Kraftwerk

Autobahn

Song Review by

History has not recorded whose idea it was to edit the original, 22 minute title track to the fourth Kraftwerk album down to a snappy three minutes. Nor does it recall the look on the faces of the sales reps who were handed advance copies of it, and told to do their job. But few records have ever seemed so unlikely, so unsuitable, so ”unsingle-like” as "Autobahn". And few have turned all those presumptions so thoroughly on their heads. Top 30 in America, Top 20 in the UK, "Autobahn" (and in its wake, not only its parent album, but also a rush-reissued Ralf And Florian) became the surprise hit of 1975.

In Britain, the record was popularly known as ”Dr Who music”, out of deference to Ron Grainer's pioneering electronic soundtracks to the long-running sci- fi TV series. And elsewhere, a surprisingly popular misinterpretation of the record's lyric left armies of schoolkids under the impression that the group were singing "fun fun fun on the autobahn," like a bunch of grinning Teutonic Beach Boys. But band member Wolfgang Flur is unequivocal. "No! Someone else told me that they 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."

"Autobahn" completely rewrote the rock rulebook. There was simply nothing to relate it to. Nothing except - it really did sound like a roadtrip. Trucks race by, horns honk, there's the windshield wipers and splash through a puddle. If you really thought about it, it was almost frighteningly mundane. But it was also exquisitely exciting, a fact which two continents' worth of record buyers were fast to pick up on. “Some of the American radio stations were playing the short version,” Flur continued. “But some were playing the whole track. It sounded really good on car radios, I was told."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Autobahn 1974 Astralwerks 22:42
The Mix 1991 Elektra 9:27