This month, Ready steady girls! is offering a musical smorgasbord of singers from countries we feature only rarely, if ever. As part of this, we’re serving up our Latvian girls special and profiling Indian-born sisters Sue & Sunny and Israeli singer Carmela Corren.
Plus, Kevin Pearce from the excellent Anywhere else but here today blog joins us as guest editor, offering six tasty tidbits for this month’s pick of the pops. Vote for your favourite or comment using the forms at the foot of the page.
Lili was Bulgaria’s top pop star and remains incredibly popular to this day. In the 1960s, the closest comparison I can think of for Lili is Timi Yuro. The looks are certainly similar. And in terms of delivery there is the same awesome power and passion, with the ability suddenly to explode volcano-like. While her older recordings are hard to come by, there is some fantastic footage of Lili from that era on YouTube, including appearances on both Soviet and Spanish TV. The one 1960s LP I’ve heard by Lili was recorded for the Russian market, and features a fantastic cover of Cher’s Bang bang and a cracking go at the Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme some lovin’, which I am sure Stevie Winwood would thoroughly approve of. But it is interesting, too, to track the French chanson influences and the dramatic Latin ballad traditions. It wouldn’t surprise me if Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Rita Pavone and Mina were great favourites in 1960s Bulgaria.
Menina do alto da serra
Tonicha has, over the years, been one of the most successful pop figures in Portugal. She represented her country at the 1971 Eurovision song contest, singing the brilliant Menina do alto da serra, and if you hunt around on the web you’ll find some great photos, pic sleeves etc of Tonicha in her pop prime. In the late 1960s she sang ballads with a strong Dusty Springfield feel to the orchestrations, and some of her 1970s recordings are heavily favoured by fans of acid folk. In fact, a lot of her recordings seem to be pop interpretations of traditional Portuguese folk song and poetry.
You’ll lose a precious love
O’Hara were a pop/soul outfit from Yugoslavia who were briefly active in the mid-1960s. For a short while their singer was Josipa Lisac, who had an extraordinary voice. Their small number of recordings included this fantastic cover of The Temptations’ (You’ll lose a) Precious love. There seems to have been a very strong American soul/R‘n’B influence in Yugoslavia during the 1960s. O'Hara evolved into Zlatni Akordi, a sort of Shotgun Express soul revue. Josipa then had a great solo career, and her early 1970s recordings are really worth tracking down if you’re fond of Julie Driscoll-style intensity.
Kokkina xeili mou
In Greece, new wave (or neo kyma) is a term used loosely to describe some popular music of the mid-1960s onwards. It seems to fit perfectly a mainly acoustic form of pop that is steeped in traditional Greek/folk sounds, with pronounced elements of French pop/chanson and sometimes suggestions of psychedelia/folk rock. If, like me, you have been obsessed for a long time by the music of Françoise Hardy, and have an incurable weakness for Joan Baez and Marianne Faithful, then neo kyma will appeal endlessly. The ladies of the new wave have stolen my heart. I have to confess to a growing obsession with the early recordings of Arleta, Popi Asteriadi, Soula Birbili and Kaiti Homata. Beautiful acoustic numbers with the occasional adornment, but usually wonderfully stark and all the better for it. They sang the songs of the great composers and the young writers of the day during a difficult time in Greece’s history.
Võõraid meist ei saa
Estonia’s Marju was described by Downbeat magazine as the best jazz singer in the USSR. Many of her recordings were of pop hits of the day in the style of Nancy Wilson or Dusty Springfield. She made many LPs for the state label Melodiya, but along the way fell out of favour with the Soviet authorities, becoming persona non grata. Unfortunately, many of these recordings are now lost. She later lived in Sweden and the USA, and changed her name to Maryn E. Coote. She is still very much active, and in that glorious way that some of the eastern European greats have, she has aged wonderfully and still has something of an edge and attitude.
Balada o Vijetnamu (vest sa juga...)
Ah, the incredible Olivera Vuco (or Olivera Katarina). If you haven’t come across this great lady, little can be said to prepare you. Her performances in the late 1960s of – well, I don’t know really, shall we say pop reinventions of traditional folk melodies, perhaps Serbian or Romany ones? – are astonishingly irresistible and ridiculously addictive. Her performance of the remarkable Balada o Vijetnamu (from an EP of ballads adapted from poems) captures somehow the horror of the US My Lai massacre without the listener needing to understand a word. Olivera was a successful actress too, but you’ll often see a quote from Salvador Dali about how she was the only woman he has ever knelt in front of, referring to her astonishingly successful season of concerts in Paris in 1967. To see Olivera perform at that time must have been a wonderful thing.