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Funky Czech-In

An introduction to Czech and Slovak pop music from the sixties, seventies and eighties with a touch of funk, soul, disco and jazz.

Pendulum

2007-07-06

Discobolos – Kyvadlo
from album “Discobolos”, 1978, Supraphon 1132348
conducted by Jiří Svoboda, produced by Michael Prostějovský

Discobolos_1_a_128 Discobolos_1_b_128
original album sleeve (front/back)

As I stated before, Discobolos was a studio project of the brothers Karel (1938-2007) and Jiří Svoboda (1945-2004). While Karel became (in)famous as a hitmaker and later as a composer of musicals, Jiří was mainly active writing film and TV scores. The highlights of his career were two movie scores written for the director and future Academy Award winner Jan Svěrák in 1991 (Obecná škola) and 1993 (Akumulátor 1).

Established at the zenith of the disco era, Discobolos was one of the few projects when the Czechoslovak pop music industry was able to keep pace with a global vogue. (Not that it comes as a big surprise: unlike rock, for sure the communist censors considered disco ideologically “safe” due to the lack of any serious verbal message.) Apart from studio work for artists like Jiří Schelinger or Helena Vondráčková (the 1980 album Múzy/Music), Discobolos released two “solo” albums in 1978 and 1979: Discobolos and Disco/Sound. The latter consisted mostly of “recycled” and disco-fied versions of older pop hits writen by Karel Svoboda. The first album, however, contained original material including one of the most popular Czech disco hits Dlouhá bílá žhnoucí žhoucí kometa (A Long White Glowing Comet) sung by the exceptional vocal talent Jana Kratochvílová (1953).

Kratochvílová’s unmistakeable voice also adds the spice to the theme melody on Jiří Svoboda’s nearly-instrumental Kyvadlo (Pendulum). Czech pop music has never been closer to American disco-funk than with this tune, despite the occasional timing problems which the drummer seemed to have. Nonetheless, the studio group was built around a competent bunch of rock and jazz musicians, then also known as Bohemia: Vladimír Kulhánek on bass, Michal Pavlíček on guitars, percussionist Jiří Tomek, saxophonist Jan Kubík and Pavel Trnavský who was obviously the said drummer. On few tracks even Lešek Semelka appeared as the lead vocalist. Lots of keyboarders were involved anyway: Pavel Větrovec, Karel Štolba, Jan Hála and of course the Svoboda brothers. Additional vocals à la Silver Convention were provided by the female trio Viktorínová/Nopová/Jakoubková alias Bezinky.

Both Discobolos vinyl album should be quite easy to find in Prague or in Czech online stores, since they were anything else but rare. I’ve even seen some on flea markets in Switzerland recently. In fact, that reminds me that I still have a copy for sale – for one Euro only! (Yes, there’s a caveat: one track is badly scratched, that’s why.)

The racer

2006-11-06

Jiří Schelinger & Discobolos – Závodník
from 7 inch SP “Což takhle dát si špenát”, 1977, Supraphon 1432082
conducted by Jiří Svoboda

SchelingerJ_CozTakhleDatSiSpenatZavodnik_aSP_128 SchelingerJ_CozTakhleDatSiSpenatZavodnik_bSP_128
original SP sleeve (front/back)

Jiří Schelinger (1951-1981), the first true Czechoslovak rock star, is my Mr. Rock, as I’ve said before. He played guitar and sang with various amateur beat and blues bands since the late sixties. In 1973 he had his first smash hit with the group Faraon: Holubí dům (The Pigeon House), one of the most popular Czech pop songs ever. Later that year he switched over to František “Ringo” Čech‘s group, formerly also known as the Shut Up Orchestra. Čech was just getting rid of his previous lead singer, the fading children idol Viktor Sodoma (ex-Matadors). At that time Čech was the undisputed king of Czech bubblegum music, but he was looking for an adequate voice for his upcoming hard rock project and Schelinger seemed to be the right guy. Nevertheless, they continued to record pop and schlager songs in order to “stay alive”. After all it was the 1970s and rock music was obviously the enemy of the communist state number one. That transition period has been captured on Čech’s debut album Báječní muži (Wonderful Men) in 1974. Čech was not only a humorous lyricist but also a clever and subversive manager: in order to smuggle at least some of his hard rock songs onto records he wrote lyrics which the censors almost must have let pass through. The most prominent example was Metro dobrý den (Hello Subway), a 1974 cover version of Black Sabbath’s classic A National Acrobat. To fully understand the gag, be assured that only by admiring Black Sabbath you would have been certainly considered as much decadent (and anticommunist) as you could have possibly been then. But then the smart writer of the liner notes on Schelinger’s “solo” album Nemám hlas jako zvon (I Don’t Have A Voice Like A Bell) states: “Hello Subway is a celebration of a modern transport vehicle, a celebration of human labor and progress.” Yeah. Now eat that, you communist bastards! (Prague’s first subway line has been opened in 1974.) So in fact, around 1975 Schelinger & Čech were the only Czechoslovak hard rock group releasing at least some records, but they had to fight really hard for that privilege.

Schelinger was open-minded to other genres and worked occasionally with various studio orchestras. Those songs even appeared on television shows and in movie pictures. One example is the 1977 “soundtrack” single Což takhle dát si špenát (What Would You Say To Some Spinach) which was the theme song from a very popular sci-fi comedy movie of the same name. On the other hand, its clavinet laden funky flip side Závodník (The Racer), a story of a road-hog character, comes from a TV movie Přikázaný směr jízdy (Compulsory Direction). I could find any info on that one; it might have been a TV play or even a documentary, no one on the web seems to know nowadays. The songs were written by Karel Svoboda (yes, that one again) with Čech’s lyrics. The backing group on both tracks was Discobolos (misspelled “Diskobolos” on the label), a studio project of the Svoboda brothers. As the band name indicates, it was an attempt to jump on the disco bandwagon and they definitely weren’t doing all that bad. They also released two albums in 1978 and 1979, albeit without Schelinger’s participation. I will feature them on Funky Czech-in soon. Among the Discobolos members were once more the Flamengo veterans Jan Kubík on sax and Vladimír Kulhánek on bass as well as Michal Pavlíček on guitar, Pavel Trnavský on drums, the exceptional singer Jana Kratochvílová and (of course) Jiří Tomek on congas.

Also in 1977, a miracle happened and Schelinger & Čech were finally allowed to release the first true Czechoslovak hard rock album, the highly sarcastic and partly even slightly funky Hrrr na ně (Harum-Scarum At Them). The semi-unplugged and more serious masterpiece Nám se líbí… (We Do Like…) was released in 1979 and by yet another miracle it has been even reissued in 1985, despite the presence of Oskar Petr who actually emigrated in 1979. Other original killer rock hits like Jahody mražený (Frozen Strawberries) or for Czech conditions the almost unbelievably heavy Lupič Willy (Willy The Burglar) appeared on singles and have been first reissued more than ten years later on the excellent 1990 LP/CD compilation Holubí dům (The Pigeon House).

In April 1981, while working on his planned album Zemětřesení (Earthquake), Schelinger was invited to a playback session in the Slovak TV studio in Bratislava. Later that night, under unclear circumstances he jumped from the Old Bridge into the Danube river. One month later his body was supposedly found about 20 km down the river, however it has never been officially identified by any member of the Schelinger family. His death still remains quite a mystery.

Being already a cult figure while alive, after his death the Schelinger cult grew even more. The positive effect is not only that all official recordings are well documented on CDs, but now there are even rarities compilations available. Here’s the complete discography. And a fan page has a couple of low-fi live recordings available for download. For CDs check out cdmusic.cz. Some vinyl is of course available on Gemm and eBay, too. Last but not least I have a couple of 7″ for sale, e.g. items no. 355 and 841 (and I’ll add some more to my list soon).

P.S. I’m leaving Prague today with a lot of records in my suitcase. In fact, I might need a second suitcase… Anyway, I’ll surely share some of them with you, so stay tuned!

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2009-09-19: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1
2008-08-31: Mercy Mercy Mercy
2008-06-04: The best disco in town

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Disclaimer

The audio samples are presented as a “specimen” to encourage readers to buy the artists’ albums. Many of the tracks presented herein are available for purchase in MP3 or FLAC format at supraphonline.cz.

Copyright

All written content is © 2006– by Lukáš Machata (Lou Kash). Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. If you’d like to use portions of my articles, please contact me first.