21.6.18

"Ritam Kiše" concert tribute to Karlo Metikoš (1992)


This affectionate send-off was musician's way of celebrating Croatian artist Karlo Metikoš who suddenly passed away exactly a year earlier. Metikoš ushered rock to 1960s Croatia and was allegedly huge concert attraction at home and abroad, making name for himself in France where his cover of "Rhythm Of The Rain" by The Cascades led to globetrotting lifestyle than unprecedented amongst his colleagues. At the peak of his fame, Metikoš did something very unusual and decided to step in the background, his main focus being music he wrote exclusively for his love Josipa Lisac. Thanks to his understanding, courage and support, Lisac grew into homegrown Rock icon, practically the only female artist amongst the guys.

Understandingly heartbroken, Lisac decided that from now her only raison d'être is to keep memory of Metikoš alive, via highly publicised annual concert tributes to his music. This was the very first of what became tradition and I was there amongst the audience in ZKM theatre that evening. Truly eclectic range of artists invited showed the whole spectrum of who Metikoš was as an artist - his former 1960s colleagues Janko Mlinarić Trooly, 4 M, pianist Branko Bulić, rock pioneers Crveni Koralji and chanson legend Arsen Dedić rubbed shoulders with new kids like Dino Dvornik, Psihomodo Pop and Neno Belan who all revisited songs from his repertoire, either as a singer or as a composer. The highlight of the evening was appearance of 1960s veteran Zdenka Kovačiček who at that time was a little forgotten - her wonderful, bluesy cover of old pop classic "Dok razmišljam o nama" made everybody take a notice and Kovačiček was subsequently nominated for "Porin" in category of the best female vocalist of the year. Besides Kovačiček, concert surprisingly lacked strong female performers (Meri Trošelj fluffed her turn, Doris Dragović declined the invitation) making single entrance by Lisac even more important - it seems that in 1992 there was simply nobody around willing to step into her shoes. Old fellow travelers Dražen Vrdoljak and producer Vladimir Mihaljek Miha also helped along. 

On personal note, I recall seeing Gabi Novak in the audience, gently swaying to "Rhythm Of The Rain" by Fantomi. Backing band Telephone Blues Band was excellent and if memory serves me well, Rajko Dujmić had a blast playing keyboards behind Aki Rahimovski who stormed trough "Ležaj od suza". The evening gave new impetus to Kovačiček who would eventually start to record again, however her public resentment and jealousy of Lisac never completely disappeared, as many unnecessary interviews attest. 

20.6.18

"A Love Trilogy" by Donna Summer (1976)


Fairly obscured by her later discography, this early Donna Summer album is in fact quite a masterpiece and it took me years to realise it. For most of us, it all really starts few years later with "I Feel Love" when she entered her golden period of multi-platinum, best-selling double LP albums but its worth noting that path to this particular creative heights actually began much earlier. 

Initially, "A Love Trilogy" appears as a rushed attempt to follow up "Love to love you baby" smash that put Summer on a map - same idea, one long song stretched trough side A and some filler on side B, with young singer whispering and moaning in her calculated falsetto, gimmicky aural titillation that worked a year ago but it suggest certain lack of new ideas. Luckily, Summer was not one trick pony - she might carefully follow instructions of Giorgio Moroder but given the right chance she would show much more versatility. I have listened "A Love Trilogy" this morning and surprised myself how much I enjoyed it, even boogied a little around, laughing at myself - seems that this old school Disco, with its swirling strings and cheesy synthesisers still have magic and power, campy as it is. The highlight, surprisingly, is not never-ending "Try me, I know, we can make it" but Summer's fantastic take on "Could It Be Magic" which is definition of Disco glitz. Yes, she moans and coos again but its all done with wink and tongue-in-cheek, its all about having fun. Interesting thing about this particular song is how Summer starts singing it in breathy falsetto but eventually explode in full throaty voice we all later associated with her. It is little forgotten now, but everybody from Esther Phillips to Dionne Warwick followed her example and started moaning on their recordings from same era.

"Anna Karenina" by Clarence Brown (1935)


Seems I am on a roll with cinematic adaptations of famous novels, but in this case there is no worry because I have read Leo Tolstoy's novel some three decades ago and nowadays everything evaporated from my memory except vague idea that I felt not for Karenina or Vronsky, but surprisingly for Karenin (who in the novel affectionately accepted child Ana Karenina had with her lover). Obviously, it is a huge novel and it was necessary to tailor it for screen retelling so roughly half of it was skipped.


Make no mistake about it, this is grand Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer extravaganza helmed by David O. Selznick who created this as showcase for his Swedish sensation - even though is lavish production with beautiful costumes, tons of actors and spectacular scenery, focus is exclusively on Greta Garbo and she is so lovingly filmed that we miss her any time she is absent from the screen. Director Clarence Brown takes his sweet time to set the story, initially playing with every cliché associated with Tsarist Russia: sumptuous dinners, officers in shiny boots bursting in the song, gypsy singers and dancers twirling around, you name it, its here. When Vronsky finally glances at Karenina, she appears from a smoke, like a vision - Garbo's entrance couldn't be more carefully planned and from here we are so dazzled with her beauty, poise and elegance that somehow shaky script don't even matter. Strange, for the first time I became aware how androgynous Garbo was - her unusual features were completely sexless, which was the most visible when she was surrounded by other women - although everybody was smothered in heavy costumes, laces and hats, Garbo still stands out amongst them as some unearthly mirage. 



The relationship between Karenina and Vronsky has almost no chemistry, as Fredric March turns very perfunctory, one-dimensional act - than again, its a very ungrateful role as Vronsky is basically a cad - still, its not exactly clear why would woman like Garbo fall for him. Far more interesting is the energy between Garbo and excellent Basil Rathbone (yes, Sherlock Holmes himself) who plays her cold, unloving husband - the movie works very hard to present him as a monster who cares only about propriety and his status in society but for me he is real uncrowned star of the show as his character suffers in silence much more than lovers caught in heat of the moment. The real tragedy is that Karenin never understood his wife and even though he might genuinely love her, he is incapable to show her affection (all we see is jealousy and frustrated anger that she so openly defies him). The fact of Karenina making a choice between motherhood and love is dealt with very gingerly - we know she will suffer one way or the other, either staying in a cold, loveless marriage or leaving child behind (by the way, little Freddie Bartholomew played it as expected in the 1930s but I yelled at him angrily, annoying little brat and future Norman Bates). The ending is quite magnificent and Garbo is hypnotic - she is such a strong, magnetic presence that she carries the whole movie on her shoulders, without her this would be just a fairly amusing old fashioned sentimental melodrama but honestly, I could watch this again. 


19.6.18

"The 39 Steps" by Alfred Hitchcock (1935)


Because I detested film version of "And Than There Were None" I was very cautious about approaching another screen version of a novel, however I do have huge respect and love for that genius of British cinema Alfred Hitchcock, after all he is the only movie director who actually improved on novel (he made Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca" into even better experience and added Mrs.Denvers where in the novel she was hardly mentioned). Add to this that I am still not familiar with John Buchan so its all new to me. Had I read the novel, I might have been upset with liberties and changes.


"The 39 Steps" is quite surprisingly effective movie for something created in 1935 - its often cited as the real beginning of Hitchcock, with ingredients we grew to recognise as his trademarks. Innocent bystander gets caught up in the complex, Kafkaesque nightmare of international espionage intrigues and meets icy blonde who unwillingly becomes his fellow traveller trough dangerous situations. Its all a bit far-fetched but still very entertaining, although I didn't really care for Robert Donat and found small, supporting roles of greedy farmer John Laurie and his young, lonely wife Peggy Ashcroft much more fascinating. In her role as Hitchcock blonde, beautiful Madeleine Carroll is actually very good and surprisingly strong willed for the 1930s when most of the female roles were purely decorative - her assertive personality is delight to watch. Eclipsed by sheer wealth of Hitchcock's filmography, this is movie still worth visiting and checking out. Of note is his confident way with mass scenes in music halls, the now lost world of old London that looks like time machine. 

"Sweet Revenge" by Amanda Lear (1978)


In the late 1970s, mysterious model/socialite known as Amanda Lear enjoyed quite burst of fame (or is it notoriety?) as a disco singer, despite obvious lack of voice usually associated with disco divas like Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer. Since she hang out with celebrities for at least a decade, it was just a matter of right opportunity when Lear herself will enter the recording studio and its very possible that knowing the business inside out, she was aware that singing voice might not be the only predisposition to make it in the industry. It is actually quite endearing and fascinating that someone would be so brazen to confidently enter the music arena relying exclusively on tongue-in-cheek image. And image was all that everybody talked when it came to Lear - her unrepentant, androgynous presence was so powerful that voice itself was not important at all.


Perhaps it was not a coincidence that the market that welcomed Amanda Lear so warmly was initially Germany that traditionally had long fascination with androgynous artists, in fact its easy to imagine Lear as some decadent cabaret performer in 1920s Weimar Republic. Lear herself was not a fool and perfectly aware of her vocal limitations, often gleefully remarked how easy it is to toy with the media who was in uproar with such unprecedented, outsized personality.  It was a German producer Anthony Monn who tailored several hit albums for her on Ariola Records and "Sweet Revenge" is by far the most successful and accomplished of them. The highlight of the album is side A that had certain concept (girl selling her soul to a Devil) with camp classics as "Follow Me", "Gold" and "Mother, Look What They've Done to Me" although side B had the biggest hit of them all, deliciously decadent "Enigma (Give a Bit of Mmh to Me)" that might be Lear's biggest claim to music fame. It was a huge seller all over continental Europe and still sound fascinating today.


On personal level, I remember being a kid absolutely besotted with such unabashedly decadent artist - at that time I knew nothing about sex but Lear spoke to me on some deeper, unconscious level and probably promised the worlds that are still to come when I grow up. Years later, when I finally got it on CD, my sweet innocent niece caught the bug and she loved the album so much that I had to give it to her - imagine my horror when this little girl started to draw Amanda Lear with a whip (yes, that was a whip on the album cover) in a school, where all the other kids drew princesses. I was afraid that I corrupted the child but she grew into completely sane, mature person with no SM inclinations. So far. 

"And Then There Were None" by René Clair (1945)

Ah, vacation and finally time to go back to what I always loved, my collection of old black & white classics. "Ten Little Indians" was the very first Agatha Christie novel that I ever read (during one sleepless night during my adolescence, I was already insomniac back than), except that my copy was titled differently, but never mind, it kept me awake until the dawn and started lifelong love for anything written by Christie.


The novel is quite ingenious classic now, with typical drawing room hodgepodge of characters who find them invited to a house on very isolated island and than they started dropping dead left and right just as in a nursery rhyme that gave title to the novel. Just like many other Christie novels, it invites a perfect large cast screen adaptation, so I expected that this 1945. version filmed by French René Clair would be right up my alley, because I love Christie and I love old black & white movies.

Wrong! And how! There are still some starry-eyed viewers who love this version because it has the right old patina, but in fact it clashes with almost everything the novel was about. My main objection is the way Clair turns this quite sinister story into a light comedy, when there is absolutely no need for it - most of the characters are clowning around and it puts a movie into completely another place, where original novel was deeply engaging thriller. Apparently this version was based not so much on the novel, as much on stage play version, so even the end was changed, which completely changes everything, I actually passionately disliked what became of my favourite Christie novel and even the presence of wonderful Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca") didn't help - she was largely underused anyway. Since characters were either making faces, stumbling around drunkenly or yelling at each other, I didn't care for any of them and really wanted them dead so the film will finish sooner. There was also a uninvited and largely routine gimmick of suggested love affair between Louis Hayward and June Duprez that has nothing to do with novel, I simply think this was waste of time and effort, because I hate to see great novel getting such irreverent treatment. I detest this movie as much as I loved Clair's "I Married a Witch" and he should just stick to macabre comedies. It almost puts me off watching old black & white movies. 

"Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" by Middle Of The Road (1971)


Brainchild of Italian producer Giacomo Tosti, Middle Of The Road was Scottish pop band that overnight went from complete obscurity into massive early 1970s pop phenomenon. While practically unknown at home, they found guidance and direction in Italy, where several Italian arrangers tailored irresistible and melodic material, easy on ear and rich in hooks - if it all sounds a bit too calculated, the effort was worth it because audiences lapped it up and singles "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" and "Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum" sold in millions.

The trademark of this band was vocal of lead singer Sally Carr - it was a highly unusual, individual and peculiar voice, that worked perfectly in this bubblegum setting, instantly recognisable and idiosyncratic sound with just right hint of melancholy in the ballads. What is the most interesting about the band and this album is how it makes a way for Abba who are just around the corner - it is quite irresistible Europop based on simple melodies, multi-voiced harmonies and yes, not very demanding lyrics. However, once you get over two overplayed hit singles mentioned above, the album actually has surprisingly dark undertone and on songs like dramatic "Lingering Sounds", "To Remind Me" or "Rainin' 'N Painin'" there is unexpected feeling of sadness and melancholy that not only clashes with peppy hit singles but points at direction that Scots were unable to pursue - all people wanted to hear back than (and still today) were sunny pop hits. Personally I find this strange dichotomy between what was commercial and what they wanted to play the most appealing aspect of the album - while perfectly capable to sing jolly ditties, Carr really pours her heart in ballads, which in fact makes her spiritual sister to Karen Carpenter who at the same time was experiencing similar situation across the Atlantic. Since I always loved Abba, it was joy to discover this now forgotten early 1970s band who paved the way for them. 


18.6.18

"Vse Moje Besede" by Majda Sepe (1978)


Just like her contemporary Gabi Novak in Croatia, Slovenian artist Majda Sepe started with cute, little swing ditties and imitations of Doris Day back in the early 1960s - listening to those early recordings, listener would never guess ladies would eventually grow into such interesting artists. Both of them were married to highly respected musicians and both gradually turned to pop chanson, thought Novak didn't have to fight language barriers - performing in Slovenian language was obstacle that unfortunately limited Sepe's appeal only to homegrown audiences. She was often guest on pop festivals in Opatija and Split, but to my knowledge with underwhelming results, it was obvious that local audiences had their own favourites and guests performances were always just perfunctory.

I recall my parents admiring Sepe's good looks (she started as a model) but they never had high opinion of her singing talent. Which today I find very strange as her music was very lovely indeed - this collection presents majority of her most beloved songs, always very sophisticated and quite beautiful, with interesting lyrics and haunting music mostly composed by her husband Mojmir Sepe (celebrated Jazz musician who wrote schlagers for his wife). "Med Iskrenimi Ljudmi", "Uspavanka Za Vagabunde", "Solze Na Oknih" and "Pismo Za Mary Brown" are still beautiful songs, in my opinion some of the best in Slovenian pop and its simply loss for the rest of audiences on national level that this music didn't get bigger exposure. Perhaps Sepe didn't have such magnificent instrument like Elda Viler or Ditka Haberl (or soulful Alenka Pinterič) but she was definitely in the very pantheon of most important artists in her homeland and her rare recordings are still worth checking out. 



Cher


Just for the pleasure of it, I am adding two classic photos of Cher the way I remember her.
Where generations of kids in 1970s US watched her enormously popular TV shows (with and without husband Sonny Bono) I was not so lucky and grew up mostly ignorant of her significance, although her recognisable voice definitely sounded familiar from radio-waves but even than I was too small to actually know who was the singer. The very first time I actually stopped and paid attention was while listening 1981. album "Dead Ringer" by larger-than-life Meat Loaf - I must have been around twelve or so and was fascinated with album's cover illustration which looked like something out of Conan the Warrior. Well, on that album there was a duet with Meat loaf and Cher, real scorching number and I recall being very impressed with female voice which was all about attitude and very individual. It wasn't pretty or particularly feminine voice but it greatly appealed to me, though I still had no clue who this was. 

Fast forward few years and by 1987 (when Cher returned to recording studio after long sabbatical) I had already knew her as charismatic actress. There was some confusion, brought with her recent film work, where new generations (like me) were not sure is she actress or a singer - her self-titled, new Geffen album recorded with help of people like Michael Bolton, Jon Bon Jovi and Desmond Child presented her as a biker babe with a leather jacket (look closely on the back of the album and you'll find Vicki Sue Robinson, Bonnie Tyler and Darlene Love amongst backing vocals) which fitted neatly with her role as a biker mom in wonderful drama by Peter Bogdanovich "Mask" and to this day I think its the best film she ever made. "The Witches of Eastwick" and "Moonstruck" later brought her even bigger fame but in my mind, Academy Award for "Moonstruck" was belated recognition for "Mask" which was far more superior on dramatic level. At the time, newspapers were absolutely besotted with her plastic surgeries and it was all everybody was talking about, with lots of guessing and speculating how did she transform herself into such ravishing beauty - to my biggest surprise, I found out that she always was a great beauty and very attractive woman even decades ago, so this was kind of just of little correction.


And now we come to 1986. Academy Awards, the year of "The Color Purple" (that introduced Whoopi Goldberg and the Spielberg movie that Tina Turner refused), "Out of Africa" and "Prizzi's Honor", the year when Harrison Ford danced with beautiful Kelly McGillis in "Witness". It was also a year when Cher (presenting the award for the best supporting actor) swept on the stage looking absolutely magnificent in Bob Mackie creation - forget about anybody else, people talked only about her costume which was something out of SF movie. Now I understand this was completely typical for woman who used to intrigue TV audiences with her shocking costumes back in 1970s but it was at the same time middle finger to Hollywood society who snubbed her showbiz roots and calculated attempt to overshadow everybody else (very successful one). I still remember how enchanted I was and today I bring you photo from that evening. 

"14 Successi Di Milva" by Milva (1961)


This is compilation of the best loved songs by very young Milva who, at the grand age of twenty two, was one of the most promising and popular female singers in Italy. Nurtured by recording company "Cetra" who probably saw her as female answer to mighty Claudio Villa, Milva graced stages like San Remo festival and  Olympia theatre despite her young age and at this point had already amassed quite impressive list of hit singles, all of them collected here. 

The main attraction of this collection is lady's voice: she had obviously trained Bel Canto voice that harked back to previous decade, with enormous lung power and ability to switch between full blast and seductive whisper, truly magnificent sound like no one else. Songs like "Il Mare Nel Cassetto", "Arlecchino Gitano" and "Flamenco Rock" were enormously popular back than, with cover versions blossoming all over continental Europe as soon as they were released. It was all very melodramatic and theatrical, as one would expect from passionate Italian artist, everything grand and sweeping, not unlike how Dalida worked in France at the time. If "Milord" and "Les Enfants Du Pirée" were obvious covers of current pop hits, moody and jazzy "Estate" hinted at direction this artist unfortunately never pursued later. Interestingly enough, although Milva continued the career with impressive longevity, very soon she will be eclipsed by idiosyncratic Mina who will turn the same San Remo number "Io Amo Tu Ami" into irreverent uptempo ditty - for a while in the 1960s both ladies were contenders for a crown, with Ornella Vanoni right behind them, until Milva eventually turned to theatre, cabaret and foreign language recordings. This is quite impressive collection of her very start when she enjoyed the first burst of success. 


15.6.18

"The Last Enchantment" by Mary Stewart

The final volume of her Merlin trilogy, where Mary Stewart connects all the dots and gives her own particular twist on ancient legend. Stewart has poetic way with the words, with her its not so much about the action - which at the times crawls like a lonesome traveller trough hills and valleys on foot - but about the senses, smells, lights, sounds of the river, mist above the lake and distant harp echoing in the cave. Occasionally, when Merlin sings to himself, reader gets transported to another dimension. Personally, I probably wouldn't mind different pacing and less description of nature, but because character of Merlin is outsider - hermit who sees things in the fire, rather than being in the thick of it - we find out about things more from others, little shepherd boy or blacksmith who know all the news. 

Say whatever you want, but Stewart don't really care for female characters - here, they are merely decorative (Guinevere), functional (someones wife and cook) or pure evil (Morgause, Morgan) - in fact, Arthur's sisters turn out to be his main antagonists and I can't help but wonder is it because they are not content to melt in the background but have strength, ambition and will to stand up to men who would otherwise lock them up. We don't really get to understand their motives and can just guess why they behave the way they do but there is interesting suggestion that women with power are dangerous. Later in the novel, there is another female character but she is utterly unconvincing to me, like something Stewart had to do in order to keep close to the basic roots of the story - good thing (and quite marvellous) is the way she plays around the myth and creates her own variations of the story, circling around it but never quite following exactly what we expect, there is always some new, interesting version of it (at the end of the novel Stewart explains where she got these ideas, mostly from pre-medieval sources). The story is so multi-layered that it makes reader dizzy, as it gets further and further from our perception built on medieval embellishments. 


The most touching characters - and scenes - are not what you would expect, but small supporting roles of servants and shepherds Merlin encounters on his disguised journeys, particularly gentle little dreamer slave Ninian (who really stole my heart), unfortunate mute Casso (who would later be very important) and unnamed little bare footed shepherd with his silver coin, I felt very strong affection for these guys destined to live their lives at the mercy of the world, without protection of luxurious Camelot and royal splendour. I even felt some sympathy for young, teenage Mordred summoned to the royal court with his entire family, just a young boy protective of his mother. The last scene with Morgause was very interesting, because until now we were told she was very dangerous witch but once the news broke to the king, she was left alone and quite unceremoniously dumped in the courtyard: "For the first time since I had known her, I saw her, no more than a frightened woman, making the sign against strong enchantment." 

14.6.18

"Coup De Chapeau Au Passé" by Dalida (1976)

"J'attendrai" is often cited as the first ever French disco hit - it certainly caught the zeitgeist of the times, as everybody from Donna Summer to Esther Phillips had huge success with new, uptempo versions of old classics and it brought veteran Dalida into new heights of popularity, with a song that will forever be associated with her. Which is no small feat for somebody who was in the business for already two decades. Unfortunately it gave her career a certain direction which in hindsight seems too obvious - this album is perfect example of calculating attempt to duplicate "J'attendrai" with another selection of discofied classics from bygone era.

As much as I love Dalida, I must admit that she was always kind of artist who jumped on bandwagon, rather than setting individual path - from the start, her catalogue always depended on covers, be it "O Sole Mio" or "Itsy beetsy Teeny Weeny Polka Dot Bikini", if it charted, you'll bet she will cover it. The only exception being early 1970s, where she introduced some really interesting homegrown material, but with "J'attendrai"  everything went orchestrated disco, with strings and kitchen sink. Mind you, "J'attendrai" is great classic where everything worked in her favour and I still love it, but the whole album of kitsch quasi-disco is a bit too much, unless you are serious fan of 1970s camp. "Les feuilles mortes", "Parle-moi d'amour, mon amour", and "La mer" are certainly pleasant but tend to melt into background, while the worst offender is the song every street and lounge musician already overplayed to death, "Besame mucho" - its something that you'll pay street musicians just to go away from your table - perhaps only piece of music I intensely dislike. Unfortunately it turned into another smash hit and lady happily continued with her glossy & glitzy variété shows, breaking the records and whatnot, perhaps staying in the business is the end to all aspirations - to me it seems like artistic cul-de-sac. It is definitely pleasant, but ultimately bland 1970s product, though her voice is beautiful as ever - "Que reste-t-il de nos amours" (also known as "I Wish You Love") is haunting, thankfully slowed down to ballad.