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Soundtrack of my Life: 1960s

July 17th, 2009 20 comments

Some readers may remember a series of posts in which I looked at songs that evoked particular times, the way music often does. That was two years ago, and for two years I’ve regretted not milking the concept more than I did. In my excitement, I rushed through the years, overlooking some essential songs. And, of course, I’ve rediscovered a few in the meantime. One I found a couple of weeks ago; the chorus had been a recurring, random earworm for more than three decades without revealing itself in a manner by which I could carry out the appropriate research in order to identify and acquire it. Around the same time, I stumbled upon a song I had entirely forgotten about. Hearing both beamed me back to 1971/72, when I was five years old.

That then, is the point of this revised series (I will probably recycle some blurb I wrote two years ago while pretending to ignore what I posted): to recreate, as the cliché goes, a soundtrack to my life consisting of the hits of the day. Be warned, some of the music will be utterly horrible, enjoyable only as an act of nostalgia, and even then not very much. There will be oddities that must be included because they were pivotal in my life, like my first idol, childstar Heintje, or my first single (an obscure soul song now regarded as a classic in its genre called… oh, OK, a terrible Schlager single). I will be brutally frank in acknowledging a record of bad taste in childhood, and of questionable record purchases as a young man in the 1980s (What’s The Color Of Money, anyone?). But I also know that there are many who will share these records of bad taste, the questionable purchases, and enjoy revisiting these — maybe even recalling the same songs with similar experiences.

This, then, is my musical autobiography. My interest in knowing the names of performers, other than the legend that is Heintje, began in 1970, when I was four. In this first installment we look at songs that were hits before then, but which remind me of my childhood, not necessarily of the time when they were hits (except for Heintje, of course).

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Heintje –Mama (1968).mp3
heintjeIt all begun with Heintje. I had opportunity last year to report on how I pretended to be an old-fashioned record player. I was about two. I’d run around with my left arm pointing up to resemble the metal spindle on which one would stack records, while my right hand would make semi-circular motions around the supposed spindle to indicate the record’s rotation, all the while lustily singing a song, usually by Dutch-born Heintje, who was huge in West-Germany in the 1960s. Shortly, I’d say “clack” — the next record dropping down the spindle — to begin a new song, invariably by Heintje. I was a fan of the boy who as Hein Simon would enjoy considerably diminished success once, hurrah!, his bollocks dropped.

Listening to Heintje today, it is difficult to see on what foundations of excellence his career was built. It was almost exclusively sentimental gunk, mostly addressed to his mother whom he repeatedly beseeched not to cry for his sake. And it was mainly mothers, their mothers, and two-year-old kids who dug Heintje’s oedipal stylings. And yet, anybody who was alive in West-Germany in the 1960s (or even early ’70s) before the onset of puberty will most likely be beamed back to their childhood on hearing his hits such as Mama or Heidschi Bumbeidschi, and few are the German families that did not have Heintje’s Christmas album, as essential to a true German 1970s Weihnachten as tinsel and Lebkuchen.

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Alexandra – Mein Freund der Baum (1968).mp3
alexandra-mein_freund_der_baumCLACK! Banal Schlager singers were a Pfennig-a-dozen in Germany. All the more tragic when a real chanteuse, the beautiful, husky voiced Alexandra perished in a car crash on 31 July 1969 at 27. I faintly remember my grandmother telling me that Alexandra was dead when footage of her appeared on the old monochrome television. I don’t know how old I was, but I certainly knew nothing of death. A year before Alexandra died, in 1968 when I was two, my great-uncle died. I have two flashes of vivid memory of him, but his absence didn’t trouble me. He’s dead, you say? Cool. Will he come visit tomorrow? But now I was affected by the gravity of what my grandmother was telling me about the pretty singer. Death seemed serious, shocking business. Maybe you didn’t even survive it.

Quite likely, I would have recovered soon from notions of mortality, had it not been for the song that accompanied the footage of the dead Alexandra: a mournful, slightly eerie ode to a tree that was felled, with its theme of loss and anguish underscored by mournful, slightly eerie music. Knowing this person was dead freaked me out so much that for a couple of years I refused to watch reruns of shows or movies that featured people I knew to be dead (except Laurel and Hardy, probably because they were immortal. And The Little Rascals, who were kids and therefore not possibly dead). Forty years on, I regard Mein Freund der Baum has one of the era’s very few German songs of merit, one influenced by Alexandra’s contact with the French chansonniers of the day, such as Gilbert Bécaud and Salvatore Adamo (both huge in Germany).

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The Peels – Juanita Banana (1966).mp3
peels_juanita_bananaBeyond Heintje, my initial introduction to music rested on the singles my second-oldest sister played and my mother owned. My sister never let me look at her records, so I don’t recall much of them other than the green Odeon label records of the Beatles and a song in which a dog barked a melody on the red Telefunken label. My mother, on the other hand, kept her singles in an album with plastic sleeves to which I had unrestricted access, at least once I got my own record player for my fifth birthday. I don’t think that her single of the Peels’ great novelty hit from 1966 impressed me much until then. The record’s sleeve was by then missing, so the initial attraction was the label, with a karate figure which evoked my favourite ice lolly from our holidays in Denmark, the wrapper and name of which had some martial arts motif, possibly Kung Fu (it tasted of liquorice, and when I returned to Denmark in 1999, they were still selling it. It still tasted great). Once played, Juanita Banana became a firm favourite (the eponymous heroine Juanita Banana is singing Caro Nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto, incidentally). I confess, I still love it; it’s the best novelty hit of all time.
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Udo Jürgens – Siebzehn Jahr, Blondes Haar (1965).mp3
udo_jurgensUdo Jürgens is one of the most important German recording artists (he was born and grew up in Austria; his parents were, however, German). He wrote Matt Munro’s hit Walk Away, Shirley Bassey’s Reach For The Stars and Sammy Davis Jr’s concert-closer If I Never Sing Another Song, and has sold a reported 100 million records (he also collaborated with the tragic Alexandra, incidentally). More importantly, he was my youngest sister’s favourite singer before the moody Peter Maffay appeared on the scene in 1970. It was through that sister, ten years older than me, that I grew up on Jürgens hits such as Merci Chérie (a Eurovision Song Contest winner), the rousing and quite funny seduction song Es wird Nacht Senorita, and this sing-along hit about a blonde teenager. Now almost 75, Jürgens is apparently still performing, retaining his massive popularity.

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Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown (1967).mp3
manfred_mann_clownIn the course of moving between continents and leaving my record collection unattended while the vultures circled, I have lost almost all of my singles, but I still have this one, which I inherited from my mother. Of course a small kid will be attracted by the idea of a song about clowns, especially laughing ones (the kid need not be aware that the protagonist wanted to bang the wife of the clown). But two other things attracted me to the record: the cover, with a rather cute little girl, and the Fontana label, with the record company’s rather eccellent logo. As the Peels entry revealed, I had an interest in record labels as soon as my love affair with vinyl began. And the Fontana one appealed to me greatly. I loved all black labels, it seems. The song itself is brilliant; it features the flute and whistling!

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Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda (1969).mp3
pretty_belindaAnother of my mother’s records, and I still own that one, too. It’s the intro wuith the trrumpets that grabbed me then. Andrews looks very English on the cover, yet this song didn’t even chart in his home country, where he’ll be remembered better for his 1965 hit Yesterday Man. Andrews main career was sing-writing (he’s still at it, apparently). He wrote loads of songs for Sandie Shaw — by virtue of which he is a bit of a hero — and Adam Faith, as well as the Mamas and the Papas I’ll Remember Tonight.

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Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (German version) (1965).mp3
becaud_nathalieFew things excited German record buyers of the ’60s and ’70s as a foreign accent and the sound of far-away lands. Few singers had thicker accents than Bécaud, and when he sang a Russian-inflected song with a Cosack-dance type interlude, the Germans loved it. My mother certainly did, because she bought the single. I loved the cover, with Monsieur 100,000 Volts suavely greeting us from his sportscar, no doubt on his way to make love to an unattainable ethnic beauty. The song’s storyline exploits every Russian cliché bar the appearance of a babooshka. Gilbert picks Nathalie up in Red Square, parties with her and her university friends in her residence, then has hot Soviet sex with her. Now he remembers Nathalie and expects to kiss her soft lips again one day. Oh Gilbert, poor, naïve Gilbert. After your sexcapades in Moscow, the KGB arrested Nathalie and her friends. She was last believed to be in Siberia. Thanks, Gilbert.

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Esther & Abi Ofarim – Noch Einen Tanz (1965).mp3
esther_abi_ofarimThis is the German version of the Israeli duo’s song One More Dance (another one of mother’s singles). And what a cruel song it is, covering the conversation between two illicit lovers as the woman’s rich husband is ailing at home. Esther and Abi are milking the black humour for all it’s worth, especially when Esther notes with absolute glee that her husband is ill and when Abi, as “Franz”, informs his lover with fake surprise that her husband has died. And all that backed with jovial yet sinister music. With my death phobia, I found the song unsettling yet somehow alluring.
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Al Martino – Spanish Eyes (1966).mp3
al_martinoLike many of the songs here, I can’t say exactly when this record (another of mother’s singles) entered my consciousness. I do remember that my six-years-older brother and I adapted the English lyrics to sing: “Du, sperr’ mich ein” (You, lock me up). Which suggests that my brother had not learnt English yet, as he would begin to do so at the age of 10, and that I could not read the cover. Which would date the consciousness-entry at about 1970. Spanish Eyes was written by Bert Kaempfert, whose composing chops we observed in the most recent Originals instalment in reference to his Strangers In The Night, and who first recorded the song as an instrumental titled Moon Over Naples. Martino, of course, played mafia-owned singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, on whose behalf a racehorse lost its head. It is said, with some justification, that Fontane was based on Frank Sinatra. Martino had himself mafia troubles, having to pay $75,000 (in 1953, when that was worth something like ten times as much in today’s money) to ensure the safety of his family and went into exile in Britain for five years.

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Freddy Quinn – Junge, Komm Bald Wieder (1962).mp3
freddyOld Fred, I hate to tell you, was not an Irish expat making it big in Germany. Freddy’s mother knew her boy as Manfred Nidl-Petz. You see the reason why Fred saw cause to change his name, as many other singers have done before and after him. He was one of the first, however, to adopt an English-sounding moniker. Following his example, ever Hans, Fritz and Heinrich would take an Anglophone name, such as Roy Black or Chris Roberts. Unlike Roy and Chris and their friends, Freddy had some connection to his new name: his father was Irish (perhaps even named Quinn).

Manfred’s reinvention didn’t end there. Although born in landlocked Austria, he made the musical sentiments of seafaring his stock and trade. That is akin to a New Yorker making a career out of being a professional hillbilly. Of course, nobody particularly cared that this Austrian was now a Northern German (the astute student of German political history will faintly remember another Austrian who became a German), and Freddy’s melancholy songs about the sea and homesickness — such as this featured piece of shit — were ubiquitous even years after they were hits.

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Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg – Je t’aime moi non plus (vinyl).mp3
jane_birkinIn the official version, my first celeb crush was ABBA’s lovely Agnetha, but I suspect that before the lovely Agnetha, I fell for the lovely Jane Birkin. I loved looking at the sleeve of the single, which my mother somehow saw no need to withhold from me. Of course, I had no idea that Birkin was climaxing (I’ve read that it wasn’t faked; I like to think it wasn’t) in a sexual manner. I don’t know what exactly I thought she was doing (probably she had a nightmare, or a tummyache), but I certainly had no idea that there was such a thing as sex, and if I had, I wouldn’t have known what it sounded like. So my early childhood exposure to Je t’aime moi non plus had no corrupting influence on me. Not at that point anyway. I certainly liked the sound of the music. This vinyl rip isn’t my work — I downloaded it about ten years ago — but it captures the way I remember hearing it as a child perfectly. My mother’s single crackled just like that.

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More Stepping Back

Clack, Crackle & Pop: The Vinyl Days

August 12th, 2008 9 comments

If you belong to a certain generation, you will be familiar with the old music consoles featuring a radio tuner (in Germany with bands indicating exotic places such as Hilversum, Dubrovnik and Königsberg) and a record player with a spindle on which you’d stack up to ten records which would drop on to the turntable when the previous platter was finished. A bit like a pre-historic WinAmp playlist. I was such a record player.

I cannot remember exactly how old I was. Probably two years old. But I remember it. My shtick was to run around with my left arm pointing up with an outstretched index finger as my right hand made half-circular motions around the left index finger. All that was accompanied by soulful singing, usually songs by child star Heintje. Suddenly the singing would stop, I’d say “clack”, and begin singing a different song. Usually by, yes, Heintje. My first idol, was Heintje.

Today I continue to be a source of recorded music. If my friends have a party, I bring the music. If they are looking for something new to hear, I’m the man. And, seeing as you are here, each song I post signals the clack of a record dropping from my index finger, with the link being my right hand rotating the record, and the click of the mouse the soundeffect.

I have four older siblings, the youngest of whom is six years older than I am, and my mother was a young 21 when I was born (I need not point out that the elder siblings originated from my widowed father’s first marriage). Records were everywhere in our house. My siblings introduced my to all kinds of German Schlager music (the youngest of my sisters loved Udo Jürgens before falling for Peter Maffay), the Beatles, David Cassidy, and later Jethro Tull… My mother, although her first love was classical music, had a singles collection, too. And I loved singles. So it was on my fifth birthday that I became the proud owner of a compact record player, the box-type where the lid doubles as the speaker. I commandeered my mother’s singles collection, kept in an album with plastic sleeves for the purposes of prudent storage. Manfred Mann’s Ha! Ha! Said The Clown, Chris Andrew’s Pretty Belinda, the Archies’ Sugar Sugar, Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes (not knowing English, we sang: “Du, sperr’ mich ein”), Trini Lopez singing America from West Side Story, Gilbert Becaud’s Russian-flavoured Nathalie, The Peels’ Juanita Banana – and Jane Birkin’s Je ‘taime non plus. I loved the keyboard line but felt sorry for the girl who apparently was suffering a nightmare.

My grandmother, at whose nearby house I’d spent half of my childhood, also had records. None of these were as cool as Al Martino, of course. Still, I loved playing records, even if the music I played meant nothing to me and my life. I loved her classy shiny music box with the mirrored liquor cabinet which smelt of brandy. I’d choose the records according to the aesthetics of the record label. My favourite was a dramatic ’50s design in orange with a logo which looked vaguely like an exploding star. It was a recording of a Montenegro Choir performing the Hebrew Slave Chorus from Verdi’s Nabucco. It remains one of my favourite pieces of music.

In my second-oldest sister’s flat, I became a fan of the Beatles, without knowing it. I liked the music on the green Capitol label, especially Paperback Writer and, with deplorable predictability, Ob-ladi-Ob-lada (though that was on the Apple label, I think). I also liked the one with the red label, which was a song with the barking dog barking to a tune. Of my mother’s singles, I liked The Peels’ Juanita Banana primarily because of the karate label. It reminded my of my favourite ice lolly in Denmark, where we’d holiday, called (I think) Kung Fu. In 1999 I had the opportunity to sample the same liquorice-flavoured ice-lolly. It remains my all-time favourite ice-lolly, and I still can’t tell martial arts apart.

My grandmother must have been a big music fan in her time. By the time I was four or five (and she 75), I think she wanted to live her hipness through me. Perhaps she felt it lacking in dignity to rummage through the singles shelves. So when we’d visit the record section of the local Karstadt department store, she would strongly recommend a single I should pick for purchase. Invariably it would be something by the evil Heino, or perhaps by the delusionarily-monikered Czech crooner Karel Gott. Just before I turned six, I finally bought my first deliberately and self-chosen record. It was no less ghastly than Oma’s Heino grooves, but it was my choice: Roy Black & Anita’s Schön ist es auf der Welt zu sein. I suppressed the memory of that purchase for 35 years. The purchase signalled the start of a frenzied, Oma-sponsored acquisition of a fairly-sized record collection which would include such luminaries as Vicky Leandros, Mireille Mathieu, Roberto Blanco and Freddy Breck. For my fix of English music – the Sweet’s Poppa Joe! – I had to go home to Mom’s plastic sleeve album. By the time I was eight, I had worked out that the German Schlager was terminably uncool. I stopped buying German records – and, for a while, any at all. The fever struck again before too long, thanks to the Bay City Rollers (cutting edge cool I was not).

1977, the year I turned 11, was made of vinyl. A single soundtracked the death of my father (Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Julie Convington), my first love (Rod Stewart’s Sailing), my first crazy record-buying spree at the huge Saturn store in Cologne, at the time Europe’s biggest record shop (Kenny Rogers’ Lucille). And then there was a life-changing song, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I had started to learn English in school only a year previously, so I relied on a monthly song lyrics booklet to provide the lyrics of popular songs. A single word in one particular hit bothered me: esitayshon. I looked it up in the songbook for the correct spelling (“hesitation”, apparently), and then consulted my English-German dictionary. It felt fantastic having learned a word like “hesitation”, which even in its German form did not form part of my daily vocabulary. This was the beginning with my ongoing love affair with the English language, thanks to a heavily-accented Spanish duo’s hit, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie (an celebration of dancing skills, I believe). Within a few months, my record purchases would focus on more sophisticated music. The Stranglers thus taught me the word “sleazy”. A couple of years later, I would subscribe to an English football magazine, Match Weekly, to enrich and polish my English vocab.

Your presence here, having persisted with my rambling memoirs of vinyl, suggests that you may well have an appreciation for this blog, hopefully taking some pleasure from both the writing and the music. If so, you may give credit for that to Baccara, Heintje and record players that used to go CLACK!

And so to the music: The first lot of these songs are new uploads, the rest is recycled from the Time Travel 1970s series.

Heintje – Mama.mp3
Trini Lopez – A-me-ri-ca.mp3
Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg – Je t’aime moi non plus.mp3
Al Martino – Spanish Eyes.mp3
Udo Jürgens – Merci Cheri
The Beatles – Paperback Writer.mp3
Vicky Leandros – Ich hab’ die Liebe gesehen.mp3

The Peels – Juanita Banana.mp3
Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (French version).mp3
Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda.mp3
Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3
Roy Black & Anita – Schön ist es auf der Welt zu sein.mp3
Sweet – Poppa Joe.mp3 David Cassidy – Daydreamer.mp3
Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Baccara – Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.mp3
Julie Covington – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.mp3
Kenny Rogers – Lucille.mp3

This post was written in celebration of VINYL RECORD DAY on August 12, marking the 131st anniversary of the the invention of the phonograph. Visit The Hits Just Keep On Coming for an index of more articles written especially for Vinyl Day.

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