‘Can’ were a Krautrock Band, formed by Irmin Schmidt in 1968 Cologne, after his return from a stay in New York, where he came into contact with the likes of minimalist composer Steve Reich, jazz influenced Terry Riley, and proto punk experimental geniuses The Velvet Underground. David Johnson and Holger Czukay, made up the other two original founding members of what was initially an avant-garde, classical outfit.
The line up was later completed by the addition of Michael Karoli on guitar, Jaki Liebezeit on drums, and zany American singer Malcom Mooney (later replaced by Japanese busker Damo Suzuki). Seeking to contemporise all popular music types of their era, they explored outwards into other genres beyond their original classical jazz, and as their interest in rock music grew, so did Johnson’s disillusionment with their direction, and as a result, he left.
After much experimentation with rock, ambient and AG, they pioneered the jazz/experimental influenced sound that came to be known as ‘Krautrock’ and, in 1970, they released a compilation album “Soundtracks” featuring Mooney on vocals.
In 1971, they released the magnificent “Tago Mago”, which included our featured song, “Oh Yeah”. With Suzuki now replacing Mooney on vocal duties, the album was built on a foundation of jazz-percussion, and, free-flowing keyboard/guitar improv. According to Czukay, ‘Tago Mago’ “was an attempt in achieving a mystery musical world from light to darkness and return”.
“Oh Yeah” opens with “musical thunder” followed by a shower of “percussive rainfall”; the pulse like drumming on this track is pretty hypnotic. Enter Suzuki, with the first verse in which the lyrics are sung backwards (verse two standard English, verse three Japanese, but to be honest, it all sounds pretty much like the same indecipherable “Japlingo”). The percussion is washed over with protracted looped keyboard solos, which in turn were dubbed over with improvised guitar twanging and random riffing, secretly recorded by Czukay during unstructured jam sessions, later edited to give them a sense of structure.
“Tago Mago” has been oft-cited by many 80s-90s and 00’s bands as being hugely influential to the development of their sound and direction. Mark Hollis, of Talk Talk called it “an extremely important album” and often stressed how, fascinated by their sound, they heavily influenced the making of the final Talk Talk album, “Laughing Stock”.
Can & “Tago Mago” were extremely influential in the sonic development of another huge contemporary indie-rock band, a fact I was unaware of the first time I played it, but when “Oh yeah” came on, it was pretty darn obvious: it was almost like listening to this very band performing this song in the 21st century. No prizes for guessing!
I’m including two videos of this firecracker – one live with a short commentary by two members of the band at the end, the other the album version (re-mastered). I also give you the lyrics (not the backwards and Jap versions mind!!).
Sit back and be pleasantly surprised by this quirky, zany, wonderfulness – this 70’s futuristic masterpiece.
Can – “Oh Yeah” (1971)
[Backwards vocals for 1st verse]
As your silver hair save that,
For you got to better not there.
I see your own cheeks, saves that,
It?s a time you’re my lasting sign.
They have got to sue the passing
As you do too everyday.
Still you point at them and then
Sometimes I’m the slave.
[Japanese lyrics for 3rd verse]
SCHMIDT, KEVIN / MASLOW, JAMES / PENA JR., CARLOS / HENDERSON, LOGAN / RUDOLF, KEVIN / KASHER HINDLIN, JACOB
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group