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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.

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.

Can’t buy me love

2007-03-26

Eva Pilarová & Karel Vlach Orchestra – Can’t Buy Me Love
from album “Zpívá Eva Pilarová”, 1966, Supraphon DV10206; reissued for export as “The Fascinating Czech Star” between 1966 and 1974 on Supraphon SUA15719, 55719 or 1130667

PilarovaE_Zpiva_a_128 PilarovaE_FascinatingCzechStarRI1_128 PilarovaE_FascinatingCzechStarRI2_128
original 1966 LP sleeve, 1966 export sleeve, 1972 reissue export sleeve

Now, let’s move back into time even further and also away from any funk or soul for a moment, although we’re staying quite close to jazz. The Czech female superstar of the first half of the sixties was Eva Pilarová. She grew up in Brno but like many other pop singers of that decade, her career kicked off in Jiří Suchý’s original Semafor Theatre in Prague. Yet ironically, it was in fact also her talent that massively helped to establish the relatively experimental Semafor stage in 1960 in the first place.

Pilarová has never been fixated on a particular genre or style: jazz, swing, pop, twist, rock’n’roll, blues, ballads, R&B, beat – anything goes. She had already won various awards and recorded numerous single and EP sides [link to an external MS Word document] before her first 12″ LP has been released in 1966. On that album entitled simply Zpívá Eva Pilarová (Eva Pilarová Sings) the Supraphon editors decided to show off her jazzy side, however, and that was definitely an excellent choice. After all, her public nickname was “Fitz-Pilarka” which she received as a reference to her famous US idol. Recorded in the era of relative political freedom between 1964 and 1966, the album presented two popular Lennon/McCartney songs and ten American standards. Summertime, Night And Day and Moonlight In Vermont were recorded with the Dance Orchestra of the Czechoslovak Radio alias TOČR/JOČR. Anything Goes, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Misty and others have been done with the Karel Vlach Orchestra. Vlach is also backing both Beatles covers, Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better. The latter however disguises a weakness of many “old school” jazz drummers (here probably the legendary Vladimír Žižka) when it comes to playing a straight and simple binary rock beat: sometimes it fails to groove as such

Can’t Buy Me Love on the other hand captures both the singer and the band in an excellent state. It takes the Beatles’ rhythm’n’blues tune one step further to swinging big band jazz, like if Lennon & McCartney never had anything else in mind. A classic. According to the list mentioned above, it has been originally released with Czech lyrics as Já čekám dál (I Keep On Waiting) on the Supraphon single 013663 – which seems to be a pretty rare item as far as I can say.

The album also used to be very popular abroad and it has been reissued for export a couple of times (see images), so it’s not hard to find it on vinyl at all. As a matter of fact, I’m selling a copy of the Czech edition for 1 Euro only in my WebShop. There’s a snag though: the first track (Moonlight In Vermont) ist damaged albeit still playable – but the rest of the record plays fine, i.e. “Very Good”. Actually this very MP3 has been ripped from it last year, though I may have likely filtered some pops and crackles here and there. (In the meantime I have finally found a slightly better copy in Prague.) And if you search my shop for “pilarova” you will also find lots of her singles for sale; sometimes it happens that I buy a single without realizing that I already own it, other times I’m not sure and then I think “better to have two of them than none” and sometimes I find an album with the same tracks that I already have on singles. Hence, at least when it comes to Czech records, usually the reason for selling them is that I actually have those tracks already. Searching my WebShop for “czech” should list all Czech items, by the way.

More from Eva Pilarová is coming later this year, also some of her really funky stuff. Stay tuned!

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2009-09-19: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1
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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.