Trans-European Hot Tubs
Dubbed "The Beatles of electronic dance music" by The New York Times in 1997, Dusseldorf-based band Kraftwerk pioneered the genre, and some see them as the grandfathers of techno… and they did it without computers! From the most obscure indie rock to the most mainstream pop, and even hip-hop, all across the board, most music bears the impression of their invention; and by invention (i.e. materializing something out of thin air), Kraftwerk didn’t just pioneer a genre. Until the moment “Autobahn” hit the airwaves in the autumn of 1974, nothing like it had ever existed. Let’s dive into the mammoth 40-year reign of Kraftwerk and their impact on music.
What we geek out over in this episode: Well, Joe & Toby didn’t exactly ‘geek out’ over their least favorite music genre - Electro-Pop - but here’s a few highlights that YOU might geek over… Tranzmusik, Hot Tub Time Machine (the movie), Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Forces’s Planet Rock (1982), Coldplay’s Talk (2005), Timbaland’s Bounce (2007) featuring Dr. Dre, Justin Timberlake & Missy Elliot, Blue Monday (1983) by New Order, Leave Home (1995) by The Chemical Brothers and Redman and Method Man collab How High (remix) (1995).
Bonus Material: Favorite 80’s synth television theme songs! You know Knight Rider (1986) is on the docket for this one… ENJOY!
Trans-European Hot Tubs
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: This is a track called “Trans-Europe Express” by the electronic band Kraftwerk. And because this music makes me feel like we’re in a Twilight Zone episode, we are going to upend our traditional Riffs on Riffs format and take our own trip into another dimension.
Joe: Really? Just like that we’re upending the apple cart?
Toby: I think you mean upsetting the apple cart. I’m not trying to upset you buddy! But listening to Kraftwerk can be a little unsettling, so your angst is understandable. And Joe you know me…. I don’t use the word “angst” lightly…
Joe: Because Kraftwerk is such a unique and influential band, we’ll need to explore more than one track. We’ll take a cue from their futuristic sound and instead of a Rewind, we’ll do a Fast Forward for this episode.
Toby: Special thanks to listener Marie Vivolo for suggesting this episode. She was bummed that Kraftwerk was not inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame despite their nomination this year.
Joe: I was more bummed that Rufus and Chaka Khan didn’t make the cut, but every year I’m surprised by who gets in and who doesn’t. Regardless, thanks Marie for suggesting this episode. Alright Tobe, let’s dive into a little Kraftwerk history.
Toby: Kraftwerk was founded by classmates Raulf Huutler and Florian Shneidder. Both of them attended a school called Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf in the 1960’s.
Joe: They were part of an experimental rock movement in the late 60s that blended psychadelic rock, electronic music, funk and minimalism.
Toby: Legendary BBC disc jockey John Peel started calling the music “krautrock” in the early 70s, and despite that having roots as a pejorative term, the label has seemed to have stuck and even be embraced by some musicians of the genre.
Joe: Krautrock? You mean like these guys?
🔊“Rock You Like a Hurricane”
Toby: Um, no. Though The Scorpions are definitely German and definitely rockers, Krautrock is not anything close to that. It’s also been called “kosmiche musik”, or cosmic music. Think much more spacey and electronic.
Joe: OK, let’s give a listen to some examples of that. Schneider and Hutter’s first band was a quintet called Organization. Their only album was released in 1969, entitled Tone Float. Let’s take a listen.
Toby: That’s cosmic all right. Sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack for the movie Arrival. In the early 70s, Hutter and Schneider formed Kraftwerk, and had numerous lineup changes for over the course of their first three albums.
Joe: Their third album, named Ralf und Florian, was released in 1973. It contained a track called “Tanzmusik,” which translates to “Dance Music.” Though I don’t think it sounds like what most people think of as dance music today, it does have a happy little vibe to it and I could certainly hear it being played under an Apple commercial. Let’s have a listen.
Toby: Their commercial breakthrough came in 1974 with the release of their 4th album, Autobahn. This saw them moving away from Schnieder’s flute playing and towards the use of synthesizers and drum machines, as well as the vocoders that became one of their signature sounds.
Joe: The title track is indeed about the German highway system, and is meant to convey the feeling of driving on the Autobahn, from traveling at high speeds to the monotony of a long trip. Let’s have a listen.
Toby: At over 22 minutes, I can definitely hear the monotony part! The radio edit of this song was a surprise hit and reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Joe: The success of the Autobahn album also allowed Kraftwerk to invest heavily in more electronic equipment, and there’s no question that their experimentation in this department was pioneering. David Bowie was an early fan of the band and invited them to join him on his Station to Station tour, but they declined.
Toby: Kraftwerk members are notoriously reclusive. They kept the location of their recording space, Kling Klang Studio, a secret and would not allow visitors or accept mail. There’s also the story about their studio telephone.
Joe: Great story from Johnny Marr, guitarist for the Smith’s. He says that Kraftwerk did not like “noise pollution”, and so the phone in their studio did not have a ringer. Instead, you would set a predetermined time to talk to them, and Raulf Hutter would just pick up the phone at that exact time and say “hello.”
Toby: Despite their reclusiveness, Kraftwerk have become famous for their live shows, which have included replica mannequins of themselves on stage as well as films and visuals synchronized to their music.
Joe: In 1977, Kraftwerk released their sixth studio album, Trans-Europe Express. Another album about travel, this time about the Trans Europe Express train. The band was keen to move away from it’s German identity as it believed critics in the US and UK still associated them with Nazi Germany.
Toby: There’s an interesting quote from Wolfgang Flur, percussionist for the band. He says, “we were children who were born straight after World War Two … we had no musical or pop culture of our own … there was the war, and before the war we had only the German folk music. In the 1920s or 1930s melodies were developed and these became culture that we worked from.”
Joe: That might explain in part some of their unique musical aesthetic. Tobe, you and I have had the benefit of growing up with a rich and diverse musical history to draw from. I imagine that if we didn’t have that pop culture as such a big part of our lives, we’d gravitate towards something experimental as well.
Toby: Agreed. It seems that Kraftwerk were very interested in not only experimentation, but pushing the boundaries of technology’s role in music, and blurring those lines between art and technology.
Joe: In 1981, Kraftwerk released their 8th album, Computer Love. The title track was also released as a single with the song, “The Model” from their previous album, The Man-Machine, as the B-side. The single hit #36 on the charts, and in December the two songs were released as a double-A side single, landing at #1 on the UK singles chart in February of 1982. Let’s give a listen to “The Model:”
Toby: Krafwerk would go on to release the album Electric Café in 1986, which included the song “Tour de France” that reflected their new-found obsession for cycling.
Joe: Good job keeping with their transportation theme. “Tour de France” was featured in the 1984 “lm Breakin’.” Let’s give that a spin.
🔊“Tour de France”
Toby: Ironically, Ralf Hutter was actually in a serious cycling accident during the recording of “Tour de France” and spent several days in a coma. He did recover, and summed it up pretty succinctly. “I got a new head, and I’m fine. It was a few days in hospital, and that’s it.”
Joe: It certainly didn’t affect his love for cycling. After a long break between studio albums, Kraftwerk released their tenth album Tour de France Soundtracks in 2003. Even with a 17 year gap between releases, this album was a huge success, reaching #1 in Germany, the top 40 in the UK, and #3 on the US Dance Charts. Let’s take a listen to “Aerodynamik,” or “ah ree oh, dee nah meek.”
Toby: Even though Schneider left the band in 2009, Kraftwerk is still going strong and pushing the bounds of music and technology. Their 2017 live album, “3-D The Catalogue,” documents their 12345678 world tour. Disc seven is mixed in Headphone Surround 3D and the album won best Dance/Electronic Album at the 60th Grammy Awards.
Joe: Now that we’ve learned a little bit more about Kraftwerk, let’s fast forward and hear how they’ve been sampled by dozens of popular artists.
Toby: You want to hop in the Delorean?
Joe: I’m thinking more Hot Tub Time Machine for this episode. I need a relaxing soak a er some of the droning tones we’ve just been subjected to.
Toby: I LOVE that movie! I’m ready to take the plunge into the tub, but before we do, I want to bring in a special guest.
Joe: Please tell me you have Bootsy out in the lobby…
Toby: No my friend, I do not, but I have someone equally funky, just judging by the patterns on the shirts he wears. Let’s bring in our very own sound engineer, Eric.
Joe: I am very interested in getting your take on Kraftwerk. I know you are a big fan and have your own analog synthesizer collection going. I don’t think it’s a big secret that Toby and I are not rabid fans of the band, so we would love to hear your insights into what makes them so groundbreaking and influential.
Joe: Regardless of whether you are a fan or not of Kraftwerk, there is no denying their influence a wide variety of genres. Kraftwerk songs have been sampled over 700 times, so they’ve certainly created an extensive catalog of sample-able material.
Toby: Agreed. So let’s fire up the hot tub and see where we are headed first. Don’t forget to crank the jacuzzi jets.
Joe: You got it partner.
🔊Hot Tub Sound
Joe: Our first stop is in 1982. Let’s listen to Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Forces’s “Planet Rock.”
Toby: This is an interpolation of the Kraftwerk song “Trans Europe Express,” so let’s take a listen to the original:
🔊Trans Europe Planet
Joe: “Planet Rock” is credited with being supremely influential in the fusing of hip hop, dance and electronic music, and Bambaataa is often referred to as the Godfather of Electro-Funk.
Toby: This songs sits at #3 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time, and features one of the pioneering uses of the Roland 808 drum machine.
Joe: Since we have a time machine and can go full quantum realm, let’s speed ahead to 2005 and take a listen to a hit from Coldplay called “Talk.”
Toby: That intro is an interpolation of the Kraftwerk song, “Computer Love.” Let’s hear the original:
🔊“Computer Love” - Intro
Joe: There’s yet another interesting story behind how Chris Martin of Coldplay cleared the sample for “Talk.” Apparently he wrote a childlike letter, including a hand drawn picture, asking to use the melody of “Computer Love.” And Ralf Hutter simply wrote back, “Yes.”
Toby: Coldplay used that melody to great success, as “Talk” hit #1 on the charts in several countries, including the US Adult Top 40 and US Dance Club Songs charts.
Joe: Where we headed to next? And I much prefer this means of travel to cycling!
Toby: Nice segue, what do you say we Bounce ahead to 2007 and see how Timbaland used the Kraftwerk song “Tour de France” in his track “Bounce,” featuring Dr. Dre, Justin Timberlake, and Missy Elliot.
Joe: Timbaland definitely took the baton from Afrika Bambaataa and became his own king of electro-funk. Bounce broke into the Billboard 100 and was used on the soundtrack of the movie Step Up 2. Let’s hear the original portion of Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France” that was sampled:
🔊“Tour de Timbaland”
Toby: Let’s go old school again and head back to 1982. The Fearless Four was a hip hop group out of Harlem, and they used the Kraftwerk track “The Man-Machine” in their song “Rockin’ It.” Let’s have a listen:
Toby: Now let’s hear the original, “The Man Machine.”
🔊“The Man Machine”
Joe: You know, we always find the most random things when we research for this show. Here’s one for you: There was a German animated movie that came out in 1997 that also had the name The Fearless Four. It happens to be about a bunch of animals that all want to sing, but can’t for various reasons.
Toby: You mean like Kraftwerk?
Joe: Ha! Well, kind of. And this little snippet from the movie sums up some of my feelings… (43.02)
🔊The Fearless Four Movie
Toby: It sounds like you may have a little left over Monday blues. I have your cure buddy:
Joe: Very nice! This is “Blue Monday,” by New Order. This song hit number 1 in the UK twice, once upon release in 1983 and again in 1988 when it was remixed by Quincy Jones and rereleased. It samples the Kraftwerk song “Uranium,” let’s have a listen to that:
Toby: While not using any direct samples, New Order bassist does also admit to basically stealing the song from Donna Summer’s track “Our Love.” Let’s have a listen to “Our Love” and see if there are any similarities.
Joe: Yeah, I’d say there certainly are! Well Tobe, I think after listening to all of this Kraftwerk for this episode, I might need a little Detox.
Toby: Yes, listening to some of their lengthy electronic opuses can seem to take an eternity — kind of like waiting for the Detox album from Dr. Dre that he’s been working on for over a decade.
Joe: Even Dre and Jay-Z have gotten into the Kraftwerk act. Let’s hear how they used “Trans Europe Express” for the 2010 track “Under Pressure.”
Toby: I’m going to hear that synth in my sleep tonight.
Joe: Let’s take one more jaunt in the time machine. This time to 1995, where The Chemical Brothers sampled the Kraftwerk track “Ohm Sweet Ohm” for their song “Leave Home.”
Toby: And now let’s have a listen to “Ohm Sweet Ohm.”
🔊“Ohm Sweet Ohm”
Joe: Kraftwerk were certainly pioneers in the use of technology in music. They created interesting sounds — lots of them. There are almost an in nite number of Kraftwerk samples that can be used in interesting ways to create new music. After giving their catalog a listen, I can definitely appreciate the production and innovation. For me personally, it’s just kind of hard to listen to, unless I’m using it as one of those Deep Focus playlists in the background while I’m working.
Toby: For our bonus material we thought we’d do something a little fun. Let’s take a trip into TV land and listen to some of the electronic theme songs from the shows that we all love. Let’s go back to 1984 and check our first TV theme track.
Joe: I remember this show, but maybe our listeners need something to jog their memory.
Toby: I gotcha partner. Ok so peep this for an explanation: a loner steals a supersonic military helicopter to fight bad guys around the world.
Joe: Hmmm. Did B A Baracus leave the A Team?
Toby: Wrong show buddy. Think of one word that might describe a flying canine.
Joe: Air Bud?
Toby: Ok, you’re out of guesses. This is the theme from Airwolf which debuted in 1984 and was composed by Sylvester Levey. Mr Levey also composed tracks for Elton John and Penny Mclean and actually won a grammy for the Silver Convention disco dance track entitled “Fly Robin Fly.”
Joe: I like that song, let’s give it a spin:
🔊“Fly Robin Fly”
Joe: So I see you smiling over there… and I don’t know why. Unless you have a love for disco, you got some explaining to do.
Toby: I have a theory that if you look hard enough, you’re bound to find a hip hop connection. One of the reasons why this episode is great is that it leads you down paths. When I looked at tracks for the bonus portion of the episode I never thought that I would stumble upon this. This disco track was sampled for the first song that I heard Redman and Method Man collab on called “How High (remix)” Let’s take a listen to that.
Joe: Ok you got any other theme songs for us to check out?
Toby: Absolutely! I will answer that question with a question. What do you get when you call a jockey holding a sword after sunset?
Joe: Oh boy … here it comes…
Toby: A knight rider! So let’s play the theme song from the show Knight Rider.
🔊Knight Rider Theme
Joe: This was a very popular show during the 80’s and starred German singing sensation David, THE HOFF, Hasselhoff. Toby were you a fan of this show?
Toby: I loved the show and totally remember watching it when it debuted way back in 1982. I was in 2nd grade then and obviously a lot has changed since then, but I I still get a kick out of a car that can intelligently talk to the driver!
Joe: Agreed buddy- The theme song from this famous TV show was composed by Stu Phillips. Stu Phillips was also known for composing the theme songs for other shows like Battlestar Galactica and The 6 Million Dollar Man. The Knight Rider theme song also has a hip hop connection…
Toby: Yes, we weren’t the only ones that loved it. Busta Rhymes released his track called “Turn it Up (remix)” in 1998 and in my opinion utilized this sample beautifully. Let’s give that a listen:
🔊“Turn It Up (remix)”
Joe: Do you have another great example of a TV show’s theme music that captures the sound of the the 80’s synthesizer vibe?
Toby: Absolutely! My last example is for a show that first debuted in 1963 and deals with a British time traveler tasked with saving the world.
Joe: I just don’t know WHO you’re talking about. I mean WHO could it possibly be? Scott Bakula? Are we taking another Quantum Leap?
Toby: I think the you are still a little disoriented from our time in the Quantum Realm. Dr. Who is the name of the show and I gotta think that part of the reason why it developed such a cult following had to be partly due to the fact of crazy theme song for it. Let’s give it a listen.
🔊Dr. Who Theme Song
Joe: I’m starting to turn in to a prune here, so I think it’s time we bring our hot tub back to the present. We hope you all had fun going on this cosmic ride with us today. Before we wrap up this episode, let’s discuss all that we listened to today.
Toby: We learned about the German electronic band Kraftwerk and listened to some of the tracks that helped them reach the top of the charts across the world. We also listened to the songs that sampled Kraftwerk to create some of the contemporary hits that we know and love. Then for our bonus material, we had some fun and listened to 80’s TV theme songs that also used the electronic sound. All in all - this has been a pretty fun episode, but I gotta admit that I’m glad that we’re moving on.
Joe: Speaking of moving on, what do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: We are going to head down the old town road and see if we can find some ghosts that have a distinct connection to this land of Cleve that we love.
Joe: And we just might get that Miley and Billy Rae Cyrus mashup y’ll been waiting for.
Toby: In the meantime, please connect with us on social. You can tweet the show @riffsonriffsyo, or find us on Instagram, @riffsonriffs. If you want to reach out to me directly, you can find me @heiku575, and connect with Joe @sonowats.
Joe: We definitely love hearing from our listeners! Until next time, we’ll take you out with Frank Ocean’s 2011 track, “Private Show,” which once again samples Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express.” Enjoy, and we’ll catch you next time on Riffs on Riffs.