Early 1970s Croatian artists: Darko Domijan

"Stani bar na tren" by Darko Domijan (1974)
Dear reader, if you are here it means that you are one of the handful of people still aware of this completely obscure and fascinating album. Probably only the people involved in recording, me and you actually know about its existence. Singer Darko Domijan of course, became household name later with his later music that was tailored specifically for family audiences but like so many people of his generation, he actually started as almost rock artist.

Gifted with very unusual, raspy and whiskey-soaked, nasal voice Domijan sounds like he was born to sing in some rock band - that is why the direction he later took seems so astonishing, since he obviously had natural talent for completely different kind of music. This is where great Rajmond Ruić steps in and here I must say that everything this man did seems to have had magic touch, because every time his signature stands behind certain record, you can bet it will sound exciting. Ruić might be the great unsung genius of 1970s Croatian pop music and he left truly amazing body of work that deserves discovery and reassessment.

"Stani bar na tren" is all about Rajmond Ruić who serves not only as a (with a few exceptions) main composer but also a producer here - its collection of soulful, baroque pop with a touch of psychedelia ("Zamak od lišća") and its absolutely amazing that considering the atmosphere and times, somebody came up with such ambitious project, when everything around was so commercial and forgettable. Apparently most of these songs were already issued as singles so this might be considered a compilation of singer's very first steps in business. Collaborators are interesting - besides Ruić we also have poetess Maja Perfiljeva and lyricist Ivan Glišić but the biggest surprise is a song "Kratak je dan" written by tandem Ivica Krajač and Karlo Metikoš who to my knowledge worked exclusively for rock goddess Josipa Lisac and this is the only instance where you see their signature under the song by somebody else. Apparently it was recorded in 1973 which makes it contemporary of "Dnevnik jedne ljubavi" but amazingly it has Domijan on vocals and it makes you wonder what direction his music might have taken if he had this duo behind him. There is not a single wrong note here - well, perhaps German cover "Das schönste Mädchen, das es gibt" is a forerunner of things to come in the future and all the schlagers singers will eventually embrace so enthusiastically - but it is an album that definitely deserves re-issue and re-discovery. His greatest early 1970s hit smash "Ulica jorgovana" was not on this album but it would make a sense as a bonus track because it was recorded in the same year. 

"Ulica jorgovana/Zlatokosa" (1974)
In Croatian pop music, this single was one of most important 1970s hits. It really is one of the decade-defining, most played radio songs and it has outlived careers of everybody involved, living its own immortal life, still out there every now and than, late at night or suddenly on the radio waves, a song with mysteriously vague lyrics that by now everybody knows by heart.

Up to this point Darko Domijan was just one of the many, obviously talented new voices - with his unusual and raspy voice, he seemed to have been destined to sing in a rock band but apparently Domijan leaned towards easy listening pop schlager which very soon he would embrace with enthusiasm. For now, at least in the very start, this was firmly controlled by composer, arranger and producer  Rajmond Ruić who steered this unique voice towards pop-rock. There was already a full album titled "Stani bar na tren" where their collaboration showed signs of early promise but "Ulica jorgovana" is the moment where all the right ingredients finally clicked and made singer a household name. It is a lovely, lilting, almost country ballad that suits Domijan to a T and gives him space to croon gently without being corny. However, at this point it was being played to death so naturally B side interest me much more - "Zlatkokosa" is a nasty, sinuous soul number composed surprisingly by Đorđe Novković known for completely different style of music and it sounds just mind-blowing, wah wah guitars with screaming horns and Domijan channeling every black soul singer he ever idolized. Its really super funky number and a great surprise, because it shows what kind of music Domijan was capable of singing in the beginning. That so many people of his generation (yes, I am looking at you Dalibor Brun) later swiftly forgot these first steps and moved on into mainstream is one of the great mysteries of business.

"Pastir kraj vatre" (1975)
Fabulously ambitious and undeservedly completely neglected album that should have been pinnacle of early collaboration between composer Rajmond Ruić and his protégé, singer Darko Domijan who must have been one of the most promising voices around at the time. Ruić had a great rock sensibility and Domijan was basically a first-rate, blue-eyed soul singer so on the paper this appears like a perfect combination. Single "Ulica jorgovana" already turned into mega-smash but now Ruić had different, more ambitious plans than just to copy its success - his next step was to compose and produce a serious soul-rock album for this particular voice and honestly there is enough fire here to lighten up the night, at the moments ("Zlatna kiša") they actually tear the place down.

What is missing here - and it might have been a downfall of the whole project at the time - is a strong, obviously radio-friendly radio hit like "Ulica jorgovana" that would lift the album into commercial spheres. On the other hand, curiously it is exactly because Ruić follows his heart and focuses exclusively on a high voltage soul-rock that album sounds so darn brilliant after all these years. When you hear something like "Bluz paukove mreže" with its seductive, slow-burning blues guitars, ominous backing vocals and Domijan's sneering voice, now this is a timeless music, worlds away from any calculations. Even more fascinating might be "Stakleno sunce" with its irresistible bas guitar, psychedelic music and singer screaming like possessed. 

Contrary to my initial reaction (what? album without hits?) I found out that repeated listening actually brings me surprisingly much more pleasure, since album is full of wonderful details and its sophistication demands full attention in order to appreciate all the intricacies. Every now and than I would get back to it, just to delight again and again in its odd, hallucinatory beauty. If ever Darko Domijan came close to greatness, it was here on this album. That he later turned to completely different music (far more commercial but simultaneously less demanding) might explain why most of the people nowadays are not even aware that once, briefly, he was full of fire and power. Later with "Ruže u snijegu" he might achieved his ambition and became one of the biggest MOR sellers, but for me this makes much more sense - that voice just sounds right with a rock guitar and a Hammond organ

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