Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Unknown Tongues

They say (and they, of course, is defined here as TV's Van Patten Family) that music is a universal language, which is of course demonstrably untrue, as anybody who's ever played a Chinese folk song on a Nashville country station knows full well. But what is true is that, by and large, the lingua franca of contemporary pop music is English. And it has been since the British Invasion at the very least.

One of the results of that is that scads of bands in non-English speaking countries, primarily in Europe (but a few elsewhere), made their music in what was for them a second language, which if you think about it is no small feat (hey -- could you write pop songs in French? I don't think so). The most obvious example of such a band (and certainly the most succesful) was and is ABBA, but there is a small subspecies of humanity which holds, with justification, that the very best of them were Dutch garage rockers The Outsiders.

Unlike the American group of the same period and name (best known for the greaseball classic "Time Won't Let Me"), the lowland Outsiders worked the Stones/Pretty Things side of the mid-60s street, and for a period of about two years, they pretty much ruled in their home country. By the end of the decade they were out of fashion, but during their run they made a lot of terrific records, including an eponymous debut album (half live, half studio, all blistering) and the 1968 "CQ," one of the very best of the artsy concept albums that sprung up in the immediate wake of the Beatles "Sgt. Pepper."

Here's a 1965 video of one of their early hits, "Lying All the Time", presumably from Dutch TV. For those of you keeping score, this is the band's original line-up; there's a slicker version of the song from the "CQ" sessions featuring slightly different personnel, but this one has period vibe to spare. [BTW -- note the wonderfully cheezy Hagstrom solid body electric twelve-string played by lead guitarist Appie Rammers(!). The guitarist in my early 80s skinny-tie band had the very same model, and although we rejoiced when he put it away in favor of a far better sounding Rickenbacker, we kind of missed it anyway. To paraphrase Noel Coward, there's something incredibly potent about cheap 60s instruments.]

Anyway, the band's debut album and "CQ" are both still available somewhere as European imports, although I can't find a link at the moment; if you're curious, "Strange Things Are Happening: The Complete Singles, 1965-1969" is a good place to start. And I just remembered that the fourth disc on Rhino's invaluable period anthology "Nuggets II" features not only a representative Outsiders track, but also "Break It All," the fab Merseybeat confection by Beatles-of-Uruguay Los Shakers which our co-blogger Kid Charlemagne posted about just the other day.


Anonymous said...

I forget where I read that Italian is uniquely unsuited for rock because so few words end in an accented syllable. You can't slam the end of a line for emphasis.

Actually scanning some rock lyrics shows a pretty unpredictable mix of troches and iambs, so I'm not sure what to think. But maybe Italians have more limited options.

I do remember a Simon Frith column from the early '80s in the Village Voice. He was taking Merkins to task for thinking their jazz and show tunes and R&B and rock were the dominant musical forms worldwide.

When of course the two most influential genres of the century were...

...can you guess?...

Neapolitan romantic ballads and Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

I wish he'd had a footnote for that assertion.


steve simels said...

I wish he'd had a footnote for that assertion.


Yeah, I call bullshit on that one.

BTW -- thanks for the FOW Hackensack thing last night

Kid Charlemagne said...

The Dutch stuff is pretty cool.

One of my fave bands is Q65, who had waxed several classic freak-beat ravers such as "The Life I Live" and "I Despise You." Alas, no vintage vids on YT.

BTW, I have a cool comp of Italian psych-punk that has tracks as good or better than anything issued stateside or across the pond at the time. Language apparently wasn't an barrier.

ms. rosa said...

i have spun (spinned? talk about lack of command of the english language) the outsiders umpteen times on my radio show. love 'em! and just last night i spun/inned "happyville" from cq. hope the fcc doesn't come a callin'!