#62: Autobahn by Kraftwerk

City: Hamilton, ON
Radio Station: CKOC
Peak Month: May 1975
Peak Position in Hamilton ~ #5
Peak position in Vancouver ~ #9
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #25
YouTube: “Autobahn
Lyrics: “Autobahn

Kraftwerk is a band from Dusseldorf, Germany, formed in 1969. Ralf Hütter was born in 1946 in Krefeld, West Germany. He co-founded the band with Florian Schneider-Esleben. Schneider was born in 1947 in Öhningen, West Germany. In 1967 he was in the band Pissoff. Wolfgang Flür was born in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1947. He was in a band called The Spirits of Sound in the mid-to-late 69s. He joined Kraftwerk in 1973. Klaus Röder was born in Stuttgart, West Germany, in 1948. He studied violin and piano, then began a study of sound engineering in 1968, later switching to part-time studies in composition and guitar at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf. He joined Kraftwerk in 1974. Kraftwerk was part of the emerging krautrock “cosmic music” scene in the early 1970s. This music was comprised of avant-garde, psychedelia, minimalistic rhythms, and electronic music.

Kraftwerk released a self-titled album in 1970 with bandmates Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben. Kraftwerk 2 was released in 1972. A third album released in 1973 was Ralf und Florian. The first three albums drew a fan base, but were not big sellers.

In 1974, the band released the album Autobahn. The title track, “Autobahn”, was released as a single.

Autobahn by Kraftwerk

“Autobahn” is a song about driving on the roads in West Germany, Switzerland… It was written by Hütter, Schneider, and Emil Schult. Born in 1946 in East Germany. He studied sinology in Munster in West Germany in the mid-60s, and Fine Arts at a university in Dusseldorf in 1969. Schult began collaborating with Kraftwerk on their 1973 Ralf and Florian album.

Wolfgang Flür was asked if the song was inspired by the Beach Boys “Fun, Fun, Fun”. This was because American and Canadian listeners heard “fun, fun, fun,” when Kraftwerk were singing “fahren, fahren, fahren.” Flür said, “No! Someone else told me that they [the misinterpreters] thought the way we speak in German, ‘Fahren,’ which means driving, sounds like the English word, ‘fun.’ ‘Fahren fahren fahren,’ ‘fun fun fun.’ That is wrong. But it works. Driving is fun. We had no speed limit on the autobahn, we could race through the highways, through the Alps, so yes, fahren fahren fahren, fun fun fun. But it wasn’t anything to do with the Beach Boys! We used to drive a lot, we used to listen to the sound of driving, the wind, passing cars and lorries, the rain, every moment the sounds around you are changing, and the idea was to rebuild those sounds on the synth.”

The English translation to the repeated lyric is “We drive, drive, drive on the motorway.” The translated verses relate:

1) Before us is a wide valley.
The sun shines with gilttering rays
2) The road is a gray band,
white stripes, green edge.
3) Now we are switching the radio on,
from the speaker sounds:

“Autobahn” peaked at #1 in Wichita (KS), #3 in Peoria (IL), and Boise (ID), #5 in Hamilton (ON), #6 in Phoenix, #8 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, #9 in Dayton (OH), and Vancouver (BC), and #10 in Hartford (CT). Internationally, the single climbed to #4 in New Zealand, #9 in West Germany, #11 in the UK, #12 in the Netherlands and Canada, #15 in Austria and South Africa, and #20 in Ireland.

The album Autobahn climbed to #4 in the UK, #5 in Canada and the USA, #7 in Germany and New Zealand, #9 in Australia and #11 in the Netherlands.

In 1975, Kraftwerk released Radio-Activity. which peaked at #1 in France, and #4 in Austria. Trans-Europe Express was a 1976 studio album that peaked at #2 in France, and #8 in Italy. In 1978, The Man-Machine album peaked at #9 in the UK, #12 in West Germany, #14 in France, and #15 in Austria. And in 1981, Computer World peaked at #7 in West Germany, #14 in Austria, and #15 in the UK. A single release, “The Model/Computer Love”, peaked at #1 in the UK, #4 in Ireland, #7 in West Germany, and in the Top 40 in Austria.

Hütter was injured in a cycling accident that happened on a dam on the Rhine. Cycling with his usual racing team, he collided with another rider. He fractured his skull and went into a coma. This delayed the work on their next album for awhile. In 1986 the band released Electric Café, which charted to #9 on the Swedish album chart, and #10 in Iceland. The single “Musique Non-Stop”, climbed to #13 in West Germany, and #1 in the US Dance Club Songs. Flür left Kraftwerk in 1987.

In 1991, Kraftwerk released The Mix, a #7 charting album in Germany, #12 in Austria, and #15 in the UK. A single titled “The Robot” peaked at #18 in Germany, and #20 in the UK. A dozen years later, Kraftwerk released Tour de France Soundtracks. The album peaked at #1 in Germany, #7 in Finland and Sweden, and #9 in Denmark.

In 1997, Flür founded the band Yamo and released the album Time Pie, a collaboration with Mouse on Mars. Yamo’s next release, the 12″ I Was a Robot, reached #6 in the German club charts. In 2000, Flür published his autobiography, Ich war ein Roboter (English version: I Was a Robot). In 2015, he released his first studio album, Eloquence. Since that time he released a second album, Magazine  1, in 2022, and a third album, Time, in September 2024.

In 2014, Kraftwerk received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Kraftwerk has appeared in concert on 16 occasions in Canada since 1975. The band has performed in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. Florian Schneider died of cancer in April 2020 at the age of 73.

Kraftwerk continues to appear in concert with Ralf Hütter as the founding member, along with several newer musicians. In May 2024, Kraftwerk held a residency in Los Angeles at the Walt Disney concert hall, performing their albums.

June 3, 2024
Ray McGinnis

John Harris, “I got a new head and I’m fine,” Guardian, June 19, 2009.
Emma Kelly, “Kraftwerk founder Florian Schneider dies aged 73,” Metro, May 6, 2020.
Andrew Twambley, “Wolfgang Flur – Interview,” pennyblackmusic.co.uk.
Daniel Seah, “Kraftwerk to finally be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2021,” music tech.com, May 17, 2021.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Kraftwerk,” grammy.com, December 2, 2014.
Kraftwerk concert dates – Canada,” setlist.fm.

Autobahn by Kraftwerk

CKOC 1150-AM Hamilton (ON) Top Ten | May 7, 1975

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