Autobahn (song)  

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"[...] In 1975, an edited version of "Autobahn" was a top 10 hit. It wasn't the first synth hit --that honor belongs to Gershon Kingsley's hissing "Popcorn," performed by studio group Hot Butter-- but it wasn't a pure novelty either." --"Machine Soul: A History Of Techno", Jon Savage

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Autobahn" is a song composed in 1974 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of the German electronic band Kraftwerk, with Emil Schult collaborating on the lyrics. It was their first track to use sung lyrics. It is designed to capture the feel of driving on a motorway.

A version of the song lasting over 22½ minutes was recorded as the title track of the album Autobahn. This was edited to a more modest 4 minutes and released as a single, giving the band an unexpected Top 40 hit in the USA, and other countries, the first of their career. A differently edited version, at 3 minutes duration, was released in the UK, reaching #11, and was later included on the UK compilation LP Exceller 8. The song also reached #12 in Canada (Vertigo VE-203).

The instrumentation used on the song's 1974 recording was highly innovative at the time and is notable for the significant influence it had on many subsequent genres of electronic popular and dance music.

This recording was co-produced by the influential 'Krautrock' producer Conny Plank.

Notable aspects of the arrangement included:

  • Electronic percussion pads played by Wolfgang Flür.
  • Use of a classic 'Moog bass' sound to play the bass line, playing an octave riff with added analogue echo.
  • Liberal use of phasing on synths to play the chords.
  • Use of a vocoder to process some of the vocals.
  • Use of the so-called 'motorik' 4/4 drum beat in the song's final section.

The arrangement also included acoustic elements such as guitar and flute.

The band have continued to perform the song live regularly throughout their career. Live arrangements have evolved continuously as the band have adapted the instrumentation and equipment they use on stage.

Cover versions

Appearances in popular culture

  • The song is referred to in the movie The Big Lebowski where 'Autobahn' is the name of a fictitious mid-1970s Kraftwerkian techno-pop band.
  • Ronnie Martin, front-man and sole member of the synth pop band Joy Electric organizes a biannual electronic pop festival known as the "Autobahn Electronic Pop Music Festival".
  • A similar version of part of the song is used in the 1998 film, The Truman Show.
  • Part of the song appears in the Anton Corbijn film "Control" (2007).
  • Joel Hodgson makes a reference to Kraftwerk and their song Autobahn during the "season zero" Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Humanoid Woman" (K11) because the movie's background music beat sounds similar to it. He even sings a few lines of Autobahn, imitating it.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Autobahn (song)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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