Classic Euro-pop/rock albums

Phoenix (Romania)
Cantofabule - ♪♪♪♪♪


In 1975 Romania wasn’t the best country to record rock ’n roll. Still, in that year, local progressive rockband Phoenix recorded a double album that in retrospect is amazing. Not because they found a way to get the communist censors in releasing the album but also that they were able to record a very complex album under circumstances that were technilogical poor. Phoenix was already a band that sought the borders of what was allowed ever since the end of the sixties. With already two interesting folkrock albums on their name and a growing popularity they found some liberty to undertake an ambitious project. The based the project on the work of 19th century writer Dimitri Bolintineanu who wrote a book called ‘Istoria Ieroglifa’ (speaking of a “bestiaire” of fantastic mythical creatures). Bolintineanu was at that time also a public figure that was very active in the Romanian revolution of 1848 and was a passionate frontfighter in creating an independent Romanian state (which would take untill 1918 to establish). He got exiled for that but remained active from abroad and wrote many stories, poetry and fantasy. The lyrics to the album were adaptations of poetry by Seban Foarta and screenwriter Andrei Ujica. The last would flee Romania in 1981 and made the documentary ‘Videograms of a Revolution’ in 1992 about the Romanian revolution of 1989.

An interesting bunch of co-workers that would ring the alarm bell of any Securitate agent with a sense of history but so far the censors probably just thought it was a nice concept album about funny magical creatures.And so Phoenix took their mix of medieval folk with hard rock and a fuzzed-out guitar, dug up a moog synthesizer on the black market and started recording. Side one is almost completelly filled with ‘Invocaţie’, the invocation of the Beasts of Fables. In a song that sounds like a pagan ritual each creature (that would all later return in an individual song) is named and asked to appear. It opens with bird-like sounds and wails from the moog and the bass and rhythmguitar strike out in a monotenous riff. Here and there the song changes in folky intermezzo’s or celibral chimes. And so the beasts appear with “a thousand teeth / fishtailed / the claws on people / with illuminated head / with fur as beets / with eyes of fire / with mouths of gold / Ave!”.

Spread over the following tracks the band adresses each individual creature (you’ll meet the scarab, the snake, the dragon, the hawk and the calandrinon, some sort of mythical bird) musically supported by superb psychedlic folkmusic. On side D you’ll enter the underworld and Zoomahia, bringing the music back to the electronic sounds of the opening of the album. At that point the most powerfull of creatures rises from its ashes (the Phoenix of course) with the band singing: “Here comes again the dew fed only / from Livan, in this year, the ninth / Gentle around incensing / Fire and fruitful new horizon / burn them all”. Although cryptic you could easily read in these lines a call for a nation to rise from its ashes and burn the enemy (read the communist regime).

But still the album got its release. But not before the original cover was changed into a grey cover with fantasy animals on it. In doing so the designers from Elektrecords ‘accidentally’ changed the letters from Cantafabule (song of fables) to Cantofabule ( fabulous song). And under that title the double album hit the stores. The band itself didn’t stick around long enough to fully enjoy the fruits of their labour. Singer Nicu Covaci married a Dutch woman and emigrated returning two years later to smuggle the other band members out. Meanwhile the album become a sort of legend in the West where word got around of an amazing  psych – prog album. A rare bootleg was released under the title ‘Cant Of A Bule’ somewhere in the 80’s. After the revolution the band brought the album back to Romania and gave it a re-release with the original intended cover and the correct spelled name. They even performed live. When asked in Romania 'Cantafabule' is currently regarded as probably the most important rockalbum made by a Romanian band. Some even state that of ‘Cantafabule’ was released in the West it would have the same status as progessive rockalbums like ‘Dark side of the Moon’, ‘Aqualung’ and ‘Tales of Mystery & Imagination'. Personally I think that's doubtfull. First of all it was maybe because of the difficult circumstances the band was forced to stretch their creativity to record the album. And second the complex structure of the album makes it not an easy accesible one at first listen. Released by a British band it would probably gained a cultstatus at best. But considering the circumstances and the way they incorporated local folkore and myth into the music this is an album of high social-cultural relevance. And it's great as well.

Click here tot visit Phoenix' page on europopmusic.eu.

Alaska y Dinarama
Deseo Carnal
- ♪♪♪♪♪

At the start of the Eighties Spanish popmusique was picking up fast. On the forefront of La Movida Madrilena ((gestated ideological movement in the late seventies in Spain after the fall of the dictatorship of Franco) was the bizar persona of Alaska. Het first combo was called the Pegamoides playing poppy electronic music. But it was when Carlos Berlanga left that band (taking Alaska and key board player Nacho Canut) that Alaska went pop with Dinarama. The first album ‘Canciones profanas’ was an excercise in Spanish synthi-pop but it would take untill 1984 that Alaska y Dinarama got their sound right with ‘Deseo Carnal’ (Carnal desire). In sync with the era the album featured ten songs that comprised an air of  “anxiety, despair, revenge and destruction, all in an wave of twisted relationships and pessimistic thoughts wrapped in philosophical and moral desolation.” Or at least that’s what the band’s bio states. The first single and album opener, ‘Como pudiste hacerme esto a mi’ (How could you do this to me) is a duet between Carlos and Alaska and was an immediate success on radio and encouraged the rapid acceptance of the album by the public. The song handles the story of a jealous girl and her husband (who is cheating with another). She follows one night to the address where he commits adultery and, without thinking twice, decided to kill him running over him. Drama all over. Second single ‘Ni tu ni nadie’ (Neither you nor anyone) also handles the subject of a relationship going down the drain: “where our error occurs / Was I guilty or were you / Neither you nor anybody, Nobody can change / Thousand Bells' in my heart,  / Difficult is to ask for forgiveness / Neither you nor anybody, nobody can change. “

But it was the third single ‘Un hombre de verdad’ (A real man) that meant the definitive breakthrough. Not in the least due to the gay-erotique suggestion that hung around the single: “I'm so alone at night  / without sleep, without dreams, without living /who wants to keep me company ? / I envy all my friends / I am a volcano erupting / I am a strict governess / looking for someone all the time because: / Without doubt / I go and find / a real man / I will crawl and beg /a real man”. The art-work for the single and the album was made by young fashion photographer Javier Vallhonrat who Alaska met during his debut show at the Aele Gallery in Madrid in 1983. The single showed two muscled boys wrestling in their underwear, on the album Javier placed Alaska holding a very muscled man. No wonder rumours started that Alaska was actually a man but all this added to the popularity of the band.  Over the years the song has become a sort of gay anthem in Spain.
The fans of Alaska started calling themselves the Alaskitos. And her popularity and bizar persona got Alaska to be asked to do the musical TV-show ‘La Bola de cristal’ (The crystal ball).

In addition to the singles that were released, the album is diversity of musical styles, adjusted to the general synthipop tone of the album. ‘Isis’ (a hymn to the Revelation), ‘Falsas costumbre’ (a song without absolutely any sense), the title track (a kind of bolero, with hints of blatant sexual dalliance) and album closer ‘Carne, huesos y tu’ (Meat , bones and You) (a song about necrophilia dressed in a soothing ballad-form) all make out a coherent Spanish pop classic. The album went on to sell over 500,000 copies in Spain and to more than one and a half million albums worldwide. It was their biggest success. To celebrate the 25th anniversary a special edition of ‘Deseo Carnal’ was released recently with an extra CD filled with remixes and outtakes.

Click here tot visit Alaska's page on europopmusic.eu.
More information on Javier Vallhonrat click here.

Antonello Venditti
Sotto il segno dei pesci - ♪♪♪♪♪

Venditti made name for himself in the 1970s with the social themes woven into his songs. With the LP Lilly: the yearning title-track was a strong accusation, this time against drugs, but it met an outstanding success anyway. Other famous pieces in the album were ‘Compagno di scuola’ (Schoolmate) and the long ballad ‘Lo stambecco ferito’ (The Wounded Steinbeck), the story of a corrupted Northern Italy tycoon. Venditti continued to deal with front-page facts with the following LP, ‘Ullalà’ (1976), whose ‘Canzone per Seveso’ was about the industrial accident that happened in July of that year. Political involvement, however, had side-effects on Venditti's inspiration in the late 1970s, marked in Italy by the growing menace of terrorism and by the ‘strategia della tensione’. The ‘strategy of tension’ was installed by the United States and the then-fascist Greek government who supported far-right terrorist groups in Italy and Turkey – whose institutions appeared to be threatened by communism – to spread panic among the population who would in turn demand stronger and more dictatorial governments. Some say this mingling into Italian affairs is the main reason for Berlusconi’s power today.

Anyway, some events in 1977 (like the public booing of his friend De Gregori by politicized fans during a show) forced Antonello to rethink his way of being a public personality. This resulted in writing and recording ‘Sotto il segno dei pesci’ (Born Under the sign of Pisces) (1978) which contained more personal and intimate themes. The album was recorded in Rome and London and arranged by Nicola Samale and Joseph Mazzucco.

The title track is one of the best-known songs Venditti, a song attempting to contemplate on the lives of contemporaries of the singer, who had lived through the '68 and the years of commitment and that they were preparing to face the years of reflux, and it is also an educational response to the charges against him for having "sold out to the market". The title refers to the zodiacal sign of the singer (who was born on 8 March 1949) As they unite all their fellow youth in a single matrix, however fictitious because it is not an astrological sign that can guarantee the concept of "love and unity ...". The song is one long plea for these two universal concepts “Remember that road / there was me and you / and the people running / and cried with us / all I want, I thought, only love and unit for us / we deserve another life / more just and free if you want / love run, run do not be afraid.

After the De Gregori incident Venditti decided to dedicate two songs to his musical friend. ‘Francesco’ is obvious but also ‘Bomba o non bomba’ refers to De Gregori with incorporating several lines from his songs. Two girls get a song on the album, ‘Giulia’ and ‘Sara’. Especially the last one caused a storm with the Italian feminist movement. Here Venditti describes a girl, pregnant, but almost passive in front of her boyfriend who, apparently was full of solicitude for her, but in fact conceals a nearly cynical behavior: "I have to graduate, but perhaps one day I'll marry you, the child is your child and not ours”

Closing track ‘L’uomo falco’ describes one of the many gray-haired men secretly governing the political and economic situation of the country, exploiting the similarity of prey that cast upon every good business opportunity and power. Probably inspired by a real person, the text provides no hints to be able to identify this with certainty. One song ‘Italy’ went even further but was at the last moment not included on the album (in 1982 it would get published on ‘Sotto il pioggia’). The album cover, by Mario Convertino, is white, designed with two fish, one blue and one orange in the first edition there were also marked in relief all twelve signs of the zodiac. The album was released on the singer's birthday, March 8, and would become against Venditti's intention the soundtrack of a dark period in Italian history (only 8 days later, on March 16 Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades). After the somewhat disappointing sales of the previous album, Venditti was back to the top with the single of the title song. The follow up ‘Bomba o non bomba’ never charted however.  

Click here tot visit Antonello's page on europopmusic.eu...

Mari Trini
¿Quién? (Who)- ♪♪♪♪♪


Spanish singer Mari Trini already made a name for herself at the start of the seventies as a girl folksinger. But at the age of 27 it was time to take music to a next level. Or at least we guess that’s what she must have thought. She already tried to become a more serious songwriter with ‘Ventanas’ that would become her most well-known album internationally but didn’t convince the local market. Familiar with French chanson since the sixties (she even lived there during the student revolts of 68) she turned to her favourite songwriters for inspiration. She left again for Paris. Early in compiling songs for the album she decided to cover Brel’s ‘Ne me quitte pas’. The eternal city by the Seine gave her enough inspiration to come up with a collection of songs about longing and lost love. Returned to Spain she started working with Waldo de los Rios and Juan Marquez as arrangers. The first song was the cover of Brel’s classic account of misunderstood love. But somehow the team was not satisfied with the result, adding orchestral layers over one another. After three attempts they decided to strip the arrangements back to the simple basics, which in the end was the version making the album. It was this back-to-basics method that would colour the whole album.

An album filled with songs about questions, memories and insecurities about love. Nacho Artime interviewed Trini at the time and confronted her with the remark that album sounded rather pessimistic. Trini responded: “I do not see anything pessimistic about it but it may be so for some. Depends on when you hear depends on the feelings that you cause. I know from experience that my records help many people to better withstand loneliness. So I do not think songs are pessimistic. Let's say it’s a realistic album”. For ¿Quién? dipped deep into her own emotions. The title track accounts of a young girl reminiscing about her lonely life and things to come "What if death treads my garden / Who will risk to knock on my door?". ‘Al fin y al cabo’ also looks at her frantic artistic career while she sings “"I just wanted to look at the sun and lie in the earth.". It was not to be. ‘Mi tercer amor’ (My third love) is another autobiographical song written during a car-trip in the area of Extremadura. Released as a single it would become one of Trini’s signature songs. Closing track ‘Mirar hacia atras’ (looking back) is maybe the most riddlesome when Trini sings "To say the truth without fear of punishment". Does she look back at her own short live or is she referring to life under the dictatorial regime of Franco? Trini was not the person to mix political comments in her lyrics but one wanders. And so did the Spanish public. Critics dubbed the album a masterpiece at the time and would become one of her best selling albums. ‘¿Quién?’ established Trini’s name as a serious songwriter in her own country.

Click here tot visit Mari trini's page on europopmusic.eu...

Marek Grechuta
Korowód (Procession) - ♪♪♪♪♪


We said it before and we’ll probably say it again but Poland delivered some great and original popmusic over the years. Even in a time when the authorities weren’t supporting ‘Western deviations’. This month we pay homage to a Polish classic from 1971 by the hand of Marek Grechuta and his group Anawa. Korowód (Procession) is an eclectic record mixing influences from classical, folk and jazz under a progressive rock-umbrella.  In the center of all this musical mayhem is the steady peron of Grechuta. With a strong voice he recites the poetic lyrics (written by himself or others) giving bitter comment on live in Communist Poland (or so it seems). But how else can a track like ‘Kantata’ be read?

I’ve dreamed about birds without the sky…
I’ve dreamed about horses without the land…
There is no other season here, only winter,
Here is the place heavy like a stone and confusing like a labyrinth,
Here a wall meets a wall, both are alien to each other,
And a fair flower of the sky dies on a stalk of a yard.

Originally an architect Grechuta turned to singing in the sixties when he met the composer Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz, with whom he founded the student cabaret Anawa in 1967. In that same year he was awarded second place in the VI National Contest of Student Musicians (VI Ogólnopolski Konkurs Piosenkarzy Studenckich) and also received an award for Tango Anawa, with lyrics written by him and music by Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz. Beginning in 1968 he would win several awards at the Festival of Polish Music in Opole. In 1969 he played a minor role in Andrzej Wajda's film Polowanie na muchy (Hunting Flies). After a first self titled album ‘Korowód’ took things much further artistically. This already becomes evident on opener ‘Widzieć więcej’, an acoustic instrumental, loaded with psychedelic echoes. And a grand orchestral piece like "Nowy radosny dzień" ("New happy day") definitely needed a bigger budget to make. Although the title of this song suggests otherwise it is a again a bitter song. As the funeral drums in the intro fade in slowly the crowd starts to roar slowly turning the song into a soundtrack for a passing army. Grechuta himself is dreaming of better world. Or should we say pleaing, begging for a better world. On Swiecie nasz (Our world) the choir repeats after him:

Our world -- Give us a number of clear days!
Our world -- Let us wait in the bright day!
Our world -- Give to extinguish the fire bad!
Our world -- Give us joy, which we seek!
Our world -- Give us the flame, steel and sound!
Our world -- Give all the heavy gates open!
Our world -- Give to overcome any fear!
Our world -- Give us a variety of light and joy!

But the absolute keytrack on the album is the title track. A ten minutes long jazzed up, spaced out, folk-rock fury. The song is one big complaint against discrimination, violence, unequal human rights and greed. The lyrics much have had quite and impact in Poland at the time.

Who first attacked each other?
Who appointed the first blow?
Who is the first of us to recognize?
Who are enemies? Who are friends
Who was the first fame and all his pain was for nothing?
And who is not able to sleep not able to cross borders?

Who in the first night devised a great army?
Who was a hero? Who lived and died poorly?
Who was the first lord? Who first became king?
Who had to get up early, and who could sleep too long?

Korowód was the last album Grechuta and Anawad made together. Just after it’s release he left Anawa and founded the band WIEM. However, the songs from the album stayed on his repertoire throughout his career. Building ‘Korowód’ to exercises of 20 to 30 minute long improvisations. He died in 2006.

Click here tot visit Grechuta' page on europopmusic.eu...

Vasilis Papakonstantinou
Φοβάμαι (Fear) - ♪♪♪♪♪


The recent riots in Athens (a year after the riots of 2008) made me grab Vasilis Papakonstantinou’s classic album ‘Fear’ again. Although the cause is quit different the central theme (anger about the system, fear for the state and the police) is almost the same. Although released in 1982 it is very clear the album gets its inspiration from the Polytechnic riots from 1973. At the time the students from the university, calling themselves the "Free Besieged" (Greek: Ελεύθεροι Πολιορκημένοι, a reference to a poem by Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos inspired by the Ottoman siege of Mesolonghi), barricaded themselves in and constructed a radio station (using laboratory equipment) that repeatedly broadcast across Athens: "Here is Polytechneion! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy”.

Dramatic opening track ‘Κουρσάρος’ clearly makes its point: “From friends surrounded / and their fear, not love / And lives go unreported/ You worry, afraid to sleep / and the journey is resumed”. Because the fear of which the whole album reports must have been great. Eventually the regime stumbled thanks to the protest but the students couldn’t have possible known that before they barricaded the university buildings. “The first of May from the Bastille / begins in the hearts of students / one thousand flags, red, black / Federico, Catherine and Simone”. Three days the students held out. As Vasilis reports on ‘Θα φύγεις μοναχή’ (we go numb): “The night, blurred / and the conversation, freezes / Your cheeks, fiery / by drops of water”. They probably sought comfort for the night while the Junta figured out how to knock down this protest. “Filled squares with houses and bars / and the city gets dark like movies / And I say GO Stella, come in my arms to sleep / It is a great day, like a stray bullet and get lost”.

Eventually, in the early hours of November 17, 1973, the transitional government, in panic, send a tank crashing through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic. Prior to the crackdown, the city lights had been shut down, and the area was only lit by the campus lights, powered by the university generators. On a clandestine video, just before the attack, a young man's voice can be heard desperately asking the soldiers (whom he calls 'brothers in arms') surrounding the building complex to disobey the military orders and not to fight 'brothers protesting'. The voice carries on to an emotional outbreak, reciting the lyrics of the Greek National Anthem, until the tank enters the yard, at which time transmission ceases. Total recorded casualties amount to 24 civilians killed outside Athens Polytechnic campus. These include 19-year old Michael Mirogiannis, reportedly shot to death by officer G. Dertilis, high-school student Diomedes Komnenos, and a five-year old boy caught in the crossfire in the suburb of Zografou. The records of the trials held following the collapse of the Junta document the circumstances of the deaths of many civilians during the uprising, and although the number of deaths has not been contested by historical research, it remains a subject of political controversy. In addition, hundreds of civilians were left injured during the events. Symbolically closing track ‘Φοβάμαι’ (Fear) opens with the sound of sirens and mayhem. “my body bruised / amid the cold like a mistake / do not admit to any, / flipped to the warmth of your request / I'm afraid all that will be for me is without me ... “

In 2008 history sort of repeated itself when on 6 December 2008 Alexandros Grigoropoulos (Greek: Αλέξανδρος Γρηγορόπουλος), a 15-year-old student, was fatally shot by Epaminondas Korkoneas, a police officer. The shooting occurred after an altercation between a police patrol and a small group of youths in the Exarcheia district of central Athens. The death of Grigoropoulos resulted in large protests and demonstrations, which escalated to widespread rioting, with hundreds of rioters damaging property and engaging riot police with Molotov cocktails, stones and other objects. While the unrest was triggered by the shooting incident, the reactions expressed much deeper causes, especially a widespread feeling of frustration in the younger generation about specific economic problems of the country (partly as a result of the global economic crisis), a rising unemployment rate among the young generation and a perception of general inefficiency and corruption in Greek state institutions. And last month (2009), a year after the initial riots, shit again hit the fan. Making Papakonstantinou’s album still very relevant even after 28 years.

Click here tot visit Vasilis' page on europopmusic.eu...