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Kraftwerk’s awesome title track is from their fifth album Radio-Activity, released in late 1975. This is a themed album revolving around the dual-meaning of the words, representing nuclear devastation and radio communications. The gorgeous and simple electronic sounds were stunning, and highly innovative for the time. The track was released as a single in France in 1976, and the album – in all countries, had German and English lyrics.
The album cover / single sleeve art features a 1930s Volksempfänger, “people’s radio” – the kind used in Goebbels’ propaganda campaign. The bright red and yellow “radioactivity” graphic symbol replaced the Volksempfänger in the album reissues. A set of nuclear warning stickers was enclosed in initial releases of the album. It was Kraftwerk’s first completely electronic album, and the first produced at their own Kling Klang studio by band members Hutter and Schneider.
The German language vocals seemed eerie, as we could not understand them. This is an ethereal piece which begins with an introductory previous track, the pulsing, clicking ‘Geiger Counter.’ The lovely, simple melody and the warmth of hypnotic electronic pulses lull us into a false security, while the lyrics are a dire warning. (One lyric line asks us to ‘Tune in to the melody’ transforming the meaning to convey the act of listening to music on the radio).
The envelopment we feel from the electronic pulses (resembling a heartbeat) is similar to the entrancing effect of LaMonte Young’s drones, adapted by The Velvet Underground. I love the glorious, angelic and ghostly backing wordless “vocals” (it was not comprehensible at the time that these were synthetic vocal sounds – as electronic music was still so new at the time). This was courtesy of the Vako Orchestron – which replicated organ, strings and choral sounds. The early electronic contraption was obtained in America during their recent tour for their album Autobahn, which garnered extremely varied reviews.
On his BBC6 radio show (February 13, 2022) Iggy Pop played ‘Geiger Counter’ / ‘Radio-Activity.’ His introduction:
“This was a favorite of mine – a really important album for me in my life, I had sort of bottomed out with what they call proto-punk, or whatever I was playing.
I was out of gas, and this gave me new hope.”
Iggy has also said:
“Ever since my adolescence, I’ve got angry when the radio played something trite and felt good when I liked something new. David Bowie introduced me to Kraftwerk. I met them and told them: “I go to sleep listening to your music!” They went very quiet and thought I was taking the piss, but it was the highest compliment I could pay anyone. Florian Schneider had such mental balls to lay down those melodies when so much music was ‘sell, sell, sell’. He trusted people to come round, which is my philosophy.”
The sounds of Kraftwerk influenced Iggy’s seminal album The Idiot, produced by Bowie and released in 1977.
My story about The Idiot: https://madelinex.com/2016/05/12/idiot-proof-iggys-no-fool/
When I was working in the teen clothing section of a popular New York department store. I interrupted the store’s musical selections with a cassette recording of ‘Radio-Activity.’ A shopper asked me to take it off, because it was scaring her baby. Actually – her baby was scaring ME!
Is in the air for you and me
Discovered by Madame Curie
Tune in to the melody
Another song from the album, ‘Antenna’ inspired Bowie’s speaker-to-speaker sound-travel effect on the title track of his album Station to Station that same year. A tape of Kraftwerk’s then current album Trans Europe Express was played as the audience took their seats for Bowie’s Station to Station tour gigs. Bowie and Iggy absconded to Germany to live for several years, with many thanks to Kraftwerk! On his “Heroes” album in 1977, Bowie titled one of his songs after Florian (‘V-2 Schneider’).
I always thought that these lines from ‘Antenna’ were Bowie’s mission statement. He picks up messages with his antenna and sends out vibes and warnings, passing the baton to us – to “carry the news.” In ‘All the Young Dudes’ and in his song ‘Starman…“Let the children use it – let all the children boogie”
I’m the Antenna
You’re the transmitter
Listen – Radioactivity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X–F5b5IdqU
Listen – Antenna: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pp8Sv7WCcI0
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See more in my Playlist category:
About A Song
Eat to the Beat
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