I grew up loving the sound of keyboards. When I was a child, this meant electric organs were it for me. Even though it was a few years old when I started listening to pop music, Question Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” was the first song I remember hearing that really grabbed my ears and wouldn’t let go. That cheesy Vox organ sound just makes me so happy.
The music that was contemporary when I started listening to pop music that also had keys naturally became favorites of mine. Steppenwolf was a group that featured organ playing so tracks like “Born To Be Wild” and especially “Magic Carpet Ride” were favorites that were always in my selection of 45s. One of the earliest albums I ever bought was a Steppenwolf album. I bought “Rest in Peace” as a cutout when I didn’t even know what that was! Another band on ABC/Dunhill records that had prominent keyboards was Three Dog Night. Their album “Naturally” was the literally first album I ever bought.
I remember liking synthesizers from the first time I became aware of them, but they were novelties in the Top 40 music I had access to. Things like Emerson, Lake & Palmer didn’t exist for me as a child. Ironically, Yes did because someone at Atlantic Records edited down “Roundabout” to a 7″ length and it went top 10! Other early synth hits I remember liking were “Joy” by Apollo 100. In 1974 a record came down the pike by the most unlikely circumstances and it rocked my eleven year old world to the core.
Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” remains the most unlikely popular single from my childhood. When I first encountered it, it was by far the most exotic sounding record I’d ever heard. For starters, it was sung in German! It featured almost entirely synthesized sounds. Certainly it featured the first vocoder I can remember hearing. The timbres and tones of the synthesizers used are warm and sonorous and deliver frequencies that I just love to hear. The purity of tone and lack of distortion also pleased my young ear.
Ostensibly, the sound is “futuristic” but for my money, the resulting song is genteel, if not downright pastoral. The record manages to impart to me a feeling of romance on the highway through a poetic restraint that the ham-fisted ode to highway escape from Bruce Springsteen a year later most definitely did not.
As usual, this was a record that I found absolutely thrilling, so of course my local radio station barely played this record even though weekly airings of Billboard’s American Top 40 radio show confirmed that the single sat solidly near that survey’s midpoint for a number of weeks. Unfortunately, I never saw the 7″ at the time. This would have been a period that any records were bought by me at the nearby K-Mart.
By 1978 I had “graduated” from Top 40 radio listening and had briefly entered the different world of FM Rock. WORJ-FM has a request night show and I called the DJ to request “Autobahn,” which I had not heard in years. He replied that he couldn’t play a whole side but would see what he could do. Within the hour, I was treated to a healthy chunk of the song that eventually segued into someone else’s request. What I heard at that time lasted 5-6 minutes! As an 11 year old, I had no idea that “Autobahn” was an entire album side!
Well, from that point on, I didn’t wait long before buying the “Autobahn” album. Finally hearing the whole composition was like winning the music lottery. I had no idea that the track was so monumental. The ridiculously edited 7″ seemed even more amazing that it had made its way from Düsseldorf all the way to my young ears in Orlando, Florida. Soon thereafter, I latched on to the awe-inspiring “Trans-Europe Express,” “The Man-Machine” and the first “new” Kraftwerk album, “Computerworld,” which I received as a high school graduation present.
Over the years I’ve collected many Kraftwerk records. I made sure to buy the 7″ illustrated above because it had a seismic impact on my developing musical tastes on its release. Listening to the record last year, I was planning on digitizing it to burn to CD, but the 35 year old single sounded pretty noisy. I then hit upon the idea that I would replicate the 7″ edit digitally from the CD version that I had. After all, the original was created with a razor blade from a who-knows-how-many-generations-down master tape. I thought that it should be easy with a DAW environment.
Well it was technically simple. It’s just that it entailed listening and re-listening to highlighted sections of the pair of wave forms countless times to match the correct edit points on the 7″ with their analogs on the LP version. Several hours later I was rewarded with the elusive 7″ edit of “Autobahn” that I had first heard 35 years earlier in high-quality CD form. It wasn’t counting the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but it began to approach that. That’s part of why I call myself the Post-Punk Monk. It’s the least that I can do for this music which has enriched me so.
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