[ Lots of MP3s and YouTube video links after the jump. ]
Today's blog post is about a German band which deserves to join the ranks of Can, The Scorpions, Rammstein, Boney M, Felix Kubin, and Heino. Yes, I think Die Goldenen Zitronen (The Golden Lemons) should finally be recognized among the finest musical exports from the land of the Krauts. Unfortunately, despite being quite popular in Germany itself, they are virtually unknown in the USA, for reasons unknown to me. Maybe they should have stuck with their original name Die deutschen Nazikartoffeln (The German Nazi Potatoes). Americans love potatoes.
The band from Hamburg with the enigmatic name started out innocently enough in 1984, playing "punk pathetique" (in Germany it was called "fun-punk") in the vein of such bands as the Toy Dolls or Splodgenessabounds. Two other German bands who started playing similar music at the time were Die Ärzte (The Doctors) from Berlin and Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Pants) from Düsseldorf. All three of those are still around, but Die Goldenen Zitronen quickly established themselves as the most interesting of the bunch. Over time their lyrics became both more experimental and political, and the music also turned into something else.
At the core of Die Goldenen Zitronen over their more than 20 years have been singer Schorsch Kamerun (who also writes and directs plays for theater and radio) and guitarist and bassist Ted Gaier (on the side a member of Schwabinggrad Ballett). I don't think anybody expected in the 80s that these goofy punks would evolve into real political artists, and yet that is exactly what happened. Actually, they haven't really lost their goofiness, they just took it to a different level.
Unfortunately, distribution of Goldene Zitronen albums in the US seems to be almost non-existent, but I'll give you some audio and video to convince you that their albums (especially the later ones, starting with Economy Class) are worth seeking out. Here it comes, in chronological order by album.
Kampfstern Mallorca dockt an (1988) - Goofy and fun early album. MP3: Killerhippies from out of space - Surf instrumental with a couple of German TV or movie samples.
Punkrock (1991) - A transitional album with ample garage rock influences. MP3: 80 Millionen Hooligans - Lyrics about a nightmare where all 80 million Germans turn into racist hooligans. The Zitronen's answer to German reunification.
Das bisschen Totschlag (1994) - The music gets more interesting, lots of noise and heavy use of organ. MP3: Das bisschen Totschlag (That little manslaughter) - Nationalism and racist violence continued to surge in Germany in the early 90s, and the government reacted by restricting the constitutional right to political asylum in 1993. Die Goldenen Zitronen were not the only ones who saw this as an outrageous collusion between violent Nazi skinheads and mainstream political parties, but they wrote the best angry song about it. Quote: "That little manslaughter won't kill us, says my husband"
Economy Class (1996) - A masterpiece of a fucked-up album, a wild mix of no wave, electroclash, jungle, free jazz, and noise. Lyrics are somewhere between surrealistic and hilarious. It is very hard to pick out a couple of songs from this one, you should just hunt it down and buy it. I'll try anyway, here are the MP3s: Wer soll das entscheiden (Who should decide this) - Somewhat based on Thelonious Monk's tune Off Minor | Hände hoch, Papa (Hands up, dad) - Sure to turn off every fan of their early material, very free, random noises, recorders, the most incoherent song they ever recorded. I love it.
And here are two more songs from this album as videos on YouTube: 0:30 Gleiches Ambiente (0:30am, same ambiance) - Hilarious conversation between two clueless hipsters. Menschen haben keine Ahnung (Humans don't have a clue) - Mysterious lyrics, catchy short song.
Dead School Hamburg (Give Me A Vollzeitarbeit) (1998) - Nobody expected it, the definitive Zitronen dance album. Kind of... MP3s: Weil wir einverstanden sind (Because we agree) | Yes I Am! (with Chicks on Speed) - Rhyming "vermin" with both "Cindy Sherman" and "German".
And YouTube has a live performance of ICE Berthold Brecht from this album, with Schorsch Kamerun in drags!
Schafott zum Fahrstuhl (2001) - Another great eclectic mess. MP3s: Monster beherrschen diesen Planet (Monsters rule this planet) - Peaches on vocals, singing mostly in German | Auf dem Platz der leeren Versprechungen (On the square of empty promises)
Lenin (2006) - With their most recent album they prove that they are still one of the best German bands around. MP3s: Complication (with Chicks on Speed) - A cover of a song by The Monks, you can compare it to the original on YouTube | Von den Dämonen des Wesley Willis (Of the demons of Wesley Willis, not FCC safe) - There is a 2003 documentary "Golden Lemons" about a tour through the southwestern US which Die Goldenen Zitronen did with the late Wesley Willis.
Here are a couple of YouTube videos from the album Lenin: Flimmern (Flickering) - Lots of smashing going on in this video | Wenn ich ein Turnschuh wär' (If I was a sneaker) - Live in Hamburg, a song about how commodities have it much easier to cross borders than humans.
Finally, you have to see this video of Schorsch Kamerun solo as Sylvester Boy, "the future sound of the past": Sylvester Boy (ww.toy) (YouTube link)