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Curious Germany Vol. 4

January 12th, 2012 1 comment

We haven’t had German curiosities for a while. Well, here are some: Marlene Dietrich singing a folk anthem, Bowie going to Berlin,  a Schlager icon rocking out for peace, a short-haired teen doing Be My Baby, Chubby Checker twisten in Deutsch,  and a politician getting remixed.

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Marlene Dietrich – Sag’ mir wo die Blumen sind (1962).mp3
The Springfields – Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind (1963).mp3

While Mae West was singing Light My Fire in the 1960s (see HERE), Marlene Dietrich became a bit of a folkie with her German versions of Blowin’ In The Wind, retitled in German Die Antwort weiß ganz allein der Wind (HERE), and this cover of Pete Seeger’s 1955 anti-war anthem Where Have All The Flowers Gone.  The German version, with the lyrics by the author Max Colpet (who, among other things, wrote five scripts for Billy Wilder films) , has been recorded many times, even by Joan Baez; Dietrich’s was the first. In 1963, The Springfields, featuring Dusty Springfield, issued a rather lovely folk recording of that and other German-language songs.

Seeger has praised Sag’ mir wo die Blumen sind as being better than his original lyrics. Dietrich also recorded the English version of the song, as well as a French adaptation (titled Où vont les fleurs?).

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David Bowie – Helden (1977).mp3
Bowie lately hit the retirement age of 65, prompting many to lament the curious notion that Ziggy Stardust can now travel on a pensioner travelcard. When Bowie recorded Heroes, he was long past the Ziggy deal. It was his Berlin period during which he fused the cultures of the Weimar Republic cabarets, Krautrock and Kraftwerk, and the local junkie scene. It’s very nice that David Bowie sought to pay tribute to the city that served as his muse by recording in German, but since he lived and recorded there, one might quibble that he could have taken better care with his pronunciations. As it turns out, he put as much effort in enunciating German words correctly as English football commentators take care to pronounce the names of German (or any non-Latinate) football players.

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Udo Jürgens – Peace Now (1970).mp3
Here’s one in English, by Udo Jürgens, the Austrian-born Swiss national who enjoyed immense success in West Germany, the place of his parents’ birth. Jürgens provided one of my earliest musical memories since my sister was a big fan of the man in the late 1960s (see HERE). I still think that Siebzehn Jahr Blondes Haar and the funny Es Wird Nacht Senorita are superior Schlager moments; if more songs of that genre were as good as those, nobody would have cause to laugh at German music.  Jürgens also wrote hits for Matt Munro, Sammy Davis Jr and Shirley Bassey.

Peace Now was the rocking English-language b-side of a German single titled Deine Einsamkeit, released in October 1970. It’s actually pretty good, in a dated sort of way that draws from rock, funk and gospel. Udo, exhibiting a rather lilting German accent, buys into the Zeitgeist as he sings: “Everybody is talkin’ ’bout peace in the world, but everytime I hear a hungry baby cry I ask: Peace, now show me your face.”

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Suzanne Doucet – Sei mein Baby (1964).mp3
It’s quite interesting that in the 1960s, a female singer’s image could be defined by her short hair. So it was with Suzanne Doucet. Born in 1944 in the university town of Tübingen to a family of thespians and artists, she was briefly a Schlager star while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, as you do. Later she appeared with Donna Summer in the German version of the musical Godspell. Then she married an American, moved to the US and became a leading New Age musician, a field in which she remains active (so it’s important to know that she was born with the sun in Virgo, Aquarius rising, and Saggitarius moon – whatever that means).

Sei mein Baby is a lovely bilingual cover of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, and appeared on the b-side of Doucet’s first hit single, Das geht doch keinen etwas an (That is nobody’s business).

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Chubby Checker – Der Twist Beginnt (1962).mp3
I got this German version of Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again  courtesy of reader Ton, who certainly would agree with me that Chubby did not put much effort into his translations. “Sei nicht so lazy”, indeed. In fact, Chubby sounds a bit like a cliché Wehrmacht soldier in a 1960s war movie, right down to the way he enunciates the affirmative word “Ja”. You can almost hear it: “Ve hef vays of making you tvist.” At least the backing track is new, which makes this a proper cover version of Checker’s own original. He compiled a fairly impressive catalogue of German-language records, with titles such as Twist doch mal mit mir, Autobahn-Baby, Holla Hi Holla Ho and Troola-Troola-Troola-La. But he proably recorded loads in other languages, as his LP Twistin’ Around The World suggests.

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Karl Schiller – High.mp3
Karl Schiller was West Germany’s economic minister from 1966-72. He did not record this track. High appeared on one of four LPs of politicians’ speeches set to far out music by Volker Kühn and Roland Schneider (featuring jazz-rock guitar maestro Volker Kriegel) . Schiller’s speech was economic babble laced with contemporary lingo about drugs, being high and blow-ups. Schiller had a rather colourful political career. In 1937, at the age of 26, he joined the Nazi party, but after the war he joined the left-of-centre Social Democratic Party (SPD). He left them in 1972 when he clashed with Chancellor Willy Brandt (possibly Germany’s greatest politician and a co-star on Kühn and Schneider’s Pol(H)itparade LP) over economic policy, and collaborated with. Eight years later he re-joined the SPD. He died in 1994.

More Curious Germany

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Step back to 1975 – Part 1

January 15th, 2010 6 comments

The year 1974 morphed into 1975 without it making much of a difference. I became increasingly football mad, and I was still reading Micky Maus comics. I had the same kindly teacher, spent a large part of the week at my grandmother’s, and music didn’t mean all that much. It was there, I enjoyed it, but the passion that once was there had gone. At the age of nine, I was jaded, fallen off Planet Pop. And still I must cover the year in two parts. The songs in this series here are chosen for their ability to transport me back to the year under review. The songs here evoke the first half of 1975, the smell of spring and Easter eggs.

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ABBA – So Long.mp3
After winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo on 6 April 1974 and topping the UK charts with the song, ABBA thought they had made their big breakthrough. They hadn’t. Their next notable hit in Britain would be S.O.S., a year and a half later. In West Germany, however, ABBA were a permanent fixture. Songs that made little or no impact in Britain provided the soundtrack to my life as an eight and nine-year-old: Honey Honey, Ring Ring, Hasta Manana (featured in the second part for 1974), I Do I Do I Do I Do and So Long. These songs showed ABBA’s versatility, ranging from bubble gum pop to Schlager to glam rock. So Long is a fine glam stomper.

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Udo Jürgens – Griechischer Wein.mp3
Udo merits praise for investing some social commentary in his lyrics. Here he dealt German xenophobia a mortal blow, ensuring that Germans and Gastarbeiter would live in perfect harmony, like the keys on an oompah tuba. The song has Udo stumbling into a suburban Greek taverna whose noble patrons relate to him their longing for the old country because that’s where they are accepted. And the Greek wine — Retsina is horrible stuff, tastes like the sap of a tree — encourages them in their confessions of homesickness. I don’t think Udo thought that one through much, well-intentioned though his song was. In his representation, the swarthy immigrants (oh yes, he tells us of their swarth) are heavy-drinking emotive cliché-mongers who have no interest in assimilation, just trying to turn a buck so that they can go home again to live la vida loca. Exactly the image which the German xenophobes exploited in their bid not to accept immigrants.

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Rubettes – Juke Box Jive
You can set fashions by it: a decade will be revived about 20 years later. We see it now, with the ’80s revival (the ’90s revival has already started, in as far as that derivative era has anything worth copying). In the 1970s, the ’50s made their comeback. Sha Na Na, Grease, The Last Picture Show, Elvis’ death…and this song, which implores us to do the juke box jive just like we did in ’55. In 1975, that seemed such a long time ago. But if we playfully update the lyrics to do the juke box jive just like we did in 1990…gulp!

I had the single of this. I lost ownership of it in unjust circumstances, in early 1978. My younger brother and I were eating soup when I made what must have been a very amusing comment, whereupon my brother spew his mouthful of soup all over my bowl. Naturally I refused to eat any more of the spitsoup. My mother, alas, was an enthusiastic enforcer of the empty plate rule. Seeing my problem, she suggested that we swap soups. That was a non-starter, because fraternal saliva would have polluted my brother’s soup as well — a problem when other people’s bodily fluids could induce utter disgust. So I struck a bargain with my brother: if he eats both bowls of soup, I’ll give him, erm, the single of Juke Box Jive by the mighty Rubettes. Seeing as he had a pathetic collection of records, consisting mainly of fairy tale LPs, he took the bait. I didn’t really like the Rubettes much anymore, but the loss of any record rankled nonetheless.

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Leonard Cohen – Lover Lover Lover.mp3
Laughing Len is not really Top 10 fodder; he never had a UK chart entry, as far as I know. But this was a massive hit in West Germany, his only hit there. I have no idea why, of all Cohen songs, Lover Lover Lover became a hit. Well, it is pretty good and quite catchy. I remember singing it in the street, rendering the chorus as luvvel-luvvel-luvvel. The lyrics are classic Cohen: “I asked my father, I said: ‘Father change my name.’ The one I’m using now, it’s covered up with fear and filth and cowardice and shame…He said: ‘I locked you in this body, I meant it as a kind of trial. You can use it for a weapon, or to make some woman smile’.”

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Barry White – You’re The First, My Last, My Everything.mp3
The sunny sound of the ’70s. Because of this song and “Love’s Theme”, and the Philly sound (the TSOP theme especially received much airplay in Germany), I associate strings in soul music with my childhood summers. Poor Barry White has become a bit of a joke in some ignorant quarters. The whole Walrus of Lurve nonsense deflects from White as a serious and gifted musician, the creator luscious arrangements and intricate melodies. And he was, of course, a great singer.
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Bimbo Jet – El Bimbo.mp3
I’ve mentioned before that every year there would be at least one (at least mostly) instrumental hit riding high in the German charts. In 1975, it was the unpromisingly titled El Bimbo by the French disco outfit Bimbo Jet. Apparently El Bimbo, a chart-topper in France in 1974, was based on a track by the Afghan singer Ahmad Zahir, titled Tanha Shudham Tanha. I have a recollection of a female singer, possibly Gitte, singing a German vocal version of this song.

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Sweet – Fox On The Run.mp3
A different version of Fox On The Run appeared on the group’s 1974 album Desolation Boulevard; the 1975 single was re-recorded, produced by the band. I wouldn’t have known it at the time, but it’s a song about groupies: “I don’t wanna know your name, ‘cause you don’t look the same, the way you did before. OK, you think you got a pretty face, but the rest of you is out of place; you looked all right before.” Charming.

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Shirley & Company – Shame Shame Shame.mp3
I think in 1975 the disco sound really crossed over. Where songs like Rock The Boat could be called soul, there was no such interchange between genres with songs like Shame Shame Shame. Shirley Goodman had been around for a long time as an R&B singer. By the late’70s she had retired. Shame Shame Shame was written by Sylvia Robinson, who in the 1960s was half of the soul duo Mickey & Sylvia. She had a soul hit with the very sexy Pillow Talk before founding the All Platinum Records label on which Shame Shame Shame was published. But Robinson’s place in music history is guaranteed as the co-founder of the Sugar Hill label, on which the Sugarhill Gang released Rapper’s Delight, the first rap hit.

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Teach-In – Ding-A-Dong.mp3
In about 1986/87, Heineken ran a very funny commercial on British TV featuring Spitting Image puppets performing really bad Eurovision Contest songs with nonsense titles, not unlike Ding-A-Dong. None of those were bad enough until the British entry, The Chicken Song, scored maximum points everywhere. Of course, Britain had previously enjoyed success with Lulu’s Boom Bang-A-Bang. Ding-A-Dong was Holland’s 1975 winner of the Eurovision Contest, held in Stockholm a year after ABBA’s triumph. There will be no sorrow if you sing a song that goes Ding-Ding-A-Dong, apparently.

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Kenny – The Bump.mp3
Listen to this and tell me that Robbie Williams took no inspiration from The Bump for that song he did with Kylie Minogue! The song headlined a short-lived dance, a strange throw-back to the early ’60s, when every dance fad produced a hit single. In 1975 there, of course, was also The Hustle, the disco masterpiece by Van McCoy.

The Bump was Kenny’s first hit, and apparently our five pals, still teenagers, had nothing to do with its production. The story goes that the song had already been released under the name Kenny, from a remixed backing track for an abandoned Bay City Rollers song and featuring co-writer Phil Coultier on vocals and backing vocals. The group Chuff was roped in, with a new lead singer, and renamed to present the song, lip synch style, on Top of the Pops. Kenny did not have much success: four hits in 1975 and, whoosh, they were gone — except in West Germany, where the group lingered on for a couple of years. Confusingly, an Irish singer by the name of Kenny had been releasing records just a year or two before — on the same label, RAK, as the group Kenny.

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More Stepping Back

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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Perfect Pop – Vol. 7 (more '60s)

May 1st, 2008 5 comments

Here is the second part of the Perfect Pop ’60s Special. I think there are still enough songs for two or three more instalments in this series, with the ’70s now having run a backlog.

Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City.mp3
This may be the quintessental summer song, at least as far as inner city life is concerned. It captures the claustrophic energy of a baking city; the song harries you, disorientates you. You feel the city dust in your nose, the steam rising from asphalt. Nobody is chilling on the beach or over a barbecue, because regardless of the heat, life goes on: cars are hooting, construction workers are pressure drilling (you can hear both in the song). There is something ominous yet utterly attractive in the air, creating a delicious tension as the stress of surviving the oppressive urban heat gives way to the warm nights when girls are lightly dressed and guys go on the prowl for summer sex.
Best bit: Possibly the first use of a pneumatic drill in pop (1:16)

The 5th Dimension – Up-Up And Away.mp3
I first became aware of this Jimmy Webb-penned song through Sesame Street in the early ’70s, and loved its mellow, almost comforting melody. It is a lot like a Bacharach songs, in structure and arrangement. It also sounds a bit like the advertising jingle it subsequently became; but if all commercial jingles would be as lovely as this, maybe ad breaks would not be such an imposition (to wit, I really like the Jeep ad with the Stephen Poltz song, You Remind Me). The 5th Dimension were a bit of a hippie outfit, so when this track was released in 1967 I imagine that a lot of people interpreted it as an invitation to get high. In fact, I like to imagine that it was a drug song, only for it to be played on Sesame Street and to flog airline tickets. The boring truth seems to be that the song was just about balloon travel. The familiar story that it was written to celebrate the wedding of band members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davies Jr in a hot air balloon is rubbish: the song came out in 1967; McCoo and Davies were married in 1969. But either they or fellow member Florence LaRue did marry in a balloon as a tribute to their first big hit.
Best bit: A flute in the background! (1:43)

The Hollies – Carrie Anne.mp3
From grey and rainy Manchester, the Hollies produced a song that is as California sunshiney as anything the Beach Boys ever delivered. The Everley Brothers influence is most evident in this1967 song, on which Stephen Nash (who later hooked up with Crosby and Stills) at the end harmonises with himself. There has been much speculation about who the eponymous girl was. Carrie Fisher has claimed its about her (just as I claim that Steely Dan wrote their song about this blog), some say that it was about Marianne Faithfull or Jagger’s future sister-in-law Karri-Ann Moller. I think it might be about my pal’s Kevin’s daughter, even though she was not yet born. The most likely explanation is this: the song’s working title was “Hey Mr Man”, and Carrie-Anne rhymes with that.
Best bit: The steel drums (1:37)

B.J. Thomas – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.mp3
I cannot imagine what exactly a Bacharach pop song was doing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I never did “get” that movie. The scene it scored — Paul Newman monkeying around on one of those newfangled “bicycles” — was memorable, though. Thanks to Raindrops… The lyrics don’t make sense either. On the one hand, B.J. (did he ever get teased for that?) says that the rain doesn’t bother him; on the other he has a supervisory word with the sun which doesn’t get things done properly. Which suggests that the lyricist Hal David flunked science in school, because it is in the sun’s job description to facilitate evaporation which will lead to rain. So it bloody well did its job. (Of course, I flunked science too, so what do I know?). Ray Stevens was initially tapped to sing the song, but he turned it down; a real Decca moment for a singer I cannot immediately associate any song with. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss at length why Raindrops is a perfect pop song. It most self-evidently is.
Best bit: The half-minute trumpet coda (2:26)

Dion – Runaround Sue.mp3
Runaround Sue seems a bit like the early ’60s equivalent of losers posting nude pictures of their ex-girlfiends on the Internet for revenge. Dion, who was brought up a good Catholic boy, clearly is pissed that Sue has not been exclusive, alleging that she has been sleeping with all the boys in town. If she was such a nympho, then Dion must have had massive blinkers on; if she really shagged all the boys in town, at least after boy-in-town number 17 reports of Sue’s conduct should have come to Dion’s attention before she could notch up the rest of the local boys. And how many girls-in-town did you shag, DeMucci? The real background story to “Sue” is rather less dramatic, by Dion’s own account: “It was about, you know, some girl who loved to be worshipped, but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” And where is the rich legacy in pop music exercising its critical muscle in relation to vain, commitment-shy men? Whatever the ethical merits of Dion’s character assassination, the song is great, even if it rips off Pat Boone’s Speedy Gonzales. A cracking melody, totally assured vocals, superb handclaps, and tremendous doo wop backing. Wonderful.
Best bit: “Aaaaaaaaaaarh” (0:45)

Gary Puckett & The Union Gap – Young Girl.mp3
Fuck it, Mr Puckett, but you’re right: a statutory rape charge is too high a price to pay for the consummation of love, no matter how hot the hottie, and the law would not accept ignorance of her age as a defence, no matter how mature she seemed. We don’t know how old Gazza is in the song, nor how old this “baby in disguise” is. Puckett in an interview once suggested that the ages of the protagonists were 20 and 14. In four years time, that age difference would be quite acceptable, so we’re not having a dirty old man scenario here, thank goodness. Having said that, if it’s a Californication type of deal, the storyline where Duchnovy’s Hank is getting banged (in more ways than one) by the 16-year-old girl, then maybe it doesn’t seem quite so sick.
Best bit: “Get out of here…” (2:18)


Udo Jürgens – Es wird Nacht, Señorita.mp3*
Udo Jürgens is in many ways the Frank Sinatra of the German Schlager, with the added dimension of also being a talented songwriter. In the early ’60s he wrote big hits for Shirley Bassey and Matt Monro, and he even wrote a song for Sinatra (If I Never Sing Another Song, subsequently a signature song for Sammy Davis Jr). An institution in Germany, the now 73-year-old Austrian-born singer has been around for decades, producing music that at times was excellent (within the confines of Schlager), often pushing the boundaries. He was among the first Schlager singers to address the taboo subject of divorce, and even addressed German xenophobia in his 1975 hit Griechischer Wein, which was at once daring and patronisingly hackneyed. At the same time, he was responsible for some abominations against music (German readers of my generation will rightly recoil at the thought of Aber bitte mit Sahne). Es Wird Nacht, Señorita, from 1968, is hackneyed in as far as it creates the whole faux-Spanish vibe, and yet it is an absolute corker of a song. The lyrics are pretty explicit for its time and place within a very conservative genre. In the song, Udo seduces a “Señorita” — whom I like to picture as looking like Whistler’s girlfriend in the third season of Prison Break — by asking for accommodation, seeing as he’s apparently itinerant (“I’m tired from hiking”). “I want nothing from you”, he assures her. Except “perhaps a little love”. Ultimately the tired hiker asks Señorita to take him to bed, because there he is “not as bad as the others”. When the song ends with Udo triumphantly shouting “Olé”, you know he has scored.
Best bit: Udo has scored (2:10)

The Rolling Stones – 19th Nervous Breakdown.mp3
The Stones are another act with a wide treasury of perfect pop songs. Satisfaction might have been the obvious choice; Let’s Spend The Night Together or Get Off My Cloud would have been excellent choices as well (though my favourite Stones song, She’s A Rainbow, probably not). So it became a contest between one of the greatest riffs in pop music, a great use of the word “Ba-ba-ba-ba-bababababa”, a fantastic shouted chorus, and a track on which everything comes together. Listen to Watt’s drumming (those cymbals!) and Wyman’s bass complementing Keef’s guitar line, the insistent rhythm guitar, and Jagger’s vocals which are still relatively free of some of the affectations they would assume later.
Best bit: Wyman’s shuddering bass (3:31)

The Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin’ On.mp3
Early in this series I featured the Temptations’ My Girl as a proxy for all the perfect pop manufactured on the conveyor belt of hits at Tamla-Motown. I have since toyed with the idea of doing a Perfect Pop Motown special. That idea will need to wait until I have exhausted my shortlists of remaining perfect pop songs (which, rather annoyingly, keeps growing). In the interim, having a male Motown group as a proxy cannot suffice. The Supremes may not have performed on the most perfect Perfect Pop single by women on Motown (that would be Martha & the Vandellas), but their body of work represents the greatest number of perfect pop records by females on Motown, hence their proxy status. And among so many great songs (Baby Love; Stop In The Name Of Love; The Happening; You Can’t Hurry Love; Where Did Our Love Go; Reflections etc), You Keep Me Hangin’ On stands out. Diana Ross and Florence Ballard (who was so royally and tragically stitched up by the Motown machinery) are almost breathless as they demand a resolution to what clearly is not a happy relationship, and the arrangement, especially the rock guitar, add to the urgency.
Best bit: “And there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it” (1:30)

The Beatles – I Feel Fine.mp3
Tracking back a little, the reader may recall that the Perfect Pop series was inspired by a comment in an article by Jim Irvin in The Word. Irvin identified three songs as examples of perfect pop: Take That’s Back For Good, Britney Spears’ Toxic, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I have featured the Take That and Britney songs, so it is only right to include his third pick as well. And from the Beatles’ incredible repertoire of perfect pop, I Feel Fine may indeed the most perfect, exuding an overdose of joyfulness. It was issued as a single only before the release of Help, which I regard as possibly the best pop album of all time, but strangely seems more accomplished and mature than anything on Help, with the possible exceptions of the album’s title track and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. I Feel Fine also signalled the beginning of the Beatles’ experimental phase, with the inclusion of an accidentally discovered sound, the feedback that starts the song. It may be unnecessary to mention that this came about when John Lennon parked his still switched on electric guitar against an amp et cetera.
Best bit: The feedback intro, of course (0:01)


The Chiffons – He’s So Fine.mp3
The song George Harrison never heard before writing My Sweet Lord. In this series, the Chiffons represent all those great girl-bands from the early ’60s. He’s So Fine may not be the best of the lot (I like the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, for example, or even the Chiffons’ One Fine Day better), but I think it has all the ingredients which made girl-band pop so perfect. The wonderful backing harmonies which are almost bell-like, the always slightly sad undercurrent in the melody and vocals even when the song is about happiness, the dense production (often by Phil Spector, though not here), and the killer chorus — which, in this case, must have wormed itself so deeply into Harrison’s subconscience that he took plagiaristic ownership of the melody. After losing his 1976 plagiarism case, Harrison bought the rights to He’s So Fine so he would not be sued again.
Best bit: “Doo-lang-doo-lang-doo-lang” (0:01)

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