1001 Songs Challenge #446: Trans-Europe Express (1977)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express (1977)
Farewell to the UK today, dear reader, and across the English Channel we go into mainland Europe. We’re heading over to Germany and to Dusseldorf. Formed in 1970, Kraftwerk (i.e. power station) began their career in krautrock circles but as the 1970s progressed they became more immersed in electronic music and ended up as key pioneers in this area. We join Kraftwerk in 1977 with the release of their critically acclaimed album, Trans-Europe Express, and from there 1001 Songs have gone with the title track.
Trans-Europe Express is 6½ minutes of what Kraftwerk are really all about. Heavily driven by synthesisers, the track is lyrically sparse, describing travel on the Trans-Europe Express which was a rail service that ran from the 1950s to the 1980s, connecting many European countries. In the song, Kraftwerk make reference to being in Champs-Elysees in Paris, before taking in a late night cafe over in Vienna. The best lines are reserved for the final verse where Kraftwerk use the phrase “station to station” after an album by David Bowie. They then tell us of being back in Dusseldorf and meeting with both Bowie and Iggy Pop. The lyrics are based on an actual encounter members of the group had with David Bowie in Germany. Rather than Kraftwerk being starstruck by the former Ziggy Stardust, it was Bowie himself who was in awe and full of praise for the German group and their music.
Though lyrically brief, Trans-Europe Express relies more heavily on its use of music. The synthesisers here are deployed to create a slow, ponderous, often eerie piece. Some of the sounds are akin to being on a train itself, obviously deliberate on the group’s part. It’s cleverly executed. Kraftwerk are just one example of influential bands in electronic music with the 1980s having a particular fondness for synthesiser driven pieces e.g. Depeche Mode. Trans-Europe Express was sampled without permission by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force with their track Planet Rock which helped to spearhead the electro genre in the 1980s. Kraftwerk successfully sued and an out of court settlement was agreed.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)