The previous articles in this series focused on progressive music albums released in 1970 by bands and artists from the British Isles. It is time to cross the channel to the Continent and look at albums under the broad category of progressive music that were released in European countries that year. Let’s start with Germany and a number of fine early Krautrock albums.
Yeti, by Amon Düül II
The story of Amon Düül II is an interesting and unique one, with the roots of the band beginning with Amon Düül, a radical group that was just the thing to join during the student movement of the 1960s. The group named itself after Amon – the Egyptian sun god and Düül – the Turkish god of music. It earned money by playing in sit-ins and protest gatherings with minimal music knowledge. At some point the more musically inclined members of the commune decided to split and form a new group, Amon Düül II.
In April 1970 the band released their second album Yeti, considered to this day as a milestone Krautrock album. The tz Munich-based paper wrote this about the double album: “One is almost bowled over by the fullness of sounds, by themes that move mechanically through various musical levels and, to top it all, vocals like washed-up Wagnerian singers. It’s refreshing to hear something new in the currently extremely overcrowded pop market.” Unclear why this was considered part of the pop market, an album as far removed from pop esthetics as this one.
Lester Bangs named the album “One of the finest recordings of psychedelic music in all human history.”
The scary album cover was a collaboration between the band members. Organist Falk Rogner designed a collage around a photograph of the Grim Reaper, taken by sound man Wolfgang Krischke.
A favorite track from this album is Archangel Thunderbird. The drums, bass and guitar riff on this song are addictive and must be listened to at high volume for the full effect. Excellent vocals by singer Renate Knaup, who said this about her experience with the band: “The problem I had in the beginning was self-confidence. It was difficult to be the only woman involved inside this macho musical mafia. I wanted to be a soul singer, in the same way that Hendrix was a soul singer.”
Bass player Dave Anderson left after this album to join Hawkwind.
Renate Knaup – vocals, tambourine
John Weinzierl – guitar, 12 string guitar, vocals
Chris Karrer – violin, guitar, 12 string guitar, vocals
Falk Rogner – organ
Dave Anderson – bass
Peter Leopold – drums
Christian “Shrat” Thierfeld – bongos, vocals
Soundtracks, by Can
Another German band to release a second album in 1970 is perhaps the most associated with Krautrock. After releasing their debut album Monster Movie in 1969, Can lost their American singer Malcolm Mooney, who was replaced by Kenji “Damo” Suzuki. He first contributed his voice to the album Soundtracks, a collection of music pieces the band recorded for various films. The album was released in September 1970 and marked a shift from the psychedelic jams the band recorded on their debut. Soundtracks consists of repetitive groove-based experimental music that the band kept exploring later on their classic albums Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi.
Soundtracks opens up with the piece Deadlock from a movie of the same name. The West German Spaghetti Western is now a cult classic, perhaps because of Can’s music. The band has only three days to work on the score before mixing started, when the film director Roland Klick realized his efforts to create the score himself are not up to par. Keyboard player Irmin Schmidt tells a funny story about the band’s involvement with the film: “After three days the mixing started, but of course the music wasn’t yet finished. So we did the music at night, and early in the morning each day I flew to Berlin. We mixed one roll with the music, and then I flew back and at night. We produced the next, and so on for about four or five days without any sleep except the hour back and forth in the plane with a lot of mother’s little helpers to keep me awake.”
My favorite track on this album is Mother Sky which was used in the movie Deep End, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski and released a year later. The film was a British-German tragic drama about a teenager who is obsessed with a woman, played by Jane Asher. Can’s music accompanies a scene showing the teenager lost and frantically searching the streets of Soho for the object of his obsession, a perfect match between sound and image. The obsessive groove is played by Holger Czukay on bass and Jaki Liebezeit on drums. The cherry on top is Michael Karoli on guitar, playing a solo for the ages. Q magazine rated the track at number 48 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.
Holger Czukay – bass, double bass
Michael Karoli – guitar, violin
Jaki Liebezeit – drums, percussion, flute
Irmin Schmidt – keyboards, synthesizers
Damo Suzuki – vocals, percussion
Affenstunde, by Popol Vuh
Two more Krautrock albums, this time both are debut efforts by bands that would produce some of the best meditative, ambient, instrumental music in the 1970s. The first is Popol Vuh, the brainchild of keyboardist Florian Fricke who described his music as “heart to heart music, unspoilt, tender and wild at once”. This is definitely music for the soul. Relaxing and soothing, but nothing like elevator music. Fricke talked about the ideology behind his music: “It is difficult to understand that as humans we are individuals and yet connected as a whole. Black or white, yellow or red – we are all part of one mankind. If politics and religion continue to create separation it becomes even more the task and the – only superficially powerless – chance of art to act as a connecting and unifying agent.” Amen to that.
Fricke described the meaning of the name Affenstunde as the moment where the human being of a monkey turns into the human being of a human kind.
This is one of the early albums that demonstrate original music composed and performed solely on the Moog synthesizer (spare percussion accompaniment). Fricke: “It was a great fascination to encounter sounds that were until those days not heard before from the outside. It was the possibility to express sounds that a composer was hearing from within himself, which in many cases are different from what a normal instrument could express. Therefore, this was a fantastic way into my inside consciousness, to express what I was hearing within myself.”
The side-long title track is an electronic music bliss. That Moog was sold several years later to Klaus Schulze. Quite the pedigree on that instrument.
Florian Fricke – Moog synthesizer
Holger Trülzsch – percussion
Frank Fiedler – Synthesizer mixdown
Bettina Fricke – cover design, production, tablas (un-credited)
Electronic Meditation, by Tangerine Dream
One more German band to cover, the most commercially successful of all bands covered here, although in 1970 it did not seem like their music will find a large audience as it did from the mid-1970s and on.
Tangerine Dream‘s debut album was recorded shortly after the band members came together as a group. Edgar Froese remembers: “In 1969, I met Klaus Schulze in Berlin. He was a very bad drummer, but he had some sort of craziness about him that I was looking for. All the people who went through the band came into the band because they had some sort of craziness about them. That’s what I think. It’s the sort of music you can’t create if you’re absolutely normal.” The third member of the band was Conrad Schnitzler who played cello, violin and flute. In June 1970 the band released their debut album Electronic Mediation.
Edgar Froese: “Electronic Meditation was done by absolute amateurs. We couldn’t handle our equipment, and during that period of recording we couldn’t get any record company interested in it.”
The title of the album was suggested by Ulrich Kaiser, founder of the record company Ohr Records who signed them after hearing their demo recordings made on an old 2-track Revox tape recorder. Good title, although there is not a single electronic instrument played on the album.
Klaus Schulze, at the time focusing on his role as a drummer: “Edgar played guitar, Schnitzler organ and me drums through loads of effects. We were experimenting with a lot of random stuff and were making up our own sounds. I remember Conrad had this metal cup full of these bits of glass in which he stuck a microphone attached to each machine. I played a lot of different percussive sounds that were then altered by machines. It was just great to be in a band who were open to so much experimentation.”
The album closer Ashes To Ashes is a favorite, a track that reminds me of Late 1960s, post-Barrett Pink Floyd.
Edgar Froese – six- and twelve-string guitar, organ, piano, sound effects, tapes
Conrad Schnitzler – cello, violin, addiator
Klaus Schulze – drums, percussion, metal sticks
Jimmy Jackson – organ (uncredited in the original release)
Thomas Keyserling – flute (uncredited in the original release)
Kobaïa, by Magma
From Germany we take quick hop to a couple of countries it borders. We start with France and perhaps the most experimental album in this article, quite a feat considering the rest of the albums covered here. We are talking, of course, about Magma and their self-titled debut double album, later named Kobaïa. Founded by drummer Christian Vander, the band always revolved around him with an ever-changing cast of musicians. The roots of the band started in the summer of 1969, when Vander toured with bass player and producer Laurent Thibault, during which he started writing the music for the album. Vander, a devotee of John Coltrane, wrote about the music: “I was always looking for that one thing, the cry of pain, the primal shout. In fact, before listening to John Coltrane, I used to listen to Ray Charles before he entered his syrupy period. It was the first time shouts and cries were heard.”
Immediately after the band was assembled, intensive rehearsals ensued: “We used to work from ten o’clock in the morning to two o’clock in the next morning, non-stop, no breaks.” The album was released in December of 1970.
The name of the band did not exist until the band were about to book their first live performance at the Rock’n Roll Circus club: “On the door they told us: ‘You want to play, OK, so what’s the group called?’ Three years earlier in a group I’d been in I’d composed a theme called Nogma. It suddenly came out as Magma. I announced it and we started playing.”
Vander had solid ideas about what he wanted for the album cover, but one does not always get what one wishes for: “Laurent Thibault’s sister improvised for the drawing inside the sleeve, without our asking her. For the claw that everyone started talking about, I wasn’t the one who asked for that. I asked for a kind of animal’s paw coming from space and encircling the earth. So she thought up this claw, but that’s not what I asked for!”
The opening title track to their milestone debut album is sang in the invented language of Kobaïan and tells the story of people escaping Earth to settle on the planet Kobaïa. Vander: “I needed to find sounds that could express the atmosphere perfectly. If I had used real words and sentences, then I had to know the ‘code.’ But as I didn’t know it, I had to invent my own code, my own language.”
The language included the word Zeuhl that became synonymous with the band and its style of music. Vander explains: “It means the sound which you can feel vibrating in your belly. Pronounce the word Zeuhl very slowly, and stress the letter ‘z’ at the beginning, and you will feel your body vibrating.”
Klaus Blasquiz – vocals
François Cahen – piano
Alain “Paco” Charlery – trumpet, percussion
Claude Engel – guitars, flute, vocals
Teddy Lasry – soprano sax, flute
Francis Moze – electric bass, contrabass
Richard Raux – alto and tenor sax, flute
Christian Vander – drums, vocals
Present from Nancy, by Supersister
We move to the Netherlands, a country that has always been friendly to progressive music and in tune with the music coming from the British Isles. One band to release their debut album in 1970 was Supersister, a group of four young creative musicians. After releasing two singles, the band quickly understood that they were more of an album band, and recorded their debut Present from Nancy during four intense nights in a studio.
Stylistically the Dutch band could have easily been part of the British Canterbury scene if they were located across the channel. Singing in English, their whimsical song titles and lyrics, the jazz influences and complex song structures are all in line with bands such as Soft Machine, Egg and Caravan. Keyboard player Robert Jan Stips was influenced by Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge and added fuzz and Wah-Wah effect pedals to his organ sound. The inner gate fold includes the following warning: “We’re not perfect, we’re not original, so if I were you I shouldn’t buy this record.”
Metamorphosis is a favorite track from the album, a mini-suite in three parts written by Robert-Jan Stips (Music) and Ron Van Eck (Lyrics).
Robert Jan Stips : keyboards, vocals
Sacha van Geest : flute, vocals
Ron van Eck : bass guitar
Marco Vrolijk : drums, percussion
Beggar Julia’s Time Trip, by Ekseption
Another Dutch band to release an album in 1970 was Ekseption, releasing their second album Beggar Julia’s Time Trip. The band revolved around trumpet player Rein van den Broek, a classically trained musician. The band was influenced by The Nice and focused on making rock arrangements of classical music. The band’s debut album from 1969 was mostly comprised of their take on pieces by Bach, Gershwin, Beethoven and others. The second album is no ekseption (pun), including their take on Albinoni’s Adagio and J.S. Bach’s Italian Concerto interspersed within some of the album tracks.
The album, which won the Dutch Edison Award for album of the year, is a concept album about a beggar named Julia who travels through the last 100 years to current time.
Here is a fine example of the music Ekseption recorded on this album, the track Feelings.
Michel Van Dijk – vocals, percussion
Rick van der Linden – piano, Hammond, pipe organ, Mellotron, spinet, xylophone, percussion
Dick Remelink – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute
Rein van den Broek – trumpets, flugelhorn
Cor Dekker – bass guitar
Dennis Whitbread – drums, timpani
Focus Plays Focus, by Focus
One more debut by a Dutch band, this time by the most celebrated progressive music band to emerge from The Netherlands. 1970 saw the release of the first album by Focus, titled Focus Plays Focus. The band was formed after the Thijs van Leer Trio, including multi-instrumentalist and singer Thijs van Leer, bass player Martin Dresden and drummer Hans Cleuver, met guitarist Jan Akkerman in November 1969. They decided to form a new group named Focus. Thijs van Leer on the significance of the name and the band’s music: “It is a beautiful name, it is Latin and English and means ‘concentration point’ or the fireplace in the house, nice warm coziness of the family. And I wanted to focus on the human mind. I felt there is a form of music that could help people solve their own shit, their own problems and provide a distraction so people could forget their problems.”
During a stint in early 1970 acting as part of the pit band in the Dutch version of the musical Hair, the band recorded their first album.
In an interview Thijs van Leer talked about the early influences on the band: “We were very influenced by classical music such as Bach and Bartok and jazz. Also Frank Zappa – an important influence as was Herbie Hancock. Not pure jazz anymore.” A favorite track on the album is the opener Focus (Instrumental), a beautiful laid back track that develops into an energetic guitar and flute jam.
Thijs van Leer – vocals, flute, Hammond organ, piano, electric piano, mellotron, harpsichord, vibraphone
Jan Akkerman – guitars, acoustic guitars
Martin Dresden – bass guitar, trumpet, vocals
Hans Cleuver – drums, bongos, vocals
When Sire Records signed the band for the American release of their debut, the album was relabeled In and Out of Focus.
By that time the band recorded the single House of the King, and the single was added to the album. This was the first in a string of successful singles the band released in the early 1970s, including Hocus Focus and Sylvia. They definitely had a knack for catchy melodies and great arrangements.
Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings, by Bo Hansson
One last country in our European trip and we reach Sweden and the fantastic music of Bo Hansson. Charisma Records label manager Stratton-Smith summarized the musician’s early career on the back cover of his 1970 debut album:
A few years ago one began to hear from Scandinavia of a brilliant organist, Bo Hansson. He formed that rarity, a rock duo, with a fellow Swede, Janne Carlsson. The two toured regularly, from ’67 through ’69, and released three albums, now something of collector’s pieces. Few British musicians of the time were unaware of them. Jimi Hendrix not only jammed regularly with them, but invited them to tour with his Experience.
Bo Hansson’s debut album was a DIY project recorded in a home studio on a portable eight-track. Released in December 1970, it is an excellent instrumental interpretation of the Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien saga.
The album was originally released on Silence Records in Sweden under the title Sagan om Ringen, the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings. In 1972 it was licensed to Tony Stratton-Smith’s Charisma Records.
The album had a number of different cover art versions through various releases in the 1970s. This here is from 1972, by Jane Furst.
A favorite track on the album is the opening sequence Leaving Shire/The Old Forest & Tom Bombadil/Fog on the Barrow-Downs. The guitar tone here sounds very much like that of David Gilmour on pieces like Echoes.
Credits on the album:
Bo Hansson – organ, guitar, Moog synthesizer, bass guitar
Rune Carlsson – drums, congas
Gunnar Bergsten – saxophone
Sten Bergman – flute
Read the next article in the series:
Categories: A Year in Music
Great to see Bo Hanson’s wonderful album here; I bought this a few years after it was released and it has travelled with me throughout all the decades since. To me it’s still the best musical evocation of Tolkien’s vision. It’s a shame Peter Jackson didn’t use any of it for his film adaptations.
Terrific selection of albums. I’d take exception to Ekseption (whose rehashed classics drive me from the room) but otherwise, a marvellous listening list.