Collection Recollection: Tangerine Dream (And Company)

I’ll be heading off to Japan in a few months, and unfortunately my records won’t be coming with me. It’s probably for the best though, I don’t know where I’d store 3,000+ records in a tiny Tokyo apartment. But before I shovel them away to a storage locker, I want to take some time to write about the records that mean the most to me. Today I’ll be taking a look at my shockingly comprehensive Tangerine Dream collection.

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I own over 20 Tangerine Dream albums.

I have no idea how the fuck this happened.

It had to be the soundtracks. At least, that had to be how it started. As I previously went over, I love to collect soundtracks to old movies, and Tangerine Dream certainly have composed more than their fair share of film scores over the years – something like 20 or so since their score for the 1977 film Sorcerer. So I bet that was the impetus, probably beginning with their score to Legend (an awful film I hate) or maybe Firestarter (an awful film I love). Although now that I think about it. the first Tangerine Dream album I bought may have been the soundtrack to Three O’Clock High, an entirely forgotten 80s teen comedy that I probably watched a billion times as a child – a soundtrack that also features some contributions by Airwolf theme composer Sylvester Levay.

It’s pretty stupid.

However it happened , I eventually crossed over from “Tangerine Dream soundtrack collector” to full-on “Tangerine Dream album collector” – a pastime that’s both time-consuming and costly, as Tangerine Dream is one hell of a productive band. Since 1970, Tangerine Dream have released over 130 albums (both live and in the studio) and an additional 70+ compilations, many of which include never-before-released and new material. That’s an average of over four albums a year. That’s insane.

But I’m not insane enough to want to get all of them. No, my bizarre fascination with the German krautrockers-turned-electronic-messiahs is oddly rather focused. I’m pretty much only interested in their output from 1974 to about 1987, from when they started their “classic” sound with the seminal Phaedra, to when about when I feel they finally burned out and exhausted it for all its worth and then some, which is coincidentally when they stopped putting out their albums on vinyl. Still, if I limit myself to just that era I’m looking at over 30 records – meaning that if I complete my quest I’ll own more albums by Tangerine Dream than any other band.

But why? What is it about Tangerine Dream that makes me want to get their entire vinyl discography?

Well, the soundtrack thing started out of nostalgia. Tangerine Dream did do the scores for some of the most memorable films of the late-70s and 80s, including Miracle Mile, Risky Business, Thief, Firestarter, Legend and Near Dark. Those are all films I watched as a child and a teen after discovering them at my dad’s video store. So even if the soundtracks were horrible, I would want to own them. Thankfully, most of them are quite good. However, they also put out, and I bought, soundtracks to films I’ve never heard of and will most likely never see. Ever catch Heartbreakers? How about Wavelength? Or Flashpoint? Yeah, me neither. and if it wasn’t for Wikipedia or the IMDB I still wouldn’t. But I still sought them out. Not only that, I even listen to them on a somewhat regular basis (well, not the soundtrack to Flashpoint, holy cow that album is a stinker).

I guess I love Tangerine Dream because to me they’re the ultimate “background music” band. And while that may sound like an insult or at the very least a backhanded compliment, I say that with nothing but praise. The driving rhythms and pulsing beats from many of their best albums, such as Phaedra and Stratosfear, serve as excellent accompaniment to life’s many tasks. Anything, be it cleaning your bathroom or organizing your DVD collection, is better with Tangerine Dream playing behind you – their ambient landscapes providing gravitas and meaning to the most mundane of daily tasks. They’re also a great band to listen to while writing. Something about those sequencer loops really gets my creative juices pumping.

As much as I love Tangerine Dream, it’s kind of hard to pick out favorites or stand out records, a lot of times when I’m in the mood to listen to them I just pick an album at random and play it. But the albums I return to the most are Phaedra and Stratosfear, and I also find myself coming back to their live LP Logos, their 1980 album White Eagle, and the soundtracks to both Firestarter and Sorcerer (still their best score in my opinion).

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The “In The Beginning” box set features six early Tangerine Dream albums…all of which I hate.

Now, if you want me to pick out Tangerine Dream albums I hate, that’s much easier. I despise everything pre-Phaedra, when they were still experimenting with their sound and had one foot firmly planted in their krautrock roots. Don’t get me wrong, some of those LPs can be pretty fascinating and interesting from a historical perspective, but they sure don’t make for easy listening. The drone-heavy sound of Zeit in particular makes me comatose every time I try to listen to it.

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Half of these albums are great.

While seeking out 30+ records by one band might be enough of a foolhardy and insane endeavor to keep most collectors occupied for at least a few years, I’ve actually branched out with my Tangerine obsession and am now searching for solo albums by past and present members of the group. For a while, I was buying any album by Edgar Froese, the founder and sole constant member of the group, that I could find. But after buying a series of duds in a row (specifically the meandering mess that is Ages), I decided to take a break from his work for a while. Now I’m focusing on former member Klaus Schulze, and I’m enjoying what I’ve uncovered so far, especially Moondawn and his live albums.

Getting into Tangerine Dream can be a pretty daunting task, but it’s actually a pretty affordable endeavor, all things considered. You can buy nearly any Tangerine Dream album for less than 20 bucks on vinyl (typically less than $10 if you look around) with only a few of the soundtracks and the odd Klaus Schulze album going for more than that. Now, if you want to start chasing down their albums on CD, that can get a bit pricier, especially when it comes to the soundtracks. I’ve seen CD copies the Near Dark and Firestarter soundtracks hit $50 and beyond.

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Shulze is nearly as prolific as Tangerine Dream, dude is constantly putting out music.

From both a budget and accesibility standpoint, if you’re looking to try out a Tangerine Dream LP, I suggest starting with my perennial favorites; Phaedra and Stratosfear. Those two albums are probably the best representation of everything great about the group. From there, if you want to branch out into solo records by former members of the group, I suggest picking up Cyborg by Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese’s Stuntman LP and Michael Hoenig’s amazing debut album Departure From The Northern Wasteland, a great album that bridges the gap between the sequencer sound of Tangerine Dream, and the more ambient stuff that came from acts like Brian Eno who were clearly inspired by it. Hoenig also did the soundtrack to the Baldur’s Gate games, so that’s something.

Just be careful. I consider myself a casual Tangerine Dream fan and I’ve somehow ended up with 40+ records related to the group. You can fall deep into a Moog hole chasing Tangerine Dream albums and not even know it until its too late.

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