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Step back to 1970

In the first part of this series, I looked back at songs that were hits before my musical consciousness awoke (other than Heintje’s run of classics in 1968). I had always loved records, but my awareness of pop started to really kick in 1970, when I was four. I cannot pinpoint it precisely, but two memories stick: a TV performance by the Schlager singer Katja Ebstein, possibly on the Hitparade show; the other lovingly studying the sleeve of an LP which featured El Condor Pasa.

As always, I should emphasise that the songs featured in this series are intended to chart my musical autobiography; their inclusion might evoke fond memories or may be appreciated for other reasons, but I don’t necessarily endorse them.

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Katja Ebstein – Wunder gibt es immer wieder.mp3

katja_ebsteinWunder gibt es immer wieder was certainly steeped in the musical sensibilities of the 1960s, the ass-end of which it probably was written in. The arrangement is at first cornily quirky, with a less than brilliantly considered Hammond keyboard line, but when the song hits the chorus, it goes into high drama. Compare the finger-snapping intro to the OTT climax. But it all works. There are few Schlager which I would describe as having merit exceeding that of the deceptive tinge of nostalgia (and we’ll meet a good few of songs along the way whose merit is strictly limited to the wistful yearning for innocent childhood days), but Wunder gibt es immer wieder is a pretty good song.

It was West Germany’s entry at the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest; it came third, while Ireland’s Dana won with the insipid All Kind Of Everything (which my Heino-loving grandmother really liked). Ebstein’s lyrics implore the lonely heart to persevere with hope, because, as the title promises, “miracles happen all the time”, the trick is to actually spot them when they occur. In other words, what Katja means is: “It would take a fucking miracle for anyone to fall for an oxygen waster like you.” No wonder bloody Dana won.

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Simon & Garfunkel – El Condor Pasa.mp3
el_condor_pasaThe reference in this post’s introduction to an LP cover featuring El Condor Pasa was not to Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album. I seem to recall the cover showing not Little & Large but a white bird of some sort – not the vulture of the song’s title, for condors, pasa or not, are black – flying against a blue sky. I don’t recall who the artist was, and have no explanation why anyone in my family thought it a good idea to buy El Condor Pasa as performed by a knock-off random act that depicts white birds on their album covers, rather than the Bridge Over Troubled Water LP.

But I knew the S&G version. You couldn’t escape it on German radio in 1970. I won’t look it up, but I am quite certain that El Condor Pasda was the duo’s biggest hit in West Germany, much more successful than the immensely popular title song of their final studio album.

Plagiarism fans will know that Paul Simon lifted the melody of a Peruvian song whose roots go back to the 19th century. What Paul Simon didn’t realise was that the song had been copyrighted as written by Daniel Alomía Robles in 1913, based on an Andean folk tune. When Robles’ son sued for royalties, Paul Simon was contrite about what evidently was a genuine mistake. In the words of Robles Jr, “It was an almost friendly court case.” Which is nice.

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Peter Maffay – Du.mp3
The youngest of my three sisters, ten years my senior, was a big Udo Jürgens fan — maffay_duuntil 1970, when the young, broody and pensive Romanian-born Peter Maffay burst on to the scene with his first hit, the rather overwrought Du. Almost 40 yeas later, she remains a loyal Maffay fan. It would be wrong to call Maffay a Schlager singer; his material lacks the genre’s sentimental banality, musically and lyrically. All the more shameful the hurtful abuse he received from the crowds when he supported the Rolling Stones on tour in 1982 (it didn’t help that Peter Wolf, of the J. Geils Band, rather viciously introduced Maffay as an exponent of Schlager).

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Mungo Jerry – In The Summertime.mp3
Mungo Jerry – Mighty Man.mp3

mungo_jerryIn The Summertime has acquired an unjust reputation for being a bit of a novelty number (and among some astonishingly ignorant people on the Internet with no will to bother with boring stuff like research the label of one-hit wonder). No matter how extravagant Ray Dorset’s luxurious afro and sideburns, and no matter how big a summer hit it was, In The Summertime is a perfect pop song. Unusually it draws from skiffle (though not as much as other Mungo Jerry songs), an artform that enjoyed brief popularity in Britain in the 1950s.

In The Summertime soundtracked the summer of 1970, and when Lady Rose became a hit a year later, my elder brother became a Mungo Jerry fan. Through him I was introduced to lesser known songs by the group, such as Summertime’s b-side, the fantastic Mighty Man, on which Dorset provides oral percussive effects, scats, hushes randomly, says “all right all right all right”, and whoops with delight at his mightiness, all to the backdrop of some serious boogie woogie piano and a mean harmonica. The name Mungo Jerry, incidentally, was taken from a feline character in TS Eliot Book Of Practical Cats (on which Andrew Bloody-Lloyd-Webber based his musical Cats).

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Christie – Yellow River.mp3
christieEl Condor Pasa, In The Summertime and Yellow River were the trinity of 1970’s summer hits in Germany. I associate them with the inflatable plastic water pool my younger brother received on his birthday in June, my yellow bicycle, playing with plastic Cowboys and Indians, lots of sunshine (even though it probably rained much of the time), our holiday in Denmark during which we’d get our feet tarred at the beach… And it was the first of several summers I shared with my very first best friend, our new neighbours’ son Stefan, who was half a year older than I was and always acted as though the age difference was much greater. Before he arrived on the scene, all the kids on our block were much older than I was, and therefore beyond my reach for social interaction. For many years (in childhood terms) we were tight. Then, suddenly, we weren’t. Childhood friendships are a fickle thing — especially when parents are friends and suddenly not. A year or so after Stefan appeared on the scene, two bothers moved into our street, and our gang was born.

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Daliah Lavi – Oh, wann kommst Du.mp3
daliah_lavi_wann_kommst_duDaliah Lavi was (and still is) an Israeli singer and actress. She was exotically beautiful in the early ’70s and sung with a deep, soulful voice. She had dark hair and a dark complexion, like my mother and my friend Stefan’s mom. Therefore she embodied, to my unripe mind, the ideal stereotype of adult womanhood.

I vaguely recall seeing Lavi sing this song on the ZDF Hitparade, which for its time was an innovative monthly show dedicated to only German-language pop. Many artists appearing on the show were not Germans. Some enjoyed careers in other European countries (Salvatore Adamo, for example), others were active mostly or only in the German-speaking region. Uniformly they sang in heavy accents. That was not a disadvantage. On the contrary, in German entertainment few things guaranteed success as much as a thick accent. Some German singers, such as Drafi Deutscher, went as far as affecting a faint foreign accent. The wildly popular Dutch TV host Rudi Carell was asked once why he didn’t try and lose his Dutch accent, which sounded like the emission of fetid vowels through a corroded sausage-making machine. He replied that the heavy accent was a key to his success. Without it, he’d have been just another entertainer; the accent was his trademark, and the reason TV viewers responded to him. Of course they also responded to his compatriot Wim Thoelke, who had no discernible foreign accent.

But back to Oh, wann kommst Du (which translates as “Oh, when will you come?”). I still like it a lot. Lavi is in great voice (and accent), especially during the bridge (“Du kannst fragen, was Du nie fragst; alles sagen, was Du nie sagst…”) and during the chorus with the elongated Oh’s. I’d go as far as calling it Schlager’s finest moment, damning with faint praise though that may be. The English original by Olivia Newton-John was titled Would You Follow Me (if anyone has that, please e-mail me). Daliah Lavi, incidentally, appeared in a Bond movie, Casino Royale, as “The Detainer”.

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  1. July 31st, 2009 at 07:45 | #1

    I do remember Katja’s other entry for the Eurovision, “Theater”. One of my first childhood musical memories. Although I don’t care about Schlager these days, I still think she had a great voice. Nice trip back in time, btw.

  2. July 31st, 2009 at 14:04 | #2

    your selection made me smile on this sad day.
    El Condor Pasa… we use to call it El Condo Pasta :)
    Peter Maffay – never got into him. And can never forgive him for butchering Karat’s Über Sieben Brücken.

  3. July 31st, 2009 at 14:39 | #3

    Sad because of Bobby Robson? R.I.P.

    I also prefer the Karat version, and will feature it in the 1979 instalment.

  4. July 31st, 2009 at 23:14 | #4

    I got weary of “El Condor Pasa,” as it was – to my mind – overplayed on Minnesota’s radio stations. I still dig “In The Summertime” and “Yellow River,” though, markers from my first couple of years of Top 40 fandom.

  5. August 1st, 2009 at 21:33 | #5

    Dude,
    I get the impression we share the same musical memories…
    But I profoundly hate Peter Maffay’s “Du”
    And I prefer another hit by Daliah Lavi “Willst Du mit mir gehen?”

    Talking about thick accents…
    I remember:
    Ireen Sheer’s “Goodbye Mama”
    Danyel Gerard’s “Butterfly”
    Mouth & McNeal’s “How do you do”
    and John Kincade’s German version of “Jenny Jenny (Dreams are ten a penny)”

  6. August 1st, 2009 at 22:05 | #6

    Ha, three of the above four are going to feature in the series, and the Daliah Lavi song.

    I’m not too big on “Du” either; as I say, young Peter is getting a tad overwrought. But seeing as my sister fell in love with Maffay, “Du” was pretty much on heavy rotation in 1970.

  7. August 2nd, 2009 at 06:18 | #7

    I had never heard of Daliah Lavi until I read this post. Tonight I saw her in a movie! Synchronicity.

  8. Andrew
    August 5th, 2009 at 18:26 | #8

    I only remember Daliah Lavi from her turn in the 1960s James Bond spoof Casino Royale, strapped naked to a table with some weird space-age beehive hairdo; you can tell, it left an impression.

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