The first three articles in this series focused on progressive music albums by artists from the British Isles. We now turn our attention across the channel and more music of the progressive type released in various European countries in 1971.
Can – Tago Mago
We start this review with one of Germany’s leading progressive music bands and their second album Tago Mago, for which I dedicated a full article:
Here is one section from that article:
Tago Mago is a great album for many reasons, one of them the focus on rhythm that seemingly does not change for the length of the tracks, putting you in a mantra-like zone. Combined with moody organ accompaniment, atmospheric guitar, sound effects and words that no one understands (years before Cocteau Twins made it their hallmark), this is music to get lost in. Keyboard player Irwin Schmidt talked about the focus on rhythms: “If you study music from all over the world, it seems that in lands surrounded by water the music is influenced more by water and air while the more you go into a continent, the more you get into a land mass, the melody of the music becomes less important in comparison with the rhythmic heaviness. It seems water has something to do with melody, while countries like Germany produce music more of earth and fire.”
Tago Mago opens with the track Paperhouse, starting with a laid-back groove and quickly changing pace to a guitar jam set to a tribal rhythm. One of the first things you notice is that you can’t figure out the lyrics, for two reasons: it is unclear what the singer is actually saying, plus he is pretty low in the mix compared to the instruments. Guitarist Karoli said this about recent recruit to the band singer Damo Suzuki: “I was captured when I realized he was a loud whisperer. He yelled only occasionally. Usually he simply whispered loudly. I thought that was ideal. Naturally, the sound of the band altered, from a group that had a screaming singer to one that had whispering singer.”
The side-long epic Halleluwah is a fantastic jam that demonstrates one of the biggest influences on the band at the time. As various band members commented over the years, they were very much tuned into the groove of American black music and Funk. Schmidt: “I loved The Doors and liked the Velvets, but we listened to more Sly Stone than anything.” Czukay: “My bass playing was influenced by Bootsy Collins, but I couldn’t play that way.”
The driving force behind this 18-minute masterpiece is the drumming of Jaki Liebezeit. Perhaps the best appreciation of his musicianship comes from bandmate Michael Karoli: “Before, I hadn’t really understood him. During the recording of Halleluwah, I suddenly understood Jaki’s greatness, the direct effect that he has on the associative centers of the brain. All you hear is a drum kit. But celestial choirs line up behind it. That happened to me during the editing work on the rhythm tapes.”
Damo Suzuki – vocals
Holger Czukay – bass, engineering, editing
Michael Karoli – guitar, violin
Jaki Liebezeit – drums, double bass, piano
Irmin Schmidt – organ, electric piano, oscillators
After Conrad Schnitzler left the group Kluster, fellow members of that group Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius continued as Cluster, enlisting producer/engineer Conny Plank for the band’s first album. Expect no recognizable song structures, harmony or melody here, as this is an early cosmic electronic noise album, if it is possible to describe this album in words.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius talks about the band at the time:
We each had an electric organ. He had a knee violin, I had a cello, all picked up by microphones. But we didn’t use it to create normal sound, we had some tone generators, Wah-wah pedals, tittle effects machines, Echo.
We had to find our own tone, whether it really works. We wanted to be musicians, we didn’t know anything about music. We knew a little about music theoretically. But we had to practice in public, or wherever we played music, in the studio as well, to become aware of the possibilities of the material, to handle it.
Roedelius also talks about Conny Plank:
He brought a huge amount of friendship, knowledge about studio technique and his own creativity into the group, he actually became a third silent member of Cluster. I dedicated one of my compositions to him as a remembrance of what he did for Cluster and also for us on a personal level, for his deep friendship and his unshakeable will to realize his vision of meaningful music in the projects he was participating in.
Interestingly, no synthesizers are featured on this album.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius – organ, electronically treated cello, audio-generator, amplifier
Dieter Moebius – organ, Hawaiian guitar, audio-generator, amplifier, helias
Conrad Plank – electronics, effects, producer
Tangerine Dream – Alpha Centauri
In 1970, after releasing their debut album Electronic Meditation, German band Tangerine Dream added Chris Franke to its lineup. The drummer, who came from the band Agitation Free, was into analog devices and early synthesizers. During a visit to England in 1971, Franke acquired a VCS3 synthesizer. Left with close to no cash after the transaction, he could not afford the custom tax and chose the cheaper method of smuggling the instrument into Germany. Whoever coined the term ‘Crime Does Not Pay’ was ignorant of electronic music history, for that event was one of the defining moments for that band. While their debut album did not use any electronic instruments, their next album Alpha Centaury featured the VCS3 prominently and that was when their distinctive sound emerged.
On Alpha Centauri the VCS3 can be heard clearly on the track Fly and Collision of Comas Sola. Sounds from the synth open the track. Two VCS3s are actually being used on this track, played by Chris Franke and a guest on the album, Roland Paulyck. Additional white noise sounds from the instrument can be heard around the 6:30 mark.
Edgar Froese – guitar, organ, bass, composer
Christopher Franke – drums, percussion, flute, zither, piano, VCS3
Steve Schroyder – organ, voice, echo machines, iron stick
Udo Dennebourg – flute, voice
Roland Paulick – synthesizer
Ash Ra Tempel
From Tangerine Dream to a band featuring early member Klaus Schulze, who left the band after the debut album Electronic Mediation. Schulze formed Ash Ra Tempel with guitarist Manuel Göttsching and bassist Hartmut Enke and their debut self-titled album is space rock music at its best.
Göttsching talked about the background of that period of music in Germany:
“After ’45, the war didn’t destroy just the houses and the buildings, but the whole culture too, and most creative heads were either killed, gassed, or when they could, they moved away to America or to somewhere in the world. So, in the ’50s there was a very low level of culture and then in the ’60s it began again. There was a new generation that wanted to create something new; they wanted to create a special music again, and – of course – they were influenced by the States, by Britain: The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Santana, The Grateful Dead. And all this music came here, so there was a big demand for creating something new. And so was the audience; they were really interested and happy that crazy things happen, and this was not at all commercial in any way, it wasn’t in the papers, it was underground. People were really nice and they were welcoming all the experiments. A lot of crazy music happened at the end of the ’60s, very strange, and very curious; and sometimes very stupid music was created as well, but in the end it was a very fruitful period. That’s why today it is still remembered as this kind of Krautrock period.”
Manuel Göttsching – guitars, synthesizers, vocals
Hartmut Enke – bass, guitars, synthesizers
Klaus Schulze – drums, synthesizers, vocals
The album features two side-long tracks, here is one of them:
Amon Düül II – Tanz Der Lemminge (Dance of the Lemmings)
In 1971 Amon Düül II released their third album, marking a significant progress from their previous albums as it comes to composition and arrangements.
The Lemming in the title can mean either the vole-like rodent, or a person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement, especially a headlong rush to destruction.
Guitarist John Weinzierl about the album title: “We thought the world is just like Lemmings: running into one direction and falling into the sea and drowning in the end. We didn’t think that it is even worse, as you can see nowadays. That’s why we called the album Tanz Der Lemminge.”
The album also includes a number of great tune names, including “Dehynotised Toothpaste,” “A Short Stop at the Transylvanian Brain Surgery,” and “The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church.”
Talking about playing complex pieces, Weinzierl added: “Multi-part suites are very common in classical music. We didn’t want to write short pop songs, but get into matters more deeply, and so we preferred to use the classical patterns of serious music, to express our artistic ideas.”
Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz – vocals
Chris Karrer – guitars, vocals, violin
John Weinzierl – guitars, vocals, piano
Falk Rogner – organ, electronics
Lothar Meid – bass guitars, vocals
Peter Leopold – drums, percussion, piano
Jimmy Jackson – organ, choir-organ, piano
Al Gromer – sitar
Rolf Zacher – vocals
Popol Vuh – In den Gärten Pharaos (In the gardens of Pharaoh)
Back to space music, this time of the relaxing/meditating type with Popol Vuh and their album In den Gärten Pharaos. This is an electronic nirvana by one of my favorite 1970s albums of the genre. There is no better way of immersing yourself into drone music, with a church organ, heavenly voices and African and Turkish percussion.
From the Ground and Sky Music Reviews:
The whole composition is basically one massive organ chord that is held through the entire piece; it modulates slightly throughout but remains, at the core, the same chord. The chord itself is absolutely huge, because it takes advantage of the full powerful range of the organ from ultra-low rumbles to high-pitched regal highs. The repetitive percussion adds to the effect, and some occasional tiny Moog melodies float out of the hypnotic vortex of monstrous sound and then disintegrate almost unnoticeably. This does have a very hypnotizing effect.
Florian Fricke – Moog synthesizer, Fender Rhodes, medieval cathedral organ
Holger Trülzsch – African and Turkish percussion
Frank Fiedler – Moog-Synthesizer-mixdown
We move to even more obscure bands in the very active scene in Germany at the time. The first is Gila, who released another excellent space-rock album in 1971, their self-titled debut. The album was sub titled Free Electric Sound, although this title never appeared on the front cover. A classic Kraut rock album with long instrumental jams and multi layered guitars by Conny Veit, later with Popol Vuh. If you like the psychedelic, spacey instrumental side of early Pink Floyd albums you will not be disappointed.
Daniel Alluno – drums, percussion
Fritz Scheyhing – guitar, keyboards
Conny Veit – guitar, synthesizer, vocals
Walter Wiederkehr – bass
One more from Germany, this from Sunbirds, who also released their self-titled debut in 1971. A rare recording by this multi-national band of jazz musicians based in Munich, Germany. Excellent atmospheric jazz-rock music on this album as in the track featured here. The band was founded by drummer Klaus Weiss after he was presented with a number of fresh tunes written by keyboard player Fritz Pauer. All tunes were written in the key of E-minor or E-major. The band decided to use the letter E, the fifth letter, to look for the fifth sign in the zodiac signs table. They found Sun. This led to calling the tunes Sunrise, Spanish Sun, Sunshine and Sunbirds, and accordingly naming the band Sunbirds.
The album was released on CD in 2011 by the Garden Of Delights label, specializing in Krautrock releases.
Bass – Jimmy Woode
Drums – Klaus Weiss
Electric Piano – Fritz Pauer
Flute – Ferdinand Povel
Guitar – Philip Catherine
Percussion – Juan Romero
Osanna – L’uomo
We travel south to one of the major European countries to embrace progressive music in the 1970s. The golden years of that genre in Italy are still ahead, but in 1971 a number of bands released fine early albums. The first is Osanna and their self-titled debut album L’uomo.
The band started in Naples in 1971 and were one of the first to feature theatrical performances, full with costumes and face paint. Osanna opened for Genesis on their first tour of Italy in April of 1972. Perhaps Peter Gabriel took note of that face paint…
The masterpiece album Palepoli is still two years ahead, but this is a great debut album nonetheless.
Lino Vairetti – vocals, 12-string guitar, harmonica, Hammond organ, synthesizer
Danilo Rustici – lead & 12-string guitars, pipe organ, audio oscillator
Elio D’anna – flute, piccolo, tenor & baritone saxes
Lello Brandi – bass
Massimo Guarino – drums, percussion
This is a clip of the band performing the title track in full regalia:
Delirium – Dolce Acqua
Delirium represented the lighter and more commercial flavor of Italian progressive rock. Led by lead singer and flute player Ivano Fossati, the band had a knack for simple but very effective melodies.
The release of their debut album Dolce Acqua was bookended by two single releases. The first, Canto di Osanna / Deliriana, was performed at the Festival di Musica d’Avanguardia e di Nuove Tendenze. The second, going for a much more popular acceptance, was Jesahel, performed a year later at the sugary San Remo festival.
Ivano Fossati – lead vocals, flute, electric flute, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Mimmo Di Martino – acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Marcello Reale – bass, backing vocals
Peppino Di Santo – drums, percussion, timpani
Ettore Vigo – acoustic and electric piano, organ, harpsichord, harmonium, celesta, vibraphone
Here is a “live” performance of the title track from 1972:
Le Orme – Collage
Moving to more progressive territories, we come to Le Orme and their 1971 album Collage. This release marked a drastic departure from the band’s previous recordings, a foray into progressive rock territories. Le Orme became one of RPI (Rock Progressivo Italiano) leading bands in the 1970s. This early effort saw them shrinking from a quintet to a trio, with instrumentation similar to ELP, one of the bands that inspired Le Orme to change direction. The band was on a tight budget then, and the album was recorded live in a single week.
Tony Pagliuca – keyboards
Aldo Tagliapietra – voice, bass, guitar
Michi Dei Rossi – drums, percussion
The title track contains a harpsichord section taken from the sonata K380 by Domenico Scarlatti.
New Trolls – Concerto grosso per i New Trolls
Since we touched on the classical repertoire, what about a band that made an art of fusing rock and classical music? By 1971 New Trolls has been a veteran band since forming in the mid-1960s. Recognized as the band’s greatest effort, their third album Concerto grosso per i New Trolls is an ambitious collaboration with soundtrack composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov, who a year later also worked with Osanna on the album Preludio Tema Variazioni e Canzona.
Bacalov, who wrote the music for the album, first became known for his now-classic work on several Spaghetti Westerns movies including the 1966 soundtrack to Django, years later used by Quentin Tarantino’s in the movies Kill Bill and Django Unchained.
Vittorio De Scalzi – guitar, flute, vocals
Nico Di Palo – guitar, lead vocals
Maurizio Salvi – piano, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes
Giorgio D’Adamo – bass, backing vocals
Gianni Belleno – drums, backing vocals
The track 3º Tempo: Cadenza – Andante Con Moto was used on the original soundtrack to the film “La Vittima Designata”, directed by Maurizio Lucidi.
Magma – Magma 2 (1001° Centigrades)
We head north again and come to France and one of its flagship progressive bands Magma and their second album Magma 2, also known as 1001° Centigrades. The band went through a personnel change after their magnificent debut album the previous year.
Band founder Christian Vander talked about the band:
For me Magma was a meeting between people with a common aim so there was no idea of one person putting himself into the limelight. Everyone in the same sound, in the same idea from the start.
and about the Kobaïan language:
I’ve always loved certain words that have no semantic content. This doesn’t come from a desire to be obscure or mysterious, it’s more from a need for purity and simplicity. The words – the linguistic signs – have to be beautiful in themselves. I don’t like it when people accuse Kobaïan of being a secret language. Who actually understand the words Mick Jagger hurls out? And who’s complaining? With the Rolling Stones, the words are as distorted as the sound from the guitars…”
Klaus Blasquiz – vocals, percussion
Teddy Lasry – clarinet, saxophone, flute, voice
Yochk’o “Jeff” Seffer – saxophone, bass clarinet
Louis Toesca – trumpet
François Cahen – acoustic & electric pianos
Francis Moze – bass
Christian Vander – vocals, drums, percussion
The epic track Rïah Sahïltaahk keeps you on your toes watching for the frequent changes in structure and time signatures:
Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – Ame Debout
One more from France, this one an excellent album by the French experimental folk and avant garde performer Catherine Ribeiro and her third album with Alpes. The album features guest appearances by Gong keyboardist Patrice Lemoine and his bassist brother Jean-Sebastien. Alpes was essentially a rotating group of musicians around Ribeiro and guitarist Patrice Moullet.
Two interesting instruments are played on this album: The percuphone is a kind of steel guitar with just one bass string which is hit by a variable-speed motorized mechanism producing a rhythmic yet organic effect. The cosmophone is a sort of 24-string electric lyre which sounds like a mixture of harp, bass and guitar.
Focus – Focus II (Moving Waves)
We close the article with two groups hailing from the Netherlands. Yodeling, anyone? From the obscure to one of progressive rock’s best-known instrumentals, the opening track from the album Focus II (also known as Moving Waves). Prog rock with humor, a rarity, and expertly executed here. Thijs Van Leer on yodeling: “The funny thing about yodeling is that everybody thinks it’s something from Tirol, but in Central Africa, the tribal music, and large parts of India, everyone is yodeling them and very virtuous. But here in the Netherlands we think it hails from the Alps.”
Frequently classified as an instrumental piece, this is really a virtuoso vocal number. Van Leer continues: “We were rehearsing and the guitarist was playing the famous riff, which I still consider to be one of the best riffs ever written. The drummer started doing his own thing and then I started to yodel. It was the first time in my life. So, we recorded it and then the producer asked how we should call the piece. I said that we should call it something that rhymes with Focus. And so Hocus Pocus came to be.”
Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, Mellotron, vocals (including yodelling, scat singing, whistling), soprano flute, alto flute, piano
Jan Akkerman – acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar
Cyril Havermans – bass guitar
Pierre van der Linden – drums, percussion
A performance of the piece live in 1973 at NBC´s Midnight Special, announced by… Gladys Knight:
Supersister – To the Highest Bidder
Last review for this article from one of my favorite bands from that period, Supersister. After the fantastic 1970 debut Present From Nancy, the band was able to follow it with another great album, somewhat less whimsical. Keyboardist and singer Robert Jan Stips said on its release: “The new record is more balanced, more serious, with less humor. Popular music is a reflection of society, maybe that’s why our new record is like it is.”
A great track on the album is No Tree Will Grow (On Too High A Mountain). A shortened single version of that track was released with no impact on the charts, but the album was released on John Peel’s Dandelion label and distributed by Polydor in the UK.
More from Robert Jan Stips: “We have learned to live with the fact that we don’t have a lead singer. On the other hand, for us the instrumental part is much more important.”
Robert Jan Stips: keyboards, vocals
Sacha van Geest: flute, vocals
Ron van Eck: bass guitar
Marco Vrolijk: drums, percussion
This is the single version of the track with a shorter opening and closing drone:
Looking for more progressive music from the continent? Go back one additional year in time:
Categories: A Year in Music