Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pop A Capella

Every once in a while you get that rare gem: a rock and roll tune with just words but little or no musical accompaniment. I meticulously combed my MP3 file collection (which is very large) for a capella tunes but could find only five, and all of them from European groups. Groups in the former Eastern Bloc seem to be especially good at a capella tunes due to the history of pop quartets and choirs in their countries.

Here are a few good tunes:

Mocedades - Jimmy Brown, Part 1 (Spain)

ER Meeskvartett - Vaike Sunfoniett (Estonia)

Trio Relikt - Pozhar (Russia)

4TET - Ja to tady vedu (Czechoslovakia)

Gaya - Sosna (Azerbaijan)


"VIA" in Russian stands for "Vokalnoe instrumental ansambl." That's right, you officially couldn't call your group a "rock band" in the Soviet Union. This was because the Communist Party didn't like most things that were influenced by the West. They didn't like hard rock (heavy metal and punk only surfaced in the Soviet Union in the mid and late 80s), and you won't see many guys with long hair on Soviet album covers. The party preferred a clean-cut image; kind of like the Beatles in their early days. Looks such as the style the Rolling Stones favored were out. It was considered too bourgeoisie for the Soviet Union. Soviet rock was a little different too; some Western influence was allowed as songs from the West were appreciated by the Soviet youth and were covered, but the music generally sounded a bit watered-down and softer. Also, the non-Russian Soviet groups often liked to incorporate their native sounds into a rock beat. Here are some Soviet VIA and their tunes:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Back in the USSR

Now for more singers from the USSR, this time from the Soviet Middle East... some of them actually have incorporated their oriental rhythms into the music. Again, I have tried to find tunes sung in the native language when applicable. This description is pretty much to the point because if I said anything more, it would be repeating the "Their Address Was the Soviet Union" post.

Their Address Was The Soviet Union

For these singers, their address was the Soviet Union. Sure they may have been Soviets, but not all of them were Russian. Some came from the Baltics, others from the Soviet Middle East (such as Kazakhstan). Some came from Belarus and the Ukraine. Only one of these singers is actually Russian. Nearly all of them sang in Russian at one point in their careers (they had to, especially if they wanted to be stars), but I have tried to include them singing in their native languages when applicable. And oh yes, their record label, was of course, Melodiya, which was the ONLY record label in the Soviet Union.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Diverse Disco

Disco! One would normally think 70s and 80s and ABBA. Now I'm not very fond of ABBA. I like only their song "Waterloo," and that is it. There were other Disco singers and groups who were much better than ABBA. Nobody did disco better than the Dutch and the Germans. Disco was done everywhere, even in such weird places as Thailand. Here are a few diverse disco tunes:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Red Rockers

When I was a kid, I thought that there wasn't any such thing as rock and roll in Communist countries... but when I started getting into global pop, I found that I was incredibly wrong! Plus I was amazed too... there were astonishing beats in the music, the singers were fantastic (some even sounded much better than American singers), and the music was marvelous. Plus some singers even recorded Western (American or British) pop. However, even if you were a popular singer in a Communist country, you still had to be careful. There was no such thing as a one-hit wonder. You had to have more than one hit and you had to be pretty good in order to be taken seriously by the Communist Party, and you were at their mercy. One wrong move and your career could be over or at least suspended. Here are some gems from some Red Rockers, some of whom who are still remembered in their countries:

Before The Beatles

Many people think British rock began with the Beatles. No way...Britain had pop and rock before 1964. In the 50s, a sort of twangy pop known as "Skiffle" became popular, and trad jazz was in as well. Some folks might say that Britain was a little slow on the uptake as a lot of British singers still sounded jazzy long until the mid 1960s. Here are a few British groups and singers pre-Fab Four: