The Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, manufactured by Linn Electronics Inc., was the first drum machine to use digital samples of acoustic drums and was conceived and designed by Roger Linn. It was also one of the first programmable drum machines.
It was introduced in early 1980 at a list price of US$4,995 and climbed to $5,500 when additional features were incorporated. The price then fell to $4,995 as cost-cutting measures were introduced, and later reduced to $3,995 before it was discontinued after the release of its successor, the LinnDrum. Somewhere between 500 and 725 units were built.
It is prized by amateur and professional musicians alike for its rarity, as well as its characteristic sounds, which can be heard on the recordings of artists including Prince, Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson, the Human League, Peter Gabriel, Kraftwerk and many others during the 1980s.
Roger Linn was a professional guitarist in California in 1978 when he began to develop the LM-1 as an accompaniment tool for his home studio. He had experimented with many of the preset rhythm boxes which were popular at the time, but was dissatisfied and "wanted a drum machine that did more than play preset samba patterns and didn't sound like crickets". Having learned how to program in BASIC and assembly language, Linn set to work on a computer program which could play user-programmed rhythm patterns, as well as chain them together to form a song.
According to Linn, the first to suggest the idea of digital samples was Steve Porcaro of Toto. The drum sound samples were created by Linn and Art Wood, a Los Angeles session drummer, who also played drums with Cher, Bette Midler, Tina Turner, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, James Brown and others, as well as on numerous movies and television shows.
Linn achieved his sounds by using a chip, built into the machine, which converted the digital samples into analog audio. His first prototype, manufactured at some time during 1979, was a cardboard box which contained the electronic components of the drum machine. Supposedly, Linn brought this prototype to parties and jobs and marketed it to fellow musicians, including Peter Gabriel, the members of Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Wonder, who bought one of the first units. (Wonder can be seen programming his LM-1 in a 1981 BBC documentary.)
In total, somewhere between 500 and 725 units were built and sold between 1980 and 1983, when the LM-1's successor, the LinnDrum, was released. The first 35 units were assembled in Linn's home, before manufacturing and distribution was taken over by 360 Systems, run by Bob Easton. The first 10 of these 35 units have distinctive features, as described below.
The LM-1 featured twelve 8 bit 28 kHz samples: kick, snare, hi-hat, cabasa, tambourine, two toms, two congas, cowbell, claves, and hand claps, but no ride or crash cymbals.
The LM-1's many features set it apart from other drum machines of its time, most of which could only play a limited selection of preset rhythms (e.g. Roland CompuRhythm CR-78). One of its most prominent features was its programmability. Although the Linn LM-1 was not the first programmable drum machine (the PAiA Programmable Drum Set was released 6 years earlier), it was the first to use digital samples and gained widespread popularity among professionals. The LM-1 also introduced a Shuffle feature that enabled users to program swing notes into their rhythms. With a 96 ppqn maximum resolution, the LM-1 offered six percentage levels between fully straight beats and regular swing-time feels. Although this feature has often been imitated, the Linn Shuffle has widely been recognized as the best and most natural-sounding, and is present on every device Linn designed, including the Akai MPC series.
The LM-1 included a built-in 13-channel mixer (one channel for each sound plus the click) as well as individual output jacks. This enabled Linn's machine to integrate with existing recording equipment in a way that had previously not been possible for a drum machine. Unlike the later LinnDrum, the LM-1 also had individual tuning pots for each voice, resulting in many famous users expressing their preference for the LM-1 long after the LinnDrum was introduced. Unlike its younger brother, the LM-1 lacked crash and ride cymbal sounds (which producers easily compensated for by having live cymbals overdubbed onto whatever track was being recorded) and the drum sounds could not be triggered by MIDI or trigger inputs. Nevertheless, the LM-1's sounds are very punchy and prominent.
There are notable differences between the various LM-1 revisions. The Rev. 1 LM-1 is recognizable by its engraved buttons and lack of Shuffle and Auto-Correct LEDs. The drum buttons were engraved with a small symbol of the drum it represented (the bass drum button had a small engraving of a bass drum on it). These buttons were later discontinued because they were too expensive to manufacture. Internally it was different as well. It had single chips for the kick, tom, and conga sounds, and double chips for the clap. The Rev. 1 LM-1's did not have the filter on the kick, toms, and congas that Rev. 2 and later machines had. As a result, it didn't sound as nice as the Rev. 2 and later machines, but the toms and congas could be played simultaneously.
In the Rev.1 LM-1's, the first 10 have no serial numbers or pre-printed, adhesive-backed manufacturer's label on the rear panel, have a single molded metal frame for the front, bottom, and rear panels, have higher quality mixer pots, have two knobs for tempo control (coarse and fine; the fine control actually may have been intended for a rotary switch to program the Shuffle setting), and are screen printed "Linn and Moffett Electronics" instead of "Linn Electronics" on the lower right front of the chassis beneath the drum buttons (Alex Moffett was an early investor in the Linn drum computer development). There are other minor mechanical differences, too.
The Rev. 2 LM-1 introduced two rows of LEDs to indicate the Shuffle and Auto-Correct settings, several additional buttons on the front panel to aid in programming, and a shared filter on the toms and congas, as well as the kick drum. There were a handful of Rev. 2 LM-1's with both engraved buttons and Shuffle and Auto-Correct LEDs but these are extremely rare. To cut costs, on later Rev. 2's, the engraved buttons were replaced with unlabeled buttons. In lieu of the engraved names or symbols, the button names were printed on the front panel.
The Rev. 3 LM-1 introduced more cost-cutting measures including:
- The PLAY/STOP button size was decreased.
- The LOW level stereo OUTPUT jacks were eliminated.
- The Internal Clock Output rotary switch was eliminated. Instead, the Auto-Correct setting was also used to specify the INT CLOCK OUTPUT jack's clock pulse note value.
- The External Clock Input jack (EXT CLOCK INPUT) was eliminated along with the LM-1's ability to be driven by an external clock oscillator.
- The RECORD/SAFE SWITCH was eliminated along with the feature to prevent accidental erasure of data.
On later Rev. 3's, the raised buttons were replaced by sealed buttons (flush with the surface of the front panel) that were impossible to clean. In fact, the LM-1 service notes indicated these buttons had to be replaced if they went bad.
Brochures and gallery
Because of the Linn LM-1's versatility, it superseded its intended purpose as an accompaniment tool and became a fully-fledged rhythm section for many synthpop and progressive acts. Along with the Roland TR-808, which was released around the same time, it is widely credited with legitimizing drum machines which, with a few notable exceptions, had previously largely been considered toys by most professional, mainstream musicians.
It was thought for a time that the LM-1 would put every session drummer in Los Angeles out of business, and caused enough of a stir that many leading session drummers (such as Jeff Porcaro of Toto, for example) went out and purchased their own drum machines and offered "programming" services (Porcaro used an LM-1 on George Benson's 1982 hit "Turn Your Love Around").
Herbie Hancock's Mr. Hands album, featuring the track "Textures", was released in September 1980 and is possibly the earliest known commercial release to feature the device. The first song featuring an LM-1 to hit No. 1 on the UK pop chart was the Human League's "Don't You Want Me", in late 1981. It is also the first LM-1 track to top the US Billboard Hot 100, spending four weeks there in July 1982.
In some ways the most important and lasting of the LM-1's various features is its sounds, which remain powerful and characteristic and a familiar staple of 1980s pop music. Linn acknowledged that his lack of audio engineering know-how may have contributed to his drum machine's unique sound - many of the samples contain playback frequencies above the Nyquist frequency which, although it results in aliasing under normal circumstances, contributes much to the "sizzle" of the LM-1's sound. 
Linn introduced the successor to his revolutionary machine in 1982. The LinnDrum, often erroneously called the LM-2 (LM-1 stood for Linn/Moffett/1 and Moffett wasn't with the company by the time the LinnDrum came around), contained more sounds (including cymbals), more options for programming sounds (step programming mode), and 5 programmable trigger inputs, but was a step back from the LM-1 in that it removed the ability to tune all of the individual drum sounds (hi-hat, bass, cowbell, tambourine, sidestick, and many other sounds were no longer tunable). It retailed for $2,500 less than the original LM-1 and although it added some additional features, the cost-cutting measures were quite notable. Although the LinnDrum helped make electronic drums more affordable for the common musician, it is still not as revered as the LM-1 and generally can be found on the used market for much less.
|ABC||The Lexicon of Love||"The Look of Love"||1982|
|ABBA||"The Day Before You Came", "Givin' a Little Bit More", "Should I Laugh or Cry", "You Owe Me One", "Under Attack","Like An Angel Passing Through My Room"||1981–1982|
|The Alan Parsons Project||Eye in the Sky||"Mammagamma"||1982|
|The Alan Parsons Project||Ammonia Avenue||"You Don't Believe"||1983|
|Alphaville||"Big in Japan", "Sounds Like A Melody"||1984|
|Billy Idol||Billy Idol||"White Wedding (Part 2)", "Hot in the City"||1982|
|Blancmange||Happy Families through to Believe You Me||1982-85|
|Bob James||Hands Down||"Macumba", "It's Only Me"||1982|
|British Electric Foundation||Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One||"Ball of Confusion", "There's a Ghost in My House", "The Secret Life of Arabia"||1982|
|The Cars||Heartbeat City||1984|
|The Chemical Brothers||Dig Your Own Hole||"It Doesn't Matter"||1997|
|Chromeo||Business Casual||"Night By Night" (snare only)||2009|
|D.I.M. & Tai||"Lyposuct"|
|Devo||New Traditionalists and Oh, No! It's Devo||"Beautiful World", "Big Mess", "That's Good"||1981-82|
|Diana Ross||Ross||"Pieces of Ice"||1983|
|Doe Maar||"De Bom", "Skunk", "Pa", "Nachtzuster" (Credited as "Onze vriendin Linn"; "our girlfriend Linn" in Dutch)||1982-83|
|Don Henley||I Can't Stand Still||"Dirty Laundry"||1982|
|Donna Summer||Donna Summer||"State of Independence", "Love Is Just a Breath Away"||1982|
|Eddie Murphy||Eddie Murphy||"Boogie in Your Butt", "Enough is Enough"||1982|
|Elton John||The Fox||"Nobody Wins"||1981|
|F.R. David||"Words", "Pick Up The Phone"||1982/83|
|Farley Jackmaster Funk||1987|
|Giorgio Moroder||Cat People OST||1982|
|Giorgio Moroder||Metropolis (1984 re-release)||"Machines"||1984|
|George Benson||"Turn Your Love Around"||1981|
|Gary Low||"You Are a Danger"||1982|
|Gary Numan||Dance||"Night Talk", "Boys Like Me", "My Brother's Time"||1981|
|Gary Numan||I, Assassin||1982|
|Godley & Creme||Ismism||"Wedding Bells"||1981|
|Hall & Oates||H2O||"Maneater"||1982|
|Heaven 17||Penthouse and Pavement||"Penthouse and Pavement", "Soul Warfare", "Play to Win"||1981|
|Heaven 17||The Luxury Gap||"Let Me Go", "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry", "Temptation", "Come Live with Me"||1983|
|Herbie Hancock||Mr. Hands||"Textures"||1980|
|Hooked on Classics||Hooked on Classics, Hooked on Classics 2: Can't Stop the Classics, Hooked on Classics 3: Journey Through the Classics||1981–1983|
|Huey Lewis and the News||Sports||"Bad is Bad"||1983|
|The Human League||Dare, Fascination!, and Hysteria (The Human League album)||Dare: Most of the album, save for "Get Carter" and "I Am the Law"; Fascination! and Hysteria: the whole album||1981|
|Icehouse||Primitive Man||"Great Southern Land", "Hey Little Girl", "Glam"||1982|
|Imagination||In the Heat of the Night||"Music and Lights", "Changes"||1982|
|Joe Esposito||"Lady, Lady, Lady"||1983|
|John Carpenter||Escape From New York, "Halloween II||"Escape From New York", "Halloween II"||1981|
|John Farnham||"You're the Voice"||1986|
|John Foxx||The Garden||1981|
|John Mellencamp||"Jack and Diane"||1982|
|Jon & Vangelis||The Friends of Mr Cairo||"State of Independence", "I'll Find My Way Home"||1981|
|Jon & Vangelis||Private Collection||"Horizon", "He Is Sailing"||1983|
|Jean Michel Jarre||The Concerts in China||"Arpegiator", "Souvenir of China"||1981–82|
|Jean Michel Jarre||Zoolook||"Zoolook"||1984|
|Jeff Lorber||It's a Fact||"Tierra Verde"||1982|
|Justin Timberlake||FutureSex/LoveSounds||"Until the End of Time"||2006|
|Kenny G||Kenny G||"The Shuffle"||1982|
|Kraftwerk||Electric Café||"Boing Boom Tschak", "Techno Pop", "Electric Café"||1983, 1986|
|Kurtis Blow||1980 and 1987|
|Laura Branigan||Self Control||"Self Control"||1984|
|Lee Ritenour||Rit||"(Just) Tell Me Pretty Lies", "Countdown (Captain Fingers)", "On The Slow Glide"||1981|
|Lee Curreri||"Murphy Blues"||1982|
|Lady Gaga||The Fame Monster||"Monster"||2009|
|Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens||1987|
|Matthew Friedberger||"Holy Ghost Language School"||2005|
|Men Without Hats||Rhythm of Youth||1982|
|Michael Jackson||Thriller||"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "Baby Be Mine", "Thriller", "Human Nature"||1982|
|Mike O'Donnell & Junior Campbell||"Theme from Thomas & Friends"||1984|
|Mark Knopfler||Local Hero||"Going Home (Theme from Local Hero)"||1983|
|Mecano||Mecano through to ¿Donde Está El Pais De Las Hadas?||used on both albums, including pre-Mecano track "Quiero Vivir En La Ciudad" (b-side to "Hoy No Me Puedo Levantar"; which itself would later appear on the début) and "Viaje Espacial"||1981-83|
|Mike Oldfield||Five Miles Out||1982|
|Mtume||Juicy Fruit||"Juicy Fruit"||1983|
|Naked Eyes||Burning Bridges||"Always Something There to Remind Me", "When the Lights Go Out", "Voices In My Head"||1983|
|Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark||1980|
|P. Lion||Springtime||"Kings of the Night"||1984|
|Paul Davis||Cool Night||1981|
|Paul McCartney||Tug of War through to Pipes of Peace||Tug of War: "What's That You're Doing?"; Pipes of Peace: "The Other Me"||1982-83|
|Patrick Cowley||"Get a Little"||1981|
|Peech Boys||"Don't Make Me Wait"||1982|
|Pete Shelley||Homosapien, XL1||1981/83|
|Peter Gabriel||Security||"Shock the Monkey", "I Have the Touch", "Lay Your Hands On Me"||1982|
|The Pointer Sisters||Break Out||"Easy Persuasion"||1983|
|Popeda||Kaasua...||"Kaasua, komisaario Peppone"||1983|
|Prince||1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade, Sign o' the Times etc.||"1999," "Little Red Corvette," "Delirious," "Let's Pretend We're Married," "D.M.S.R.," "Automatic," "Something in The Water (Does Not Compute)," "Free," "Lady Cab Driver," "All the Critics Love U in New York," "Let's Go Crazy," "The Beautiful Ones," "Computer Blue," "Darling Nikki," "When Doves Cry," "I Would Die 4 U," "Baby I'm A Star," "Purple Rain," "Around the World in a Day," "Paisley Park," "Raspberry Beret," "America," "The Ladder," "Temptation," "Mountains," "Anotherloverholenyohead," "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "Forever in My Life," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," etc.||1982–2016|
|Queen||Hot Space||"Staying Power", "Body Language"||1982|
|Reading Rainbow||Songs from Reading Rainbow||1983-1984|
|Rod Stewart||Tonight I'm Yours||"Young Turks"||1981|
|Scritti Politti||Songs to Remember||"Faithless"||1982|
|Secret Service||Cutting Corners||"Flash in the Night", "The Dancer", "If I Try", "Rainy Day Memories", "Watching Julietta"||1982|
|Sheila E.||"The Glamorous Life"||1984|
|Sparks||Angst in My Pants||"I Predict"||1982|
|Steve Winwood||Talking Back to the Night||"Valerie", "Talking Back to the Night"||1982|
|Sylvester||Call Me||"Good Feelin'"||1983|
|Tears for Fears||The Hurting||"The Hurting", "The Prisoner"||1983|
|Tight Fit||Tight Fit||"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"||1982|
|Toto Coelo||Man o' War||1982|
|Tony Banks||The Fugitive||"By You", "Thirty-Three's"||1983|
|The Emotions||"Are You Through With My Heart", "Sincerely"||1984|
|The Jacksons||Victory||"State Of Shock"||1984|
|The Time||"777-9311", "Jungle Love"||1982, 1984|
|Todd Rundgren||The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect||"Influenza", "Chant"||1982|
|The Twins||Modern Lifestyle||"I'm Staying Alive"||1982|
|Ultravox||Rage in Eden||"I Never Wanted To Begin"||1981|
|Ultravox||Quartet||"We Came to Dance", "Visions in Blue"||1982|
|Vangelis||Blade Runner and Antarctica||1982|
|Vanity 6||Vanity 6||"Nasty Girl"||1982|
|Wang Chung||Points on the Curve||1984|
|XTC||The Big Express||1984|
|Yazoo||Upstairs at Eric's||"Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)"||1982|
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