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Step back to 1973

October 23rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

In 1973 I had my first proper party to celebrate my seventh birthday; after the summer I had a new teacher (for reasons explained in the 1972 review); and the German version of Sesame Street was flighted in most of West Germany as of January 1973.

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Theme ““ Sesamstrasse.mp3
Theme ““ Sesame Street.mp3
Sesame Street ““ Rubber Ducky.mp3
Sesamstrasse ““ Quitsche-entchen.mp3

sesame streetI cannot overstate the importance of Sesamstrasse, as it was known in Germany, in my development. For the first few years, German TV did no more than to synchronise the US original, with Gordon, Susan and Bob speaking German. Mr Hooper was renamed (with phonetically sensitivity) Herr Huber. Big Bird became Bibo, Grover became Grobi, Cookie Monster (apart from Ernie and Oscar the Grouch, my favourite) Krümelmonster.

Not being a pre-schooler, I had no need for the lessons in numeracy or the alphabet, fun as they often were. The entertainment value of most skits was great, of course, and I can still delight in watching clips like the original Manah Manah (redone to diminished effect on The Muppet Show) or Bob”s Fairy Tales, which clearly were written with a nod and a wink at the watching Moms. But the great impression Sesame Street made on me was the presentation of the inner city, idealised to communicate the possibility of harmony and equality between races, ethnicities and classes. Just the reasons why the right-wing Bavarian government under the thoroughly ghastly Fanz-Josef Strauss considered Sesame Street undesirable (or, as they euphemistically put, as not appropriately reflecting social realities) and banned it from their aiwaves. Susan, Gordon, Bob and Oscar the Grouch “” whom I dressed up as for a costume party in early “73 “” shaped my outlook just as surely as did later Günter Wallraff”s undercover exposé of the Bild newspaper or Steinbeck”s The Grapes of Wrath.

Apart from the US and German themes of the show, I”m posting the US and German versions of Ernie”s classic Rubber Ducky.


Bay City Rollers ““ Mañana.mp3
BCR-MananaThere were two versions of the Bay City Rollers: the incarnation on millions of barely pubescent girl”s bedroom walls, and a rather more ripened version without future frontman Leslie McKeown and hard-living axeman Stuart “Woody” Wood. I”m not inclined to argue forcefully that BCR v1.0 was musically superior to BCR v2.0 (though much more so than v.2.3), but I still enjoy Mañana a lot, with its tribal drums and catchy singalong chorus. Or perhaps I like it because I had been looking for the song, released in 1972, for absolute ages, and can”t commit myself to disappointment. I remember making up football-related lyrics on our schoolground in 1974, with the chant relating to a Hannover 96 player called Damjanoff. I might have had a career as terrace chant lyricist”¦


The Les Humphries Singers ““ Mama Loo.mp3
MAMA_LOO I have no idea what a Mama Loo is, and I am much less disposed to engage in speculation. I do know that Mama Loo gets Les and his multi-national and multi-ethnic singers rockin” and rollin”and rockin” and reelin” in a most joyful manner, borrowing more than a little from the Beach Boys” hit Barbara-Ann. English-born Humphries” outfit seems to have been inspired by the Edwin Hawkins Singers (of Oh Happy Day fame) with a reference to the free-love hippiedom of Hair. Add to the recipe a set of catchy songs that fused the sound (and sometimes lyrics) of gospel with pop, and you get the Les Humphries Singers. Whatever a Mama Loo is, I rather like the energy of this song. Impressive lead vocals too by, I think, John Lawton. See the video, in which the cameraman unsubtly goes for a close-up of Liz Mitchell”s breasts.

Some of Les” singers went on to greater things. Liz Mitchell became one of two Boney M members to actually sing on their records; English-born John Lawton (a founder member of German prog-rockers Lucifer”s Friends) became lead singer of Uriah Heep; and Jürgen Drews became a successful Schlager singer. My grandmother, who financed my earlier record-collecting endeavours and lived her pop fandom through me, did not like these hippies. The Les Humphries Singers with their long hair, racial integration (to her all black people were Afghanis, it seems) and likely sexual promiscuity failed to embody her old-fashioned German values. But that was not even the worst of problem she had with them. She forcefully objected to their dancing, calling them Hopskrähen (jumping crows; hmmm, sounds like the basis for a name a 1990s rock band might adopt).


Cindy & Bert ““ Immer wieder Sonntags.mp3
Jürgen Marcus ““ Ein Festival der Liebe.mp3

cindy_bert I remember seeing both of these Schlager horrors (oh, but the first one is a horror which even nostalgia cannot mitigate; the second at least has an interesting interlude) on the ZDF Hitparade, the hugely popular monthly show that featured only German Schlager acts (look at Cindy & Bert on the Hitparade; Bert doesn”t look like he wants to be there). Cindy & Bert were a husband-and-wife duo of whom my dear grandmother was very fond, perhaps because they looked a lot like the very nice couple that rented the top floor flat of her beautiful house (her affection for the couple ceased when they moved out, having left the place in a bit of a mess. We later learnt that the husband had cheated on his lovely wife, behaviour of which Oma did not approve, obviously). What my grandmother had missed about Cindy & Bert was that the apparently very square couple had just a couple of years earlier recorded a rather incongruously heavy cover of Black Sabbath”s Paranoid. It”s fair to say that my granny was not a great Sabbath fan. The Paranoid cover will feature in the next installment of German curiosities.

jurgen_marcusI should imagine that my grandmother was also slightly troubled by the length of Jürgen Marcus” hair. But otherwise he was a “very nice boy”. We can safely say that Jürgen”s big bowtie did not come from the wardrobe of Ozzie Osbourne. But Oma clearly forgave the singer his luxurious mane, because he was an amiable young man performing nice songs, flashing luxuriant smiles and mugging genially, even if he looks rather glum on the cover of the single which proclaims a festival of love (but how much of a grin would you muster while wearing Bozo the Clown”s oversized comedy bowtie). For a generation of mothers, he was a perfect, albeit hirsute, prospective son-in-law. What that generation of mothers didn”t know was that Jürgen wouldn”t be interested in their daughters. A few years ago, the singer revealed that he is gay. This video clip from the Disco “73 show must be seen just for the lack of rhythmic coordination among the audience in the backrow.

Marcus was produced by Jack White, who as Horst Nußbaum had been a professional football player, at one time plying his trade with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. He retired from professional football in 1966, but continued to play for the amateur team of Berlin club Tennis-Borussia. In December 1976, by now a famous record producer, he turned out for the club”s first team in a German cup game against 1.FC Köln. His side lost 1-5 to the eventual cup winner. In the interim, he had produced a string of big German hits, including the German football team”s 1974 World Cup song (which I intend to inflict upon the reader in the next installment). Later he also produced Paul Anka, Engelbert Humperdinck, Laura Branagan (including her US top 10 hits Self Control and Gloria) and “” of course “” David Hasselhoff.


Albert Hammond ““ It Never Rains In Southern California.mp3
HAMMOND I once noted that in nostalgia, the sun always shines, except when bad weather is an essential constituent in happy memories. Albert Hammond Sr”s hit sums up my memories of a sunny 1973, whose run of good weather was disrupted only by cold winter mornings when I walked to school in the dark and snow, which I found terribly exciting, by playing in central heated indoor coziness while outside it rained, a dark and cold Christmas and zooming down a hill in the park on my sled. But for the most part, the sun put in overtime in 1973, or so my memory tells me. My friends, brother and I played a lot outdoors. Our suburban block was our kingdom. But we were warned of hazards such as traffic and bad men who might want to abduct us, the latter known in the local patois as Mitschnacker. We were on alert.

A Mitschnacker yesterday (actually, it's Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard)

A Mitschnacker yesterday (actually, it's Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard)

One day, a dude dressed in black with a funky hat and a drooping moustache “” an exotic look in our kingdom “” came walking down our street. One of us (it might have been me) approached him and asked: “Excuse me, are you a Mitschnacker?” As he suppressed a laugh, he answered affirmatively and made a grabbing motion at us. We scrammed, but on reflection decided that he probably wasn”t a Mitschnacker. A couple of years later, a man exposed himself to us as we were walking to school. Rather than being alert to the dangers of a sex offender, we laughed at the strange man who took out his willy, because willies were very funny to us. We didn”t even conceive of the idea that the joker could be a Mitschnacker.

Traffic was very light in our area, so we paid little attention to it. That”s how my little brother got hit by a car and broke his thigh, just a few days before his fifth birthday in early summer. His present had already been bought: a slide, to go with the set of swings and sandbox we already had in our garden. With his whole leg in plaster, he obviously couldn”t make good use of his present for a while. The rest of us, however, had excellent fun with it.


Gilbert O”Sullivan ““ Get Down.mp3
GET_DOWN Officially, the song is supposed to be about Gilbert”s dog which required reprimanding for jumping on his furniture. It”s clear that the song is not about a disobedient dog, but about a woman who bothers him for amorous attention, presumably after a drunken one-night stand (would you sing to a dog a verse like this: “Once upon a time I drank a little wine/Was as happy as could be, happy as could be/Now I”m just like a cat on a hot tin roof/Baby what do you think you”re doin” to me”?). And then Gilbert feigns surprise when he is alone again, naturally. Ah, the days when a singer could enjoy hits with songs that demeaned women”¦ Using dogs as metaphors for women couldn”t happen today, of course, at an age when pop music invariably treats women with highest respect.


Ireen Sheer ““ Goodbye Mama.mp3
ireen_sheer Like Get Down and the next song, Goodbye Mama was one of the big German hits of the summer of 1973, during which my family went on holiday to Denmark (during which it rained a lot, though I have fond memories of not being bored indoors. Though I most probably was).

Ireen Sheer was born in England, growing up in Romford. She struggled to get her career going, until her record company came up with the bright idea that Ireen could record in German, since her mother was from Düsseldorf and Ireen had some knowledge of the language. The plan worked: in 1973 Sheer enjoyed her first German hit with a typically sentimental Schlager that in its title identified the singer as English and in sound evokes Greece, like so many songs of the time (including Cindy & Bert”s hit above). I don”t remember any other songs by Sheer, but apparently she has maintained a fairly successful career to this day.


Cliff Richard ““ Power To All Our Friends.mp3
cliff_richard I never really liked Cliff Richard. Even as I liked this song at the time, I didn”t realise that it was sung by Cliff. Obviously I hadn”t watched that year”s Eurovision Song Contest, at which this was Britain”s offering. To me, it was just one of those tunes that always cropped up on the radio. I think I might have been doing Cliff a decades-long injustice. Sure, he is hyper-square, has an annoying grin, issues trite Christmas songs and has that Peter Pan of Pop shit going on. Sure, his music is not of consistently quite-good standard (the born-again Christian singer has disowned his best song, Devil Woman). But he seems to be a very nice man who, I”ve read, does a lot of fine charitable work. I”d love to read a full, candid biography of the man. In the meantime, I think this apologia for Cliff will do.


Reinhard Mey ““ Gute Nacht, Freunde.mp3
reinhard_mey I really enjoyed Sky Nonhoff”s musical memoir Kleine Philosphie der Passionen: Schallplatten (dtv, 2000), but then, in an aside, he viciously attacked Gute Nacht, Freunde. Eventually I could forgive Nonhoff for his unkindness towards one of my mother”s singles. Mey is one of Germany”s veteran Liedermacher, singer-songwriters whose worthy lyrics and music repudiate the banality of the pop industry, much like their chanson counterparts in France. I think the melody is quite lovely. The lyrics are very adult. A guest is thanking his hosts for their hospitality and unconditional friendship. There aren”t many good songs about friendship; this one probably helped many people articulate their gratitude to good friends, like an eloquent Hallmark card.

It being 1973, the protagonist is having a smoke while he is formulating his appreciative farewell speech. The third verse is particularly nice as Mey gives thanks for “the freedom that is your eternal guest, and that you never question what”s in it for you. Perhaps it”s because from outside the light in your windows seems to glows more warmly”. Yeah, Schatzi, we”ll definitely invite him again.


The Sweet ““ Ballroom Blitz.mp3
balrrom_blitz As noted in 1972, I had no idea that the guys doing this song were the same group that sang Poppa Joe, the single I loved so much. And that even though Ballroom Blitz, like Blockbuster before that, was ubiquitous. Only a few months later, when Teenage Rampage became a hit, did I make the association. The Sweet were massive in West-Germany, more so than in Britain; only one Sweet single did better in the UK than it did in West Germany, and that was Love Is Like Oxygen, released in 1978 at the end of the group”s run in the charts (it reached #9 in the UK, and #10 in Germany). Ballroom Blitz was the fifth in The Sweet”s run of six consecutive German #1s, which started in 1972 with Little Willy (the follow-up to #3 hit Poppa Joe) and ended with Teenage Rampage in 1974. The run was broken by the song that is perhaps  the group”s best, The Six Teens.


More Stepping Back

  1. October 23rd, 2009 at 02:44 | #1

    yay!!! thanx a bunch for Mama Loo, and Reinhard. Never his biggest fan but that was actually a song I liked for quite a while. Will give it a good listen once more.
    No original recollection of Sesamstraße, wrong side of the Iron Curtain and parents who preferred books over TV ;)
    Unfortunately remember Cindy & Bert.

  2. Sky
    October 23rd, 2009 at 18:10 | #2

    i wrote about the inga & wolf version, dude ;-) gorgeous post.

  3. October 23rd, 2009 at 19:43 | #3

    Oh, Inga & Wolf. Screw them, obviously.

  4. October 25th, 2009 at 15:33 | #4

    I remember The Les Humphries Singers releasing “Hit”-albums.
    They covered the biggest hits of that era (including theirs) and made medleys of them…
    You wouldn’t by any chance have one of them, would you?

  5. October 25th, 2009 at 18:25 | #5

    I’m afraid I don’t. My collection of Les Humphries Singers’ is limited to a handful of songs…

  6. walter
    October 27th, 2009 at 15:08 | #6

    Thanks for the memories.

  7. Chris Sobieniak
    May 19th, 2010 at 00:59 | #7

    Interesting to read about how the original Sesame Street was banned this way. Pretty sad people just couldn’t see the true point of the show itself versus the problems they had at the time. It’s true to argue the show itself is a very American institution in regards to how equality was stressed in the series. I don’t know how well that sort of thing worked in Germany at the time but I get the impression it wasn’t well-realized yet. Thanks for the German “Rubber Duckie” toon! Someone a decade ago made an odd beat-mix to that one that also got used as an “Animutation” flash video.

  1. October 27th, 2009 at 02:43 | #1