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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.

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.

The girl on the broomstick

2006-12-22

Petra Černocká & the Karel Vlach Orchestra – Saxana
from 7 inch SP “Dívka na koštěti”, 1972, Supraphon 0431326, also on the compilation album “12 pro Mladý svět”, 1972, Supraphon 1131294
conducted by Karel Vlach, produced by Jiří Baur

CernockaPetra_Saxana_aSP_128 VA_12proMladySvet_a_128
original SP sleeve & the compilation LP sleeve

Dívka na koštěti (The Girl On The Broomstick) is one of my favorite Czech fairy-tale movies from the 1970s. Actually, it’s sort of a crossover genre because the director Václav Vorlíček was using elements from fairy-tales, fantasy and contemporary slapstick comedy, creating a fresh mix which still looks charming some 35 years later. I loved it then and I still love it now – in particular the lady who played the title role…

Petra Černocká (1949) is not an actor who sings but a singer who also used to act occasionally. She studied opera singing and piano on the Prague Conservatory. In 1967 she started to sing (and act) in the legendary Semafor Theatre. Her first record was her own song Ovečky (Little Sheep), recorded with a beat group of fellow conservatory students called Pastýři (The Shepherds). They recorded a couple of other 45s with folk-rock and pop tunes. In the early 1970s she joined the rock group Cardinals, but with the arrival of the “bubblegum-softie” Zdeněk Merta (from F.R. Čech’s Shut Up Orchestra) the band soon transformed to Kardinálové and started to play and record dull pop and C&W music – thus slipping out of my funky focus anyway. As for acting, apart from small roles in various TV and movie productions, the young witch pupil character Saxana a.k.a. “the girl on the broomstick” was her first major role. She’s nowhere to be seen singing in the movie though. According to a statement on her web site, originally she wasn’t even considered to sing the title song either.

That tune from the movie, Saxana, remains Černocká’s biggest hit and her signature song. It was composed by Angelo Michajlov with lyrics from Pavel Kopta. Michajlov was a Bulgarian who lived and studied music in Prague. Like Černocká, he also used to perform in the Semafor Theatre for some time. He wrote songs for Czech major pop artists like Marta Kubišová, Helena Vondráčková, Eva Pilarová or Václav Neckář. In the late sixties he began to work as a movie and TV score composer. Among his better known works were the scores for the popular 1980s children movie pictures Chobotnice z 2. patra (Octopuses From The 2nd Floor) or Lucie.

I have already briefly mentioned the Karel Vlach Orchestra as one of the best Czechoslovak big bands of the last century. That certainly applies if you dig swing, and the band history goes as far back as to the 1930s! Generally however, the orchestra’s ouput wasn’t necessarily funky in our sense; most of their recordings from the sixties on were anything else than progressive. Yet the boys in the band are still providing quite groovy backing on this particular track, although the overall production puts it rather closer to the “cheesy listening” genre. The 1970s orchestra line-up is unknown to me for most parts, but it’s not unlikely that Michajlov himself was sitting at the piano.

The 7 inch record is the movie “soundtrack”, although the b-side track, Georgie, has nothing to do with it (and it’s even much closer to cheese anyway). The song Saxana is available on various Czech CD compilations as it was one of the most popular songs of the 70s in Czechoslovakia. The movie itself is available on DVD with English subtitles and if you already like Czech children movies, you’re going to love this one too. (A sequel directed by Vorlíček again is currently being produced but I’m not holding my breath; the computer animated characters as they can be seen on this web site don’t promise anything good.) The aforementioned Various Artists vinyl compilation 12 pro Mladý svět (12 for the Young World magazine) will be tougher to find though; I’ve seen it only once so far – and that was the copy I have now. While the record doesn’t contain much “progressive” material either, there’s a couple of other, well, obscurities of historical character like few songs played and sung by the official and highly unpopular young communist “rock” group Plameny (The Flames) or a rare (and rather silly) post-Framus-Five bubble-gum outing by Michal Prokop. And drum break junkies might perhaps appreciate a less known pop tune by Olympic…

P.S. Dívka na koštěti läuft lief in der deutschen Fassung als Das Mädchen auf dem Besenstiel am 31.12.2006 um 6:00 Uhr im RBB.

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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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.