The most important musicians to come out of Düsseldorf, Kraftwerk really only spent about fifteen years inventing electronic music – the last couple of decades seem to have mostly involved remastering, re-recording, performing live, taking long bike rides, and probably sitting around not doing much. Which probably makes them sound a lot less essential than they are.
The UK number one The Model, which finally reached the top spot in 1981, three years after its original release; the gargantuan Autobahn (1974); their theme to Tour de France (1983); or perhaps just that time they invented the entirety of modern electronic music.
Where to start
Perhaps wisely, they have never released a proper ‘best of’. If you’re interested in finding out the roots of modern electronic music, start with Trans Europa Express (1977). If you want something a little more contemporary, try The Mix (1991).
What to buy
Make sure you get the German versions rather than the English versions. After the two albums I mentioned above, go with Die Mensch-Maschine (The Man Machine, 1978), and then Computerwelt (Computer World, 1981). Autobahn (1974) and Radio-Aktivität (Radio-Activity, 1975) are both essential too, but take things one thing at a time. Alternatively, just to stock up with the Der Katalog collection (2009) and get all the main albums in one go.
Don’t bother with
Most of their pre-Autobahn output, unless you’re ready for a history lesson in early 1970s avant-garde electronic music. Most of the singles just contain slightly pointless edits, although some of the remixes are of interest, particularly those by François Kevorkian.
The 1999 single Expo 2000 was largely forgettable except for the excellent 2002 remix, and some of the remixes of Aérodynamik are pretty essential too. The 2005 live album Minimum Maximum is great too, but probably wouldn’t be the best release for first timers.