As all music lovers will attest to, the power of pop music can literally change the entire culture. The right band or sounds can change the way an entire generation talk, dress and handle themselves. One perfect example of this came in the late sixties, as Germany still reeled from the devastating effect of the Second World War and their reconciliation with the Nazi period.
The country was still culturally on its knees as it tried to recalibrate and find a new way of creating. They had already missed the first wave of rock and roll and, despite Hamburg becoming one of the centres of the new wave of pop music, it was the hippie movement that would finally take root and lift Germany out of the bleak greyness of their past. It was a movement that injected colour, artistry and hope into the country.
Like the rest of the western world, the country began to find favour in the burgeoning music scene that, once so restricted in its evolution, was suddenly flourishing as not only a savvy business opportunity but a creative explosion of talent. Suddenly bands started to appear across Germany. It would be an almighty boom that continues to reverberate to this day as the birth of Krautrock arrived and changed music forever.
Can, inspired by Andy Warhol’s factory, may well be the most well-known of the Krautrock acts, but they operated on the cutting edge of music. While The Beatles were making big bucks, Can and contemporaries like Amon Düül II and, later, Faust, were far more concerned in seeing how far they could push the creative envelope. Using a range of free-form jazz arrangements and utilising the avant-garde classical music that was circling those moments, the bands involved were bringing about a massive cultural change.
Unlike punk or hip hop, Krautrock — quite sarcastically labelled so by the British press — does not follow a set formula. In fact, it relies on its lack of formula to be the common thread linking all of the below bands and artists together. Within these albums, we are invited to visions of the future and lessons from the past; we’re given drones, synths, heavy rock riffs and a sense of freedom that was intoxicating then and is inspiring now.
That’s the real legacy of Krautrock. Despite its position on the edge of mainstream, it has inspired countless artists across the years with unadulterated artistry. Instilling within listeners that, above all else, music should allow one to be free. In these records below, there is an untouchable sense of release.
10 best Krautrock albums:
10. Yeti – Amon Düül II
Born out of a West Germany political commune, Amon Düül formed only to split into two factions. Hence Amon Düül II is the second coming of the band and not just a turgid sequel. It was Amon Düül II and Can at the very forefront of the Krautrock movement with their album Phallus Dei, but it was their Yeti LP that made the biggest impact.
The 1970 album is a monster record split between the band’s original compositions and a series of impressive improvisations. It is, without doubt, one of the most typifying albums of the movement.
Unlike many artists, when Amon Düül II began to achieve fame, they could have found themselves nice houses and a hefty bit of land. Instead, true to their roots, they remained living together.
9. Black Monk Time – The Monks
Quite possibly one of the most underrated albums of the 1960s, Black Monk Time is a record that can transport you back in time. The band’s sole studio album, and only released in Germany in 1966, the album is a cherishable moment in any playlist and deserves as many spins as you can give it.
There’s a debate around whether this band should be included in our Krautrock run down. After all, the group were from America and merely found one another while stationed in Germany. But, given the time and the inspiring story of writing and recording just one record, we think they deserve their spot.
One of the more usual set of songs on our list, think of this as your reprieve from the madness that is about to unfurl.
8. Musik von Harmonia – Harmonia
“This sounds romantic — it was like love at first sight,” said Neu!’s Michael Rother in a press release for the Harmonia vinyl reissues. “I left Dusseldorf and Neu! behind and moved to Forst.” He was talking about the moment he met Cluster’s own Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and they began jamming the German countryside.
It was a change of pace for all the members of the new supergroup. For Cluster’s pair, it was a case of reinventing their sound, and for Rother, it meant ditching the idea of being a guitar hero and, instead, focusing on “one note, one guitar string.” It provides a sincere vision of the connection between creator and art that permeates Krautrock.
The album, Musik von Harmonia, was enough for Brian Eno to proclaim the group as “the world’s most important rock band.”
7. Alpha Centauri – Tangerine Dream
If you were looking for the most prolific band in all of rock and roll, then you’re probably looking for Tangerine Dream. With over 100 albums to their name — just let that sink in — the band have always been serial creators, never standing still to let the air turn stale.
With so many albums, it may be slightly upsetting to realise that their best was probably their sophomore record Alpha Centauri. It’s a cosmic masterpiece of a record that, as the name may suggest, puts itself up in the stars of Krautrock as some of the most celestial work of the decade.
Released in 1971, fifty years later and the record still sounds fresh to this day.
6. Zuckerzeit – Cluster
Most of the records on our list, though crafted with the innovative motif of freedom at their core, are a combination of floating acid rock and jazz-inspired garage. For Cluster, however, things were a little different as the duo championed a new dark and industrial electronic sound.
Despite being pioneers of the industrial movement, it was the moment they lightened things up on their third record Zuckerzeit that defined the band. Translated as Sugar Time, the album is positively bristling with pop jams that deserve re-listening.
It’s a piece of work that will surprise those who haven’t heard it before, largely because it still sounds so innately modern.
5. UFO – Guru Guru
A potent double dose of acid rock from Guru Guru is perhaps one of the most natural selections on our list. With a song called ‘Der LSD-Marsch,’ it’s pretty clear to see that the band were wildly affected by the influx of the new drug, and if the title of the song didn’t steer you in that direction, then their outlandish performances on record certainly will.
Guru Guru are one of those bands who, given the right marketing and perhaps a different viewpoint on life, could have been as gigantic as anyone one of the acid-rock revolutionaries like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. In truth, those two esteemed acts are possibly the only ones that can come close to topping Guru Guru.
Three musicians shouldn’t be able to make this much noise, but they do it easily and with style.
4. Faust IV – Faust
Despite artists like Can gaining a stronger reputation across the globe, Faust are the archetypal Krautrock outfit. Across a two year period, the band released four records, with each and every one of them an essential purchase for any aspiring musician. But Faust IV has a certain edge that makes it one of the most enthralling LPs of the decade.
From the drone-tastic 12 minute opener, ‘Krautrock’ through to the ‘Just a Second’ eclectic noise machine, the album is bristling with creative intent. But the band also tried to write some more easily accessible songs for the album too, with ‘Sad Skinhead’ and ‘Jennifer’ both pointed at the pop music market.
It wouldn’t work out that way, however. Virgin Records would drop the group after rejecting their fifth LP and the band broke up.
3. Neu! – Neu!
All roads lead to Neu! No band typifies Krautrock and the experimentation it promoted more significantly than Neu! Not only was the band a composite of former Kraftwerk members, but their debut album affected all those who heard it and continues to do so to this day.
The debut self-titled record is a powerhouse from the duo of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. It thumps through the door with ‘Hallogallo’ and never really lets up until the needle drops off the record. There’s inspiring metronomic rhythm throughout, and there’s pure innovation along the road. Artists such as Sonic Youth, Wilco and, of course, Joy Division, can all point to the band and this record as a starting point for some of their own trademarks.
The band was christened by Dinger and given the agitating logo, “it was a protest against the consumer society but also against our ‘colleagues’ on the Krautrock scene who had totally different taste/styling if any,” recalled Dinger.
“I was very well informed about Warhol, Pop Art, Contemporary Art. I had always been very visual in my thinking. Also, during that time, I lived in a commune and in order to get the space that we lived in, I set up an advertising agency that existed mainly on paper. Most of the people that I lived with were trying to break into advertising so I was somehow surrounded by this Neu! all the time.”
2. So Far – Faust
Trying to cut a hole in Faust and dissect its essence is about as pointless as trying to figure out exactly how much acid they took in their heyday. The idea of identifying the nuanced sounds the band created isn’t just difficult to comprehend but completely against what the band stood for in the first place. Faust weren’t meant to be critiqued; they were meant to envelop you.
The band’s second studio album is the perfect time to let the weird and wonderful sounds of Faust wash over you. It’s an album rich in experimentation that would confirm the band as pioneers. It didn’t matter if it was between songs or during the choruses, Faust found a way to implement their effect-treated guitars and majestic ideas.
‘It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl’ is one of the band’s finest songs and it offers up a new vision of the deeply innovative band. While they were happy to take acid, smoke grass and hole up making strange albums, somewhere, deep inside, they wanted to make pop tunes too. This album is the perfect combination of both.
1. Tago Mago – Can
There’s simply no denying Can and their seminal album Tago Mago. While the rest of the entries on our list can boast of being innovative or pioneering in their field, Can’s influence can be heard everywhere today.
Whether it is the slow groove or high powered dreamscapes, the songs the band crafted could be released in today’s Tame Impala world and still sound simply fantastic, let alone the groups it influenced along the way with the Fall, Radiohead and Sonic Youth all owing a small debt of gratitude to the group.
Johnny Rotten also noted the album as a huge influence on him: “Hearing this absolutely brilliant record, in particular ‘Halleluhwah’, which lasts an entire side, reminds me of what we were trying to do with Public Image Ltd. Can is its own thing and so is PiL. The only way to file these records is alphabetically.”
Across the entire album, there are moments of inspired madness and crazy inspiration. There are flickers of the future and the backdrop of the past. Can, like no other band, were able to bamboozle their audiences with an array of styles and songs — Tago Mago is the epitome of that.
Pure brilliance that will inspire artists for decades to come.