Oh Yeah is the outstanding song off Can’s landmark Tago Mago (1971). It’s very hypnotic, moving at a heck of a pace and featuring all sorts of radical ideas.
One of the main things we love about it? The musician whose talent goes beyond infinity into genius and thump… thump-thump. That drumming!
With Jaki Liebezeit’s distinctive Motorik beat, Oh Yeah is mesmerising and glorious, the propulsive drum work shuffling it forward. It’s a drumming masterclass in minimalism meets creative genius.
Oh Yeah! The Genius of Liebezeit’s Motorik Beat
Oh Yeah is the third track into Tago Mago. And it begins with a brooding explosion (atomic bomb), nodding towards the end of WWII.
What emerges are a brooding bassline looping pattern from Holger Czukay. But also the sounds of drummer extraordinaire Jaki Liebezeit.
What’s remarkable here is what his right leg does. On his bass drum pedal, throughout the entire seven minute track, he does this:
No drum machine. No mistakes. Only the most perfect timing and with no stop for seven bloody minutes.
Other drummers have noted his technique was to nail down remarkable grooves and then add occasional deviations. The first subtle flourish is at 1:17 seconds.
Much easier than it sounds, but Liebezeit’s genius was in adapting as required to Can at its peak. He was Germany’s jazz top young drummer in the 1960s. By joining Can, he ensured the group entered the stratosphere onto the level of the greats.
The band’s focus was to prove Germany had something to offer post-WWII. They also hired Buddhist singer from Japan Damo Suzuki.
And Liebezeit got the inspiration for his “monotonous” sound from some eccentric soul who randomly approached him. He recalls the story here.
You can read more about that in Jaki Liebezeit: The Life, Theory, and Practice of a Master Drummer. That really goes into the motorik beat, dot dash system he developed.
But Tago Mago is where the band hit total genius.
Whilst guitarist Michael Karoli (who died in 2001 aged 53) was also brilliant, the landmark album is also dominated by Liebezeit.
And on Oh Yeah Liebezeit is a propulsive beast! Consider the initial stage of the track:
- Right foot: Thump… thump-thump.
- Left foot: Tick, tick, tick, tick.
- Ride cymbal: Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.
- Snare drum: Smack, smackity-smack, smack.
After the opening section, Damo Suzuki’s bizarre, nonsensical vocals appear over the top. It’s all rather dark and brooding, with swirling synth effects creating a doom-laden track.
But what’s remarkable is how such an eerie song ultimately lifts towards something life-affirming.
In the closing section Karoli’s guitar becomes energised and joyous. The song picks up a pace and all the musicians are on the case.
Suddenly, Liebezeit’s drumming reflects this emotional change. It connects with the musical shift perfectly and he’s bopping away like crazy.
All of which ends to a perfectly timed conclusion, as if Can’s drummer had planned his entire drumming loop to land with millisecond perfection at the close.
And then it all fades out into oblivion.
Oh Yeah leaves Jaki Liebezeit alone to bop out that beat for the rest of eternity, his right foot sending that message out into the cosmos. And that in itself is complete perfection.
Can’s Oh Yeah Live
The above footage from 1970 is incredibly rare. We only just came across it—thankfully, some smart people back in the day thought to record the band for prosperity.
There isn’t much, though, but the below performance from November 1970 is cool as all hell. Note bassist Holger Czukay bopping along to the drum beat.
Can didn’t often do “normal” gigs like other bands. It wasn’t really about playing the hits, or what have you, the members normally focussed on instant compositions.
They did also perform variations of their album titles. Ege Bamyasi’s Spoon, for example, often got reworked into a near 20-minute epic.
But it’s fantastic to see a take of Oh Yeah there. Magnificent stuff from a magnificent band.
Thank you for this
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I hope this will inspire you to take up alternative rock drumming.
My daughter does it on my behalf.
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