Ralf and Florian, 1973. Back cover photo by Barbara Niemöller.
Kraftwerk’s third album, Ralf and Florian, is forty years old this year. It was recorded and mixed from May to July, 1973, and released three months later. As with the first two Kraftwerk albums, it still hasn’t been given an official CD reissue. When so many albums by the big names of the 1970s have been reissued multiple times Kraftwerk are pretty much unique in suppressing part of their catalogue.
Photo by Robert Franck.
The reason usually given for this is that the fourth album, Autobahn (1974), was the first to adopt the conceptual style that became a hallmark of the group’s output. Well, yes and no. The celebrated sleeve design for Autobahn went through several variations, and the motoring theme only applies to the first side of the album. The second side doesn’t match the theme at all, and with its melodies and instrumentation (Florian was still using his flute) is much closer to the previous albums, especially the third one, than those that came after. What Kraftwerk prefer to see as a clean break is really more of a gradual evolution.
The sleeve for the first UK release. No designer credited.
I’ve always liked the Ralf and Florian album, and don’t mind so much that it’s not been given a proper reissue. Bootleg copies circulate, and even the original vinyl isn’t so scarce. A couple of things related to the album are more difficult to find, however. The first German copies came with a large poster-insert illustrated by the group’s artist/designer Emil Schult. This item more than anything shows a charming, human side to Ralf and Florian which was later overshadowed by the machine-obsessed conceptualism. Large scans of the insert were recently posted at Mostly Retro.
Then there’s Kohoutek – Kometenmelodie, a 7-inch single released in December 1973 which forms a bridge between the third and fourth albums. Kometenmelodie subsequently appeared in two versions on Autobahn but the single sleeve is very much in the R&F zone with the faces from the album cover, while the back of the sleeve sports Emil Schult’s Kling Klang Verlag logo from the album insert. Kohoutek was a comet visible in the night skies in 1973. This was Kraftwerk’s debut single, presenting two unique versions of Kometenmelodie. It’s never been reissued but both tracks can be heard here. Elsewhere on YouTube there’s a performance of the R&F track Tanzmusik on a German TV programme, a clip which features new group member, Wolfgang Flür, playing his electronic drum pads.