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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.

Mercy Mercy Mercy

2008-08-31

Marie Rottrová & Flamingo – Nechci (Mercy Mercy Mercy)
from album “Marie Rottrová”, 1972, Supraphon 1131268
arranged by Rudolf Březina, produced by František Řebíček

Marie Rottrová & Flamingo – I’ve Had Enough (Mercy Mercy Mercy)
from album “Rhythm & Romance”, 1977, Supraphon/Artia 1132303
arranged by Rudolf Březina, produced by Miloš Zapletal

rottrova 1 rottrova 2
original 1972 and 1977 LP covers

It’s been quite a long time since my last article, dear reader, so welcome back. This post is actually sort of a reader request: Magda, the charming young owner of the cute Happyfeet Records store in Prague asked for these tracks, so here we go…

Mercy Mercy Mercy was not only one of the biggest hits for Cannonball Adderley, but also one of Joe Zawinul’s – Adderley’s keyboarder then – “signature” compositions. Apart from being one of the most popular and instantly recognizable jazz hits of all times anyway. The 1966 original was an instrumental tune, but due to its soul-jazz feeling it’s been actually predestined for release as a vocal number. Of course, Marie Rottrová wasn’t by far the first one to sing it. Nancy Wilson probably had one of the first versions on her 1967 album Just For Now with lyrics by Gail & Vincent Levy – a slow and super cool rendition, by the way, worth to check out on its own! Marlena Shaw and Madeline Bell sang it, too. Even the Everly Brothers, the Creation or the Buckinghams did. And Eddie Jefferson vocalized it in his very special own way on Body And Soul in 1968. (See allmusic.com for a long list…)

However, Flamingo’s saxman Rudolf Březina re-arranged Mercy Mercy Mercy to a hot cooking uptempo pop-soul number, driven by Jiří Urbánek’s funky bass line, while Pavel Vrba wrote the original Czech lyrics Nechci (I Don’t Want). The tune first appeared on Rottrová’s “solo” album in 1972 – which has been introduced on Funky Czech-In almost two years ago, so please refer to that article for more details.

For Flamingo’s second export album Rhythm & Romance in 1977, the original instrumental basic track has been slightly remixed and new English vocals were overdubbed; both enhancements were not necessarily for better, if you ask me, but there they are. The words of I’ve Had Enough roughly follow Vrba’s Czech original. They were penned by Joy Turner, possibly the only Czechoslovakia-based pop lyricist in the 1970s who was officially allowed to write in English, albeit usually only for the Supraphon/Artia export albums.

Neither version has been reissued on CD yet*) so czech out your usual vinyl sources. Rhythm & Romance never even officially retailed in Czechoslovakia, thus you will rather likely find a copy of the LP in Germany, Poland, Hungary or Russia. (I got mine from Poland, if I remember correctly.) It’s sort of a “Best of Rottrová 1972–1976” album: except for two chansons in Czech, it contains English versions of her popular tunes, including the funky classic Ring Of Light (Kruh světla), Urbánek’s pre-acid-jazz masterpiece Time Is A Rogue (Modré oči mládí), or the complete vocal version of Quasimodo’s Dream (originally split into parts 1 & 2 on the Plameňáci 75 album). There are also unique cover versions of Nutbush City Limits and I’m On Fire, which are different recordings than the better known 7″ versions with Czech lyrics, Pan Muž and Expres Mléčné dráhy respectively.

P.S. Apropos Czech vinyl sources: I have a couple of the Rottrová pop/chanson singles for sale right now, including some ballads known from the Rhythm & Romance LP, as well as the super funky album Flamingo/Plameňáci 75 in excellent condition! Please visit shop.loukash.com.

P.P.S. Stay tuned to this blog, there will likely be very exciting news later this year! We’re working pretty hard on “some thing”…


P.P.P.S. 2016-02-17
*) As I have learned directly from the Supraphon licensing office in the meantime, both versions of the track have been disapproved by the original publisher and won’t be generally available for reissue due to licensing restrictions. Nonetheless, the Czech version is included in the massive CD/DVD box set Co mám, to dám, and oddly enough, the English version is still available for purchase via supraphonline.cz.

The painted orchestra

2006-12-04

Plameňáci/Flamingo – Malovaná kapela
from album “Plameňáci/Flamingo & Marie Rottrová 75”, 1976, Supraphon 1131695
arranged by Richard Kovalčík, produced by Květoslav Rohleder & Jan Hrábek

RottrovaM_75_a_128 RottrovaM_75_b_128
original LP sleeve (front/back)

Flamingo a.k.a. Plameňáci are back on the blog, my friend, albeit this time without their lead singer Marie Rottrová. Today we’ll have a first look on Rottrová/Flamingo’s third regular album. It is your very proof of the old saying that you shouldn’t judge a record by its cover. Because although the front photo sells you a softie female singer in a long blue dress fronting a variety show orchestra in tuxedos playing on a tinfoil-decorated stage in some kind of a small town multi-purpose hall where you can even recognize a couple of forgotten wooden chairs behind the stage in the top left corner, for most parts your turntable will speak the language of funk, soul, and jazz-rock.

Although called “75” and released in 1976, some of the album tracks have been already recorded in 1974, shortly before Flamingo’s original leader Richard Kovalčík passed away. But his trumpet only appears somewhere on Jiří Urbánek‘s instrumental opener Poslední okamžik (The Last Moment) which is seven minutes of boiling jazz funk featuring a long bass guitar solo; certainly not a typical way to kick off what’s actually supposed to be a pop album. Even the writer of an online review of the CD reissue seems to be rather puzzled – to put it mildly – about the original album concept and sound; well, I definitely don’t share his opinion… Anyway, it’s almost more a “Flamingo” than a “Rottrová” album because out of eight and a half songs (Quasimodo’s Dream is split into two parts on both sides) there are three original instrumental tunes while the guys also get plenty of room on the vocal tracks to show their high class musicianship.

Malovaná kapela (The Painted Orchestra) is the instrumental funk bomb of the album. This little tune could make any blaxploitation soundtrack a sought-after collector’s item, let alone a Czechoslovak pop album from the mid 1970s. I’d even go as far as to state that this gem is the ultimate original Czech funk. The latinesque groove somehow reminds me of Melvin Van Peebles’ (and Earth Wind & Fire’s) Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Written and arranged by Kovalčík, it must have been recorded after his death because according to the liner notes he doesn’t even play on it. The bad news is: this is not an edit, the original track indeed runs under two minutes. Before it fades out you’ll still get a short passionate saxophone solo by the band beau Rudolf Březina.

As I said, 75 has been reissued on a double CD as a 2-in-1 with the solid 1981 pop-soul album Muž č. 1 (The Man No. 1) as well as plenty of singles-only bonus tracks, however in the meantime it seems to be out of stock although I’ve seen a copy online while researching for this post a few weeks ago. The original vinyl is worth to pick anyway, you should try to search for Czech sources though. Overthere it’s not as rare (yet) as some online sellers might suggest, earlier this year in Prague I’ve seen mint copies for as low as CZK 50 (EUR 2).

The circle of light

2006-09-18

Marie Rottrová & Flamingo – Kruh světla
from album “Marie Rottrová”, 1972, Supraphon 1131268
arranged by Richard Kovalčík, produced by František Řebíček

RottrovaMarie_MarieRottrova_a_128 RottrovaMarie_MarieRottrova_b_128
original 1972 LP sleeve (front/back)

Marie Rottrová, born 1941 in Ostrava, started to sing with the beat group Samuel in the mid 1960s. Then she joined the soul group Majestic and since 1969 she worked professionally with its successor Flamingo – not to be confused with the famous beat/prog group from Prague called Flamengo. Flamingo recorded a couple of soul and R&B singles, their first long play album came out in 1970. It was one of the very few pure soul albums ever recorded in Czechoslovakia. Actually there were two Flamingo debut albums if you also count the very popular export edition This Is Our Soul which contains basically the same tracks but sung in English. Rottrová soon started to record as a solo artist as well. Nice is e.g. the up-tempo duet with superstar Karel Gott Mít pouhej tejden (Having Only A Week), a 1971 cover version of Good Morning Freedom, turning it into one of the better songs that Gott recorded in the 1970s. (Although it needs to be noted that Gott’s Czech repertoire – especially the 1960s beat stuff – was always of much higher quality than his German schlager crap.)

Flamingo, who were later forced to change their name to the Czech equivalent Plameňáci, was a very tight combo with its own horn section. Some members were at the same time the nucleus of the Czechoslovak Radio Ostrava Orchestra which was recording with various other local pop artists like Pavel Novák. The group was originally lead by trumpet player Richard Kovalčík who was also responsible for most of the arrangements. After his death in 1975 the keyboardist Vladimír Figar took over the leadership. Other longtime members were bass player Jiří Urbánek, Rudolf Březina on tenor sax, Jan Hasník on guitar and the “funky drummer” Radek Dominik. Despite further personal changes, Flamingo/Plameňáci remained Marie Rottrová’s main backing group until Vladimír Figar’s death in 1989.

Kruh světla (The Ring Of Light) is the dramatical opener from Rottrová’s first solo album which has been recorded while Flamingo’s second lead singer, Petr Němec, had to serve his two years in the Czechoslovak army. The song was written by Karel Svoboda with Michael Prostějovský’s lyrics. Yes, that Karel Svoboda who wrote Lady Carneval and Biene Maja for Karel Gott as well as probably hundreds of other maddening “normalized” Czech pop and schlager songs, including the title melody from the famous Xmas fairy-tale movie Tři oříšky pro Popelku (Three Hazelnuts For Cinderella). But that doesn’t mean that Svoboda didn’t have any flair for some funk here and there; watch out for some more Svoboda penned disco grooves in the Funky Czech-In pipeline.

The rest of the album sounds a lot softer, but there’s also a funky cover version of Zawinul’s Mercy Mercy Mercy with Czech lyrics, called Nechci (I Don’t Want). This album sort of sketches the path that Rottrová was about to take for her future career, being a soul influenced pop singer with class. Compared to other Czechoslovak top entertainers of that era, Rottrová was one of the few who were able to maintain a very high standard without actually selling out to the apathetic real-socialistic TV-consuming masses. Even some of her later ballads still sound very tasteful after thirty years. In other words, this entry won’t be her or Flamingo’s only appearance on this blog.

I don’t know Marie Rottrová’s records after 1983, but she keeps on recording and performing actively.
If you’re interested, I have five of her 7″ singles from the seventies for sale (items no. 479, 843, 1070, 1193 and 1219). On cdmusic.cz you can also buy some CDs, search there for “rottrova”.

Recent posts

2017-07-08: In memoriam Dr. Gui, the funky drummer
2017-02-12: In The Game Preserve
2016-02-17: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
2009-09-19: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1
2008-08-31: Mercy Mercy Mercy

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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.