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fromheadtoheart flag Germany - Full Moon 223 - 11/06/14

From head to heart
Kraftwerk's Autobahn

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth we are taking another fourty-year leap back in time. Once more. Bak to 1974, again. To check some German roadworks. Some kind of construction or repair work, or some technical maintenance maybe. Die Autobahn. Once the road is open again there will be no more traffic cones, barrier boards, t-top bollards or other warning devices to look for. Checked. Clear. Go! Ein! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Autobahn.

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Kraftwerk
Autobahn
Philips/Vertigo Records

I remember vividly the first time I heard Autobahn the album, a Sunday probably some time in the autumn 1975. My family had been invited to my aunt and uncle. The parent generation went for a nap after dinner and I was sent to my cousins' room where I was allowed to use their record player, if I didn't play too loud. My cousins were several years older than me and not at home. I browsed through their large (I thought, at the time) record collection and found this LP with the simple and, in retrospect, iconic blue and white motorway sign. It must have been the British and not the German edition of the album then. On the same label as the early albums by Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep. This was really something completely different.

I was fascinated by the synthesizer sounds and the catchy melody of the title track, that covered the entire side one of the LP. The four songs of side two were less instant and I think I concentrated on side one for most of that early evening. Kraftwerk remained a sort of cult fenomenon for me the following years, recorded onto cassette at first. I didn't listen to their music too often, but quite intensively once in a while.

Most of the Kraftwerk charcteristics are present for the first time on Autobahn, the band's fourth effort. Apart from the novelty, at the time, combination of synthesizers and pop melodies, there is the vocoder effect on the voice and electronic rhythms, to some extent. The vocoder voice only appears for a few seconds at the very beginnning just after the motor has been started and during the last chorus of the title track. The heavy synthetic disco rhythms were still a few years down the line. In fact more than half the album's playing time lacks drums-alike rhythms all together. And the band still relies on conventional instruments to a large extent. Most surprising is a recorder, the wooden flute you know, that dominates the simple melody of last song of side two, "Morgenspaziergang" (Morning Stroll), along with a lyrical piano and electronic birds singing. But before we reach the morning on side two, there is the night, "Kometenmelodie 1", Kometenmelodie 2" and "Mitternacht". The first Comet Melody and the Midnight track are a bit free-form, especially the latter, closer to the early days of Tangerine Dream - and Kraftwerk of the previous albums. "Mitternacht" owes a bit to Pink Floyd of the early days, too. Well, there is a sort of windy synthesizer melody in the former, slow and a bit creepy at first that gradually turns into a more pleasant dream. The second comet melody is altogether more cosy after a noisy fall at the start, with a happy synthesized pop melody, as catchy as the vocal parts of the title track.

"Autobahn" the title track is probably not as well known as I first thought when I started to write this. It was edited into a three and a half minutes single released in May 1975 that turned the members of Kraftwerk into pop stars, of their own kind. It made it to the hit lists all over the western world and dragged the album along. The almost 23 minutes long album version on the other hand has long instrumental passages not often heard when the Kraftwerk quartet performes live. The one where electronic cars passes by from the left speaker to the right and vice versa, occasionally honking the horn with doppler effect and all, over electric beats, is still quite fascinating. And let's not forget that a standard Farfisa organ and a flute dominate the melody line of the song. It took another year, 1975's Radio-Aktivität/Radio-Activity to turn Kraftwerk into a full-blooded electronic band.

The band members later turned their fascination to more environmentally friendly means of transport: trains (Trans Europa Express/Trans-Europe Express, 1977) and bikes (Tour de France, 2003). But it's probably their interest in new technology like robots (Die Mensch-Maschine/The Man-Machine, 1978) and computers (Computerweld/Computer World, 1981), and that ride down the Autobahn from Köln to Bonn that they are most fondly rememberd for.

Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn
Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn

Vor uns liegt ein weites Tal
Die Sonne scheint mit Glitzerstrahl

Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn
Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn

Die Fahrbahn ist ein graues Band
Weisse Streifen, grüner Rand

Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn
Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn

Jetzt schalten wir ja das Radio an
Aus dem Lautsprecher klingt es dann:

Wir fah'rn auf der Autobahn
Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn
Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn...

Later albums by Kraftwerk were recorded with both German and English titles and lyrics. "Autobahn" was never translated to English, but here's an attempt anyway:

We're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn
Driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn

In front of us is a wide valley
The sun is shining with glittering rays

We're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn
Driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn

The driving strip is a grey track
White stripes, green edge

We're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn
Driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn

We're switching the radio on
From the speaker it sounds:

We're driving on the Autobahn
We're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn
Driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn...

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You may also want to check out our Kraftwerk article/review: Sentrum Scene, Oslo, Norway, 08.08.2006.

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