A doff of the cap to Tom Hutton, who brought over all his Eastern European records and cassette tapes one day so we could put together a special mix of Balkan-related rock and pop. One of the humorous highlights on this compilation is “Pogo in Togo” by German pop punksters, United Balls, from 1981:
“Pogo in Togo” United Balls 1981
This video would later be banned by Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey.
Discogs.com (which today celebrated its six millionth submission!) tells me that the song began life, interestingly enough, as a B-side on its one and only RCA single before the band would subsequently feature it as an A-side on the (slightly less prestigious) Jupiter label. United Balls would then get signed to Virgin, where the band would release one album and at least four singles before saying Auf Wiedersehen.
Thanks to my neighbor and good friend, Paul – who hails from the UK – I have had the opportunity to take in the annual spectacle known as the Eurovision Song Contest, something I’ve read about for years in British music publications. Most of the offerings, unfortunately, are fairly forgettable, but I will always have a fond spot in my heart for Bosnia & Herzegovina’s contribution to the 2008 contest — “Pokušaj” by the artist, Laka:
“Pokušaj” Laka 2008
Especially within Eurovision’s vapid, escapist context, I found myself taken with the song’s peculiar hat trick of combining several teaspoons of nutty flavor with big fistfuls of soaring pop anthem – one of the few distinctive pieces of songcraft offered that year, in my humble opinion.
And yet I found myself to be the only one in the room who was genuinely excited by this song and the group’s exuberant performance. I recall sending this video clip to a few of my more musically-inclined friends shortly after the event only to face universal derision. Am I the odd man out here? Sally Field asks that you please like the tune.
The unrelenting verbal onslaught of 1978’s “Bin Wieder Frei” by German heartthrob, Benny, immediately made me think of Joey Levine’s famous feat of rapid-fire elocution from 1974, “Life is a Rock” (But the Radio Rolled Me) – which later helped inspire REM’s “End of the World (As We Know It)” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire“:
“Bin Wieder Frei” Benny 1978
I think it’s fair to say that Bob Dylan helped open the door for this sort of lyrical bombardment with the release of his landmark 1965 single, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” especially its iconic promotional video with Dylan himself holding oversized flash cards of the song’s key lyrics. But who before Dylan dazzled listeners with similar demonstrations of verbal dexterity at breakneck speeds?
As soon as I picked up this album and felt the lightweight textured paper, I knew right away that this record was from outside the “West” – in this case, Romania:
Much of this album is a mystery since there are practically no credits, but I’m guessing it came out in the mid-to-late 70s.
Check out the song selections – and Johnny Cash’s looming shadow:
1. “Give My Love to Rose” (Johnny Cash from his Sun catalog); 2. “Oh Susanna”; 3. “Frank[y] and Johnny” (song made famous by Johnny Cash but actually over 100 years old); 4. “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”; 5. “Jackson” (Johnny Cash yet again)
6. “She’s Gone”; 7. “Sunday Morning Coming [to] Down” (also made famous by Cash); 8. “My Old Kentucky Home”; 9. “Willow Tree”; 10. “Red River Valley”; 11. “Paper Roses”
It says “greatest hits,” so it gives the appearance of being a compilation of various artists. But then you listen to it and find out there is but one artist.
I find that very funny.
Anyway, “Jackson” – Johnny & June Carter Cash’s big declaration of love from 1967 – is easily the coolest thing on this album:
Jackson – Romanian All-Stars
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Jackson” by Artist Unknown.]
Debated whether to buy this album for a buck, since I know next to nothing about Polish pop music, but ultimately I was swayed by the clothing and hairstyles, which needed no translation:
Would you be stunned to learn that this album was released in 1969? There are some surprisingly contemporary sounds amongst these songs – fascinating to see which elements of Western culture were able to penetrate “the Iron Curtain” at that time.
Yes, this group is named for the singer on the front cover:
How interesting to find that this album predates the extensive list of Maryla’s recordings on Wikipedia that begins in 1970 and continues through 2011. I found one track in particular, “Za Gorami” (“Over the Hills”), to be rather evocative of its time:
Maryla Rodowicz – Za Gorami
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Za Gorami” by Maryla Rodowicz.]