Forty years ago, in November 1974, Can released the sixth album of their career, Soon Over Babaluma. This marked the end of an era for Can. Soon Over Babaluma was the end of Can’s golden period. This golden period began with their debut album, 1969s Monster Movie and 1974s Soon Over Babaluma. For six albums, Can were one of the most innovative bands in musical history. They established a reputation as one of the most influential bands in musical history. Even today, forty-five years after Can released their debut album, Can’s influence is can be heard in music.

Founded in 1968, Can went on to become one of the most innovative, influential and groundbreaking groups in musical history. Their music is best described as a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, industrial, jazz, prig rock, psychedelia and rock. Known for their ability to improvise, Can became famous for what they referred to as spontaneous composition.

When Can headed into the studio they improvised. Feeding off each other, genres and ideas melted into one. It was spontaneous and off-the-cuff. Can played with freedom and in doing so, pushed musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, beyond. Afterwards, the results would be edited and the result would be some of the most exciting music released between 1969 and 1979, when Can split-up. 

In total, Can released eleven albums between 1969s Monster Movie and 1979s Can. During this period, Can released classic albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma. This was music that’s bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential. Expecting the unexpected, a new Can album featured exciting, innovative and progressive music, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one. For ten years and eleven albums, Can released cutting-edge music. Sadly, in 1979, Can split-up. Thankfully, they reconvened in 1989 for Rite Time. However, five years before Rite Time, Can released Soon Over Babaluma the album which marked the end of Can’s golden period. Before I tell you about Soon Over Babaluma, I’ll tell you about Can’s career up until then.

For a three year period between 1963 and 1966, Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt were privileged to study music under the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen. A true pioneer, Karlheinz Stockhausen was way ahead of time. He wasn’t just a visionary in terms of electronic music, but was fascinated by aleatoric music, where some element of piece is left to chance. Granted there will only be a certain number of outcomes, but the musician has to choose the outcome they believe is correct. Serialism was another subject Karlheinz was interested in. With serialism, a series of values are used to manipulate musical elements. This form of composition fascinated Karlheinz. So did musical spatialism, which would influence Can. Karlheinz was an evangelist, encouraging his pupils to investigate, examine and scrutinise each of these subjects. So it’s no surprise that once  Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt had finished studying, Holger became a musical teacher.

Having settled into life as a music teacher, Holger was enjoying life as a teacher. Then when he heard The Beatles’ I Am A Walrus in 1967, he was captivated by this psychedelic rock single. With the innovative use of bursts of radio and the experimental sound and structure, Holger went in search of similar music. Soon, Frank Zappa and Velvet Underground became favourites of Holger. Inspired by what he’d heard, Holger decided to form his own band in 1968…Can.

After his time studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen, Irmnin headed to New York, where he spent time with avant-garde musicians like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Soon, Irmin was aware of Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. This inspired him to form his own band when he returned home to Cologne.

In Cologne, Irmin a pianist and organist formed Can with American flautist David C. Johnson and bassist Holger Czukay. Up until then, the trio had exclusively played avant-garde classical music. Now their ambitions lay beyond that. Their influences included garage, rock, psychedelia, soul and funk. So they brought onboard three new members of the group which started life as Inner Space, and then became The Can. Eventually, they settled on Can, an acronym of communism, anarchy, nihilism

The first two new additions were guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Vocalist and New York-based sculptor Malcolm Mooney joined the band midway through 1968. By then, they were recording material for an album Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. Unfortunately, record companies weren’t interested in the album. So the group continued recording what would become their debut album Monster Movies. However, David C. Johnson left the group at the end of 1968. He was disappointed at the change in musical direction. Little did he realise he’d lost the chance to be part of a groundbreaking band Can.

Monster Movie which was released in August 1969, marked the debut of Can. It started their career as they meant to go on. A groundbreaking, genre-melting fusion of blues, free jazz, psychedelia, rock and world music, Monster Movies has a Velvet Underground influence. It’s as if Can have been inspired by Velvet Underground and pushed musical boundaries to their limits. Experimental, multilayered and an example of Can’s spontaneous composition and editing skills, Monster Movie wasn’t just the album that launched Can’s career, but saw the term Krautrock coined. The founding father’s of Krautrock Can, were just entering their golden period.

Released in 1970, Soundtracks, was Can’s sophomore album. Essentially, Soundtracks is a compilation of tracks Can wrote for soundtracks. It’s the album that marked the departure of vocalist Malcolm Mooney. He suffered a nervous breakdown. Advised by a psychiatrist to leave Can for the good of his mental health, Malcolm returned to America. This left Can without a vocalist. That is, until Holger met a Japanese busker.

It was in Munich where Holger Czukay discovered Japanese busker, Kenji Damo Suzuki. He was busking when Holger came across him. Holger realised Kenji Damo Suzuki would be the perfect replacement for Malcolm. He was thrown into the deep end and added vocal and percussion on five of Soundtracks’ tracks. The addition of Damo wasn’t the only change Can were making.

Soundtracks was a coming of age for Can. It marked a move away from the psychedelic jams of Monster Movie  and a move towards their classic sound. That saw the music becoming much more experimental and avant-garde. The music took an ambient, meditative, mesmeric and thoughtful sound. This marked the beginning of what became known as Can’s classic years, when albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days were released.

Tago Mago was released to critical acclaim in 1971. This was the start of a golden period for Can. They could do no wrong. Kenji Damo Suzuki had joined the band officially. Now a permanent member of Can, the band spent a year living in a castle near Cologne recording Tago Mago. Songs started as lengthy jams and improvised pieces. Then Holger worked his magic. He edited them and they became mini masterpieces. 

Seven songs featured on a double album released in February 1971. On Tago Mago’s released, it was hailed as their best album yet. Jazzier with an experimental sound, the music has a mysterious, mesmeric sound. Innovative, genres and influences melted into one on Tago Mago. Multilayered, nuances, subtleties and surprises reveal themselves. Since its release, several generations of musicians have been inspired by Tago Mago, a true Magnus Opus, that belongs in every record collection. So does the followup Ege Bamyasi.

Can were on a roll. It seemed they could do no wrong. Ege Bamyasi was released in November 1972 to critical acclaim. Recorded in a a disused cinema, which the band lived in, the result was an album that was a fitting followup to Tago Mago. Just like its predecessor, it’s an essential part of any self respecting record collection. A fusion of jazz, ambient, world music, traditional music, rock and electronica, Ege Bamyasi saw Can continue to innovate and influence musicians and music lovers. As of another critically acclaimed classic album wasn’t enough, Can enjoyed their first hit single.

Spoon was chosen as the single from Ege Bamyasi. It reached number six in Germany. That was helped no end, by the single being used as the theme to a German thriller Das Messer. It seemed nothing could go wrong for Can.

That seemed the case when Can released Future Days, in August 1973. It marked a change of direction for Can. Their music moved in the direction of ambient music. The tracks especially, demonstrate that, Future Days and Bel Air. The move towards ambient music may have surprised some Can fans. However, Brian Eno was just one artist pioneering ambient music. This move towards ambient music must have pleased Holger’s guru Karlheinz Stockhausen. He must have looked on proudly as Can released the third of a quartet of classic albums. The final album in this quartet was released in 1974.

Recorded at Inner Space Studios, Munich, Soon Over Babaluma features five tracks penned and produced by Can. Soon Over Babaluma marked a change of direction for Can. This was their first album without a lead vocalist. During this period, Can had released some of the most groundbreaking music of the late-sixties and early seventies. This continued with Soon Over Babaluma.

Can released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974. It featured the ambient sound that Can pioneered on their previous album, Future Days. Critically acclaimed, and featuring a myriad of beeps, squeaks and sci-fi sounds, Soon Over Babaluma is like  musical journey into another, 21st Century dimension. A musical tapestry where layers of music are intertwined during five tracks, Soon Over Babaluma, which I’ll tell you about, brought to a close the most fruitful period of Can’s career.

Dizzy Dizzy opens Soon Over Babaluma. Moody and atmospheric describes the arrangement. A whispery scat, scratchy strings and drums combine with crystalline, sometimes, wah-wah guitar. Soon, Can are in the groove. From this groove, the song emanates. It’s as if this is an example of Can’s spontaneous composition. Through jamming, then with Holger editing the end result the song evolves. When he’s finished this is the result, an innovative fusion of musical genres. Everything from ambient, country, electronica, folk, funk, jazz, Kraturock and rock is combine as Can continue their quest to reinvent themselves.

Can spring a series of surprises on Come Sta, La Luna. Driven along by the rhythm section, the arrangement is slow and moody. Harmonies interject, and with the piano add drama. Then there’s the return of the sinister scat. It’s as if we’re eavesdropping on someone unravelling. Meanwhile sound effects, piano and the broody vocal combine with a myriad of percussion as the arrangement takes on a jazz-tinged, ambient sound. Other times, the music is dramatic, discordant and veers towards folk, jazz and rock. Gypsy violins, melancholy horns and percussion are all thrown into the melting pot, as the music becomes cinematic and theatrical. Multilayered, full of nuances and subtleties, it’s a pioneering, groundbreaking piece of art. Describing this track as just music, doesn’t do it justice.

Splash explodes into life, allowing Can the chance to showcase their versatility. Seamlessly and peerlessly, they combine musical genres. A myriad of musical influences unite. So do a multitude of instruments. Some are transformed. In the hands of Can, their sonic possibilities seem infinite. Instruments are reinvented as Can maraud their way across the arrangement. Driven along by a thunderous rhythm section, grizzled horns, screeching strings, blistering guitars and percussion Can push musical boundaries. Avant-garde, experimental and free jazz join forces with Krautrock and Latin are added to this lysergic, musical pot pourri. Groundbreaking, defiant and bold, Can go where no group dared go before.

Chain Reaction is best described as an eleven minute epic. With a sci-fi, cinematic sound, it’s as if we’re heading on a musical journey to another dimension. Drums pound, synths bubble and searing guitars herald the start of this journey. Can lock into a groove and explore it to its fullest. Crystalline guitars chime, while the drums provide the thunderous heartbeat. Percussion and sci-fi synths augment the arrangement as the arrangement makes fleeting visits to musical genres. Funk, jazz,  Krautrock, ambient and rock are all combined. As Can maraud their way through musical genres, blistering mating gun guitar licks are unleashed. Groove laden, edgy, funky, jazz-tinged, pioneering and cinematic, Chain Reaction is all this more.

Quantum Physics closes Soon Over Babaluma. Broody, moody and haunting, it’s akin to a track from a movie soundtrack. Over nine minutes, washes of eerie, haunting synths, ethereal, chilling vocals, crashing cymbals and dramatic drums play their part in the track’s cinematic sound. This could easily be the soundtrack to a film. The music conjures up pictures, that unfold before your eyes. They’re chilling, haunting, eerie, atmospheric and sometimes, sinister. Ambient, minimalist, experimental and post modern describes this track’s cinematic 21st Century sound. This seems a fitting way to end not just Soon Over Babaluma, but Can’s golden period, when they could do no wrong.

When it was released in November 1974, Soon Over Babaluma was released to critical acclaim. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercial success. Granted it found an audience, but not the audience it deserved. Like most of Can’s albums, Soon Over Babaluma was more of an underground album, rather than a widespread commercial success. It seemed that history was repeating itself all over again. Can, didn’t enjoy the commercial success their music deserved. They weren’t alone.

Can followed in the footsteps of a whole host of innovative artist who didn’t enjoy the commercial success their music enjoyed. Among them are Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, two artists who influenced Can. A small crumb of comfort for Can was that they went on to influence several generations of musicians. There’s a reason for this.

The music Can released was pioneering. Inventive, influential and innovative, although it was only twelve years since The Beatles released Love Me Do, this was a musical revolution. Rather than evolution, Can believed in revolution. The revolution began in 1969, with Monster Movies. Through Monster Movie, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days Can pushed musical boundaries to their limits. Sometimes, they were pushed to breaking point and beyond. The result was music whose influence has been far reaching.

A fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, funk, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock, Can’s music went on to influence several generation of musicians. They were won over by Can’s genre-melting music. That’s the case on Soon Over Babaluma. The music is bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential. As always, it’s a case of expect the unexpected. Can after all, are no ordinary band. No way. Their music is exciting, innovative and progressive, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one. That’s how I’d describe Soon Over Babaluma, Can’s sixth album, which marked the end of their golden period of creativity and innovation.


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