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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.

Emporium of the world

2007-12-28

Karel Černoch – Tržnice světa
from album “Letiště”, 1975, Panton 110506

CernochKarel_Letiste_a_128 CernochKarel_Letiste_b_128
original album sleeve (front/back, © Petr Sís)

Quite a lot of Czech musicians passed away this year. Among others: the drummers Jan Antonín Pacák (1941) and Anatolij Kohout (1946), the composer Karel Svoboda (1938) the bass player Pavel Pešta (1948) or one of the pioneers of Czech rock’n’roll, Petr Kaplan (1940). And yesterday the Czech pop music scene has lost one of its most competent vocalists: Karel Černoch (1943) who died of colon cancer.

Karel Černoch began singing in the 1960s with various rock’n’roll and beat groups in Prague. Among international collectors he will be likely best remembered for his 1967–1968 recordings with Juventus: Ona se brání, 18 minut, Procitnutí or Zrcadlo. However, after 1970s his music output became rather inconsistent, i.e. not bound to any particular genre. He was travelling between soul, cheesy bubble-gum pop or country&western music, the latter becoming his passion from the 1980s on.

Still, at least for some parts of his discography you can truly state that nomen est omen: “černoch” means in Czech literally “black man”. And indeed, he was likely one of the very few vocalists in the world who was able to cover Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (with Czech lyrics known as Věc koupená) so close to the original and yet without giving up a single bit of his personal style, nearly as he would have written this masterpiece himself. Of course, I will introduce that track in a future Funky Czech-In article along with more details to Černoch’s biography in general and this album in particular. Personally I reckon Letiště (The Airport) among the best Czechoslovak pop albums of the 20th century – apart from being one of the most soulful anyway – including the superb cover design by film maker Petr Sís.

Tržnice světa (The Emporium Of The World) is one of my other favorites from Letiště, penned by Černoch with imaginative lyrics from his longtime co-writer and former producer Pavel Žák. What seamingly begins as a singer/songwriter ballad, after one minute the song turns into a funky bossa nova driven by lively drums with loads of latin percussions, jazzy Fender Rhodes harmonies and with a typical Černoch scat solo towards the end. And what makes the track quite unique even in international context are the traces of rapping all along; keep in mind that around 1975 rap and hip hop was still four years away! The backing group was once again the ubiquitous Dance/Jazz Orchestra Of Czechoslovak Radio (TOČR/JOČR), probably with Karel Růžička on keyboards, Petr Kořínek on bass and Josef Vejvoda on drums. It’s not unlikely that Černoch himself played the acoustic rhythm guitar.

P.S. As an irony of fate: although my wife and me are not into celebrating christmas at all, last Monday I thought anyway that we could listen to a couple of “beat carols” and so I spinned two or three 45s on the turntable, all recorded in the late 1960s by Karel Černoch…

Piece of my heart

2007-08-04

Eva Pilarová & TOČR – Padni na kolena (Piece Of My Heart)
from 7 inch single “Vlny”, 1970, Supraphon 0431049
conducted by Josef Vobruba, produced by Miloš Skalka

PilarovaEva_ZpevackaSupraphonu_aSP2_128 PilarovaEva_ZpevackaSupraphonu_bSP2_128
original SP sleeve (a generic “Pilarová” sleeve with additional imprint on the back)

As I have promised, here’s more soul from Eva Pilarová. Her star sank slightly in the second half of the 1960s, after a new breed of female singers popped up on the Czech scene: the miss pop Helena Vondráčková, the C&W queen Naďa Urbánková, the chanson-girlie Hana Zagorová or the beat ladies Marta Kubišová and Marie Rottrová. Pilarová’s educated alto voice on the other hand – while technically perfect – usually sounded a bit “academic”, possibly too academic for young listeners interested in contemporary pop music. She’s always been more comfortable in pop-jazz, swing or even in classical music rather than being an expressive soul or rock shouter. Nevertheless, bravely following the vogue she recorded a couple of soulful and funky tunes around 1970 as well.

Piece Of My Heart is one of the most recognizable female soul songs of the late sixties. Originally written in 1967 by Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy for Aretha’s older sister Erma Franklin (1939-2002), it has been widely popularized by Dusty Springfield in 1968 and of course ultimately immortalized by Joplin’s Big Brother & The Holding Company the very same year. I must say, however, that personally I prefer the softer versions over Janis’ overrated hysterical scream orgy. And thanks to a TV ad from a jeans manufacturer, even Franklin’s nearly forgotten yet still unmatched original came back to consciousness of a wider audience more than a decade ago.

Pilarová’s rendition Padni na kolena (Get Down On Your Knees) with Czech lyrics by Zdeněk Borovec exactly follows Dusty Springfield’s model and therefore also stays quite close to the original version. While the Dance Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Radio (TOČR) and an unnamed choir did a steady job as usual, the tune suffers from a horrible mix, mastering and pressing: the guys at Supraphon obviously must have had a really bad day then. (Note that I have done quite a lot of “clean-up”, normalization and re-compression while digitalizing the track. The 7″ side in its original “glory” sounds much worse!)

As far as I know, this song has never been reissued yet. And what’s more surprising, the single doesn’t even show up in Pilarová’s official discography document. So grab it while it’s hot or good luck hunting.

Bossa Nova

2007-07-14

Jana Petrů & TOČR – Bossa Nova
recorded in 1964, from compilation “Starci a klarinety”, 2002, BMG-Ariola 743214111826

VA-Starci-a_128
CD compilation booklet

Starci na chmelu (Oldmen Picking Hop, known as Hop Side Story or The Hop Pickers) from 1964 was the first Czechoslovak musical film. The pun title “Hop Side Story” isn’t a bad analogy: like its famous U.S. mold, it tells a story of teenagers in love, outsiders and the troubles that may arise in such situations. But I’ve actually never seen the movie, so I can’t tell if it would stand a direct comparison with West Side Story. Probably not, the socialistic realism didn’t allow as much drama as in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The movie soundtrack, however, is an undisputed Czech classic. Composed by Jiří Bažant, Jiří Malásek and Vlastimil Hála with lyrics by Vratislav Blažek, it features several original hits sung by popular stars of the early sixties like Karel Gott, Josef Zíma and Karel Štědrý.

I don’t have much informations about Jana Petrů. She began to record in 1962. Apart from singing easy listening pop and foxtrot tunes she also used to perform with brass ensembles. Her most popular song was Den je krásný (It’s A Beautiful Day), a duet with Karel Gott and the signature melody from the Starci na chmelu movie. Petrů remained active as a singer until the mid 1970s. By the way, do not confuse Jana Petrů with the pop/rock singer Petra Janů (1952), whose birth name actually also was Jana Petrů. As you might have guessed by now, later she changed it in order not to get confused with the older singer…

Bossa Nova is, well, a nice bossa nova, sort of. Acoustic guitar, maracas, cheesy organ, cool voices, actually it’s got all what’s needed. The lyrics are quite absurd though: Let’s pray, let’s pray, bossa nova, bossa nova / Let’s repeat those two words, bossa nova, bossa nova / With this little prayer you’ll be coming a long way / It will help you to reach what ever you wanted / Although Charles IV was a cruel feudalist / He initiated viniculture and not hop. Uh, without seeing the movie, the connection between hop and bossa nova is somewhat beyond my horizon…

The compilation Starci a klarinety (Oldmen And Clarinetes) is a double feature: on the same CD it also contains the even more popular soundtrack from yet another musical Kdyby 1000 klarinetů (If 1000 Clarinets) from the same year.

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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.