Virgin Records 40th Anniversary: The Krautrock Years III 2

Virgin Records 40th Anniversary: The Krautrock Years III

Continuing to celebrate Virgin Records 40th anniversary, I delve into my own archives to bring you reviews and features on the labels Krautrock signings of the 70s (Faust, Can, Tangerine Dream).

Leaving United Artists for Virgin in 1975, Colognes exploratory sonic royalty, Can recorded many of their most dubious albums for the label, including the glam-lite, progressive Landed. Hardly the groups most richly rewarding or critically acclaimed epoch, the Virgin years (though they were moved onto Virgin’s subsidiary Harvest, after this) did throw up some strange and omnivorous musical recordings, and saw the group, minus their shamanistic vocalist Damo Suzuki, swell the ranks with Olaf Kubler (produced and played sax on Landed) and then the ex-Traffic percussionist Rosko Gee and bassist Reebop Kwaku Baah (Saw Delight, Out Of Reach and Can).

A few years back as part of extensive fandom series on Krautrock (via my own humble blog Monolith Cocktail) I pontificated on both the curios and highlights of Can’s – often muted critical appraised – Landed.

Can profile pic

can landed 2005 retail cd front


Richard Branson and his pastoral record label Virgin, hooked our Cologne ‘seven-day sonic avant-garde evangelists’ in early 1975. Tempting them away from the clutches of their former masters United Artists, whose relationship with the band had been tenuous at best.

They now joined the hippie-idealistically run, free thinking label of choice – at least that’s how it appeared to the onlooker- sharing the stable with both fellow countrymen Faust, Tangerine Dream, Slapp Happy and the psychedelic progressive band Gong, amongst others.

Also the million zillion selling Mike Oldfield, Virgin’s biggest selling artist by miles – whose Tubular Bells behemoth had reined in a load of money and success – was signed from the offset to the label.

Branson may have looked like he’d stepped off the cover of a Jethro Tull album but he turned out to be a shrewd businessman. After all, he managed to propel Faust into the album charts with their Faust Tapes mish-mash classic, albeit that the said album was put on sale for a paltry 49p and probably didn’t actually net the group much money, but hell they sold over 100,000 copies, so they became a household name in the head community for a while.

Sister label Harvest, equally rich in allusions to the Woodstock ethos, would distribute CAN’s records in their homeland, whilst EMI, who owned both labels, would just count the cash it hoped would now roll in.

One of the stipulations in the Virgin contract was that the band would have to use superior recording equipment for their next album. A multi-tracking desk was delivered to Inner Space, which they were still allowed to use as their studio though the records would now be mixed elsewhere.

Unfortunately a deep forlorn began to creep in and a sense of paranoia took hold, the arrival of the new technology now making it possible for the band to record their parts separately if they so wished.

Until this point Czukay had masterminded all the recording and editing on just a two track recorder; encouraged the group to always play together and improvise. Now they could successfully overdub and add parts at a higher quality then had been possible before; taking a more insular approach to recording.

In scenes not too far removed from The Beatles fractured shenanigans on the White Album, the group began to play some of their own parts in secrecy, the thought of being scrutinized and criticized by their fellow band members filling them with dread.

Again like the Beatles, they invited an outside musician into the studio. This fortunate man was Olaf Kubler, who had served as producer on both Amon Duul and Amon Duul II albums, though dramatically falling out with one of AD II’s bandleaders John Weinzierl; who made his feelings towards him pretty clear in recent interviews.

Kubler was called in for his saxophone prowess, being asked to lay down some cool sultry cuts on the track ‘Red Hot Indians’ for what would be the Landed LP.

Sessions for the album began in the first three months of 1975, in-between tour commitments, which included a couple of gigs with the troubled American folk troubadour Tim Hardin, who it’s rumoured was asked to join the band full time.

Hardin didn’t really front CAN in these gigs; instead, he would merely leap on stage to perform one of his own tunes, usually something like ‘The Lady Came From Baltimore’, and maybe front a couple of the groups own tracks before exiting stage right. Whether he ever considered seriously joining the band, Hardin’s deadly heroin habit put a damp squib on things, finally getting the better of him in 1980 with one overdose too many.

Anyhow, Karoli had so far done a good job of semi-fronting the band, leading all the vocals on this album; delivering some softly inspired dream like performances throughout.

Landed in some ways directly follows on from their previous effort Soon Over Babaluma, especially in the sound collage experiments of this albums ‘Vernal Equinox’ and ‘Unfinished’, which both re-work the similar themes found on ‘Chain Reaction’ and ‘Quantum Physics’.

The rest of the LP consists of far rockier progressive tones, with allusions to their contemporaries, particularly Pink Floyd.

To a point there is also an attempt towards the glam-rock of both Roxy Music, Bowie and Mott The Hoople, which Amon Duul II also breathed-in on the 1974 album Hijack, though to a less successful degree than CAN.

‘Full Moon On The Highway’ and ‘Hunters And Collectors’ relish in the glow of these new influences, though remain slightly more conventional compared to CAN’s usual free roaming exploratory material. Most of the seven tracks now run in at under six minutes and sound much more formulated, the exceptions being the already mentioned two saga driven soundscape pieces, which combined, make up three quarters of the overall albums running time.

The lyrics themselves seem to be full of references to mysterious alluring women, clad in leathers, who turn up at ungodly hours on celestial described highways. Analogies run riot, the open road acting as a metaphor for following certain paths, Karoli constantly encouraging the listener to cut loose and float away.

Journalist and friend to the band, Peter Gilmour, co-wrote both ‘Full Moon On The Highway’ and the lazy sedate ‘Half Past One’. Peter would also go on to write CAN’s biggest hit, the embarrassing disco chugger ‘I Want More’, though I’m being slightly disingenuous here as it at least has the remnants of a redeeming, infectious groove.

Many critics have panned Landed, seeing it as the beginning of the end for the group. It does seem that this is a slight exaggeration.

Certainly the dynamics were slowly ebbed away, the production becoming much more polished, though it suffers from some very messy trebly moments at times.

Footage of them performing ‘Vernal Equinox’ on the Old Grey Whistle Test at the time sees Schmidt wearing a fetching bondage inspired chain mail waistcoat, he theatrically commits hari kari on his keyboards, whilst Czukay, all ten-yard stare, sports white gloves and a sheriffs badge. A mid-life crisis beckoned with all this new pomp and strange fashions, turning off many fans, including the disdain of Julian Cope who states that this act of regalia wearing extravagance ended his relationship with the band. So in a way CAN did seem to be heading over the precipice, the best days behind them, but this album is viewed way too harshly.

Landed for what its worth is a decent album, with enough ideas and demonstrations of superb musicianship, Karoli alone performing some of his most sublime guitar work yet.

The albums artwork, by the curiously alluding Christine, displays a collection of passport photo sized images of the band. Each individual photo is covered in graffiti or scribbled on, lending silly moustaches, cartoon glasses and an array of comical hats and hairstyles to the now light-hearted looking band. Peering out from under the heavy de-faced images they pose in a manner that lets us know they still have much to give.

CAN shifted back towards the Afro-beat and World music styles on their next couple of releases and also brought in ex-Traffic members Rosko Gee on percussion and Reebop Kwaku Baah on the bass to great effect. Czukay moved away from his bass guitar duties so that he could explore radio short wave editing and cutting up techniques in greater detail. He would of course go on to leave the band in 1977, leaving Liebeziet, Schmdit and Karoli to carry on for while before everyone split for good to pursue their own solo projects, a reunion in 1989 included Malcolm Mooney and resulted in a new album titled Rite Time.

Conclusion – 

The year is 1975 and CAN have laid down their 7th album, after being together for nearly eight years. To get this far they have travelled an etymological musical odyssey, that has taken in the dark esoteric viola seeped mood of The Velvet Underground, the psychedelic spiritual enlightenment of America’s west coast, the African dance style rhythms of Nigeria and Ghana, the dreamy hypnotic Turkish flavoured folk music, the other-world tour of the nebula emitted from Hendrix and the lessons learnt from Stockhausen and Von Biel.

CAN had surpassed all their peers and become possibly one the greatest assembled band of musicians that the west has ever seen – seriously these guys could outplay anyone, though they never had time to wallow in ego and always looked towards experimentation rather then dwelling on their skills.


Virgin 1975

Recorded at Inner Space Studios during 1975.

Side 1 –

1. Full Moon On The Highway     (3:32)

2. Half Past One     (4:39)

3. Hunters And Collectors     (4:19)

4. Vernal Equinox     (8:48)

Side 2 –

1. Red Hot Indians     (5:38)

2. Unfinished     (13:21)

Personnel –

Holgar Czukay – Backing Vocals on side 1 track 1, Bass.

Michael Karoli – Guitar, Lead Vocals, Violin.

Olaf Kubler – Tenor Saxophone on side 2 track 1.

Jaki Liebezeit – Drums, Percussion and Wind Instruments.

Irmin Schmidt – Alpha 77, Backing Vocals on side 1 track 1, Keyboards.

Artwork – Christine

Dropping in with an up-tuned arching guitar fuzz and treble heavy hi-hat, ‘Full Moon On The Highway’ leaps straight into action. Liebezeit sets down an incessant workman like beat, hammering away on the bass drum as Karoli casually begins his salacious vocals –

‘I made it hard today,

For I had to do it to me.

And if it’s only to hold her,

She’s gonna get it today’.

A certain sense of portend fear hangs in the air, Karoli in his full Germanic romantic disdain rattles off omnivorous statements about taking to the highway, where star crossed lovers may unlock some inner meanings and truth.

Rock hard screaming lead guitar hooks run rampant, exercising no sign of restraint and sprinting ahead as though in a 100 metre sprint. Piano flourishes and honky tonk bravado light up the mood as those bawling guitars and Alpha 77 effects wail away like banshees. Czukay takes his bass on free roaming tour of run downs, slides and felicitous infused funk workouts, never staying put in one place for too long, always running his fingers all over his instrument. An intense burst of exuberant searing drums, keyboards and clashing turmoil all culminate into a finale furore, that threatens to end in a mess but is saved by the rallying cry of Karoli riding in on his gleamed up guitar. He transposes glam via Pink Floyd to produce something unheard, a riff from the other side.

Taking a more serene path, ‘Half Past One’ begins with some archaic ethnographically seductive Spanish guitar and heavy tub tapping drums. A dozy laid-back vocal pronounces –

‘Over the beach,

Into the sun,

Wake again by half past one,


The last word being some kind of reassurance amid the strangely relaxed drug induced soirée, that peers at some snapshot of the protagonists relationships, a casual affair on a the beach in this case.

Schmidt interjects with some delightful mandolin sounding oscillations and yowling alarmed synths, whilst Czukay adds some chuggering engine bass lines, sliding around the neck as though revving it up.

The general breathless ambiance begins to wash ashore, like a lapping tide, meandering its way towards some welcoming gypsy encampment. Quacking wah-wah and folk tale violins add to the general malaise, building towards a new found intensity as the song now picks up momentum. The final 30 seconds bathing in the now pressured final crescendo.

Now steps forward the ambiguous and genre dodging ‘Hunters And Collectors’, with its almost glam postulations and Afro- funk grooves, this four minute Floyd gesturing dose of mayhem ducks any categorisation.

A doom laden piano emphasis each intro chord, like an operatic indulgence. Karoli in magi pose announces the chorus –

‘Hunters and collectors, all come out at night.

Hunters and collectors, never see the light’

The song now kicks in with some sky rocketing theatrics, dense melodies of climbing synth lines and evocative sexed up Teutonic choral backing add to the melodrama. Czukay and Liebezeit cook up a fine jumped up funky backing, with double shimmering hi-hat action and posing bass guitar.

They all soon break down into a more stretched out segue way, taking in the early years of Parliament and some Afro highlife.

Karoli now dabbling with the vocals, as they take on some added menace; he conjures up images of leather clad gangs, bikes and drugs –

‘Thirty leather kids, on the gang ban trail,

Get your big brown man with the snakes in bed.

Dirty bother me now, it soaks into a cup,

She says “if you don’t start at all, you never have to stop”.

Other worldly radio signals and snippets of conversation from the ether add to the esoteric atmosphere that is entrenched in seedy tales of chemical indulgences.

The opera swoops back in before what sounds like the set-piece breakdown brings the curtain down, as strange broken cogs, ratchets and springs all produce a comical ending, just before the swept in majestic intro of ‘Vernal Equinox’ is brought in.

As the ambivalent last track on side one, ‘Vernal Equinox’ continues the dynamism and piano melody from the previous track, but runs rough shot and fancy free, producing an eight-minute omnivorous jam or epic narrative.

It all begins with a search light introduction of space age doodling, with a chorus of sonar equipment and lasers shooting off in all directions, all played out over a heavy laden piano, hurtling towards a cacophony of destruction.

Rabid lead guitar rips into the track, Karoli literally plays for his life in a fit of feverish exhaustion, running through the full collection of riffs and chord rushes that he’s picked up over the years.

Flailing drums explode like a barrage of mortars, as UFO’s crash land all around, Czukay finds some cover and rattles off his defensive bass.

That Alpha 77, the exulted secret box of tricks, spits out havoc. Crazed wrecking layers of multiplying textures take the drama back to the cosmos soul searching of Soon Over Babaluma, but with a now more invigorated pumped up stance.

The raging narrative falls into one of those accustomed breakdowns.

Liebezeit and his meteoric rhythm accompany arpeggiator sonic waveforms and metallic sounding drips during this break in the pace.

The full swing returns in style, turning the jamboree into a jazz funk quest, as what sounds like Robert Fripp battling it out with a alien horde from the planet of Sun Ra, delivers a belting finale of elation.

Side two opens with the bongo tribal reggae of ‘Red Hot Indians’, a jaunty slice of infectious pigeon toed dance rhythms and cool wistful chant like grooves.

Karoli goes all faux-Caribbean with his laid back vocals, he casually lays down some lines in an almost staccato fashion –

‘It’s the DNA song, DNA song, it’s the DNA song.

Strike mess, hole mess, shadow mess’.

Olaf blurts out an effortlessly uber cool prompting saxophone melody, liberally peppering the track, whist Liebezeit just reclines back on his sun lounger, knocking off some tom rolls and sipping a pina colada.

Mixing in some more African highlife and even-tempered down Roxy Music, this track flows along in its own serenity.

The second wind of extra rhythms start to sway in an hypnotic motion, like some kind of mantra as Karoli mumbles recollection of some cryptic halcyon memories –

‘Then you took me back, steam machine.

Dreamt my way into a daydream.

Let me vanish into yesterday,

And my night drops fade away’.

As though to ratify the shambling theme, the song naturally fades out on its own breezy demeanour.

We now come to the soundscape behemoth ‘Unfinished’, which by its title remains to be determined by the listener as to whether or not this maybe the case.

A set piece of sound cutting and masking that harks back to Future Days, with its reverential cinema scope builds and gliding synths this track could just yet be one of CAN’s finest moments.

Opening with what sounds like an orchestra tuning up, we hear a noisy interlude of violins, strings, brass and unfamiliar instruments all preparing themselves for the performance.

That looming ever-present box of tricks, the Alpha 77, fires up and screeches over the top of our orchestra pit, launching bolts of lightning along with the odd spark of lush melodic wonder.

Breathing in the same aroma found on their soundtrack piece ‘Gomorrah’ and the melodic beauty of ‘Bel Air’, our macabre galactic Schmidt now unleashes some welcoming felicitous doses of extreme perturbation, underpinned by some humbling broody but magisterial bass.

All of a sudden a series of gory effects and sounds enter the stage, as the demonic bound trip to the nebula goes all pants messing chaotic.

Squealing guitars, that evoke the sounds of distressed souls pleading, cut through the heightened tense mire.

Factory steam powered machinery like the sort found on the Forbidden Planet, is ratcheted up, bashing away and powering up some monstrous life form.

Some tumbling toms are given a swift kicking, the occasional crash of a cymbal unsettling the air as Liebeziet desperately tries to carry on playing whilst his craft flies into the sun, holding on for dear life he is soon saved by his comrades who now work towards an uplifting final stretch.

Whistling sounds fly overhead and gongs gently shimmer in the background, Schmidt throws in everything even the studios sink, as a build towards some sort of journey to the upper echelons of the solar system begins.

Escapist melodies and angelic ethereal guitars all scale the dizzying heights, like the dark side of the moon played by Stockhausen and backed by Ornette Coleman. A dream like vaporous empyrean utopia opens out as our Cologne astronauts now proceed to save the best till last. Pulchritude swathes of divine beauty flow with delight as a lavishly rich melody of heavenly choral opulence raises us to some higher plain.

The final few minutes being amongst the most sublime that CAN ever laid down, a spiritual guiding stairway to the universe.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.