At the end of the sixties many bands had dabbled with non standard music, such as the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd who were not averse to producing extended soundscapes based on the actual sounds rather than standard song progressions.
Tracks like “Echoes” and “A Saucerful of Secrets” by the Floyd and “Dark Star” by the Dead were prime examples of this. For one reason or another, this seemed to sow the seeds of musical revolution, in, of all places Germany, resulting a plethora of superb, totally original music which took elements from certain western bands a stretched them way beyond anything that had been heard before, bar maybe Jimi Hendrix. The generic term for this became, and now I’m going to use it, was “Krautrock”. The term became one of endearment and respect as some of the effects of the music produced is still with us today.
That is also the title of an excellent Julian Cope reference book on the subject, which is worth tracking down if you would like to know more.
Anyway what I’m going to do is list, in no particular order some of the most influential and interesting bands in the genre , and albums worth listening to…..as well as an essential single album for each band listed
Formed in 1968 in Munich from the Amon Düül commune, released their first album “Phallus Dei” in 1969 on Liberty records. Essentially guitar based using unusual, but accessible chord changes , featuring both standard rock formats such as “Archangels Thunderbird” from “Yeti”, and extended improvisational sound collages such as “Syntelmans March of The Roaring Seventies” from “Dance of The Lemmings”. However their next two albums (“Carnival In Babylon” and “Wolf City”) featured shorter pieces possibly in search of a wider audiences. Such innovation could not last an “Vive La Trance” saw the band drift into standard westernised bland rock. I believe they are still around today, but all the albums mentioned above are essential listening bar “the first and last ones.
Essential Single Album: “Dance of the Lemmings”
Formed in Berlin 1967 by art student Edgar Froese who got the name from the lyrics of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Froese was invited to play some classical improvisations by Salvador Dali at his Spanish Villa, Froese went through numerous musicians before teaming up with Klause Schulze, who worked on the bands debut “Electronic Meditation” released in 1969 on the Ohr label, home of many excellent German bands.. This was followed up by “Atem” , “Zeit” and “Alpha Centauri” the music being gothic, challenging and rhythmic. Through much airplay on John Peel’s show the band signed to Virgin and released their commercial breakthrough “Phaedra” featuring three pieces of music , produced entirely by electronic instruments (remember this was the seventies). Their music became more and more hypnotic and rhythmic, these avenues explored on “Rubycon”. However as with Amon Düül II, Tangerine Dream’s music drifted off into MOR vacuity. All albums listed are worth listening to.
Essential Single Album: “Phaedra”
Probably the most influential of all the German bands from this era, namechecked by anybody who is anybody on the dance and ambient scene. Formed in 1968 in Cologne , originally as “Inner Space” by Holger Czukay and Irmin Scmidt, who soon recruited bassist Jaki Leibezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli, all of whom , I believe are still active, individually and collectively today. Can are extremely rhythmic based music, influenced originally by the likes of the Velvet Underground, Terry Riley. Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Their first album “Monster Movie” featured black American singer Malcolm Mooney on vocals, featuring total improvisation such as the 20 minute “You Doo Right”. After this album Mooney suffered a breakdown and was replaced by Damo Suzuki for their next album “Soundtracks”. These line produced three superb albums “Tago Mago”, “Ege Bamyasi” and “Future Days”, before Suzuki went back to Japan to become a Jehovahs witness. Karoli and Schmidt took over vocal duties and released “Soon Over Babbaluma” in 1974. In 1976 they even scored a top 30 British single with “I Want More”, and continued to release albums up til 1989’s “Rite Time” which lacked their earlier inspiration. In 1997 a double CD compilation of dance remixes called “Sacrilege” was issued on the bands Spoon label.
Essential Single Album: “Anthology” (compilation)
Formed in Dusseldorf 1969 by Ralf Hutter and Florian Scneider as Organisation, their music has come to reflect their industrial background although on their first album “Ralf and Florian” they used traditional musical instruments (as exemplified by the flute led “Ruczuck”). Their commercial an influential breakthrough when they ditched traditional instruments, for the all electronic “Autobahn” the 22 minute title track being edited down to three minutes to spawn a hit single.
Kraftwerk have been a huge influence on dance music and the electronic scene produce several almost mechanical an soulless yet fascinating albums such as “Radioactivity”, “Trans Europe Express” and “Computer World”. There is also an excellent remix album called “The Mix”.
Essential Single Album: “Autobahn”
Formed in Hamburg 1970 by producer Uwe Nettlebeck, probably the most avant garde and least accessible of the bands
’ve mentioned. Their eponymous first album featured samples of Rolling Stones and Beatles songs on a clear vinyl album in a clear plastic sleeve featuring an X-Ray of a human hand. Their third album “The Faust Tapes” was a collage of sound cuttings featuring some beautiful music, and is highly recommended.
Essential Single Album: “The Faust Tapes”
While I’ve only scratched the surface of this excellent musical genre and not delved into the likes of “Popol Vuh”, “Ash Ra Tempel” and probably a million others, hopefully this piece has whetted your appetite to at least investigate some of the most startling and innovative music ever made