Can was a famous experimental rock band from West Germany active in The '60s and The '70s, known for its eclectic sound and considerable influence on avant-garde, experimental, ambient, Punk Rock, New Wave and electronic music. UK music critics named Can and other German bands' music (such as Neu!, Kraftwerk, and Faust) as Krautrock.
Notably, none of the bandmembers had much experience with rock music when Can was formed in 1968. Bassist Holger Czukay was a classical music teacher (and former student of avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen) who only became interested in rock after hearing "I Am the Walrus" by The Beatles, guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit had played in jazz bands, whilst keyboardist Irmin Schmidt (also a pupil of Stockhausen) was an avant-garde classical musician. Similarly, Karoli, born in 1948, was the youngest core member at the time, with Czukay, Liebezeit and Schmidt being all born in 1938, 1939 and 1937, respectively.
Recruiting African-American vocalist Malcolm Mooney, Can recorded their debut album, Monster Movie in 1969. Movie showcased Can's Signature Style, a deeply experimental fusion of Krautrock, Funk and Psychedelic Rock based largely around improvisation (their 20-minute "Yoo Doo Right" was originally a 6-hour improvisation), repetition and Mooney's unhinged stream-of-consciousness ranting. Liebezeit's tribal, funky drumming served as the framework for extended solos by Schmidt, Karoli and Czukay, which would then be edited and spliced together in the studio to form actual songs.
Mooney quit Can soon after Movie, suffering from mental health problems. He was replaced by Damo Suzuki, a Japanese drifter the band found busking in Munich. His wildly varied vocal style (easily switching between cryptic mumbling and outright screaming) and Word Salad Lyrics sung in a variety of languages meshed well with the band's already existent sound. The resulting string of critically acclaimed albums, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days saw the band abandon any semblance of traditional song structures in favour of free improvisation, embracing constructing songs from tape editing, electronics and worldbeat influences even further. Days is even regarded as an early example of ambient music.
Suzuki left after Days, with vocal duties taken over by Karoli and Schmidt. While their first post-Suzuki album, the ambient Soon Over Babaluma, was well received, the band's critical fortunes decreased as they evolved into an even more conventional style with later albums, even if they managed to obtain a hit single in the UK with 1976's "I Want More". Czukay left in 1977 after being slowly pushed out of the band, replaced by Traffic bassist Rosko Gee and with additional percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah recruited from the same band. After two more poorly performing albums, Can disbanded in 1979, with a temporary reunion featuring Mooney taking place between 1986-1991. This resulted in a new album, Rite Time, and a contribution to Until the End of the World's soundtrack.
Michael Karoli died in 2001, and Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay died in 2017.
Can's members frequently cited bands such as The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, James Brown, Miles Davis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Michael von Biel, Pink Floyd and their interest in world music as significant influences on their psychedelic-progressive-funk-rock sound. In turn, they have been cited as an influence by numerous Alternative Rock, post-rock and Post-Punk bands and artists like The Fall, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., This Heat, Talking Heads, The Stone Roses, Talk Talk, Primal Scream, Brian Eno, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pavement, The Mars Volta and Black Midi. Talking Heads used their method of piecing songs together from jams extensively on the albums Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, and Naked.
Also, Kanye West sampled their song "Sing Swan Song" for his "Drunk and Hot Girls", so you may have heard them from there.
- Monster Movie (1969)
- Soundtracks (1970)
- Tago Mago (1971)
- Ege Bamyasi (1972)
- Future Days (1973)
- Soon Over Babaluma (1974)
- Landed (1975)
- Unlimited Edition (1976) - compilation of unreleased material
- Flow Motion (1976)
- Saw Delight (1977)
- Out of Reach (1978)
- Can (1979)
- Delay 1968 (recorded 1968-1969, released 1981)
- Rite Time (1989)
- The Lost Tapes (2012)
- Holger Czukay - bass guitar, sound engineer, electronics, tape manipulation (196877, 1986, 1999, died 2017)
- Michael Karoli - guitar, vocals, violin (196879, 1986, 1991, 1999, died 2001)
- Jaki Liebezeit - drums, percussion (196879, 1986, 1991, 1999, died 2017)
- Irmin Schmidt - keyboards, vocals (196879, 1986, 1991, 1999)
- David C. Johnson - reeds, winds, electronics, tape manipulation (1968)
- Malcolm Mooney - vocals (196870, 1986, 1991)
- Damo Suzuki - vocals (197073)
- Rosko Gee - bass (197679)
- Rebop Kwaku Baah - percussion, vocals (197779, died 1983)
Can provides examples of the following tropes:
- Book Ends: Monster Movie and Rite Time, the first and last official records by the band, were the only ones which Malcolm Mooney sang on every vocal track.
- Careful with That Axe: Suzuki slipped into this territory sometimes, particularly on "Peking O."
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Damo Suzuki. And Mooney, who suffered a nervous breakdown and left the band at his psychiatrist's request lest he lose more of his marbles.
- Cool Old Guy: Most of the members were older than other rock musicians of the era.
- Creepy Jazz Music: Part of their Genre-Busting reputation came from Jaki Liebezeit, who prior to Can, used to play in a fore-running European free jazz band. He brought his influence to the band, and provided a frenetic, primal sound for the rest of the band to improvise (and, by extension, create nightmares) on top of.
- Cult Soundtrack: Several songs they wrote for films have been compiled on the album "Soundtracks" (1970). Among these Deep End is probably the best known cult film.
- Demoted to Extra: Holger Czukay after Rosko Gee joined the band. He was reduced to doing various audio effects before finally leaving the band.
- Distinct Double Album: Tago Mago has what are by Can's standards relatively conventional songs on the first disc and more avant-grade tracks on the second. The band originally intended to just release the first disc as a regular single album but Hildegard Schmidt convinced them (and their record label) to go with the double LP.
- Epic Rocking:
- The band's trademark. Examples include: "Father Cannot Yell", "Mary, Mary So Contrary", "Yoo Doo Right", "Cutaway", "Mother Sky", "Paperhouse", "Oh Yeah", "Halleluhwah", "Aumgn", "Peking O", "Bring Me Coffee or Tea", "Pinch", "Soup", "Future Days", "Spray", "Bel Air", "Cutaway", "Ibis", "Splash", "Chain Reaction", "Quantum Physics", "Vernal Equinox", "Unfinished", "Flow Motion", "Animal Waves", "November", "All Gates Open", "Safe", "Butterfly", "Little Star of Bethlehem", "On the Beautiful Side of a Romance" and "Like a New Child".
- "Yoo Doo Right" is definitely this, as is attested to above. Also, their live improvisations as a rule were absurdly epic.
- Genre Mashup: The band's sound blended rock, jazz, avant-garde classical and world music.
- When interviewed on the release of the 2012 compilation The Lost Tapes, Holger Czukay made the distinction that Can's jamming wasn't the usual method of having them dick around on their instruments until they landed on an idea, but starting with a specific idea in mind and focusing on isolating its key elements and seeing where it could be taken. This resulted in the songs working both in and out of the scene's context.
- "Yoo Doo Right" is a twenty-minute song taken from a six-hour-long improvisation.
- In the Style of:
- The "Ethnological Forgery Series" (abbreviated "E.F.S."), where the band attempts (successfully) to imitate various forms of ethnic music.
- "Turtles Have Short Legs" is essentially "Can plays goofy '60s piano pop."
- "Mother Upduff" is their own version of "The Gift" by Velvet Underground, but based around an old Urban Legend and not including anybody trying to mail themselves with fatally disastrous results.
- Their cover of Offenbach's "Infernal Galop" from ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD — a/k/a "The Cancan Song." A "Can Can Can" — proves that some Germans do indeed have a sense of humor.
- The bassline of "Mother Sky" is based on Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play".
- Japanese Ranguage: Can may have been founded in Germany, but because Damo Suzuki hails from Japan, a lot of their songs end up having this.
- Leave the Camera Running: "Cutaway" has a long bit in the middle with Studio Chatter with somebody asking Holger to use his frequency modulator in tune with Michael's guitar.
- Looped Lyrics: Of the Madness Mantra ("Yoo Doo Right", "Mushroom") and the just-plain Broken Record type ("Halleluhwah").
- Madness Mantra:
- Everything they ever made with Mooney, especially "Yoo Doo Right".
- About half of their Suzuki-era output, too. Just listen to "Paperhouse" and tell me that the "you just can't get that no more" bit isn't the very sound of someone losing their marbles. Even more so "Mushroom". Especially "Mushroom".
- Meaningful Name: "Liebezeit" means "love time" in German.
- Non-Appearing Title: So many. "Peking O," "Paperhouse," "Deadlock," "Soup," the list goes on...
- Rearrange the Song: The band reworked its songs dramatically on stage, as live recordings attest.
- They were one of the pioneers, way back before samplers were invented - Czukay would painstakingly splice together tapes culled from various sources.
- And then Kanye West sampled them for his song "Drunk and Hot Girls".
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Zig-zagged. Their music has a reputation for being creepy, trippy, and confusing, but the chief members were all academics, well versed in jazz and classical music. Both of their frontmen, however, had enough Cloudcuckoolander tendencies that they could qualify as scary musicians.
- Scatting: Made frequent use of by Suzuki, most notably on the tracks "Peking O" and "Soup".
- Shout-Out: The two-note bassline of "Mother Sky" is similar to that of Pink Floyd's "See Emily Play".
- Single-Issue Wonk: In the same interview mentioned above, Czukay described Liebezeit as having pestered him constantly to not lose "the groove" while he was editing their jams into songs, to the point that Liebezeit also became quite adept at knowing when to cut a reel of tape without affecting the rhythm.
- Step Up to the Microphone: "Aumgn" makes use of Schmit chanting to provide the vocal track. Later, when Suzuki left the band, he and Karoli would both take over vocal duties.
- Titled After the Song: The bands Spoon, Moonshake, and Hunters and Collectors all took their names from Can songs.
- Unreplaced Departed: After Suzuki's departure, they never replaced him, with Karoli and Schmidt taking on vocal duties instead. Folk singer Tim Hardin was the lead singer for one-off gig, but he never joined the band.
- Visual Pun: The cover of Ege Bamyasi which featured a can.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Once Damo joined it became outright Word Puree Lyrics, frequently bordering on Indecipherable Lyrics.
- Writing Around Trademarks: The cover of Monster Movie shows a faceless Galactus.