Sadly this will be the last in the series dedicated to Amon Duul II, as I next go to work on Cologne’s finest Krautrock exports, Can.
But I’m ending it with the bands sensational Teutonic rock opera of 1975, Made In Germany.
This epic homage (arguably) to the Who’s Tommy and other such monolithic concept albums broadly mixes in all the most tragic and culturally celebrated highlights from Germany’s much tumultuous and troubled history; from the birth of a united country in the late 1800s, to the fall-out of World War II. Along the way countless references incorporate a host of cultural figures, from composers such as Wagner to the philosopher Kant.
Politically charged and self-mocking this album both courted mock disdain and controversy – more of which, we will come to later.
Firstly let us rewind back to 1974, a stressful period in the bands career. Coming home after a taut and emotionally draining tour the guys needed a little down-time; a revolving door policy had seen members leave under a dark cloud, the band unsure of musical direction and management.
Along comes the A&R man Jurge S. Korduletsch, a man of considerable means who had recently set up his own label Lollipop Records. Certain promises were made and before you knew it they found themselves signed up to a new contract.
Once in and the ink dried, Korduletsch immediately pushed the band straight into the studio: these hastily orchestrated sessions would become the backbone of their next release Hi-Jack. This strange record became their most commercial marketable album yet and oddly borrowed heavily from Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott The Hopple: known as the rather demeaning toe-curling ‘glam rock album’.
It was at this point that Atlantic records came calling offering a deal to release the band’s music in the states; though they would also release the LPs under the ATCO division in the US and Canada. This may have been in response to the relative success that Virgin were currently having with bands from Germany, Tangerine Dream and Can amongst others.
After some initial success with Hi-Jack it was agreed that now would be the time to follow up with something quite ambitious, as well as a great fuck you to the establishment and sensibilities of the man.
John Weinzierl puts it that they basically become disillusioned with the so-called changes in society and empty gestures of the underground youth movements. Also it was apparent to him that history itself was not moving on and that his fellow compatriots were still seen as the bogeyman of Europe. Even though his generation had seen the horrendous fall-out from the former regime and reacted to it by pushing the leftist antidote forward, they were still envisaged as the bad guys. As much as they tried to separate and fight against it, the world carried on viewing them with suspicion and always eager to remind them of the war.
With all this in mind Weinzierl and the group embarked on a grand project which would see them releasing a double album of songs based around a central theme of irony and self-provocation. This would take both real and made up figures from the rich history of the country, borrowing heavily from literature, film, opera, fantasy and real life events:
The Weimer Republic, Fritz Lang, King Ludwig, Hitler and Marlene Dietrich would all make an appearance in this cliche heavy diatribe. From the unification under the heavy brow beating of Prussia – which came decades before, and after the eventual victory over Napoleon – to an initial story involving a character named Mr.Kraut, this LP crams it all in.
Made In Germany is like nothing they’ve done before and continued instead a move towards a crossover rock and pop experimentation, which Hi- Jack had tried before.
By this point they shared nothing in common with any of their fellow countrymen in style or direction as they went out on a limb with their new brand of classical music and progressive rock.
In the krautrock fraternity this record is usually given a wide berth, which is unfair. A loyal bunch of us have a certain fondness though and will go on about it quite a lot, spreading the word so to speak. Recently to my surprise a new champion in the form of Kasabian came forward, who both rate the record and admit to using its cover as inspiration for West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
The cover artwork of Made In Germany is itself different depending on which of the two different versions you have.
In both the US and UK a compressed single LP version (see track list) was released. This had Renate dolled up to look like Marlene Dietrich from the movie ‘The Blue Angel’, she has an alluring but contemptuous gaze as she straddles a chair in true Cabaret style.
The original version used a picture of the band sitting for an old fashioned portrait bedecked in various costumes including Bavarian pomp, what looks like a Zeppelin pilot and Renate as a heroine from Wagners Ring Cycle. This is the picture that Kasabian re-enacted for their own album.
This original was included in the single version on the inlay sleeve as well, so not sure why they buggered about with it.
The reasons for their being two variations comes down to a fall out with Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertigon, who was mightily surprised to find his latest signing offer up this platter of Germanic mayhem and political satire.
Finding it in poor taste and completely misreading the concept he got cold feet and cut the album down; only Germany itself to my knowledge received the proper double album. Rumours that Ahmet’s Jewish background played a part remain, though on being told that Amon Duul II wanted to embark on a US tour/invasion by traveling over in a Zeppelin can’t have helped matters: Remember this is only thirty years after the end of World War II itself.
Also the original contains a mock shock DJ interview with Hitler, which uses his speeches as the DJ pokes fun with a knowing wink and some poor taste quips. All this has been available on CD for years now so you don’t have to miss any of the stuff that was cut out on the single album.
The recording itself included session players such as Thor Baldursson -the Icelandic keyboardist and singer who worked with Giorgio Moroder and Grace Jones – Heinz Becker, Lee Harper, Bobby Jones and Helmut Sonnlestner, who all had a background in jazz.
New boy Nando Tischer became a fully ingrained member of the band playing guitars and singing as well as composing some of the songs. Robby Heibl was back on duty again and mucked in on near enough everything, he was also now the designated bass player of the group.
John Weinzierl is credited as guitarist but was the leader so to speak of Amon Duul II and is responsible for a far old share of the concept and composition.
Renate and Chris Karrer do most of the singing whilst Falk U Rogner supplied his sonic delft touches on synth and organ.
The talented Peter Leopold, who gets some room to show of his old Yeti solos, supplied drums as usual.
All of the musicians do a sterling job and it is amongst the best of their whole catalogue. Obviously the songs are more structured but there is always room for inventiveness and some great lead guitar work.
Right I think that about covers all the background details; now its time for the review.
I’ve chosen the original double album version to write about, but have included both track listings for completion.
Weinzierl and some of the core members continue to tour and are embarking on a new album. Also they are set to be busy with showcasing some of their old material for a one off filmed performance that will take place in the original Bavaria studios.
Of course I will update you on when this will happen.
Double gatefold LP on Nova Records, only released in Germany at the time.
1. Overture (5:12)
2. Wir Wollen (1:32)
3. Wilhelm Wilhelm (3:10)
4. SM II Peng (2:16)
5. Elevators Meets Whispering (1:26)
6. Metropolis (3:27)
7. Ludwig (2:32)
8. The Kings Chocolate Waltz (2:28)
9. Blue Grotto (3:33)
10. Mr.Krauts Jinx (8:44)
1. Wide Angle (4:06)
2. Three-Eyed Overdrive (1:17)
3. Emigrant Song (3:21)
4. Loosey Girls (5:13)
5. Top Of The Mud (3:45)
6. Dreams (4:08)
7. Gala Gnome (3:52)
8. 5.5.55 (1:39)
9. La Krautoma (6:08)
10. Excessive Spray (1:41)
Single version on one record released in 1975.
UK – Atlantic Records
US/Canada – ATCO
1. Dreams (4:08)
2a. Ludwig (2:33)
b. The Kings Chocolate Waltz (2:52)
c. Blue Grotto (3:33)
3. 5.5.55 (3:13)
4. Emigrant Song (3:23)
5. La Krautoma (4:45)
1. Metropolis (3:38)
2. Loosey Girls (5:20)
3. Gala Gnome (1:18)
4. Top Of The Mud (3:44)
5. Mr.Krauts Jinx (8:48)
Renate Knaup: Vocals
Robby Heibl: Vocals, Bass, Guitars and Violin
Chris Karrer: Vocals, Guitar, Banjo and Violin
Peter Leopold: Drums and Percussion
Falk U Rogner: Synthesizer and Organ
Nando Tischer: Vocals and Guitar
John Weinzierl: Guitar
Thor Baldursson: Keyboards
Heinz Becker: Timpani, Gong and Percussion
Lee Harper: Trumpet, Brass Section
Bobby Jones: Saxophone (Solos on ‘Loosey Girls’)
Jurgen S.Korduletsch: Additional Backing Vocals and Producer
Helmut Sonnleitner: First Violin and String Section
A rolling timpani and clashes of cymbals announce the theatrical opening bars of ‘Overture’. A prelude orchestral snippet of all the tunes to come, it is used in a similar fashion to the same titled overture on The Who’s ‘Tommy’.
This Wagner evoking composition transcends his ‘Ring Cycle’ stiffness and is instead an uproarious celebration of this inspired requiem that Amon Duul II have set sail on.
Played out in full classical pomp this overture of sorts’ sets us up for the 150-year journey through German history.
The track makes its way through all the album’s different melodies , 8 bars or so of each song to come is given the ceremonial treatment before a final clash of the gong and the next track ‘Wir Wollen’ strikes up.
Roughly translated as Come On!, this rock steady instrumental groover continues the classical mood: an assortment of old joy-de-vie orchestral pieces from past dead German composers interacts with the lead guitar of John Weinzierl as the percussion crashes about in the background; culminating in an epic finale.
‘Wilhelm Wilhelm’ breezes along on some hip riffs as Renate and Chris Karrer enter the fray with their harsh Germanic tones that tell the tale of King Wilhelm I of Prussia (between 1861 – 1888) and later, the whole of united Germany (1871 – 1888).
Wilhelm had fought against Napoleon in his youth and went onto to rule the kingdom of Prussia before eventually brow beating all the separate states, of what was to become Germany, into an eventual unification.
He famously appointed Otto Von Bismarck as his Prime Minister, which was in part due to the ill feeling and distrust between the royal household and parliament. Bismarck was to act as his man on the inside and to be sympathetic to the Kings views but this gave way to him taking on most of the decisions and led to him gaining most of the real power.
Added to this the founding of the a new Fatherland were plots of assassination by anarchist and left wing groups, which led to draconian laws being introduced against the liberals and free thinkers. King Wilhelm was lucky to escape with his life and was wounded in one of these attempts, which he saw as a wake up call and prompted a lock down mentality and placed the country in a militarised state: ring any bells!
Our three-minute funky number encapsulates all this background into a poppy little ditty that is both sung in English and their native tongue. A chiming melody and a crunchy wah wah effects driven guitar gives this song an almost rock disco feel, whilst Peter Leopold lets loose on the cymbals that end in another AD II proto-eruption.
The strange and exotic titled ‘SM II Peng’ is next up, another instrumental interlude. It ambles along in fine fettle abandon riffing off a 12 bar blues boogie with the accompaniment of some spooky sounding effects from Falk U Rogner. The track sounds like a cheerful wander through a graveyard or a sit down at an séance in a Gothic bedecked palace.
This is followed by another instrumental segue way entitled ‘Elevators Meets Whispering’, which apart from its strange use of English is another slice of mysterious creepy and misty fog bound graveyard atmospherics.
Our odd curio is given some gravitas from Weinzierl and his strung out haunting guitar strums before this short interruption abruptly ends and makes way for the big guns.
‘Metropolis’ begins with a grand piano, which accompanies a staccato riff of rock as Renate’s sultry Teutonic tones gloriously paint a picture of 1920’s Weimar through the films of Fritz Lang.
Lang and his most famous work of art ‘Metropolis’ is dissected and referenced throughout the tune, nods to both locations and the underlying plot are connected to paint a picture of disillusionment. Angles, Dr.Mabuse and Zeppelins all pop up, as the workers remain left at the bottom of a modern day version of the Tower of Babel. As in the biblical tale a common language is lost between those in control who reached the peek by standing on the underclass’s faces and those who ended up in a shitpile after building futile monuments to false ideologies.
This expressionistic romp both mixes Sparks and Roxy Music into a boogie Euro stomp; Renate adds a dose of eccentricity with her approach to the vocals that are sung with enthusiasm but also with the hint of cynicism. She sounds like a heroine from one of Klimts paintings or an oracle from Wagners ‘Valkyrie’. This is one of the albums many highlights.
Next up is the three-part story arc suite of poor old King Ludwig, a much maligned and ridiculed figure from German history.
The first of these acts is ‘Ludwig’ which tells the tale of his apparent suicide by drowning, though a strange plot to get rid of him by his ministers makes for a good conspiracy theory.
Ludwig II of Bavaria was brought up in a privileged world and he inherited his fathers’ exuberance for fantasy and myth. His love of arts and music led to him patronising the controversial Richard Wagner, who had been involved in anti-establishment intrigues and had run away once after taking part in protests. This lonely king was more at ease with images of old folklore and Arthurian legend then with the day-to-day running of his country.
After the unification of all the individual kingdoms by Wilhelm, Ludwig stayed on his throne but with a diminished role. Following his late fathers building plan of extensive palaces and castles, he plunged his domain into bankruptcy. Not wishing to take advice from his ministers he threatened them with being removed.
Plots to have the king certified as mentally unstable were slowly put into place, a hasty draft was sent for approval to Bismarck himself who dismissed the claims.
Another attempt with the involvement of four prominent physicians of the day sealed his fate, though he didn’t come quietly and its alleged he may have been shot whilst escaping on Lake Starnberg. It was announced to the world that he had committed suicide but we know better – right?
‘Ludwig’ crams all of this background into a satire inspired Kraut-boogie that has Renate on lead vocals again.
‘The Kings Chocolate Waltz’ is an instrumental stopgap built around a sad sounding Wurlitzer loop. Some echo and deep reverb drenched guitars are added to the stirring ambiance.
Our short story arc is finalised with ‘Blue Grotto’, with its poetic and fairytale lullaby crooned delivery from Renate. Ludwig and his eccentricities are given an airing in this ballad to the misunderstood actions of the deluded king.
What chance did he have when he was famously brought up in the Disney like palace of Neushwanstein, which was situated near to Schwansee or under its better-known moniker Swan Lake. Ludwig was nicknamed the Swan King after it.
All the references in this song are adhered to in the true misfortunes of the foppish monarch, moonlight picnics and hanky panky in the nude with his male servants add to the fascinating tale of a little boy lost.
Renate has named this her favourite song in the whole Amon Duul catalogue.
Leaving behind the fateful old charming Ludwig we end the first part of the album with the eight minute long tale of ‘Mr.Krauts Jinx’. A heavily German toned vocal from Karrer sets up the story of our unfortunate character Mr.Kraut, more of that tongue in cheek approach of self-disdain.
Our character is exploring the Valley Of Kings in Egypt on some cheap package tour I expect though this one ends with him being beamed up by extra terrestrials. This unforeseen addition to his holiday sees him travel through the cosmos before he is promptly placed in a space zoo as the latest exhibit. Some anthropologist type of table turning or reference to the search by right wing ideologist for a white superman we can’t be sure. But over the course of the song we go from a warm acoustic introduction in the vain of Dylan before we progress to what amounts to some thrashing out rock aspirations.
The end of our story is a kind of positive as Mr.Kraut is thrown a concubine of well-equipped proportions to spend his eternity with; our man now has a smile on his face.
A final refrain of “Cause future ain’t tomorrow, future is today” rings out in uplifting defiance or because ones fate is finally sealed.
Karrer seems to have a few problems with singing this track, as he almost goes out of tune with some of the lines.
I’m at odds with this track as it remains in my eyes a bit of a filler and lets the whole album down with its almost Euro embarrassing direction.
The second part of the album starts with the country rock inspired buoyant jaunt of ‘Wide-Angle’. Renate is at her ‘All Years Round’ best as she reminisces about the days of self abandon in the Munich communes. Dropping acid and hanging onto every word of a lost love interest that long since moved on and left the original principles of change back at the bed-sit.
Both the aspirations and drugs are now replaced in the stars backstage with “compromised cocktails” lavishly bestowed upon our band by the new suit wearing management. I can’t help but think this is a dig at how their music has been adopted into a more commercial arena along with bands like Can who after 7 or 8 years have finally to a point compromised their sound.
‘Three Eyed Overdrive’ is another one of those instrumental interludes, which features more haunting synths and organs. This time the main thrust is a pulsating synth that becomes pretty disturbing as it moodily stews away.
Karrer delivers a heavy burdening thick German accent in the next tune ‘Emigrant Song’. Cuckolding a parody driven lament to the story of the first German settlers to try and make their way in the USA. Escaping all the loons and stiffs from back home they hope to take a slice of the new world but end up in the inhospitable lands of Sierra Nevada. It would take brave men indeed to tame this mountainous region which had the worst of both climates, it could be either stiflingly melting hot or become snow bound frozen tomb.
Some stereotyping of German traits is delivered with an outburst of banjo and homage to the Native Indians history as penned by Bob Dylan.
The paintings of Otto Dix, Max Beckmann and George Grosz influence the Weimar Republic hedonism of ‘Loosey Girls’.
Heavy doses of Pink Floyd era ‘Meddle’ are played out over this alluring jazz number, which features a saxophone solo and the hard pressed vocals of Karrer.
A cabaret inspired world of depravity in the days before the stirrings of the far right put an end to such loose times, this song weaves a heartfelt poem of woe as our prostitute heroine falls into a society of despair. It all sounds like Karrer has seen it happen too many times, though it has quite a moving melody and hits the right spot even though it carries some sentimentality.
‘Top Of The Mud’ ups the tempo as we get a heavy rock rendition of blues that ends in a glam infused knock at the current music scene. Renate and Karrer sing in unison as they lampoon their own route from space rock troubadours playing music from another dimension to the more structured ambitions of recent years. With lines like “might not be much fun, without any fans” they comment on their own situation within the industry and sound jaded and knocked about by the increasing lack of faith in what they are doing. Though it is unfair as this album could be among their best.
Confidently sweeping in is the heavy South American tango tinged ‘Dreams’. Passionate Cuban tango like sounds and melody infused with the ruminants of a flamingo style shindig add to this track that has Karrer swoon about sharing thoughts of a love that got away through his dreams.
A segue way instrumental ‘Gala Gnome’ intrudes proceedings with an ambient brief interlude. Delayed synth combined with a low engine like hum produce an unnerving breather before the next song ‘5.5.55’ arrives to much anticipation.
Better known as the 5th of May 1955 this is the date that West Germany gained full sovereignty, though the US kept its presence there hoping to put off any plans the Soviets might have creeping over the boarder.
The economic miracle of which this track speaks started off through the seeds of the Marshall plan and catapulted the Germans to becoming one of worlds most productive and eventually rich economies. By 1973 they had help found the G6 nations group and became the industrial capital of Europe, all within thirty years of the end of the war.
Contrary to belief they didn’t exactly get away with it easily as both culturally and scientifically all intellectual property was either appropriated by the US or swallowed up into the allied nations own companies.
Both France and the UK received more money through the Marshall plan then Germany, it wasn’t until the Eighties that we in the UK paid our debt off. Germany had paid a higher interest fee off and eventually by the mid Seventies had got rid of its debt.
All this is adhered to in the song as this rock heavy jolting tune asks what could have been, space programmes are both mentioned in the sense of lost opportunity but also pilloried as being paid for by those who can’t afford it.
A reference is also made to the Kraupp dynasty, a 400 year old industrial family who owned some of the biggest steel and ammunitions factories in the country. Sympathetically playing to whoever was in charge at the time the family business survived most leaderships. A cosy relationship with the Nazi party helped them get all the major contracts to supply the army.
Alfried Kraupp was head of the company at the time of the thirties and forties, an opportune shady wheeler-dealer he used slave labour during the war supplied by an ever-helpful Herr Hitler. Alfried got cold feet after the failure of the German invasion of Russia and started to siphon off money and try to keep a distance from the regime. After the war he was put up for war crimes and received a 12 year sentence and made to sell off his company, but here’s the sickening part. No one brought his business and after spending half his initial sentence incarcerated he was allowed out to take control again. This reinforces in part the underlying mistrust by the next generation who inevitably ended up trying to overthrow the system.
At the end of ‘5.5.55’ there is a short interjection. In the style of a shock jock US radio interview, a rambling 80 syllables a second ranter puts across questions to Hitler as though he was questioning the leader of some band. Hitler answers with snippets of his original speeches as our DJ mockingly goads him. This interview builds up with what sounds like an audience waiting in a theatre for the performance to begin. All of a sudden they all break out into a feverent applause and cheering as Amon Duul II strike up their last jam. It becomes apparent that this audience is the one at Nuremburg.
The six minute instrumental ‘La Krautoma’ is based on the popular South American derived ‘La Paloma’, an old folk type song that has been recreated a million times across every country. Hell Elvis used it for his hit ‘No More’.
This space rock balling freak out mixes in the old country tune as Peter Leopold lets rip with one of his most ambitious drum solos of all time.
Aggressive guitars intercede as notes are left on sustain and put through pitch shifters, whilst all hell breaks loose as pure flights of fancy take hold of the band.
As the last galactic charging rhythms and effects fade out ‘Excessive Spray’ draws this grand opus to a close.
Military played recall on the snare accompanied by ‘Yeti’ era subtle ambient stirrings end in triumph. Falk’s synth has its last say with some Gothic pretensions, whilst we feel a sudden sadness loom over the horizon. Never again would we hear Amon Duul II in such a creative manner, complete sounding even if it is a move away from the improvised jams of yore.
So ends Krautrocks most overtly ambitious and aspiring work of art, a beacon of farce that attracts only those willing to learn and willing to experience a direction in music rarely repeated.
To be fair I’ve dissected this album to the point of obsession but hope in doing so that my enthusiasm sends you in the right direction and that you don’t dismiss the record as folly or high jinx theatrics.
Though I hate bands who gabble on about their influences, Kasabian’s unexpected nod to ‘Made In Germany’ may give it some attention, the richly deserved sort of attention that bands like Neu! and Can attract with ease. Though these guys sound practically stiff and cold in comparison to this.