and it turns out that music makes the world a happier place, too, even when it's deliciously depressing. Here are our 15 favorite Moby songs.

15. Moby – “I Love To Move In Here” feat. Grandmaster Caz

Moby is a man of New York City through and through, and his 2008 album Last Night is a love letter to the city that never sleeps' '70s disco era. The rhythms are modern and the samples are classic. Grandmaster Caz drops the old school hip-hop verse for extra authentic bite, but it's those rumbling bass notes at the end that make the song extra sticky. “I Love To Move In Here” is a shining example of what Moby can do with a vibe.

14. Moby – “When It's Cold I'd Like To Die” feat. Mimi Goese

Everything is Wrong dropped in 1995 and helped push the boundaries of what an electronic music album could be. It was hyper and explosive, but it was also intimate and exquisitely sad. Moby wanted to explore as many sounds and genres as he could, because he feared it would be the only “real” album he ever got the opportunity to make. Album closer “When It's Cold I'd Like To Die” is incredibly simple and highly emotive. This is Moby as his best, stripping things down to their barest and most honest elements. Mimi Goese's brilliant vocal performance is the perfect counterpoint to Moby's drawling chords. Her voice drifting into nothing gives the listener a feel that they're falling further underwater, a beautiful picture of what it feels to fall into total apathy.

13. Moby – “We Are All Made of Stars”

When Moby moved to LA, it must have been a big shock to the system. Gone were the skyscrapers, in their place a seemingly endless blue sky, and under it, so many twinkling, desperate, beautiful stars. He harnessed this power for the music video of his album 18's lead single, “We Are All Made of Stars.” The clip features 18 cameos, including Verne Troyer, JC Chavez, and Ron Jeremy. The dance-rock joint follows a traditional pop composition with Moby as lead singer. It was actually written in Moby's New York City apartment after the horrific events of 9/11. Moby was so close during the attack, he was stuck in his apartment for days -- and the song was meant to inspire hopefulness in the wake of the tragedy.

12. Moby – “Machete”

From 1999's landmark Play, “Machete” is one of the hardest tunes in Moby's arsenal. It's dark and powerful. It looms over the floor like a rain cloud and shoots lightning up your spine. Its industrial beat stabs the song forward through a variety of emotional breakdowns. One second it's ethereal, then it dives back into chaos, then it wisps psychedelically into hip-hop rhythms and a sped up Tom Jones sample. He has said it was his favorite song on the album to perform live, and you can hear why.

11. Moby – “Go”

More than anything, Moby is a product of the late-night '90s rave scene. The underground warehouses of Manhattan and elsewhere molded him into a fierce, fast-paced, expansive producer. “Go” was first released in 1990, and it broke him as an international name. He was playing to crowds all across Europe and the United States, seeing the world for the first time through the lens of illegal nightlife. The tune's string melody was swiped from the show Twin Peaks. Moby hoped to sell 4,000 copies; it sold a couple million. It remains a generational anthem, one of the old-school rave world's most sophisticated memories.

10. Moby – “In This World”

The second single from Moby's 18 is Moby in the style of Play. A raspy vocal sample from The Davis Sisters' 1955 song “Lord, Don't Leave Me By Myself” loops deliciously over weeping strings the color of sunset. It's a song that makes your heart well up with tears. The music video really pushes me over the edge. It portrays a family of adorable aliens attempting to make human contact, but everyone is so busy with their own lives in the Big Apple, they go unnoticed. Life in the city can be so lonely.

9. Moby – “Extreme Ways”

Moby can lose people when he moves too far into his rock roots. It's not always the sound fans crave, but “Extreme Ways” is one of the best examples of the producer's ability to marry his myriad influences. “Extreme Ways” is a perfect Moby post-punk song: It's dirty and steamy, like going out and looking good, even though your skin is trapped under a layer of grime. It's the end of a night that didn't go the way you wanted, but you did have a few drinks, and that helps. You may also recognize the song as the official credits-roll anthem of the Bourne film series.

8. Moby – “God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters”

This stark instrumental from Moby's Everything is Wrong has been noted by the producer as his favorite song he's ever written. The arpeggiated melody is instantly recognizable, and it builds so gracefully, it was the perfect fit for the end theme of the 1995 film Heat. “God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters” was directly inspired by Moby's faith: A devout Christian, the producer had the story of Genesis in mind when composing these brilliant chords. “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”

7. Moby – “Feeling So Real” Feat. Rozz Morehead

Ain't nothing in this world going to give you the candy-colored high of dancing along to this Moby song. The drum'n'bass beat gets your heart pumping at a rapid 132 bpm. In his autobiography, Moby tells the story of how he pushed vocalist Rozz to her bleeding limits. The video is the perfect hyperactive picture of the '90s rave scene and how it brought elements of punk and breakdance culture to a colorful new crossroads. If you can't get coffee, just listen to this in the a.m., and you'll be seizing the day by the balls in no time.

6. Moby – “Honey”

As the first track on Moby's uber-classic LP Play, it holds a special place in the heart of many. That bluesy vocal from Bessie Jones' 1960 song “Sometimes” is absolutely iconic over Moby's wah-wah guitars and thumping piano. The video features a fresh-faced Moby exploring carious surreal reality, and was directed by Roman Coppola. Moby wrote this song in about 10 minutes, which sounds about right. This dude is one of the fastest producers on the planet, and with a wealth of vinyl and musical knowledge at his fingertips, he can write a tune as feel-good and unforgettable as “Honey” in no time.

5. Moby – “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” Feat. Diane Charlemagne

Moby is so damn good when he's down. This song from Play always puts me in a dark room in my mind. I can just see him sitting over his gear in his tiny apartment, working on a song he figured most people would never hear, pouring his soul into the strings, quietly nodding to the defiantly hopeful sound in singer Diane Chalemagne's voice. The male vocal is a sample of the Banks Brothers' “He'll Roll Your Burdens Away.” The video depicts Moby's cartoon character The Little Idiot playing the role of classic storybook hero The Little Prince.

4. Moby – “Bodyrock”

All the respect in the world to “Love Rap,” originally recorded by Spoonie Gee and the Treacherous Three, but what Moby did to this sample is so much fire. He essentially took the last five seconds of the tune and turned it into one of the best electronica songs of the '90s. This song from Play was what the bleeding edge of electronica was all about, blurring the lines of hip-hop, rock, and disco into something really special and different.

3. Moby – “South Side” Feat. Gwen Stefani

This song from Moby's Play wasn't just a single, it was a damn movement -- a fierce moment that stuck in brains of everyone who came across it. The video was devlish, a behind-the-screen look at one of pop-rock's biggest icons, a flashy look at a life Moby could then only dream of. Stefani was a later addition to the tune, but her presence helped shoot the single to No. 14 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The song is a lyrical ode to partying in Chicago, the birthplace of house music Moby adores, and it alludes to the danger and desensitization to violence that accompanies late nights in the Windy City's less-friendly streets. There's a mean streak in the song, brought out in the warped first notes and Stefani's ghostly “aaahhs.” It's also got one helluva sing-along chorus. Put the top down and blare this one with your friends some starry night.

2. Moby – “Natural Blues”

If you say “Moby,” this vocal hook is quite likely one of the first things that comes to mind. The sample of Vera Hall's 1937 “Trouble So Hard” has a supernatural eeriness to it, sung deep in the style of slavery-era spirituals. Moby called the song his favorite on the album, while in the same breath explaining how it almost never saw the light of release: Some friends thought the song “too weird.” A buddy in England gave it a good mix and new life, et voila. The accompanying music video was perfect for the MTV generation -- Christina Ricci stars in the clip, directed by David LaChapelle, carrying a near-death Moby from the blue television screen to the next stage of existence. It's moody and cool, all about that bass and the strings, like the best Moby songs are.

1. Moby – “Porcelain”

“In my dreams I'm dying all the time.” Tell me that's not the best opening line you've ever heard. It sets the tone pretty quickly, a kind of lazy, too-far-gone-to-care kind of sadness. Moby's been through some stuff, but he's trudging along, creating some of the most beautiful electronic music ever recorded. Those iconic strings are actually a reversed sample from the song “Fight for Survival” from the soundtrack of the 1960 film Exodus. “Porcelain” is a fabulous break up anthem. Even amid its languishing melancholy, the song somehow becomes increasingly uplifting, as the lingering feels post-break up do. Moby has said the song used to be a lull in his live sets, until director Danny Boyle put the song in The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was Leo's first movie post Titanic, and the song struck a cord with everyone who watched it. “Porcelain” became an anthem, perhaps the most iconic song of his entire career. And that's history.