Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Autobahn" (1975)

71. Kraftwerk, "Autobahn" (April 12, 1975, #25)

Kraftwerk scored a pleasantly surprising hit with this odd meditation on the pleasures of wanton oil consumption. As with our previous encounter with automotive technology, Gary Numan's "Cars," it's as likely as not that most of its chart success can be accounted for simply by the novelty value it held. But actually it has a good deal more to offer than something on the order of "Gitarzan" or "Convoy." Robotic in its approach to melody, arrangement, and lyrics too—"Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn," goes the repeated chant, which of course means "We drive, drive, drive down the freeway"—it is nonetheless pleasant, charming, even alluring. It didn't sound like anything else on the radio at the time or ever before, with its washes of synthesizer chords and softly urgent beats, and one can imagine people dancing to it in private with their friends, acting comically like automatons with lurching, jerky movements and zombie eyes, arms straight out at the shoulders and gently undulating. Lots of laughs for all. Unlike Numan's hit, of course, the Kraftwerk song also appeared in a much longer version that occupied an entire album side—some nearly 23 minutes, in fact, where the concept is really worked good and hard. Passing cars and perhaps various highway markers may be heard, horns honking, perhaps a visit to a rest stop; and even, at one point, a brief discussion and a decision to switch the radio on. Can you guess what's playing? I'll give you a hint. It goes like this: "Wir fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn." There's nothing, after all, like hearing your favorite songs on the car radio.

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