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What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

New Wave/Punk music, culture, genres, memories. '80s revivalism and other relevant topics.

What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby MissingPersons » Tue Jul 18, 2017 3:36 pm

OK, I know it's a 70s album, but...anyway.


I'm speaking about, both the album and the single. Especially the album charted at #5 (!!!!) in the US charts, and the single was a US Top 40 Hit. In 1974 there was no MTV, so how on earth Kraftwerk made it in America?

Was it used in an American TV Commercial, TV series or in the OST of some movie? In the 80s it was all about MTV to make it in America. In the 70s it was all about touring I guess. But I don't recall Kraftwerk touring in America back then. Maybe I'm wrong.
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby rewind » Wed Jul 19, 2017 6:57 am

In the 70's Kraftwerk was receiving massive airplay on dance/funk (what were considered "urban" at the time) radio stations, such as WBLS and Kiss-FM in New York. That's what propelled them to the charts. It preceded the "New Wave" scene in America by several years.
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby bpdp3 » Wed Jul 19, 2017 6:08 pm

I thought you were completely wrong about this until I checked for myself. This would be like you telling me the stooges or velvet underground were top 10 in the US.... yeah right!!

But you are indeed unbelievably correct. I was only 8 in '74 but really can't believe this would've been played on my small town top 40 radio. I'm dubious that any success on urban radio would've translated to bigger airplay nationwide. We as a nation just weren't that hip.

My theory is that it was viewed almost as a novelty, akin to Hot Butter's '72 song "popcorn". ("Woah, check out this weird song on them there crazy synthesizer thingamajigs")

I remember a lot of the music played in the early 70s and just don't think the US was sophisticated enough to put kraftwerk on the charts any other way. UNLESS it was maybe seen as cool stoner music ala Pink Floyd? Someone a little older and in- the-know will have to answer that.

Regardless,it was an anomaly. Certainly I've never heard any kraftwerk anywhere other than college radio. And ask anybody at your local supermarket if they know who kraftwerk is-- good luck!!!
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby negative1 » Tue Jul 25, 2017 3:01 pm

Actually for me, forget about the 70's.

Since i've known about Kraftwerk in 1980 - computerworld.

I have NEVER heard them played on the radio once in 30 years plus.
I have NEVER heard them played in a club either, but 1 time I have heard 'Musique non stop' played as opening music before a concert, that's it.

In America, kraftwerk doesn't exist to radio stations, promoters, video, or anywhere else, except touring.


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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby MissingPersons » Sat Jul 29, 2017 2:58 am

Oh let's not forget Gary Numan's Cars. It was a US Top 10 Hit and that was before the MTV days. Anyone old enough, who remembers how it was found during a time where the American airwaves were dominated either by bands like Foreigner or Styx or Traditional Disco acts like Chic and Gloria Gaynor?
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby Jim2 » Sat Aug 12, 2017 11:31 am

Autobahn was played pretty regularly on my favorite AM station in the 70's, 13Q (pop music). I don't remember hearing it on any other station such as WAMO (R & B).
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby elektrikblu » Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:22 pm

I first heard Kraftwerk's Autobahn played before Bowie's Station to Station Nassau Coliseum concert in 1976. (Yes, the live one that was released with the remaster.)
I was mesmerized. I still have a crappy, worn out original release cassette tape of Autobahn that I wore out. No case. It's a sonic mess now.
Thanks for the memory.
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby Passing_Stranger » Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:23 am

It certainly was a novelty, something like "Popcorn". And the radio stations took to it - but it only reached the twenties on the various charts (Billboard, Cash Box, Record World) so it wasn't such a big hit as a single. The album sales were certainly driven by radio play, as the radio has been more open to the experimental music in the wake of progressive rock (Kraftwerk were certainly seen as an act having much in common with the gernre). Maybe also the press showed its influence. And the band cemented the LP success by touring. It was during 1975, by the way.

Still, it was a fluke (commercially speaking, of course) - just another flavour of the month, it seems, an "interesting" record that just happened. Of all their subsequent albums only "Computer World" made Top 100, and only peaked at 72 (Billboard), while only "Trans Europe Express" charted in Top 100 (very humbly) as a single.

As for black stations playing their music, it didn't start until "Trans Europe Express" - and looks like since then the major part of their sales were to black audience through "their" stations. It's maybe due to them that Kraftwerk had a kind of chart resurgence in 1981 (and college radio).

Have to counter the claims that Kraftwerk weren't played at clubs - actually, it's just there that they've found their greatest support. "Computer World" tracks and "Tour de France" were major hits on Billboard club survey, while "Musique Non Stop" and "The Telephone Call" even topped that chart. In fact they were seen primarily as a dance act since the late 1970s.
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Re: What made Kraftwerk's Autobahn, a success in America?

Postby postpunkmonk » Tue Jan 23, 2018 8:59 am

Hearing "Autobahn" in a brutal 3 minute edit as a child changed my life! It was a freak synth novelty hit as was mentioned earlier. Akin to "Popcorn" by Hot Butter or "Joy" by Apollo 100. I listened to top 40 radio seriously as a child and never heard that one enough but Kraftwerk stuck wth me and when I got stereo in 1978 and could buy records, the LP of "Autobahn" was one of the first I made certain to get. I had no idea it was an entire side until then. Agree that Kraftwerk probably got lumped into the Prog wave initially as Krautrock was deep underground in America at the time. It was probably seen in 1974-5 as something to listen to while waiting the three years in between Pink Floyd albums.

Also agree that by 1977's "Trans Europe Express" that Kraftwerk got US black radio play and developed there as a niche. Notice that they got an African American, Leanard Jackson [Rose Royce, Starguard] to co-mix their next album, "Man-Machine." In high school only the "black station" in not-very-integrated Central Florida played the hell out of "Computerworld" and it was a big hit with young men of color in my art classes, who got to play it on the boom box during class. To my vast enjoyment.

In the early 90s, I bought a UK 7" of the single to hear the edit once again. I bought one mail order and the mix was 3:05! Even shorter than I remembered. I recorded it and the disc had seen better days, so I ripped the CD track and edited it down on computer to replicate the UK 7" edit, which was surely done on an editing block with a razor blade back in the day. Took all day to laboriously cue, re-cue and match the edits. A few years afterward, I discovered, thanks to Discogs, that the US 7" was a longer 3:27 edit. So I now have one of those, but have yet to set aside another day.
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