Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 95 - Kraftwerk 'Autobahn'

In the entire history of pop music the number of genuinely game-changing albums actually doesn’t break into double figures. I’m not just talking about inspirational albums, there are thousands of those. I’m talking about albums that changed the musical landscape forever.
‘Revolver’ is probably one, ‘What’s going on’ is another, ‘Never mind the bollocks’ is a third. More controversially it’s also possible (in my brain at least) that ‘Licensed to ill’ might also be one.
Today’s cassette is one of the biggest game-changers of all time. Released in 1974 (in the same week as ‘Rollin’ by the Bay City Rollers was the Number 1 album in the UK) Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ really did change music for ever.
Previously only witnessed on classical and ‘Prog’ albums, side 1 consists entirely of just one track, the titular ‘Autobahn’, which, from the first slamming of the car door and the turning of the key in the ignition, slowly but surely transforms and develops across just over 22 minutes of electronic music and robotic voices. Until the advent of in-car CD players, this truly was an album best experienced on cassette in the car, preferably on a motorway* in a 1970s Mercedes. Although it was no less exciting this morning on the B1285 from Hetton le Hole to Murton in picturesque County Durham in my Renault Clio.
The four tracks on side 2 are inevitably the supporting act to the main event here, the tiramisu to the carbonara. Effectively they have to perform in front of the curtain to make sure they don’t mess up the headlining act’s instruments. But even though they’re often overlooked, there’s still a lot to like in tracks 2,3,4 and 5. Side 2 highlight is definitely the final track, with unexpected but welcome flute, ‘Morgenspaziergang’. Very pastoral – definitely not what you would expect from a Kraftwerk album.
Thousands of new bands formed in the wake of this and subsequent Kraftwerk albums and became some of the most successful musical acts of the late 1970 and early 1980s (and, in some cases, far beyond). And like Brian Wilson trying to emulate The Beatles’ best, David Bowie (with considerable help from Brian Eno) released three fantastic albums that undoubtedly took this as one source of inspiration.
Strange that taking all of this into account, this isn’t Kraftwerk’s best album. ‘Trans-Europe Express’, ‘The Man-Machine’ and ‘Computer World’ are all better and all equally inspirational. But they didn’t break into a different world. ‘Autobahn’ was the one that kicked those doors down.
Label – Vertigo
Year – 1974
*For the avoidance of doubt, the second best motorway song is undoubtedly the fantastic (Kraftwerk influenced) ‘Like a motorway’ from Saint Etienne’s equally fantastic album ‘Tiger Bay’.

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