In the past Diversity of Classic Rock posts, we were talking about different walks of life of various musicians. Now, we’re going to focus on Classic Rock in Europe. Continental Europe that is! Music from Continental Europe doesn’t get nearly the visibility that music from the UK gets. In some cases there is xenophobia, such as critics associating Kraftwerk with Nazi Germany. The sad part is many musicians are forced to play music in English in order to get to an international audience, and to get success in America. And many of these musicians if they get famous are just known as one hit wonders. Few foreign language songs make it into the top 40. The US is a big country and musicians therefore consider it an achievement for their music to chart in America and to tour America. To reiterate from an American perspective, when you’re hearing about musicians from the other side of the Atlantic, you’re mostly hearing about British musicians. Musicians from every continent (okay, maybe not Antarctica) have contributed to rock and roll, and European musicians have made many contributions. Come and join me on the Diversity of Classic Rock European Tour where we explore classic rock bands from different European countries.
Germany has an interesting history of rock and there is a big following there of rock music, especially progressive rock, experimental music, and new wave. Rock music in Germany was a bit of a late bloomer compared to other countries in Europe because of the Nazis suppressing popular music in the 40s like jazz and swing music. However, there were many musicians from the UK and Ireland who lived in Germany and played gigs there for a time. The Beatles, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, John O’Brien-Docker, and Rory Gallagher all at one point were in Hamburg. Now why Hamburg? According to Ministry of Rock, Hamburg was the place to go because it was a port city with lots of sailors who wanted to go to clubs to hear energetic rock music. Many of these musicians came from cities and towns with a lack of a club scene, so Hamburg gave them what they wanted, an audience, a change of scenery, and a place to practise and become better performers.
Austria on the other hand did not have as much of a rock music scene, but there are a few famous musicians who are from there.
Let’s explore classic rock in Germany and Austria!
Amon Düül II: Amon Düül II started in Munich and started off as a more psychedelic band, later sounding more prog. They are considered very important and influential to the Krautrock scene. The band members met in an art commune in Munich that was started in 1967. At the art commune, they would improvise. There are two bands that came out of the Amon Düül Commune, Amon Düül I and Amon Düül II, the latter are more famous. The name came from the Egyptian Sun God Amon, and Düül was the name of an element originally spelled as Dyl, but changed to Düül. Model Uschi Obermaier was a member of Amon Düül I at one point. Some might compare their sound to Brazil’s Os Mutantes. The band released their first album in 1969 called Phallus Dei. It’s a great start to getting into the band. Some key tracks to listen to are “Kanaan” and “Lucifer’s Ghilom”. This album was known as the original Krautrock album. But others argue that Can’s Monster Movie is the original Krautrock album. You be the judge. Now what makes Krautrock different? It focuses on experimentation, improvisation, but later on the term was applied to any German rock band. Some music labelled Krautrock can also be called prog rock. We know what it is, but what is Krautrock not? Krautrock, unlike many other rock genres is not heavily blues influenced. Some Krautrock is more electronic. You won’t find many similarities between Krautrock bands and late 50s and early 60s rock music. It’s a unique sound. Other Amon Düül II songs you should listen to are “Soap Shop Rock” and Side A of Tanz der Lemminge called “Syntelman’s March of the Roaring Seventies”.
Ari Up: Born Ariane Forster in Munich. She was from a family who had a lot of connections to rock musicians. Her mum was friends with Jimi Hendrix and Ari’s godfather was Jon Anderson of Yes. Her stepfather was Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. At the age of 14, Ari formed The Slits with Palmolive, then Joe Strummer’s girlfriend. The Slits opened for The Clash and their sound turned more reggae influenced. After The Slits broke up, Ari and her husband moved around the world. She passed away in 2010 at age 48.
Ash Ra Tempel/Ashra: An ambient space rock band from Berlin. They released their first album in 1971. It is a bit psychedelic with a bit of a progressive rock sound. On their third album, Seven Up, they worked with Timothy Leary. In 1976 they released their first album as Ashra, New Age of Earth.
Birth Control: Band from Berlin that formed in the 60s. They released their self-titled debut in 1970. Heavy and progressive rock sounding, it sounds very ahead of its time. Some songs I like from that album are “No Drugs”, the jazz inspired “Sundown”, and “Light My Fire” – no, not a Doors cover. Other songs of theirs that are good are “Stop Little Lady” – it features some great percussion and organ playing, the heavy “Just Before The Sun Will Rise”, and “Gamma Ray”. The band broke up in 1983 after the death oftheir guitarist Bruno Frenzel. It wasn’t until 10 years later that they would reunite and tour again.
Brainticket: Experimental band formed in 1968 by a Belgian jazz pianist named Joel Vandroogenbroek who toured with the Quincy Jones Orchestra in Europe and Africa. He was inspired by Amon Düül II, Can, and Tangerine Dream. They released their first album in 1971 called Cottonwoodhill. It has a very experimental, jazz influenced sound. That album was banned in many different countries, including the United States, because of its association with psychedelic drugs. Their second album Psychonaut has a bit more of a psychedelic than instrumental sound and I personally prefer this one to their debut. Brainticket continue to make new music and released an album this year called Past, Present & Future.
Can: Can are a prog band from Cologne and they were formed in 1968. They released their first album, Monster Movie, in 1969. Their music was influenced by different genres from around the world, classical, psychedelic rock, and funk. As they were a prog band, they did not release many singles, but a couple of songs charted such as “Spoon” and “I Want More”. They improvised in the studio, but edited the songs for the final product that would be on the album. They started their own studio, called Can Studio in 1971, where they would record most of their albums. My favourite album they made was Future Days. I would recommend these songs if you’re new to the band: “Oh Yeah”, “Halleluhwah”, “Vitamin C”, “Future Days”, “Spray”, “Mother Sky”, “She Brings the Rain”, “Serpentine”, and “The Pauper’s Daughter and I”.
Cluster: Along with NEU!, Kraftwerk, and Can, they were part of the Dusseldorf School of electronic music. The Dusseldorf School influenced New Wave music and the sound was based on synthesisers and the rhythm section. Their precursor was Kluster, who were an early example of industrial music and dark ambient music. Like many other German bands, Conny Plank also worked with them. At one point Brian Eno was in the band playing synthesiser and bass. As well, members of Cluster worked with a band called Harmonia along with Michael Rother of NEU!. I would recommend the album Harmonia to listen to. I would recommend the albums Zuckerzeit and Cluster & Eno.
Dschinghis Khan: German disco group formed in 1979 to perform in the Eurovision Song Contest for West Germany. They got 4th place in the contest. They are known for their song of the same title and the song “Moskau”. Their name as you might have figured is Genghis Khan in German. In Australia, “Moskau” went to #1 in Australia. Their sound was inspired by disco group Boney M, who were at one point based in Germany.
Embryo: Jazz rock band from Munich founded in 1969. They are known for their eclectic sound that incorporates influences from music from around the world. Their first album, Opal, was released in 1970 and is a great listen. Some songs I like of theirs are “Opal”, “Revolution”, and “Glockenspiel”.
Faust: Experimental band that formed in 1971. The band did not like the term “Krautrock” being applied to their music. They were signed to Polydor Records and it was producer Uwe Nettelbeck’s goal to put together a band that could rival British Invasion acts. Their first album was released in 1971 and it did not only have a unique sound, but also unique packaging with the album being pressed on clear vinyl and being in a clear package. Their next album, Faust So Far, has some more commercial elements like the structure of the tracks, with there being 9 shorter tracks rather than 3 long ones like on the previous album. The band faced many challenges, like their first album taking a while to complete and having a hard time touring and performing live. The band had a following in the UK and they were one of the first bands to be signed to Richard Branson’s Virgin Records. Their album, The Faust Tapes, did very well, even better than their previous two albums, but they did not end up on the charts because the album was priced so cheaply, the cost of a single. Faust IV was released in 1973. Fans of their earlier work felt alienated by its different sound, but others appreciate it. The band broke up in 1975 and reunited in the 90s.
Frumpy: A short lived progressive rock band from Hamburg. In the 70s, they were active from 1970-1972, recording three albums during that time. Frontwoman Inga Rumpf is reminiscent of Janis Joplin and has a very distinctive, deep, rough voice. She was voted best female rock singer of 1973 in a Musikexpress readers poll. In fact, the band’s name is a play on words involving her name, inspired by the band seeing the word “frumpy” in a record catalogue. The band have toured with Yes, Humble Pie, and Spooky Tooth. Some songs I like of theirs are: “To My Mother”, “How The Gypsy Was Born” (their signature song), and “Take Care of Illusion”.
Guru Guru: Progressive rock band formed in 1968 in Heidelberg. They released their first album, UFO, in 1970. They worked with Amon Düül II, Can, and Xhol Caravan, playing jam sessions with them. Their music was inspired by psychedelic rock bands from the late 60s and their shows were very political, left wing.
Heinz: Heinz was born Heinz Schwarz in Detmold, but moved to the UK at age 7. By chance he bumped into record producer Joe Meek and his music career began. He was the bassist of 60s band The Tornados. You might know them for the 1962 instrumental “Telstar,” which was written by Joe Meek. That song went to number one in the US and the UK. The Tornados were rivals to The Shadows, and there is a bit of a similarity between their music styles. The Shadows even covered “Telstar” later on. The Tornados popularity declined because guitar focussed instrumentals were going out of style by around 1964. Heinz started a solo career in 1963 and was in a movie called Live it Up! with Steve Marriott, who would go on to be in The Small Faces, Mitch Mitchell, who would go on to be in the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and David Hemmings, who would go on to be in the movie Blow Up. Also in the movie as musical guests were Gene Vincent and a young Ritchie Blackmore, in his band at the time, The Outlaws. Heinz toured with Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis and later on Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas and Bobby Rydell. One of Heinz’s biggest hits was “Just Like Eddie”, which is about Eddie Cochran, one of his musical idols. Sadly his popularity declined due to the changing sound of rock; his sound was considered outdated.
John Kay: Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of Canadian psychedelic rock band Steppenwolf. He was born Joachim Krauledat in Tilsit, East Prussia (this area is now part of Kaliningrad Oblast in Russia) during World War II. He and his mum were constantly moving due to what was going on in Germany at the time, here’s an interesting interview where he talks about his childhood moving around Germany, his story about it starts at about 1:11. Lots of history in that interview! He used to live behind the Iron Curtain, but he and his mum escaped to West Germany and finally, later on to Canada, when he was 14. He is known for wearing sunglasses pretty much all the time due to his vision impairment. He is completely colourblind. Steppenwolf were formed out of the ashes of The Sparrows, who formed in 1965 in Toronto. In 1967, The Sparrows left for California for the warmer weather and the great music scene there. As The Sparrows, they performed with bands like The Doors, Moby Grape, and The Steve Miller Band. They became Steppenwolf shortly after they got to California. They were very successful, selling over 25 million albums and their music was in Easy Rider, a cult film from 1969. They are best known for the songs “Sookie Sookie”, “Born to Be Wild” (peaked at #2), and “Magic Carpet Ride” (peaked at #3). The band broke up in 1972, but reunited in the mid 70s. Multiple versions of Steppenwolf were on tour by the late 70s and early 80s. Anyway, here’s “Magic Carpet Ride”, lots of great memories of my dad playing this in the car.
Klaus Voormann: Artist and musician who has worked with The Beatles and John, George, and Ringo’s solo albums, Manfred Mann, Harry Nilsson, The Bee Gees, and Carly Simon. He was most famous for drawing the album artwork of Revolver. He was only paid £40 to do the artwork for the album cover. He also did the album artwork for Bee Gees 1st. He was born in Berlin to an artistic family and moved to Hamburg to study art. As you may already know, The Beatles did live and play music in Hamburg for a time and that’s where Klaus Voormann met The Beatles and Astrid Kirchherr, a photographer famous for taking pictures of The Beatles in their early years. He lived in London for a short period of time before going back to Hamburg, where he formed the group Paddy, Klaus & Gibson. He became a member of Manfred Mann in 1966 and stayed until 1969, when Manfred Mann broke up, playing bass and flute. He played on the number one hit “The Mighty Quinn”.
Kraan: Rock band who combined different sounds from experimental Krautrock to jazz fusion. Some songs of theirs I would recommend are “Bandits in the Woods”, “Prima Kilma”, “Kraan Arabia”, “M.C. Escher”, and “Mind Quake”.
Kraftwerk: 70s band that pioneered and popularised electronic music featuring synthesisers, vocoders, and computer-speech software. They took influences from Karlheinz Stockhausen and the Bauhaus School. They are considered one of the most influential bands of all time. Without Kraftwerk, we wouldn’t have musicians like Daft Punk, Gary Numan, The Buggles, and Depeche Mode. Famous fans of the band include David Bowie, Orchestral Manouvres in the Dark, Joy Division/New Order, and Afrika Bambaataa – who sampled “Trans-Europe Express” and “Numbers”. They were founded by core members Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider in 1970 in Dusseldorf. Their first two albums, Kraftwerk and Kraftwerk 2 were more like Krautrock, sounding more experimental. I would recommend the songs “Ruckzuck” and “Klingklang” from those albums. Ralf and Florian had a more transitional sound between experimental and electronic. My favourite songs from that album are “Tanzmusik” and “Ananas Symphonie”. 1974’s Autobahn would change everything and was the beginning of their signature electronic sound. It was also their breakthrough album withthe title track reaching the Top 20 in Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the UK. “Autobahn” didn’t do too badly in the United States, peaking at #25. The following year, the concept album Radio-Activity came out. A bit of a play on words, part of it is about radioactivity and part of it is about activity on the radio. The album is bilingual, with lyrics in English and German. Highlights from this album are “Radioactivity”, “Airwaves”, “Antenna”, and “Ohm Sweet Ohm”. Their revolutionary album Trans-Europe Express came out in 1977 featuring great tracks like “Europe Endless”, “Trans-Europe Express”, “Showroom Dummies”, and “Franz Schubert”. Like the two albums before it, it had an electronic sound, but it took it a few steps further by manipulating vocals and the use of a sequencer. The Man-Machine was the last album they released in the 70s and is a great album overall and worth listening to. 1981’s Computer World is amazing as well and “Computer Love” was a chart topper in the UK.
The Monks: A band made up of American GIs stationed in Germany. True to their name, they all had monk tonsures and wore uniforms. As you might imagine, this was seen as blasphemy and they were criticised a lot by the public. The band were short lived and only released one album called Black Monk Time. Some see this as an early example of punk rock. My favourite songs on the album are “Shut Up!”, “Boys are Boys and Girls are Choice”, “Oh How To Do Now”, “Complication”, “Love Came Tumblin’ Down”, “Blast Off!”, and “That’s My Girl!”. Only one single, “Complication”, was released from this album and it was included in the highly praised Nuggets series of compilation albums. This album is definitely worth your time.
Nektar: Progressive rock band made up of English expats living in Hamburg. Their breakthrough album Remember The Future came out in 1973 and went to #19 in the US album charts, breaking them out of obscurity. It’s a good album and one of my favourites. Like a lot of progressive rock albums, it has fewer tracks and is a concept album – that is an album with a story behind it. I recommend the albums A Tab in the Ocean, and Recycled.
Nena: A German New Wave band best known for the song “99 Luftballons”. They were fronted by Gabriele Kerner, also known as Nena. Before Gabriele Kerner joined the band, she was in a band called The Stripes, a punk group. Their music is worth a listen, especially if you like more power-pop sounding punk. They only released one album in 1980. From there, Gabriele and her boyfriend at the time moved to Berlin and formed the band, Nena. Their first single, “Nur geträumt” was released in 1982, making them superstars in their home country. Besides the song charting at #2 in Germany, the song was in the top 20 in Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. But their biggest year was the following year, 1983, when “99 Luftballons” went to number one in many countries, and not just in Europe. This song had an English version as well called “99 Red Balloons”, which was not a direct translation from German to English. The original German version did better in the US and Australia than the English translation and I have to say I like the original better. Sadly, Nena would not have any other hits besides “99 Luftballons” in English speaking countries, so they are written off as a one-hit wonder. This was not the case in Germany because they had other hits besides that such as “Rette mich”, “Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgenwann”, and “Feuer und Flamme”. In 2003, Nena remade “Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgenwann” as “Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime”. The song featured English pop star Kim Wilde.
NEU!: Band made up of former Kraftwerk members Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. Dinger and Rother founded the band in 1971. They were never commercially successful and were considered underground. Their first album, which was released in 1972, only sold 30,000 copies; a lot for an underground band, but overall not a big number. Nevertheless, NEU! won over lots of famous fans such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Joy Division, and Radiohead. They recorded three albums in the 70s, NEU!, NEU! 2, and NEU! ’75. Their first album got very positive reviews and featured the Motorik beat, often found in Krautrock. You can hear it in the songs “Hallogallo” and “Negativland”. NEU! 2 has an interesting story behind it and shows that they were really ahead of their time, but it also explains why the critics did not give this album the acclaim like their debut album. The band ran out of money in the middle of recording that album so they ended up remixing two songs by playing the tapes faster and slower, “Super” and “Neuschnee”. My favourite NEU! songs are “Hallogallo”, “Negativland”, “Songerangebot”, “Fur Immer”, “Neuschnee”, “Isi”, “Hero”, and “E-Musik”.
Nico: Model, Actress, Warhol Superstar, and singer known for her distinct voice. She was born Christa Päffgen in Cologne. As a teenager she and her mum moved to Berlin. She was a seamstress and worked in shops before she became a model. After she was discovered at a KaDeWe fashion show in Berlin, she moved to Paris and modelled for fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle. She became multilingual through living in various cities. Most famously, she was in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. In the mid 60s she met famous musicians like Brian Jones, Jimmy Page, and Bob Dylan and recorded a few singles like “I’m Not Sayin'” and “I’ll Keep it With Mine”. She moved to the United States in the 60s and worked with The Velvet Underground. Andy Warhol suggested that she work with them. She was with the band for their famous 1967 album The Velvet Underground and Nico. She did lead vocals for the songs “Femme Fatale”, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and “I’ll Be Your Mirror”. That same year she released her debut album Chelsea Girl. In the 70s she and former Velvet Underground member John Cale opened for Pink Floyd for a couple of concerts. She released a couple of albums in the 70s and 80s. She died in 1988 from a heart attack while she was cycling. Famous fans of Nico include Patti Smith, Bauhaus, Morrissey, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Elliott Smith.
Otto K.E. Heinemann: Founder of Okeh Records. Before starting Okeh in 1916, he was the manager for the US division of the German record label Odeon Records. You’ll know this record label well if you’re a fan of Northern Soul. Musicians like Billy Butler and The Chanters, Larry Williams and Johnny Watson, and Major Lance were signed to the record label. Carl Davis and Curtis Mayfield worked for the label as producer and songwriter, respectively. Okeh was not just a soul label; it would also distribute music in German, Czech, Polish, Swedish, and Yiddish for the European immigrant market. Okeh were also a big label for blues and jazz recordings by African-American musicians in the 20s. Okeh recorded music by Louis Armstrong, Clarence Williams, and Duke Ellington. Sadly, by the late 60s the label was made defunct by CBS Records, who bought the label back in 1926. The label came back in the 90s as a new-age blues label and now as a jazz label.
Popol Vuh: Electronic avant garde band founded in 1969. Their name came from a manuscript of Quiché Mayan mythology. Their sound initially was very Moog based and combined with percussion instruments from other parts of the world. By their third album, Hosianna Mantra, their sound changed to a more new age and classical music inspired sound. Another album I like is Das Hohelied Salomos from 1975.
Scorpions: You’ll know them for the hard rock hit “Rock You Like A Hurricane” from 1984, but you may not know that the band started in 1965. Rolling Stone describes them as “the heroes of heavy metal”. They went through many lineup changes over the years, but they finally got their classic lineup together in 1978. Two of the longtime members are Rudolf Schenker, who has been with the band since the 60s and Klaus Meine who has been the lead vocalist since their first studio album in 1972. Their first album was produced by Conny Plank, who has worked with many other famous German bands. This album sounds heavy, but a bit psychedelic, different from their 80s hits.
Tangerine Dream: German progressive rock band and a favourite band of many progressive rock fans. Their name was inspired by a lyric from “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”. They were founded in 1967 in Berlin and they were important to the Berlin School of electronic music, which influenced trance, techno, and ambient music. If you need a band to get into and you want a lot of material to listen to, look no further than Tangerine Dream. In a period of 40+ years, they have released over 100 albums, singles, EPs, and compilations. That’s a lot of work! Their music from the 70s can be divided into two eras, The Pink Years and The Virgin Years. Their first album, Electronic Meditation, was made up of tape loops, which was a precursor to sequencers, which they would use later on as technology progressed.Their next album, Alpha Centauri, is a bit different, described as cosmic music, or in German, kosmische musik. It is more of a keyboard based album. The band finally got big starting in 1973 with the release of their album Atem and it being named album of the year by John Peel. Right after that, they signed to Virgin Records and then the next era would begin, The Virgin Years. Phaedra, from 1974, is the first album that Tangerine Dream released on Virgin Records and it was the first to feature their trademark sequencer based sound. It reached an incredible #15 in the UK charts without any airplay, just word of mouth. Unlike a lot of the other bands I discussed on this blog post, this album did not sell nearly as well in their native Germany. I highly recommend this album if you are getting into Tangerine Dream and really want to know what their signature sound is. Other albums I like of theirs are Rubycon, Ricochet, and Stratosfear.
Triumverat: Progressive rock band formed in 1969 in Cologne. True to their name they were a trio and they were compared with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, not only for being a trio, but also for Jurgen Fritz’s organ playing. A lot of their influences came from classical music and jazz music as well. The band released their first album in 1972, Mediterranean Tales. Their most successful albums were Illusions on a Double Dimple and Spartacus. The band stayed together until 1980.
Xhol Caravan: One of the first Krautrock bands from the late 60s, taking influences from R&B, jazz, and psychedelic rock. They started off as Soul Caravan, taking influences from soul and doing covers of Otis Redding and James Brown songs, but later on writing their own material and incorporating it more and more into their own shows. Their name changed to Xhol Caravan by 1970. Their first album as Xhol Caravan is called Xhol. Here are a couple of their songs, one from their early years as Soul Caravan and the other from the 70s as Xhol Caravan. The first song is a cover of the Motown classic “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and The All-Stars. The other song is called “All Green” and it has a more experimental sound.
Falco: Many consider him a one hit wonder and only know the song “Rock Me Amadeus”, which went to #1 in the US in 1985. He was born Johann Hözel in Vienna and had an ear for music from a young age. In the late 70s he lived in Berlin, playing jazz rock. He came back to Austria and was in the band Drahdiwaberl and later on Ganymed. In 1981 he released his first solo singles “That Scene” and “Der Kommissar”. Both were successful in his home country of Austria, but “Der Kommissar” was in the top 10 in multiple countries. He had a couple of hits between the release of those singles and his biggest hit “Rock Me Amadeus”. That song was his only number one in the US and UK. He followed up “Rock Me Amadeus” with “Vienna Calling”, which was a top 20 hit in the US, but no other song of his would chart in the US afterward, but his popularity and success continued in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. This song was one of a few German language songs that would chart in the US.
Opus: Austrian rock band that was founded in 1973. They were best known for the 1985 hit “Live is Life”, which was in the Top 10 in quite a few European countries, a #1 in Canada, and a Top 40 hit in the US. They had other hits including “Flyin’ High” (#5 Austria and Switzerland, #45 Germany), “Whiteland”, and “Faster and Faster”.
Thomas Lang: Austrian session drummer who has worked with many musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, John Wetton, Tina Turner, Steve Hackett, Falco, The Commodores, and Mick Jones.