Can’s decidedly loopy, in every sense of the word, 1971 single, “Turtles Have Short Legs,” finds the Krautrock titans in a decidedly playful mood. As Rooksby suggests at the I Love Total Destruction blog, it almost sounds as if they were deliberately trying to come up with a novelty hit:
Despite Can ascending to near deity status over the course of the last decade, it’s surprising how few people know about this uncharacteristically daft 7”. Recorded during the Tago Mago sessions & released on Liberty in 1971, it’s sufficiently odd to suggest that both band & label realized Can’s only opportunity for blagging a little chart action would be via the “weird” novelty hit route. “Turtles Have Short Legs"could, I guess, be ranked alongside similarly peculiar early 70s smashes like “Mouldy Old Dough” & “Popcorn” though, typically, Can’s effort failed to chart anywhere.
Writing at Julian Cope’s sprawling Head Heritage website, Seth the Man further informs us that…
This was Can’s third single, issued at the time of release of their colossal double LP, Tago Mago. Its A-side, “Turtles Have Short Legs” was unavailable on album until it appeared years later on the Cannibalism 2 compilation. It’s unlike any Damo-era Can piece ever, appropriating an absurd Teutonic toy town piano phrase that winds up subverting it in waves into a slow, untrammeled monster. There are no lyrics although Damo IS singing—but even then the most discernible lines are easily misheard. And those that aren’t are vamped ridiculously by Damo into exaggerated Japanese-accented English, transposing his ‘L’s and ‘R’s as though to put on his detractors, A return lyric comes on like a punch line, as repeats of (I think) “Oh, we can pile it on!” ensue over the buoyantly together group bash out/playtime vibe. But for all its joviality, this confounding track manages to gradually turn over in its sleep into a dense thicket of instruments galloping at a loping pace. All other instruments fall away at two separate clearings with only Damo and the drums to continue alone unfettered only to wind up as a succession of drum rolls and barking vocal pronouncements. Once back into the full ensemble fray, Holger Czukay starts pumping up with his space-filled Jaguar bass lines, and Damo throws in a line about “a cigalette (sic)/Not for the toking.” The guitar-dominated coda, sees Michael Karoli playing around the edges of all the unpeeled paint upon the walls of Schloss Norvenich with extra sensory mojo and feeling at top volume as circling drums just continue pressing onward and upwards; drummer Jaki Liebezeit soon hitting his cymbals not with sticks but carefully aimed and stamina-directed tree trunks, beating the piece to rest.
The above description reads like rock snob poetry to me!
And there’s a promo video for it, too? Apparently so. I’m a pretty big Can fan, but admittedly I was unaware that a promotional film for “Turtles Have Short Legs” existed (although it makes sense that it would since it was a single). From the editing style, it would appear to be authentically vintage, although I can’t say for sure. What’s of interest in this footage is that you get to see two of Can’s inner sanctums—like The Clash, Faust, Gong, etc, these guys always had a clubhouse—their set-up in the Cologne castle and the converted movie theater in Weilerswist that they moved into in late 1971. That location you can tell from the mattresses soundproofing the walls.
In 1972, film-sound editor and composer Martin Ziechnete was visited by two members of East Germany’s ruling party, the SED. Somehow, they had heard about his experiments with Western-style electronic music, exploring the motorik and music kosmische sounds of West German bands like Neu!, Can, and Kraftwerk. Ziechnete was to go with them in an official car.
“I feared I would lose my job, at the very least,” Ziechnete says in an interview that accompanies Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Volume One. “It would be very bad for someone who worked on party films to be seen to be influenced by the enemy. We drove in silence to the outskirts of Berlin to what I later found out was an athletics camp. They knew all about me and my idea. They questioned me about the concept for hours then left me alone in the room.
“Later an official from the Nationales Olympisches Komitee came in and told me I would begin to work on the project immediately.”
It all pulses, drones, and bleeps like the Krautrockers that inspired Ziechnete, but feels even more like a transmission from a lost universe. We don’t know how much this music helped East German athletes, but it must not have hurt: the GDR always punched above its weight at the Olympics.
Nike was hailed for its marketing genius when it hired the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Aesop Rock, and the Crystal Method to create hip indie running soundtracks. Kosmischer Läufer proves that East Germany beat them to it by decades.
Ziechnete’s half-hour program was designed and paced to accompany a 5k run, complete with warm-up and wind-down bookend pieces. The fourth of the five pieces, “Tonband Laufspur”, kicks hard to the finish line:
UPDATED: It looks like we were hoaxed about the true origins of this music - it was made recently in Scotland, apparently - but we’re leaving the post up for posterity (and because the music’s still good).
Every rock snob loves them their Cans, their Kraftwerks and their Fausts, but what about Amon Düül II? Amon Düül II’s thunderous psychedelic Krautrock sound has influenced bands from The Dead Kennedys to The Fall to the early sound of The Psychedelic Furs. They even lived in a commune together like Gong. What’s not to like?
Fans of acid-drenched hard-rocking underground freakout music, you cannot possibly go wrong with either their 1968 debut album, Phallus Dei (“God’s Cock”) or their sprawling two-record set, Yeti.
Pre-YouTube, I’d have assumed that very little footage of Amon Düül II existed—it certainly wasn’t reaching bootleg stalls in American flea markets—but there’s actually tons of great stuff out there. Jammy, druggy riff-rock and wonderfully anarchic. Listen LOUD.
A massive live jam of their “Between The Eyes” single from 1970:
A few months or so prior to American vocalist Malcolm Mooney joining them, in 1968, the core members of Can (Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit) and flutist David Johnson, under the name The Inner Space, recorded some songs and audio cues for a low budget German political satire titled Agilok & Blubbo. Directed by Peter F. Schneider and starring counterculture feminist icon/groupie Rosemarie Heinikel (aka Rosy Rosy), it would be the first time “experimental” music would be used for the soundtrack to a German film.
Rosy Rosy would go on to sing with Guru Guru, produce radio and children’s programming and write her autobiography (which included details of her trysts with Donovan and Frank Zappa). In 2009, the complete music for Agilok & Blubbo was released by Wah Wah Records.
“Kamera Song” (vocals by Rosy Rosy):
The ten-minute-long proto-krautrock workout of “Apokalypse”:
Another early Can soundtrack rarity, from the 1968 film Kama Sutra. The band, still billed as The Inner Space (but with Malcolm Mooney at this point and still with David Johnson) back vocalist Margareta Juvan, performing “I’m Hiding My Nightingale” as a band in a nightclub, before they start their own “Man Called Joe” number (from Delay 1968) at the clip’s end.
A friend of mine burned me a 4-channel quadraphonic version of Tiger B. Smith’s 1972 Tiger Rock album recently. The hirsute fuzzrocking, boogie-happy German trio (when they’re good) recall Slade, The Sweet, Hawkwind, The MC5, The Edgar Broughton Band, and especially Jimi and Black Sabbath, but about half the album is just bloody awful.
Thankfully this unsung group left behind this boffo clip, all dressed up and rocking out at the top of their game (with a stuffed animal in the shot the whole time, which makes it somehow even better).
After the jump, more from the wild men of Tiger B. Smith….
Fairy Tales - Kin Ping Meh
Queen Of Spades - Curly Curve
A Place To Go - Embryo
China - Electric Sandwich
It All Depends - The Scorpions
Ride The Sky - Lucifer’s Friend
No Freak Out - Spermuell
Norderland - Eroc
Gammy Ray - Birth Control
Castle In The Air - Eloy
So Far - Faust
Watussi - Harmonia
You have to love someone who scans every single page of their favourite book just so they can spread the wordy magic with their friends on the internet. So, big thanks then to Evan Levine at the Swan Fungus blog for doing just that with the rare-as-hens-teeth Krautrocksampler by Julian Cope. A history and compendium of German rock from the 60s and 70s, Levine says of the book:
Back in the great, distant era of erm…the mid-’90s, there was a chap by the name of Julian Cope (ex-Teardrop Explodes/music-writer geek), who decided he wanted to chronicle the history of the Krautorck genre. So, he wrote an excellent book, called Krautrocksampler, in which he not only tells readers exactly when and wear he bought all these much-sought-after-now-sadly out-of-print LPs, but paints a great picture of West Germany in the ’60s and ’70s. When he’s not waxing (his bikini) poetic, he recounts crazy stories, and draws very cool connections between projects and personalities. Cope even proclaims that Klaus Dinger “directly influenced David Bowie to take his Low direction” and “had a direct effect on the Sex Pistols, via Johnny Rotten”. Thassalotta influence!
Having wanted this for a while, now I can read it while I try to track down a copy. In case of imminent yankage I recommend anyone else who wants it gets it now too.
An all-out, 15-minute-long aural assault by Can on Ege Bamyasi’s “Spoon,” here turned into an epic jam ala “Sister Ray” during the Can Free Concert at the Cologne Sporthalle on February 3, 1972 (Available on DVD).
Fun fact: “Spoon” was the theme tune to a popular German crime drama titled Das Messer (“The Knife”).
Krautrock meets political theater in Floh de Cologne’s anti-capitalist rock n’ rant “Die Luft Gehört Denen Die Sie Atmen” (The air belongs to those who breathe it) recorded in 1971.
Floh de Cologne’s anarchic politics and free-form musical experimentations evoke The Fugs, Beefheart, Lothar And The Hand People and Frank Zappa, while visually resembling something concocted by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
The lyrics of “Die Luft Gehört Denen Die Sie Atmen” essentially make the case that the earth we live upon belongs to all of us or to no one and cannot be owned by entities like corporations or institutions. Not a new idea but one drolly communicated through the deadpan Floh de Cologne.
A tantalizing teaser for a truly rare (as in I can’t find the complete thing on the innerweb) 1971 doc about husband and wife free-improv duo Paul and Limpe Fuchs (and their two small children) d.b.a Anima Sound. The Fuchs’ toured greater Europa in a most odd fashion: in a caravan pulled by a tractor going 20 kilometers an hour with the purpose of bringing their primitive musical expressionism to remote, uncultured public places. Looks utterly fascinating. Evidently this film did a tour of college film festivals last year. Won’t some kind soul in possession of a copy put the whole thing for us all (OK, a handful of weirdos) to view ?
Relatively new to Youtube is this 2008 documentary in its three hour (!) entirety. I’ll admit I haven’t watched the whole thing yet so can’t vouch for quality, though it evidently touches on the whole beloved Krautrock spectrum. Hell, I’d watch a documentary about plumbing if it had something about Can in it, so I’ll be diving right into this one shortly.