Track four from the outstanding Ege Bamyasi (1972), the Vitamin C Can song is one of the band’s most accessible and funky little tracks.
It shuffles along like a jazz number, punctuated by punchy drumming and catchy hooks.
Instantly memorable, the song remains one of our favourites from the band. It’s an indie gem and, we think, about as perfect as a tune can get.
Vitamin C and its Bopping Rhythms
Vitamin C is a short song, especially by Can’s standards, but Ege Bamyasi was also a marked shift away from the explosive rock of 1971’s Tago Mago.
Showing their incredible versatility, the band focussed in on melodic numbers with a focus on jazzy harmony. The result was indie music perfection few bands have since matched.
It was recorded at the band’s Inner Space Studio in Cologne. And it was released as a single in 1973, but only in Germany (as far as we can tell). This was the single sleeve.
As the song starts, singer Damo Suzuki launches straight into enigmatic lyrics:
Her daddy got a big aeroplane,
Her mommy holds all the family cash,
A beautiful rose, I stay at the corner,
She is living in and out of tune.
You’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing your vitamin C.
This is followed by a second verse that’s just as cryptic:
A monster press machine in on her body,
While she is stepping on the quicksand,
A beautiful rose, stay at the corner,
She is living in and out of tune.
Can took the interesting decision to sing in English, despite being a band consisting of German musicians and one Japanese singer.
Yet their lyrics were often unclear. Mystical, even. What were they aiming at? But what the song means is irrelevant—it’s just a damn fine little number.
The rhythm section leads it, with bassist Holger Czukay following on shortly after what we think is the song’s star performer.
Genius drummer Jaki Liebezeit runs riot across Vitamin C, his itchy drumming like a bout of scurvy making us all yearn for oranges.
But, my word, that bass pedal work alongside his jazzy fills and bopping tom-toms. This guy was a legend, the band got supremely lucky to get a drummer of his calibre.
Can without Jaki Liebezeit would just not have been.
But the rest of the musicians are brilliant. Guitarist Michael Karoli steps back from leading the band, only having minor contributions.
Whilst Irmin Schmidt’s keyboard work drifts in and out, even seeming to nod at traditional Russian folk music towards the end.
Our favourite section is a moment of repose after the initial chorus, where Vitamin C takes a moment to compose itself.
That’s at the 50 second mark, with the rhythm section mischievously bopping away with a purpose before Suzuki’s harmonies kick in again.
Brilliant stuff, we think, on a masterpiece of a track.
The remarkable thing is we think it’s probably Spoon, which is Ege Bamyasi’s closing track, that steals the show over this. We’ll review that sometime, too.
But before looking at some live performances, we’ll note the song got a new lease of life in 2014 when it appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Inherent Vice (starring Joaquin Phoenix).
That brought a lot of attention to Can, as they remain quite an obscure band. Many people have never heard of them! The more people who do, the better.
Live Performances of Vitamin C
Bloody Jaki Liebezeit, man, what a drummer. Here he is in action in 1972 showing off his jazzy drumming chops.
It’s no big surprise he was Germany’s top jazz drummer in the 1960s, before making the switch to alternative rock drumming.
We had to bung him at #2 in our Best Drummers of All Time list.
As for the rest of the band, it was pretty rare for Can to perform singles like this. Most of the time, the group focussed on “instant composition” as their live performances.
But they did seem happy to play Vitamin C, just in modified form.
This amazing take on the song in 1976 is particularly fantastic, recorded at a gig in France. Who wouldn’t want to see these guys live?
Just to note, Damo Suzuki had left the band by 1976 to live a bohemian lifestyle.
The vocals are apparently by Thaiga Raj Raja Ratnam. The band auditioned various potential replacements after Suzuki left in 1973, but never settled on anyone permanent.
And it’s that live recording that shows the adaptability of the band.
But we’ll end this piece with this May 1973 performance in Paris. This about as classic Can as it can get, turning a two-minute track into a propulsive 13-minute monster groove.
One of the cornerstone’s of the band’s music was to head off into hypnotic instrumentals seemingly channelling space and time into one instant composition.
Full credit to Damo Suzuki on this as they relied on him to realise when they were heading back into the centre of the song, needing him to lead again.
And they all riffed off each other perfectly. Fantastic band. Phenomenal band.