Making Peace With Kraftwerk

I used to be kind of angry and disappointed with Kraftwerk. The only album they put out after I started listening to them was 1986’s Electric Café which is OK but not great, and after that, no new material. But now I look at their catalogue and think, hey, from 1974 and for seven years on, they released five amazing albums. The stellar Computer World appeared in 1981, the year when Hütter & Schneider turned 35 and 34. In terms of the normal productivity and creativity arc of a band, Kraftwerk have nothing to be ashamed of. And there is that nagging question of what Ralf Hütter’s 1983 cycling accident did to his head.

I guess as a kid I had no good idea of time. My friend introduced me to this amazing band in the early 80s and I just assumed that “this is happening now” — when in fact I was listening to some of the most innovative music of the preceding decade.

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16 thoughts on “Making Peace With Kraftwerk

  1. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, Martin. Much of the soundtrack of my childhood (mid to late 1970s) actually dates from the 1960s, as I learned once I became old enough to buy my own music. There is only one famous band I ever heard of before they became famous (Phish), and that was because I was in the right place (northern New England) at the right time (early 1990s).

    Lately, I’ve been doing that kind of thing on purpose. Often it helps to have a couple of decades or so of perspective to separate the good stuff from the mediocre stuff. For example, I’d known of U2 since the mid-1980s and knew they had written some good songs, but it was only about a year and a half ago that I got around to buying one of their albums (The Joshua Tree) and finding that they recorded plenty of good material that never made the hit parade.

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  2. I have always assumed it is quite arbitrary what makes the hit parade, but once a melody has entered “memespace” it gets a life of its own, as it gets associated with happy memories, is used for commercials etc.
    — — — — — — — — —
    Bill Baily’s tribute: “Der Hosenbügler (Kraftwerk Style) “. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nsDAdtfcIM

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  3. Making me feel old again. We had a fantastic 9th grade music teacher who did contemporary stuff, and Kraftwerk was one of the “new” groups he was using.

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  4. Love the Trouser Press number!

    Mu, my 9th grade music teacher tried to get us all to sing “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to the accompaniment of triangles and bongos. In 1988. The horror.

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  5. I hated Kate Bush in the late 70s/early 80s (hate is too strong a word, but she was definitely not my peferred listening, and after that she was off my radar. Now, I really appreciate her early stuff.

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  6. @Birger: It’s not entirely arbitrary, because somebody at the record company chooses which singles to release and promote. But often you wonder what this person was smoking when he chose one song over another (frequently from the same album). There also is a certain amount of “right place, right time” to it: more than one #1 hit song later became a song nobody wanted to admit liking (“You Light Up My Life” and “We Built This City” being two obvious examples of this phenomenon).

    @Martin: I assume you did an abridged version of that song, if only because the original is something like 25 minutes long (in two parts). But your teacher could have done a whole lot worse than that. For instance, “You Light Up My Life”. Or the marching band arrangement we did every year of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, which has soured me on that song ever since.

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  7. John, Kate Bush was innovative in many ways. Live At Hammersmith Stadium was the first stage show with a wireless mike setting the singer free to dance, I think they improvised using a coat hanger to keep the mike in place.
    — — — —
    Eric, now and then someone makes a cover version of a melody that should rest in peace. And with the right promotion, it can actually get on the charts. I dread hearing a vuvuzela version of “Seasons In The Sun” any day now.

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  8. Eric, what I was getting at was that in order to awaken a musical interest in unskilled 9th graders, it’s not such a great idea to have them try to play complicated prog rock that is just old enough to be thoroughly unfashionable, but not old enough to have experienced a revival.

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  9. I have been a huge fan of Kraftwerk since I was 12. I came in at Trans Europe Express, so I enjoyed several new albums before their troubling hiatus in the mid 80s.

    A few years ago I flew to Germany to see them in concert. I have seen them in Miami Beach since then, too. Their recent cd Minimum Maximum is great, I think. They have done a great job remixing and rethinking their earlier work. I think they breathed new life into their classics.

    Did you catch them in concert recently? I know they toured (well, I think one of the original band members and three newbies) and perhaps were in your area. I would have loved to see their eight-day concerts in which they played each of their albums in their entirety each night. I contemplated going to see it last year in New York, but it would have been a major expense.

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  10. @Birger I was there to see Kate Bush 🙂 First concert I ever saw and still one of the best, probably only bettered by, appropriately enough, Kraftwerk at the Tate Modern a few weeks ago!

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  11. Just as a side-note, while I think “Computer World” is a great album, my favorite of theirs was “Man – Machine.”

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