Monday, March 14, 2005

Forgotten 45: "Autobahn"

Imagine a 25-minute song about what it's like to drive fast on a highway. Now imagine it becoming a hit in the United States. It happened 30 years ago this week, with the singles chart debut of "Autobahn" by the German duo Kraftwerk. Yes, America invented the highway song, but we never imagined one like this: In its original form, "Autobahn" is actually a suite with several different sections, mostly instrumental but with a few verses (and I use the word loosely) "sung" in German, describing the experience of driving on Germany's famous highway. (The single is cut to 3:27, which makes for a much shorter trip.) That something so odd could get a fair amount of American airplay in the same spring with the far more conventional "Black Water" and "You Are So Beautiful" is another of the glories of the 1970s.

After spending the bulk of the decade making electronic soundscapes, Kraftwerk spent a number of years in the 80s creating mechanical dance beats, the sort of thing Mike Myers used to make fun of in his "Sprockets" sketches on Saturday Night Live. You wouldn't immediately think that both ambient music and techno would have one common ancestor on the family tree, but they do.

(Vertigo 203, chart peak #25, May 3, 1975)

We Got Mail: A reader writes that he thinks The Guardian ripped off my post of a couple months back about weird band names. I rather doubt it--I think we both ripped off the Canonical List of Bad Band Names, which would account for the peculiar similarities.

(This post has been edited since it first appeared.)


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