Quand Jimmy Dit…

Quand Jimmy dit what’d I say?
I love you baby!
C’est comme qui dirait
Toute la province qui chante en anglais

Brussels’ newspaper of record, the centre-right Le Soir, is running a series of articles in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of rock. Among other things, they’ve published lists of their choices for the best rock albums ever, divided into two time periods: 1954-1979 and 1980-2004.

I have a lot of sympathy for those music critics inclined to think that rock died with the break-up of the Beatles and it would be better if we forgot about the “Rock revivial” of the 80s and called the rest of the stuff labelled as “rock” something else. But, that doesn’t seem to be the common usage. Rock seems to mean pop music that isn’t folk, isn’t country, isn’t rap or hip-hop, and isn’t disco, dance, techno or electronica. It seems to include punk and grunge according to Le Soir.

Okay, it’s fuzzy definition. I can live with that. But what struck me is that on the entire list – over 150 albums – all of three are not in English: Serge Gainsbourg’s L’histoire de Melody Nelson, Noir Désir’s Tostaky and The Buena Vista Social Club. The last one I wouldn’t even have thought was rock.

Good ol’fashioned Rock’n’Roll was very much an Anglo phenomenon, but if they’re going to include some of the stuff on that list as rock then we’re not really talking about classic rock, we’re talking about a broad swath of pop. And, if that is the case, there ought to be some more music from outside of Anglo-American pop. I mean really – Noir Désir’s worst album is still better than Terence Trent D’Arby, who still makes the list.

Since we’re something of a Euroblog here, I think we ought to try to promote European culture. So, I’m putting out a call to our readers: We at AFOE are looking for the best in post-war non-Anglo music. Go look at the lists at Le Soir name a few albums that at least are primarily in a European language other than English that were reasonably popular and well known at least in one country in Europe and deserve to be on a best albums list.

Since rock is so hard to define, I’m willing to loosen the criteria to anything that is genuinely well known. Readers should be able to come here and make a shopping list if they want exposure to the best outside of “international” anglo pop.

Let me start with some nominations off the top of my head:

L’Autre and Ainsi soit je.. – Mylène Farmer
The No Comprendo – Les Rita Mitsouko
Mademoiselle Chante… and Scène de Vie – Patricia Kaas

I mostly know French music from my distant and misspent youth and don’t actualy have very much of it. What I want to see is a list of the very best albums that you’ll have a hell of a time getting at a record store outside of continental Europe, so that I and any other interested readers out there, can buy them if they’re interested. Think of it as the opposite of the Eurosong contest – a search for Euro-non-schlock.
 

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Life by Scott Martens. Bookmark the permalink.

About Scott Martens

Scott is a US-raised Canadian living in Brussels with his American wife. His political background is well to the left of centre, even for Europe, and is very interested in immigration, cultural integration and language policy issues. He is presently working against a deadline on his doctorate in computational linguistics and is on hiatus. Wrote Pedantry, also on hiatus.

19 thoughts on “Quand Jimmy Dit…

  1. Hmmm. What about the German DAF? Not rock I admit, but quite interesting proto-techno from the eighties. Unlike a lot of the German music that springs to mind (Kraftwerk especially) they did actually have lyrics..

  2. In German, BAP rocks, although they sometimes get lumped in with the proto-hiphoppers. (Or was that proto’d in with the lumpenhiphoppers?)

    In Russian, both Akvarium and DDT (the latter always doing their name in Latin not Cyrillic characters), can rock the house. I don’t know if Akvarium’s 25th anniversary concert is one of the best albums of all time, but it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

    And in Hungarian, Szexepil lived up to it name.

    But a lotta the European rockers (see most recently Erasmus) sing in English, no matter what their origin.

    ps I came across an Estonian group named J????r. Anyone here know if they’re any good?

  3. An AFOE European Song Contest?
    Ok, here are my off the top of my head contributions for German language rock/pop (skewed toward recent releases, I suppose)

    Falco – Jeannie
    Nena – Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann
    Wir Sind Helden – M?ssen nur wollen
    Groenemeyer – Demo/letzer Tag, Bochum
    Westernhagen – Freiheit
    Die Fantastischen Vier – MFG

    French:
    Jean-Jaques Goldman – Je te donne, On ira, N? en 17 ? Leidenstadt (avec Fredericks & Jones).
    Patricia Kaas – fille de l’Est
    [ Michel Sardou – Connemara ]

  4. A look at both lists both answers and confirms the question, what do Belgians know about rock n roll anyway? But it’s a fun exercise.

    Groenemeyer, oh yes, how could I have overlooked him? A substantial part of his oeuvre is in heavy rotation, here at chez Merrill. Mensch and Bleibt alles anders completely blow away the two late Springsteen albums on the list. (What’s up with that choice anyway? Could they just not bring themselves to list Born in the USA? Did they, like so many Republicans, not read the lyrics of the title track??) Groenemeyer’s show in Munich’s Olympic stadium last year was also better than about 90 percent of the rock concerts that I’ve seen. Certainly heaps better than the play-by-numbers bit that REM did in Koenigsplatz later in the summer.

    Speaking of REM, Automatic for the People? Um, if you’re going to choose something from their poppy period, why not something really good like Green or Out of Time? And really, why aren’t rock critics showing their cred and picking something from the IRS period like the absolutely seminal Murmur, which as near as invented the alternative genre?

    While I’m going on about Le Soir doesn’t know from rock, on what planet exactly is Love Over Gold a better Dire Straits album than Brothers in Arms? Love Over Gold is at most the third-best studio album from the group (Making Movies is much better, too), fourth if the vinyl-only Twisting by the Pool would ever appear in another format.

    And from the Talking Heads, if the list can choose a Beatles compilation in the 54-79 section, then certainly Stop Making Sense is, er, heads and shoulders better than Remain in Light, even if the new CD version has too many extra tracks.

    Similarly, If I Should Fall From Grace With God is much better than Rum, Sodomy and the Lash – though props for choosing the Pogues. And Nine Object of Desire from Suzanne Vega? When you could have 99.9? F, when she got funky and lost the whole wistful thing? Scary Monsters from David Bowie and not Let’s Dance? (At least from 1980 onward…) Get a Grip and not Pump? Or Nothing Like the Sun instead of Dream of the Blue Turtles, which will at least keep you awake the whole time?

    On the ethno-rock front, where exactly is Graceland? It’s light years better than the fairly flaccid Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park. Which Simon’s solo concert in Central Park also blows away by no uncertain margin.

    And the list of omissions is even longer, especially given the number of lame repeats here. What about the Black Crowes, Counting Crows and Sheryl Crow – just among the crows? Did Oasis like never happen in Belgium or something? Nothing punker than Talking Heads, or maybe Nick Cave? Nobody black except Prince? Women? I count like five. Is Sinead not your girl? Melissa Etheridge? Ten Thousand Maniacs/Natalie Merchant? Or here’s a list of possibles, all drawn from a 1991 compilation I have – Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies, Midnight Oil, Jane’s Addiction. Each and every one of these has made an album that’s way way better than Voodoo Lounge (#67).

    Who made this list, Belgians or something?

    ps Tobias, on Falco rockers, I’d take Egoist or even the overplayed Kommissar before Jeannie.

  5. I never got why OK Computer is so highly rated.. Kid A is miles better.

    Anyway, Iceland:
    ‘?g?tis Byrjun’ and ‘( )’ by Sigur R?s.. two very great albums.

    I’m not sure if this fits the criteria, in the sense that they are quite popular outside of continental Europe, in the USA. But nevertheless I thought they needed a mention.

  6. They’re (usually) not rock, but the Afro-Belgian group Zap Mama, which is mostly a capella, produces the most amazingly international music I’ve ever heard. I’ve counted something like eight languages and at least 20 vocal styles. It sounds like a sort of self-conscious game when I describe it, but it doesn’t come off that way at all. Just a bunch of Afro-Belgians listening to music and singing along. The leader, Maria Daulne, is a genius.

  7. They’re (usually) not rock, but the Afro-Belgian group Zap Mama, which is mostly a capella, produces the most amazingly international music I’ve ever heard. I’ve counted something like eight languages and at least 20 vocal styles. It sounds like a sort of self-conscious game when I describe it, but it doesn’t come off that way at all. Just a bunch of Afro-Belgians listening to music and singing along. The leader, Maria Daulne, is a genius.

  8. They’re (usually) not rock, but the Afro-Belgian group Zap Mama, which is mostly a capella, produces the most amazingly international music I’ve ever heard. I’ve counted something like eight languages and at least 20 vocal styles. It sounds like a sort of self-conscious game when I describe it, but it doesn’t come off that way at all. Just a bunch of Afro-Belgians listening to music and singing along. The leader, Maria Daulne, is a genius.

  9. A search for Euro-non-schlock? You can stop right now. Since the French Revolution there is no such thing.

  10. Scott: Much of the Manu Chao and Mano Negra is in Spanish or Portugese.

    Doug: The Clash are punker than Talking Heads. Terrence Trent D’Arby is also black. Is Love Over Gold not pre 79?

    What I want to know is why so much U2?

  11. -Les Negresses Vertes
    -Madredeus from Portugal,
    -Anna Maria Jopek has recently recorded an all Polish album with Pat Metheny, and her other albums are excellent

  12. Jack, ok on Clash & TTd’A. So that adds, what, one each? Love Over Gold is 1982, so it fits the time frame, if nothing else.

  13. Patrcia Kass as rock? urgh. Same for Goldmann. They are chanteurs de vari?t?. (unlike the Rita Mitsouko ; read Rock’n’Folk, they’ll explain the difference)

    OTOH, you missed l’homme ? la t?te de chou by Gainsbourg, and Manu Chao’s productions by himself or with the Mano Negra among the French productions cited.

    Much of the good French music lately has been hip hop anyway – IAM, NTM and a few others. And of course, France has always had a few very good singers, Brel, Brassens, Barbara, and many others.

    OTOH, beyond Noir D?sir, French Rock never got very far, killed at birth by Johnny Hallyday and the likes.

  14. I bought some European “rock” at the time; some of it still sounds OK – Negresses Vertes- Mlah,
    Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe, Amon Duul II. There were often problems with the rhythm section. Non-rock, but I really liked Laurent Voulzy’s “Cach? Derriere”. And I don’t know why I bought it, a really bad Belgian group called “Wallace Collection”.

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