Posts Tagged ‘Abba’

In Memoriam – July 2012

August 2nd, 2012 7 comments

Two Funk Brother died in July: first Maurice D Davis, who played trumpet on songs like Papa Was A Rolling Stone, and a couple of days later, on July 16, Bob Babbitt, who played the bass on Motown hits such as Tears Of A Clown, War, Just My Imagination; on soul classics like Midnight Train To Georgia and Band Of Gold. Also listen to his bass solo on Dennis Coffey”s 1972 hit Scorpio.

July 16 was a bad day for music. We lost Jon Lord, the great innovative organist of Deep Purple and Whitesnake. We also lost Kitty Wells, whose breakthrough as a country singer paved the way for female stars in that genre, such as Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Wells was already in her 30s and a mother of three when she became a star; the first female ever to top the country charts. Wells introduced feminist themes into country long before that was regarded as ordinary and articulated a female self-confidence that would become characteristic of many women who succeeded her. Read more…

Intros Quiz – ABBA edition

October 11th, 2010 1 comment

To mark absolutely nothing, here is an intros quiz consisting of only ABBA songs. Most of them were hits; all of them were released as singles somewhere in the world, I think.

As always, each of the 20 intros is 5-7 seconds in length. I will post the answers in the comments section by Thursday, so please don”t post your answers. If you can”t wait till then to find out what the blasted number 6 is, please feel free to e-mail me or, better still, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, go to and become one.

Intros Quiz – ABBA edition


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Step back to 1977 – Part 3

July 26th, 2010 4 comments

Here is part 3 of 1977, the songs that can take me back to the autumn and winter of that year.

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ABBA ““ The Name Of The Game.mp3
This is my favourite ABBA song, with a rather endearing video of domestic bliss via a communal game of ludo (it”s the name of the game, you see; video here). I had a bit of a crush on Agnetha. Actually, I still do. I think it”s the way she furrows her brow when she sings, as though she is in pain or perhaps in the incipient throes of an orgasm. Agnetha was the first adult woman I really fancied (along with the dark-haired lady from Baccara from part 2). Another Swede was my first pre-pubescent celebrity crush: the girl who played Annika in the Pippi Langstrumpf (Pippi Longstocking) movies. Anyway, for all their talents, the members of ABBA seemed to be rather nice, ordinary people. They might have been your folks” friends, the people you were allowed to greet before being sent to bed. One can imagine Björn getting a bit bristly, possibly due to the tight trousers he wore. He looked like he really should have been an architect. Agnetha looked like a dental hygienist (don”t even think of making oral jokes!), Annifrid like a hairdresser (or perhaps art teacher), and Benny like a truck driver who got promoted to an administrative office gig where he”d now mainly look at porn magazines. Yes, they did look like they could have been my parents” friends. No surprise, then, that in 1977 my mother bought the ABBA ““ The Album LP, and the following year went to see ABBA ““ The Movie (though her review of it was scathing). My older brother, the DJ at the church camp disco that produced my first slow dance (story in part 1 of 1977), acquired the single as part of a whole bunch for more church discos.


Amanda Lear ““ The Queen Of Chinatown.mp3
Amanda Lear pulled one of the great PR stunts in pop history when rumours, allegedly emanating from her quarters (as per an idea by Salvatore Dali), began to circulate that she was a transsexual, a notion supposedly supported by her deep voice. Then, to prove that these were just “malicious” rumours, Lear posed for nude photos, which were widely published. Even Bravo “” for all its inherent conservatism not a publication shy of portraying nudity (the pederasts must have loved the covers showing naked teen girls; check out the “70s Bravo covers) “” ran some of these pics. Sure enough, Ms Lear was indeed all woman. The rumours of her transgendered birth persist, because it”s just too god to let it go.

All that calls to mind the South African runner Caster Semenya, the world champion who was publicly humiliated by having to undergo a test to determine whether she was a girl or a boy or transgendered (and I don”t buy the argument that a white athlete would have been treated in the same shameful manner). Last month it was rather quietly revealed that she is indeed female. In the interim this rural teenage girl was put through a hell of publicity, with even the standard bearers of political correctness feeling entitled to crack jokes at her expense. I wonder whether this gifted athlete and perfectly pleasant girl will ever recover from this experience? And the muck of wilful suspicion will not dissipate.


Raffaella Carrà – A far l”amore comincia tu (Liebelei).mp3
Sometimes the songs you despised back then are very effective in conjuring sentiments of nostalgia. So it is with this song, which I absolutely despised as 1977 turned cold (I hated the German Schlager version by the ingratiating Tony Holiday, titled Tanze Samba mit mir, even more). Hearing the song now, it isn”t really that bad. It has a nice energy. Carrà“s stage personality didn”t really help much to endear her to me. She had an over-enthusiastic way of shaking her booty that hinted at coordination troubles, she dressed in disco clothes like a pre-menopausal startrooper on a final mission, and she disappointed me by not conforming to my stereotype of the dark-haired Italian. Carrà, who first recorded the song in 1975, later released the song in German as Liebelei (the word that incongruously was part of the original title).


Leif Garrett ““ Surfin” U.S.A..mp3
I remember the day I bought this atrocity very well. I had just bought a pop music magazine called, I think, Pop. That issue included cool stickers picturing pop stars and band logos, and (I”m pretty sure) an article about the Lynyrd Skynyrd planecrash. I read the mag on the bus to my maths tutor”s place. On the way back, I decided to stop in town and drop in at the local Karstadt department store to buy myself a single”¦this single. Leif Garrett, as the cover suggests, was a teen idol in the Shaun Cassidy mode, the kind that Tiger Beat fed on regardless of accomplishment or talent. Before becoming a recording star, Garrett had been a quite prolific child actor, playing roles such as Tony Randall”s son in the TV series of The Odd Couple. His singing career was not very successful, though his disco number In Was Made For Dancing was a hit in Europe in early 1979. My older brother borrowed this record, and in return introduced me to Them, thereby igniting in me a nascent interest in older rock music which would find fuller expression a few months later. Yet, when I bought this single, I had no idea Surfin’ USA was a cover of the Beach Boys song.


Santa Esmeralda – Don”t Let Me Be Misunderstood (single version).mp3
Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood + Esmeralda Suite.mp3
Santa Esmeralda”“ You”re My Everything.mp3

Handclaps, percussion, enter the Spanish guitars, wait for the riff and the strings, and then Leroy Gomez kicks in: “Baby, do you-ou understahand me now”. Wow. And it gets even better. Never mind Nina Simone, Santa Esmeralda”s is the perfect version of Don”t Let Me Be Misunderstood. Here we have the 7″³ version, which is all I can handle as I boogie furiously across the floor, and the even better full version, which comes with a heart attack warning. And in case I never get around to posting it, there”s also a very fine ballad titled You”re My Everything, which appeared on the LP (which included only four songs) and in some regions as the b-side of Don”t Let Me Be Misunderstood.


Umberto Tozzi ““ Ti Amo.mp3
I must confess:  I rather like cheesy Italian pop, and I have no idea whether the stuff is considered totally uncool or not by Italians (I suspect the latter). Ti Amo possibly is my favourite of the lot (but that may be the nostalgia speaking). Umberto really gets into it, too. He went on to have a few more hits in Germany, including Tu and Gloria, which later became a hit for the late Laura Branigan. South African-born Schlager singer Howard Carpendale did the obligatory German cover of it, retaining the Italian title but draining all the impassioned drama from the original.


The Runaways – School Days.mp3
Having noted my return to music fanaticism, my mother gave me for a stereo for Christmas. It was a fairly basic thing by most standards, but a most welcome step-up from my now broken record player whose lid doubled as a speaker. This one had a plastic lid designed for no other purpose than to guard the system against dust. Cool. By now I was spending all my money on singles. Just after Christmas, I bought the Wings” Mull Of Kintyre, a few weeks before it even entered the German charts, persuading me that I had an unerring talent for spotting a trend. And I bought the Runaways single. Having read about manager Kim Foley and the decimation of the original line-up in Rocky magazine, I rather liked the look of promoted frontwoman Joan Jett. I had no idea what the Runaways sounded like. But I wanted at least some Joan Jett. I remember sitting on the bus on my way to my grandmother”s (she still funded my record-buying expeditions, but acknowledged that she could no longer use me as a proxy for her Heino-loving ways), feeling a rather sexual excitement at the thought of hearing Joan Jett”s voice. She would not disappoint. And it would not be the last record I”d buy under the influence of hormones.

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.



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.



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.



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”.”



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.



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.




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.




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.




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.




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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Step back to 1974 – Part 2

December 4th, 2009 6 comments

And here is the second part of my recollections of 1974, the year I turned 8. As always, I”m at pains to emphasise that I am not endorsing all songs featured “” they are here by virtue of their power to transport me back to the year, like a smell or a taste or the shade of a particular colour might. Read more…

Curious Germany

July 14th, 2009 6 comments

A reader of this blog has asked me to post some interesting German-language songs, recalling a German version of Abba”s Ring Ring I put up a while back. His request coincided with a phase in which I have been rummaging through my German music in preparation for a new series. So here is the first of two posts of random German pop curiosities.

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ABBA ““ Waterloo (German version) (1974).mp3
waterloo_deutschWaterloo was ABBA”s breakthrough hit after they won the Eurovision Song Contest with it on 6 April 1974. At the time, contestants at the contest had to perform their song in their native language, so Waterloo was initially presented in Swedish. Swedes had no history of achieving success in the English-speaking market, so ABBA”s determination to break that famine was quite audacious. For Swedish musicians hankering after international success, the market of aspiration was Germany, whose record buyers loved nothing more than foreigners molesting their language in heavy accents. ABBA had released records in German before Waterloo, so when the song won the Eurovision Song Contest, it was natural that a German version would be released. In fact, word is that the German version had already been recorded before the song contest.


ABBA ““ Wer im Wartesaal der Liebe steht (1973).mp3
abba_germanOne of Abba’s pre-Waterloo singles released in German was Ring Ring (as Bjorn Benny Anna Frida…BBAF?), which would become a big hit when it was re-released. ABBA certainly had some designs on the lucrative German market. Before joining the group, Agnetha had even tried, and failed, to become a Schlager star. And the Schlager “” the German brand of pop marked by banal and/or sentimental music and lyrics “” was a significant influence on ABBA, one which would manifest itself even in later years. In the beginning, the Schlager influence was particularly striking. Songs like Hasta Manana or I Do I Do I Do I Do were in essence Schlager songs. Both were bigger hits in Germany than they were in Britain (where the former wasn”t even released as a single).

Wer im Wartesaal der Liebe steht (He who stands in the waiting room of love) emphaticallyis a Schlager number. The b-side of the 1973 German version of Ring Ring, it is quite awful. Björn takes over lead vocals, proving why that was never a good idea, to spout forth hackneyed lyrics to a track that suggests nothing of the pop genius the group would exhibit just a year later. A pop curiosity rather than a manifestation of early genius.


Max Schmeling ““ Das Herz eines Boxers (1936).mp3
schmelingSchmeling was a German heavyweight world champion who, after controversially losing that crown, proceeded to sensationally knocked out the great Joe Louis in 1936, before receiving a thrashing in the return bout two years later. His sporting exploits, as well as his gregarious and philanthropic character, secured him life-long German celebrity status until his death at 99 in 2005. His victory over the Black Bomber confirmed to the Nazis the supposed superiority of the Aryan race, and Schmeling “” not an enthusiastic Nazi himself and not a party member, but also not immune from enjoying the benefits of hobnobbing with them “” was celebrated accordingly. When he lost the return fight, the Nazis quickly dropped him. They might have done so even more forcefully had they known that Schmeling was involved in smuggling two Jewish children to safety in 1938.

After winning his 1936 bout, Schmeling did what many celebs have done since: make a record, in this case a belated inclusion in the apparently woeful film Liebe im Ring (in which Schmeling appeared nude in a shower scene and prepared to fight a black boxer named”¦Ali!). The trouble was, Schmeling had no singing or even musical ability whatsoever. So he spoke his part of the song, with co-stars Hugo Fischer-Köppe and Kurt Gerron doing singing duties. So Das Herz eines Boxers (The heart of a boxer) may be the first rap song.

As for Joe Louis, the two fighters remained life-long friends. While Schmeling became a very wealthy man post- war after taking over the German Coca-Cola franchise, Louis fell on hard times. Schmeling supported Louis financially, and was a pallbearer at his funeral.


Fehlfarben ““ (Ein Jahr) Es geht voran (1980).mp3
fehlfarbenQuite suddenly in 1980, a new genre revolutionised German music. The Schlager, so dominant in the 1970s, had become a tired form enlivened only by an onslaught of regrettable novelty songs (none more so than a comedy remake of You”re The One That I Want). Now it became supplanted by post-punk artists with attitude singing about burning schools, social alienation, prostitution, not paying one”s busfare and so on, set to synth-pop and punk rock. Among the first acts to hit were Hagen”s Extrabreit (friends of the red balloon allegorising Nena), Berlin”s Ideal, Cologne”s Zeltinger Band, and Düsseldorf”s D.A.F. and Fehlfarben. Many of the acts of what was dubbed Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) were one-hit wonders. So it was with Fehlfarben, who didn”t even like their only hit. It”s difficult to see what”s not to like: it”s a rousing, chantable chorus backed by some serious funk grooves that cut into the New Wave sensibility.

I”m no expert on hip hop, but the bassline of the Fehlfarben song reminds me a lot of that in Grandmaster Flash”s White Lines, released in 1983. Flash”s bassline is credited to Liquid Liquid”s song Cavern, which was also released in 1983. I”d love to claim that a Neue Deutsche Welle song invented a fantastic bassline picked up by a rap legend for a true hip hop classic. But I won”t “” I suspect Fehlfarben borrowed it themselves. But from where?


Peter Schilling – Major Tom (1983).mp3
major_tomOne of this blog”s Facebook friends recently posted the video of the English version of Peter Schilling”s international 1984 hit. Here is the German original, a big hit there in 1983. As the title suggests, the song provides an alternative narrative to David Bowie”s two songs about the ill-fated astronaut, Space Oddity and Ashes To Ashes. The latter outed Major Tom as a junkie. Schilling”s lyrics can be read (and probably are intended) as a junkie parable. After his hit, Schilling stuck around for a few years, unable to follow up his international success (#1 in Canada!). In 1990 he suffered what is described as burn-out. In 1995, he formed an outfit called Space Pilots (you can spot a pattern here) which recorded one record, Trip To Orion, which became a big hit in the only market where obscurities can become hits and yet remain resolutely obscure: Japan.


Die Toten Hosen – Bayern (2000).mp3
bayernThere is a need to adapt this song into English, retitled Real. The Bayern of the title refer to Germany”s most successful football club, FC Bayern München, whom non-fans regard, with no exaggeration, as a cancer in the body of German football. So the alternative rock band Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Trousers) composed a very catchy number explaining how, if they were “super-talented” footballers, they would never sign a contract with that club because such an act would be thoroughly corrupting. At one point the singer demands to know: “What kind of parents must one have to be so stupid as to sign for that shit club?”

In the current climate, football fans might need to have such sentiments expressed in popular music in relation to the poisonous Spanish giants Real Madrid, who have spent crazy money in a bid to built the sport”s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. Those who have played football manager games will have been tempted to build their own team, by means of employing cheating strategies, of the world”s (or game”s) most highly rated players. That is what Real Madrid are doing, building up unbelievable debt which they know Spanish banks will not call in, thereby giving themselves a massive advantage even over other clubs that operate under heavy debt. The sooner the football bubble bursts, the better (but only after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, please). And if that puts my favourite team against the wall, then that would not be a bad thing either.


Peter Gabriel ““ Spiel ohne Grenzen (1980).mp3
spiel_ohne_grenzenSpiele ohne Grenzen was a Europe-wide TV show, known in Britain as It”s A Knock-Out and in French as Jeux sans Frontiers, in which residents of small towns would engage in silly competitive games involving teamwork, such as carrying on stilts logs of wood over a gelatine net above a melted-marshmallow moat while their opponents try to knock them off with flares in the shape of rubber ducks. The winners of these inane games would then qualify to pit themselves against their counterparts from other countries. It”s fair to say that Peter Gabriel was not a fan; in his hit song Games Without Frontiers he compared the whole thing to warfare. Oh, but if only international disputes could be settled by childish games played by rubber duck wielding soldiers dressed like the Vatican”s Swiss Guards.

Gabriel re-recorded his self-titled 1980 album (they all were, this one was nicknamed Melt) that featured Games Without Frontiers and Biko in German, titled A German Album. Spiel ohne Grenzen, the German version of the former track was even released as a single, using an alternative mix It was the English version that was the hit in Germany “” and my 100th single (excluding all the Schlager stuff of which I had long divested myself). It didn”t help that Gabriel obviously wasn”t at all fluent in German: his delivery sounds as if he is trying, not very hard, to sing the lyrics off phonetic cue cards, degenerating into moments of apparent gibberish.


Zeltinger Band – Müngersdorfer Stadion (1979).mp3
Bläck Föös – Drink doch eine met (1973).mp3
BAP ““ Kristallnacht (1982).mp3

Every region in Germany has its own dialect, often incomprehensible even to other Germans. A handful of these dialects are unique to cities. Kölsch, the dialect of Cologne, is one of these. Strangely, it was that dialect more than any other which provided the language for many hit records in the 1970s and “80s. It started in the mid-“70s with the folk trio Bläck Föös (which means “bare feet”), which sang only in Kölsch, though they did take care to be understood by anyone living outside Cologne. Then there was the carnival act Die Höhner, who are best left ignored.

zeltingerIn their wake came two rock bands: the Zeltinger Band, a punk outfit fronted by what may be Germany”s first openly gay singer (and one who, by his bruising appearance, challenged the stereotype of common imagination “” see this video), and BAP, Germany”s answer to Bruce Springsteen. Neither cared whether they could be understood: learn Kölsch or fuck off, their message seemed to be. BAP became Germany”s biggest band for a while, based in no small part on their electrifying concerts. Zeltinger were of a punk mindset; Müngersdorfer Stadion (the swimming baths in Cologne, not the football stadium) is a cover of the Ramones’ Rockaway Beach, advising that fares on public transport are dodgable.

blackfoosThe Bläck Föös song (roughly translated as “Have a drink with us”) in the group’s folksy manner, tells the story of an indigent old man standing at the door to a local bar, lacking the funds to have a drink. In the Bläck Föös” notion of their hometown, no Kölner would tolerate such a sad situation, and inevitably he is invited to join a group of drinkers, on their tab, with the admonition to drop his bashfulness about drinking off other people. A great social attribute of the city’s people, you will agree. Well, I”ve lived in Cologne (briefly) and tested the theory. Fuck all social interaction, never mind fee beer.

bapBAP”s song shows the group at its worthiest. Never shy to make a social point, the sing title is self-explanatory. Musically it is pretty good, building up slowly before it explodes in righteous anger. Frontman Wolfgang Niedecken, who wrote the song, has explained that it does not address only Germany”s terrible history, but the ever-present danger of “petite bourgeois fascism” “” what he means is ideology underpinned by bigotry “” which he says can erupt suddenly at any given time in the face of public indifference. It features a bizarre line about Zorro not coming to the rescue, but shrugging his shoulder, saying “so what” and at best pissing a Z into the snow.

Albums of the Year: 1980

July 29th, 2008 8 comments

In my notebook, I have shortlists for my albums of the year for 1979 and 1980 side-by-side. The list for 1979 is shorter, but infinitely better; 1980″s list includes 24 albums, but fewer which I”m particularly enthusiastic about. While I”m deciding which albums to bump from “79, here”s the 1980 lot, with decent albums by David Bowie, Paul Simon, Kate Bush, Motörhead, Ideal and Roxy Music not making the cut for various reasons. It”s a rather predictable list, provided one knows that I never liked ska, got into New Wave only a year later, and mostly bought singles that year. And, it seems, I never really caught up with 1980. So no Specials, no Joy Division, no Talking Heads, no Jam, no The Beat, and (you”ll be surprised) no Gaucho“¦It is, in fact, a year to piss off the Taste Police (with the Police) with a pick of not the best albums of the year, but those I know and still enjoy.

Dexys Midnight Runners ““ Searching For The Young Soul Rebel
I had never heard anything like this before. Of course, West Germany was not a hotbed of soul music, at least not the soul music which inspired Kevin Rowland and his mates. Geno might well be my favourite single of all time; it certainly was my song of 1980. The album did not quite stand up to the pop sensibilities of Geno ““ the brass hook, the chanting, the idiosyncratic vocals ““ and at times seemed downright weird. Especially Rowland’s style of singing, even when he lurched into a falsetto in the song about Leeds, lost some of the novelty over two sides (minus an instrumental). It took the release of Too-Rye-Ay two years later to rediscover Soul Rebel. And what a fine album it is, with its jubilant sounds dressing the often cynical lyrics. There should be an NGO founded which would send a copy of it to every American who has the nerve to call Dexys a “one-hit wonder”. And a copy of Too-Rye-Ay, just to remind them that one Eileen not a group define.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Tell Me When My Light Turns Green.mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3

Bruce Springsteen ““ The River
A good writer will know that sometimes a great paragraph, a sparkling aside or a riotous gag will need to be sacrificed to maintain the flow, the rhythm of the whole piece. It”s what makes them good writers. Recording artists, even good ones, do not always exercise such disciplined judgment. Rock history is oversupplied with double albums which were rather good, but might have been bona fide classics had the artists limited themselves to two sides of an LP. The Beatles” White Album provided a template for excess and the problem with that excess. Which leads us to Bruce Springsteen”s 1980 offering. Cut the thing by half, and you”d have an album every bit as good as his artistic peak, Darkness At The Edge Of Town. Having said that, one of the more popular tracks on The River is Cadillac Ranch, which I wholeheartedly despise. I love the cover, on which Bruce channels Pacino and De Niro. It”s a very popular cover, as thousands of contributors to Sleeveface prove. This song, to me, defines the Springsteen sound of the era.
Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
Bruce Springsteen – The River.mp3

Warren Zevon ““ Stand In The Fire
Sometime in 1983 I discovered Warren Zevon. At the time, South Africa (where I has moved in 1982) had very well-stocked record libraries, where you could hire LPs for a day. Somehow the record companies didn”t like that, and by 1989 these great shops were forced to close. But when I was introduced to Warren Zevon, by my boss, I took out his entire back catalogue. Two albums stood out: Excitable Boy (naturally) and this live set. It is a rather poorly recorded live album, as these things go, but the cooking atmosphere of LA”s Roxy Club that night is steaming through the LP”s groove. The title is apt, the gig is incendiary. Zevon is often called the missing link between Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen; Standing In The Fire proves the point.
Warren Zevon-Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger + Bo Diddley.mp3

The Police ““ Zenyatta Mondatta
In 1980, the Police were still cool. Sting had not yet revealed himself to be the pretentious, tantric twat we know and hate now. He had edge, as did the other two blond chaps. I really liked the raw debut, Outlandos d”Amour, but found the follow-up patchy, besides its three big single hits. Zenyatta Mondatta (whatever that means), the final album before mega-stardom, was more cohesive than its predecessors. Where the previous two albums required the occasional song-skipping, all of the first side of Zenyatta Mondatta is quite excellent, in particular Driven To Tears. And, well, for the tune we ought to forgive the lyrics of De Do Do Do De Da Da Da. Much of my affection for this album is nostalgic: it transports me back to the day in November 1980 when my step-father and I wallpapered and painted my room. I had taken all my posters off, and threw them away. Of course, since I was a teenager, new posters would soon go up again, but that day marked a rite of passage, to the soundtrack of Zenyatta Mondatta.
The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3

ABBA ““ Super Trouper
By the time this was released, I had come to hate ABBA, much as I still loved the glam-pop of the mid-70s. By 1980, ABBA had grown up; I was still growing up and yet had outgrown them. I had bought Voulez-Vous, and despised the album. On the cover, our four friends looked like Mom and Dad going to the disco (and my mom and step-dad were middle-aged contemporaries of ABBA). On the sleeve of Super Trouper they were glowing at the sort of extravaganza no 14-year-old would be invited to. ABBA had entered a strange middle-age world. It was only when I had caught up with adulthood (in as far as I ever have) that I came to discover what a fine album Super Trouper is. The title track, which I had despised, is actually very lovely. The Winner Takes It All, a melancholy ballad set to a quasi-disco beat, is a high water mark in the ABBA canon, Lay All Your Love On Me is luscious and gorgeous, and Happy New Year is at once sad, bitter and hopeful. No surprises here, really. Those reside in the album tracks. If the synth-pop number Me And I sounds familiar, it does so because it would be ripped off throughout the 1980s. The Piper recalls Benny and Bjorn”s roots in northern European folk music. Andante Andante (one of those infuriating non-English titles) is a lovely ballad which, with a different title, might have been a hit. And the final track, The Way Old Friends Do, is a gloriously sentimental masterpiece. It possibly was initially conceived as a simple folk song, but here becomes an orchestral anthem, recorded live. It is a pity that the CD re-release came with three bonus tracks, because The Way Old Friends Do closes the album perfectly. Instead, it”s followed by the (admittedly very good) Gimme Gimme Gimme, the throw-away Elaine, and the absolutely awful Put On A White Sombrero, which is as bad as the title would suggest and recalls the turgid genre of the German Schlager.
Abba – The Way Old Friends Do.mp3
Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Abba – Happy New Year.mp3

Joan Armatrading ““ Me, Myself, I
Shortly before she passed away in October 1980, my grandmother lived with us. One day she gave me money to buy myself a new pair of trainers. Fashion be damned, I first bought myself two LPs with the unexpected moolah, and invested the remaining funds in the cheapest pair of adidas available. And I had change for some sweets still. The albums I bought were this one and Cornerstone by Styx (the one with Babe, though I bought it for Boat On The River). The latter I never played in full; Armatrading”s would get many spins over the years. The title track is excellent: great guitar riff and solo, and Armatrading in great lyrical and vocal form. All The Way From America and Turn Out The Lights are other highlights. Looking over the list it seems that I was rather too much into AOR (which beats being rather too much into S&M).
Joan Armatrading – All The Way From America.mp3
Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3

George Benson ““ Give Me The Night
After Zevon”s LP, this is the other album on this list which I can”t connect to 1980. I discovered it two years later. Benson has acquired an unfortunate reputation has über-smooth, glitter-jacketed soulster of 1980s lurve ballads. While elements of that are true, this image suppresses the respect the man merits for his pre-crooning days (just listen to his version of Jefferson Airplane”s White Rabbit). Give Me The Night, produced by Quincy Jones, finds our friend at a crossroad: part jazz guitarmeister, part proto-Vandross. Here the combination pays off: lite-funk disco numbers such as the title track and the exuberant Love X Love cohabit with fusion instrumentals such as Off Broadway (a play on his 1977 hit with the Drifters” On Broadway) and Dinorah Dinorah, and with a couple of nice but unremarkable ballads. The highpoint is Moody”s Mood, more recently sloppily covered by Amy Winehouse. The song was based on a sax solo on James Moody”s I”m In The Mood For Love, turned into a song by King Pleasure in 1952. On his version, Benson, usually an average singer, goes all Al Jarreau on us, with the help of Patti Austin.
George Benson – Moody’s Mood.mp3

Dire Straits ““ Making Movies
One day I might feature Dire Straits in the Pissing Off The Thought Police series. The credibility problem with Dire Straits was threefold: firstly, when CDs became popular, all the quasi-yuppies bought Brothers In Arms, which was seen (like Coldplay today) as “music for people who hate music”; secondly, Mark Knopfler and his red headband and C&W shirt; thirdly, Dire Straits negated punk by creating 9-minute songs. Of course, only the latter element applied in 1980. I had bought the first two albums, on strength of the excellent Sultans Of Swing. Apart from that, they were fucking boring to me. Not so Making Movies. Amid a few dodgy Knopflerifications which anticipated the hateful Money For Nothing, there were four magnificent songs: Romeo And Juliet, Tunnel Of Love, Espresso Love and the title track. When this album came out, one could buy miniature sleeves of albums containing pink chewing gum shaped like an LP, grooves and everything. I remember buying two: Billy Joel”s Glasshouse (the one Billiam album of the era I have no time for), and Making Movies. When I listen to the Dire Straits album, I can still taste the gum.
Dire Straits – Romeo And Juliet.mp3
AC/DC ““ Back In Black
This was the last AC/DC album I bought. When my friend Mike and I, both AC/DC fans at the time, first played it and Johnson”s voice burst forth, we burst out laughing. He sounded like a Warner Bros cartoon character doing an exaggerated imitation of the late Bon Scott. I still cannot abide by Brian Johnson”s voice. And for evidence to support my dislike, take Give The Dog A Bone from his first album with AC/DC. Bon Scott, who died just half a year before this album was released, would have invested his vodka-drenched soul into this schoolboy prank of a song to make you believe he was indeed looking to, er, feed a canine. In Johnson”s larynx, the song evokes a sleazy drunk about to get nasty with a blow-up doll while his virgin friends watch. So, I think it is fair to observe, I prefer my AC/DC with Bon Scott at the wheel. Johnson actually did OK on tracks like You Shook Me All Night Long (which is really Highway To Hell Redux), Hell”s Bells, Back In Black or Rock “˜n” Roll Ain”t Noise Pollution. But he was not Bon Scott.
AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long.mp3

John Lennon & Yoko Ono ““ Double Fantasy
John”s love for Yoko was exemplary, a real fairy tale story. This slavish devotion created his foolish impression that the sound of his wife singing was in some way attractive, so much so that the world had to be treated to it. To the world, of course, Yoko”s singing was akin to a recording of a parrot being violated and the sound of his sad squawks being played on 78rpm. Or perhaps I am being unduly harsh. Yoko”s Hard Times Are Over is a fine song, and Kiss Kiss Kiss is a good disco number. John”s tracks were great though. Even Woman, which was overplayed so much after Lennon”s murder that few people alive in 1981 should wish to ever hear it again. I will always love (Just Like) Starting Over, and defy anyone who claims it is cheesy (other than the bit about the Ono-Lennon”s taking out a loan for a trip far, far away. I imagine that Lennon had so much possession as to make the notion of him taking a trip to the bank manager obsolete [Edit: oops, misheard lyric rendering my gratuitous dig at the hypocrite Lennon obsolete. Damn]). As a father, I can identify with the sentimentality of Beautiful Boy. I”m Losing You is potent. And Watching The Wheels is among the very best things Lennon ever did out of McCartney”s earshot. Back in the day, I taped all of John”s songs, and added Hard Times Are Over and Yoko”s Walking On Thin Ice single which came out a few months after the murder (don”t let it be said that Yoko spurned great cash-in opportunities in her 28 years of grief). These days, a playlist employing the same selection technique will do the trick.
John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over.mp3
John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3

And what are your favourite albums of 1980?

Previously featured:

Love Songs For Every Situation: Regret

February 22nd, 2008 1 comment

Is this series bringing everybody down? Well, it’s a series, and we must get through it, with all the discipline that is absent in matters of love. Today, we deal with regret (we must still do heartbreak and ““ the one I’m really looking forward to ““ bitterness). Regret can come before or after bitterness, and often they coincide, but both emotions manifest themselves after a love has ended. Music has done better capturing bitterness than regret. Indeed, regret seems to be a bit of a stepchild in the canon of love songs, its rejection symbolised by Edith Piaf’s determined defiance.

Abba – One Of Us.mp3
My friend Tom the Sub-Editor once said that Kris Kristofferson has an eloquent song for every emotion. I would say that Abba do as well. “One Of Us” (from Abba’s final album, 1981’s The Visitors) is terribly sad and a little pathetic, in the real sense of the word. The protagonist was in what seems to have been a pretty good relationship but evidently felt cornered: “You were, I felt, robbing me of my rightful chances. My picture clear, everything seemed so easy, and so I dealt you the blow: one of us had to go.” So she dumped the guy only to discover later that she had made a huge mistake. And it is in her regret, self-inflicted though it was, that we begin to feel for her: “One of us is crying, one of us is lying in her lonely bed. Staring at the ceiling, wishing she was somewhere else instead.” Our compassion is tempered a little by her unceasing selfishness. Nowhere in the song does she wonder whether her dumping the guy caused him any pain.

John Mayer – Comfortable.mp3
Mayer is a bit of a hit-and-miss artist. When he stinks, he really does. But occasionally he hits the sweet spot. This is one of these occasions when the melody succeeds in scoring the lyrical sentiment. In “Comfortable” Mayer is in a relationship with a trophy beauty who has little warmth or culture, but has found the approval of his friends. Yet he yearns for an ex who might have been less of a looker, but evidently had lots of warmth and “knew Miles from Coltrane”. Where the beauty is boring and well-mannered, the ex was fun. More importantly, “our love was comfortable, and so broken in”. Seems like the grass was no greener on the other side (if you’ll forgive the lazy cliché). Mayer thinks so too when he sings in the final line: “She’s perfect, so flawless. I’m not impressed”¦I want you back.”

Ryan Adams – Somehow, Someday.mp3
Ryan tells a similar story: he had a good thing going, let it slip away, wants her back. His problem likely was a reluctance to commit (“I wish that you and I had those kids, maybe bought us that home”). Let’s hope that she has not moved on to a man more open to having those kids and real estate purchases, because Ryan plans to let her know, with imperfect grammar, that “there ain’t no way I’ll ever stop from lovin’ you now”. But Ryan better get cracking, because procrastination will not win him the girl back: “and I’m gonna try and show you somehow. Somehow, oh someday. Someday. Someday.” Tell her now, Ryan, tell her before some other dude gets her committed. Now. Not “someday”. Hurry!

Bill LaBounty – Livin’ It Up.mp3
This glorious slice of 1982 West Coast softrock (which featured in the Middle Of The Road series) initially suggests a steady recovery from a break-up: “I finally got my life together, scraped my heart up off the floor. My attitude is so much better, and I hardly ever cry the way I did before.” Oh what the hell, Bill is going to show her that he’s actually doing damn fine. He is living it up, “right from the women to the wine, livin’ out all those fantasies I never did get to.” Oh yes, he got himself “a new persona”, a whole new Bill. And, even as he tells her more of his partying ways and livin’ out all these fantasies he never got to do, he admits to being unhappy, because “it don’t seem living without you”.

Wilco – Hate It Here.mp3
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy regards this as his joke song, seeing as he is happily married and wouldn’t know how to use a washing machine. Given that, his vocals suggest some studious method acting, because our man is dying. The wife is gone, so he keeps himself busy doing household chores, worrying what his mind will do when he no longer has these diversions (“What am I gonna do when I run out of shirts to fold? What am I gonna do when I run out of lawn to mow?”). He checks for messages from her, no luck, feebly phones the mother-in-law, dead-end. This song might have fitted just as well in the breaking-up post, or the forthcoming heartbreak one. I’ll stick it in here, because the reference to all the mundane household chores might suggest that the relationship crashed because of a lack of effort on his part (not necessarily in the arena of housekeeping).

Bob Evans – Rocks In My Head.mp3
Australian folk-pop troubadour Bob Evans (whose real name is Kevin Mitchell) is employing better timing than the other fools in this post: he expresses regret before he knows it is over (” I can’t go on if I don’t know that you’re on my side”). He has screwed things up, and is asking for another chance by admitting that he was an idiot: “Worse than all the worst things that I’ve done are the things that I said. I nearly lost you there; I must have rocks in my head.” Great save there, Bob.

Love Songs For Every Situation: Love ends

February 13th, 2008 3 comments

And after love comes the break-up. We’ll deal with the long-term effects of that later. For now, let’s get caught in the moment of the break-up.

Kris Kristofferson – For The Good Times.mp3
Few songs are as much in the moment as this: Kris is proposing break-up sex to celebrate what must have been a great relationship, and to signify that the split is amicable (“There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning”). There is still some love there (it is unclear who actually wants to leave). There is much tenderness in the chorus: “Lay your head upon my pillow.Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the raindrops, blowin’ soft against the window,and make believe you love me one more time…for the good times.”

Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon (live).mp3
Interpreting Crowded House lyrics can be a precarious past-time. I read those for “Better Be Home Soon” (here a live version from the Farewell To The World album) as a desperate plea to save a relationship. Perhaps the couple has already separated, or one partner is playing away, or (as I read it) the couple is experiencing a great personal distance, but the protagonist is asking to fix a relationship that is dying. The effort must come from both sides: “So don’t say no, don’t say nothing’s wrong, cause when you get back home, maybe I’ll be gone.” This is a great song to play on guitar. For the tabs check out the Guitariotabs blog whence I borrowed this file from.

Missy Higgins – Ten Days.mp3
A relationship is certainly dying in this song, by another Australian artist, but not so much because the love has been extinguished, but as the effect of long-distance (“so tell me, did you really think…I had gone when you couldn’t see me anymore?”). Missy is “cutting the ropes”, even though “you’re still the only one that feels like home”.

Powderfinger – Wishing On The Same Moon.mp3
More Aussie heartbreak in this slow-rock song from last year’s Dream Days at the Hotel Existence album. The dude is still totally in love, but has been left. He’s not bitter yet (that’ll be dealt with in later posts); in fact “whenever you set free your devil smile on me, I melt”. The poor guy knows it’s over, and is now reduced to begging: “I’m calling out for you, pleading for your love. You’re falling from my view and there’s nothing I can do.” So, what does one do when one cannot be with one’s love? Why, look up at the stars and the moon, of course. That’s what they are there for, it’s what he and she can share: “I’m waiting in the afternoon for the sun to sink and let the night back in. It’s when I feel close to you, when the stars they swoon and bring their night time bloom.”

Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down.mp3
An obvious break-up song from the great 1985 Steve McQueen album. There isn’t much drama in this split; the relationship is fizzling out, the inevitable being delayed to avoid the pain. They don’t see each other much, so “absence makes the heart lose weight, till love breaks down, love breaks down.” So, what will it be like when he’s single again? Paddy’ take: “When love breaks down, you join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex.”

Carole King – It’s Too Late.mp3
Another song about love fading undramatically. “It used to be so easy living here with you. You were light and breezy and I knew just what to do. Now you look so unhappy and I feel like a fool” — that is such a brutal realisation. It’s over, but it is reciprocal: “There’ll be good times again for me and you, but we just can’t stay together, can’t you feel it too? Still I’m glad for what we had and how I once loved you.” They’ll have their memories, and they’ll be good.

Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way.mp3
A classic in the genre, this track, from the 1977 Rumous album, was Lindsay Buckingham’s “fuck off” letter to Stevie Nicks. He wants to give her his world, but “how can I when you won’t take it from me”. Much has been made of the line: “Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do”. Either Stevie was cheating (which she denies), or it refers to the rejected wedding proposal. Mick Fleetwood’s furious drumming and Buckingham’s angry guitar solo help to underscore the acidity of the lyrics.

Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Another song about band members splitting. Everything that has been said in praise of this song is true. Agnetha’s vocals are drenched in the pain of her own separation from Bjorn, who said he wrote it with a bottle of whisky as a companion. “I was in your arms, thinking I belonged there. I figured it made sense, building me a fence. Building me a home, thinking I’d be strong there, but I was a fool, playing by the rules.” The disillusionment of love, and trust, broken. The dude goes on to somebody else, (“but tell me, does she kiss like I used to kiss you?”). In this split someone is going on with life, the other feels foolish, desperate, frustrated and lonely.

Earth, Wind & Fire – After The Love Has Gone.mp3*
A marriage is blowing up after several good years, and our man can’t understand why. “We knew love would last. Every night, something right would invite us to begin the day.” Then things went awry. “Something happened along the way, what used to be happy was sad…” Words and melody combine to express an inner drama in the singer’s bid to make sense of it all (seeing as it’s Maurice White singing here, maybe a clue is in his sexual selfishness as revealed in yesterday’s post).

Odyssey – If You’re Looking For A Way Out.mp3
This is the saddest song among all these sad songs. A ballad from the funkster’s 1980 Hang Together album, the singer knows her man’s love has died, and puts the ball into his court. “Tell me I’m wrong”, but if she isn’t, “if you’re looking for a way out, I won’t stand here in your way”. Dude needs telling. She knows he cares: “Ain’t that just like you to worry about me. But we promised to be honest with each other for all eternity.” But she also knows that his love is gone: “Your kisses taste the same, but it’s just a sweet disguise.” Are you feeling tears coming on yet? Try this for size then: “Don’t look at the tears that I’m crying, they’ll only make you wanna stay. Don’t kiss me again, ’cause I’m dying to keep you from running away.” So what does the guy do when he is told: “Better tell me what’s in you heart. Oh baby now stop pretending, stop pretending, stop pretending”? He might be ready to tell her what’s in his heart, but then she adds: “Don’t you know I’ll always love you.” Checkmate.