27 October 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 64 - Topol Sings Israeli Freedom Songs

Topol Sings Israeli Freedom Songs
Who: Topol
What: Sings Israeli Freedom Songs
Label: Ember
When: 1967
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street

Cost: One pound

If popular culture myths are to be believed, 1967 was the year the world went wonky, LSD fell into the reservoirs, and everyone wigged out.  Nonsense, of course.  Somebody genuinely would have had to spike the water supplies of every major town and city on Earth to have inspired such a seachange, and in reality, life for most people simply rolled on as usual.  The closest my father came to witnessing the psychedelic underground up close was when Peter Starstedt popped into his Peckham local for a pint - and let's be honest, Starstedt wasn't really any underground hero, and apparently came quite close to being given a thorough drubbing.  Wherever his lovely went to, it clearly wasn't pubs off the Old Kent Road.

So then, whereas 1967 to some people may involve Pink Floyd, The Beatles going ker-azy, the UFO club, and all manner of absurdities besides, in reality for other people it might have meant Ken Dodd and Engelbert Humperdinck (saleswise, Eng was something of a runaway victor in that year).  And whilst others dictated peace and love, other recording artists were going quite berserk with other more militant concerns, which finally brings us on to Topol, star of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof".  When the 1967 Israel-Syria conflict came to a head, he decided to down tools as a performer and fight for his country.  Not only that, he produced a concept album of songs about it.

Originally, I was tempted to post the sleeve of this record up for public viewing and leave it at that.  Extra comment seemed somehow superfluous.  This entire album is not in English, so it's impossible to hear exactly what he's telling us, but with song titles like "The Canon Song", "World's End", "One Hundred and Twenty Men" and "We Are Coming To You", it's perfectly possible to fill in some of the blanks yourself.  The accompanying sleeve notes written by Benny Green of The Observer newspaper also give us some background: "...when his homeland was threatened, he stopped fiddling on the roof and returned to what was in effect a beleaguered Nation, fulfilling the first duty of every citizen of that astounding country, which is to die for it before seeing it destroyed... The songs he sings on this album, seen in the context of the national crisis which inspired them are an inspiration not only to Israelis but to everyone who believes that fundamental human rights are worth any sacrifice".

I don't want to get sucked into a debate about the moral rights or wrongs of this record, but I don't think it's remotely unfair to say that in peacetime (if not before) the sleeve image of Topol hollering into a hand grenade instead of a microphone isn't so much of a powerful image as a truly preposterous one.  Even the worst, bargain basement Clash-inspired punk band would have turned down such a sleeve art suggestion.  It doesn't cause one to stop and think, it just immediately suggests that the poor bastard may have had a bit of a funny turn when it came to the photo session.  Nor should it surprise anyone to learn that in Britain at least, this album did not sell, but just you try seeing it in the reduced racks of a second hand record store and looking the other way... It's just a shame I can't find any English translations of the lyrics anywhere.

Sorry for not uploading the whole album, by the way.  I couldn't face it.  If enough people desperately need to hear the rest I may reconsider.


The Confused said...

Thank Christ there are some people such as yourself who refuse to subscribe to the whole Hollywood belief that 1967 was all about hippies, flower power and all that bollocks. Like you point out, for 99% of the British population it was merely another year... yes, some weird wonderful records to be had and heard but that was as far as it ever got. The hippy fashions didn't last that long either so the whole idea of places like Grimsby or Doncaster being awash with streets full of people in hippy garb is absolute nonsense.

The proof is in the pudding. Take Pink Floyd. They may had been the darlings of the underground movement in London which lets face it only consisted of about a thousand or less "hip" people who happened to be in certain social circles and hung out in certain places. Yeah, Syd's Floyd turned 'em on but the moment they began touring outside of London they were greeted by indifference with many people going to their gigs and wondering what the fuss was all about. They wanted Engelbert balladry or they wanted Soul and Motown. They could relate easily to those but to Floyd doing wacked out jams on stage? Not a chance.

Punk was just the same. A small movement within London. It spread out to the provinces over the next 2 to 3 years by which time it was already dead. Northern towns didn't see their first "punks" on the streets until 1978 or 1979. So it was with the hippy movement... it was simply a fashion accessory. Many youngsters by 1969 were growing beards and wearing flowery gear but the whole hippy thing was already dead in the water.

Nothing to do with Topol I know though lest we not forget that the biggest selling album of 1967 was the soundtrack album of "The Sound Of Music" and that "Fiddler On The Roof" was a huge success. I just wish and think it is high time the history books were corrected and amended when it comes to 1967 so I take my hat off to anybody who points out the sad reality of what 1967 was really about for the vast majority of people.

23 Daves said...

According to many reliable sources, it didn't translate to the outer suburbs of London either, or the rougher parts. So the residents of Peckham, Ilford, Ponders End and Sidcup failed to drape themselves in Paisley. It appeared to be a predominantly West/ North London concern.

That Pink Floyd got bottled and coined off stage in the provinces and up north is widely reported, but I've also heard reports of Jimi Hendrix getting slow handclapped in the wrong places, some time before he began having major hits. There was no overnight shift, and it would seem that by the time the rest of the country had caught up, things had moved in a rather more proggish/ heavy direction.

For the record, my Dad did end up getting long hair and a beard, and some rather flowery shirts, but it happened in 1970 and not before. That's what the dates on the pictures seem to suggest anyway. Before that, it was tight mod suits all the way.

The Confused said...

Yes, the whole hippy thing in 1967 seemed to be restricted to central London areas notably Chelsea and it seems Ladbroke Grove was another renowned hotspot. I was gonna say Camden Town but I have read that hippies going to the Roundhouse did run the risk of being abused by gangs in the area.

Letters in the music press of the time also reflect this with many writing in expressing bafflement at bands like Floyd and indeed Hendrix came in for abuse regarded as some kind of noise merchant. Quite a few of those writers would conclude "Just give me some Soul" or "Give me some good old rock and roll" hence a sudden surge in interest in rock and roll in 1968 and 1969 as a reaction against psychedelia. Plus by then The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who - to name just three bands - had ditched the paisley and adopted a more stripped down basic approach which the public embraced far better.

My parents who were in their teens at the time recall that all discos and nightclubs lived and died on Motown and Soul to the degree you barely heard anything else in such places and that was to carry on over well into the 70's eventually metamorphosing into Disco. Interesting because theoretically if one thinks about it, the Mod movement may had been regarded as dead and buried by 1968 it continued to resonate developing into the Northern Soul scene and eventually toward the end of the 70's the whole Mod thing came back around again in opposition against Punk!

There is a good book still waiting to be written about music and culture in the provinces and how the Mods ultimately outlived the hippy movement into the 1980's. I've thought about writing such a tome myself but lack the discipline! I just kinda find it all fascinating how all those different genres of music and fashions conspired or collaborated with each other triggering chain effects well into the 80's and beyond.

23 Daves said...

I'd love to read a book like that, personally - if you don't write it yourself, somebody certainly should. There's a lot to be said for the provincial scenes of Britain having more overall influence than the London scenes.