Atmospheric, electronic, and über-cool… Ja. Kraftwerk ist da!
The Model / Computer Love, by Kraftwerk (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, 31st January – 7th February 1982
She’s a model, And she’s looking good… It has to be said, German-accented English is the perfect voice in which to deliver an electro-pop hit like this. She plays hard to get, She smiles from time to time… While this model sounds a bit high-maintenance: all champagne, nightclubs and envious glances…
A drum-machine keeps steady, deliberate time, while two or three different synths play variations of the main, instantly memorable, riff. There are not many fancy flourishes, no tricks or gimmicks, which can’t be said of some recent electronic #1s (‘It’s My Party’ springs to mind…)
There’s a minimalism to it, a precision. (It’s hard to avoid certain national stereotypes, but I’ll try…!) There’s nothing here that doesn’t need to be. It’s repetitive, certainly; but not boring. It’s a song that seduces you, just like the model in the lyrics. It’s almost lo-fi, which could have something to do with the fact that ‘The Model’ was nearly five years old when it topped the charts.
It was originally supposed to be the ‘B’-side, an older hit included to beef up the appeal of the new single, but radios started to play it and it became a double-‘A’. And it’s the perfect hit for a winter’s week: both in its frosty sound, and in how it sits alongside some very random early-year chartmates in Bucks Fizz and Shakin’ Stevens.
What of that new single, then? ‘Computer Love’ kicks off with another catchy riff – one catchy enough for Coldplay to borrow decades later – but as the record finds its groove you can feel a slightly lighter touch than the heavy, deliberate ‘Model’. There’s almost something disco in the staccato drums, and feathery high notes. It sounds more modern, more ‘eighties’ really, than song on the flip-side. (Though it had only made #36 before being twinned with ‘The Model’.)
It’s another twisted love story, but this time a computer is the object of the singer’s affections: another lonely night, another lonely night… He stares at the screen and longs for a data date. I wonder if the band had any idea, in 1981, of how prescient those lyrics would become in the twenty-first century…? Aren’t we all just staring at our screens, these days, needing a rendezvous?
I’m not enjoying this as much as ‘The Model’, though. It’s too light, too ephemeral. There’s not as much to get your teeth into here. But as a chart-topping, double-‘A’ side single, both tracks work very well. And I say that without being the biggest fan of electronic music. It feels like a moment at the top of the charts. True, it’s far from the first electronic #1, but Kraftwerk had been there from the very beginnings of the genre: forming in 1969, scoring their first hit in 1974. In many ways, they’ve been a part of all the synth-based number ones so far, from ‘I Feel Love’, to the Buggles, to ‘Don’t You Want Me’.
Kraftwerk were/are basically two men – Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider (who passed away in 2020) – and a revolving cast of supporting musicians. They are notoriously reclusive, and have released one album in the past thirty-five years. They don’t have many hits to their name in the UK, this one being the only time they ever breached the Top 10. But their legacy cannot be understated. Considering how prevalent electronic music is now – how few acts don’t incorporate at least a smattering of non-analogue sounds – they have to be seen as legends. The NME has argued that while ‘The Beatles and Kraftwerk’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘The Beatles and The Stones’, it is probably more accurate in reflecting who pop music’s two most influential bands are.