May 1981: Kraftwerk Predict the Future with COMPUTER WORLD

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

German music legends Kraftwerk always seemed to be a step ahead of the pack. The electronic-based outfit had already produced a concept album about mass transit's effect on the growth of Europe with Trans-Europe Express (1977), and delved into the idea of evolution through technology on The Man-Machine (1978). It was with Kraftwerk's 1981 release, however, when the band leapt into the future to offer a clear-eyed look at where society would eventually land in the 21st century: Computer World.

This utopian future concept LP opened with the title track, a stark rhythmic breakdown of future society: "FBI and Scotland Yard/Interpol and Deutsche Bank/FBI and Scotland Yard/Business, numbers/Money, people/Business, numbers/Money, people."

Side 2 opener "Computer World" captured the current digital love landscape dominated by sites ranging from Tinder and FetLife to Onlyfans and Instagram: "Need a special girl/To share in my computer world/I no longer need a strategy/thanks to modern technology."

The album's minimal electronic construction produced another effect: between the spacious melodies and clicking beats existed a deep and resounding clarion call of pure funk. New York hip-hop/electro pioneer Afrika Bambaataa heard the message on tracks like Computer World cut "Numbers" (and earlier Kraftwerk cut, "Trans-Europe Express") resulting in the future-forward instant classic, "Planet Rock."

"Numbers" was such a hit on the club circuit and black radio that the tune peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart over the week of January 30, 1982. Over on the Dance Club charts, a combined clutch of Computer World tracks--"Pocket Calculator/Numbers/Computer-World/Computer Love"--topped out at #13 over the week of October 17, 1981.

Released on May 10, 1981, Kraftwerk's Computer World made a strong surge on the mainstream Billboard 200, peaking at #72 over the week of October 22, 1981. The #1 album in America that week: Foreigner, 4. On the Hot R&B Albums chart, the record hit #32 for the week of Christmas 1981.