Some forty years ago, in November 1977, the band Spyridoula is formed in Athens by brothers Nikos and Vasilis Spyropoulos. It was a decisive moment that would forever change the face of rock music in Greece.
Following in the footsteps of Greek rock bands with English lyrics that first emerged through the 1960s (such as MGC, Socrates Drank the Conium, and Aphrodite’s Child), Spyridoula started out with live gigs playing guitar-based rock and doing covers by American blues and rock bands such as The Doors and The Velvet Underground.
Their collaboration with legendary frontman, lyricist and composer Pavlos Sidiropoulos in the late 1970s resulted in the use of Greek lyrics, and their landmark debut album with Sidiropoulos as vocalist has been widely regarded as one of the most important rock albums with Greek lyrics ever recorded. In the ensuing decades, Spyridoula would further collaborate with several important Greek musicians and, despite many adversities, continue with both live performances and studio recording.
With a little help from its -many and distinguished- friends, the band celebrated its 40th birthday with a special live concert that took place at Gagarin 205 Live Music Space in central Athens.
Featuring an epic set lasting nearly 4 (!) hours and spanning almost 4 decades of music, Spyridoula and their notable guests (including seminal figures of the Greek rock scene such as Dimitris Poulikakos and Giannis Aggelakas) gave a truly memorable appearance, effectively presenting the audience with a brief history of Greek rock from its early days to its current state. A history full of hopes and dreams, anger and pain, illusions and disenchantment – but, above all, full of music that reverberates across today’s empty streets and lonely hearts, forever shaking and moving us.
I recently had the good fortune to indulge myself in 1970s Brazilian music, after a small treasure ended up in my home: a box full of vinyl records with the very best of the Brazilian music scene of the time, featuring an explosive mix of samba, bossa nova, folk, soul, funk, psychedelia, and experimental rock.
Listening to these records one after another, I started putting together the pieces of a scene incredibly rich and colorful, encompassing artists so diverse and yet characteristically Brazilian as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, seminal composers João Gilberto and Tom Jobim, influential poet and lyricist Vinícius de Moraes, as well as gifted guitarists and songwriters such as Luiz Bonfá, Toquinho, and Baden Powell.
A true gem I was delighted to discover was Tecnicolor (1970), an album originally intended to serve as the introduction of the legendary psych-rock group Os Mutantes to the English-speaking world. However, the tapes were lost and the album was only released in 2000 (with artwork by Sean Lennon). It is an absolutely thrilling record, showcasing the group’s talent and creative blend of disparate influences – a signature trait of the Tropicália movement known as antropofagia: a sort of “cultural cannibalism” aspiring to bring together different – often contrasting – elements in order to form a new synthesis.
Other records that left a deep impression on me included the brilliant self-titled debut album by glam rockers Secos & Molhados (released in 1973), as well as the fusion masterpiece Acabou Chorare (1972) by the psych-folk group Novos Baianos (voted first in the 100 Greatest Brazilian Music Records list published by Rolling Stone in October 2007).
Furthermore, I was fascinated by the transcendental dimension of certain seminal works of the era, such as Jorge Ben’s A Tábua de Esmeralda (1974), a unique album that illustrates Ben’s interest in theosophy, mysticism, and alchemy. Another example is Tim Maia’s Racional, Vols. 1 & 2 (1975-76), two albums that were recorded when Maia read the book Universe in Disenchantment and decided to convert to the cult of Rational Culture, spending a lot of his time watching the sky for extraterrestrials and flying saucers.
Although in the end Maia abandoned the cult and went back to his previous lifestyle, his fascinating excursion into Rational Culture provided the inspiration for these incredible soul-funk albums, which, along with the music of the tropicalistas and several subsequent artists and songwriters, became part of the ever vibrant, groovy, and at times transcendental, Brazilian music scene.
The other day I happened to be at an advance screening of We Are the Best!, the latest film by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. Set in Stockholm in the early 80s, the film follows the story of Bobo, Klara and Hedvig, three teenage girls -and social outcasts- who come together to form a rather peculiar punk trio.
It was my first acquaintance with Moodysson’s oevre and, apart from introducing me to Sweden’s lively punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s, it also made me curious to check some of his earlier works.
So I went on watching Show Me Love (1998), Moodysson’s first full length film. It bears many resemblances to Blue Is the Warmest Color (‘La vie d’Adèle’, 2013), and it also sparked quite a controversy when it first came out.
But my favorite Moodysson’s title so far is Together (2000), a film about the members of a commune in 70s Stockholm. It takes great artistry to produce such a fine balance of sociopolitical commentary, satire and drama, especially so when you choose an ABBA song for the soundtrack without compromising on the aesthetic result.
An underlying theme of all the aforementioned films is that of friendship. In Show Me Love it’s the relationship between two teenage girls who are still discovering their sexuality, in Together it’s the friendly (and quasi-romantic) bond between a young girl and a boy who both share big thick glasses, while in We Are the Best! it’s the unlikely friendship between two punks and a born-again Christian.
Moodysson’s works are marked by an utterly unpretentious style and a deep, heartfelt humanism. It’s stories about real people with real emotions, and situations all of us can easily identify with because we have been there too.
And that’s perhaps why even the cheesiest, shallowest or otherwise most indifferent songs take on a completely new dimension when heard, sung or danced to during one of these films.
Socrates Drank the Conium were undoubtedly the most important exponents of the Greek rock scene throughout the 1970s and up to the early 1980s. Their name has attained a somewhat legendary status and commands considerable respect among Greek rock fans and critics up to this day.
Although the name ‘Socrates Drank the Conium’ first appeared in 1969, the story of the band goes back to the time when fellow high-school students Antonis Tourkogiorgis and Yiannis Spathas formed The Persons. The impeccable synchronization and exemplary blending of Spathas’s guitar playing with Tourkogiorgis’s distinctive use of bass was evident from early on, as was the potential for the remarkable compositions that were about to emerge.
Socrates Drank the Conium (1972)
After releasing three singles and making several live appearances as Persons, they changed their name to Socrates Drank the Conium(or simply Socrates, as friends and fans would end up calling them) and made their recording debut (Socrates Drank the Conium, 1972) as a trio, with Elias Boukouvalas behind the drums. The album is characterized by an explosive mix of blues, heavy rock and psychedelic elements much akin to the sound of bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. Apart from such obvious influences, other artists that had a significant impact on Socrates included Ten Years After, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayal, Free and Led Zeppelin. Despite the rather poor production and the unhelpful recording conditions, which also concern their next album (Taste of Conium, 1972), Socrates’ powerful message got through and resulted in a warm reception from both Greek public and press of the time.
The band’s biggest asset was undeniably the astonishing technique of guitarist John Spathas whose virtuosity and musicality produced results of exceptional power and expressiveness when combined with the band’s rock-solid rhythm session. In addition, the frequent incorporation of traditional Greek elements in Spathas’s guitar passages and solos would also become one of the band’s trademarks and most significant innovations.
The introduction of Live in the Country – the very first song in Socrates’ recording career – is a brilliant demonstration of Spathas’s skillful guitar playing and highly idiomatic musical language, which arises from a combination of a Hendrix-like sound and elements of Greek folk music.
By the time their third album (On the Wings, 1973) hit the shelves, Socrates had already attained a preeminent place amongst contemporary Greek bands. Having played at most of the major venues in Greece but also elsewhere in Europe (including club Paradiso in Amsterdam), Socrates became known for the forcefulness and electrifying atmosphere of their live performances.
The creative course of Socrates culminated in the mid-1970s, when their collaboration with keyboardist and composer Vangelis Papathanassiou (who had also been a member of Aphrodite’s Child) led to the release of Phos (1976). Vangelis’s touch gave the band a more lyrical and elegiac sound that is clearly distinguishable throughout the album. Recorded in London, Phos (“light” in Greek) stands out as the crowning achievement of not just the band, but the entire Greek progressive rock scene of the era.
The album contains pieces of profound beauty such as Queen of the Universe,as well as a popular rendition of Starvation, which had appeared on the band’s debut album. The indisputable highlight, however, is Mountains (which would be re-recorded again in 1980), where Spathas embarks on an improvisatory trip of monumental scale, showcasing his exceptional guitar technique and unique assimilation of Greek folk musical idioms.
In the early 1980s, Socrates returned with two more noteworthy attempts (Waiting for Something and Breaking Through) and a couple of years later the band released its swan song (Plaza, 1983), having a last shot at international fame. Just before the turn of the millennium Socrates came together for a series of concerts which resulted in the release of their live albumLive in Concert ’99, a record that effectively summarizes their long and remarkable career.
Manos Hadjidakis (1925 – 1994) was arguably the greatest Greek composer of the past century. Spanning across 5 decades, his voluminous creative output touches upon many diverse genres and styles, always characterized by a high degree of originality, sensitivity and expressiveness.
Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis (1925 – 1994)
Hadjidakis achieved international fame with his Never on Sunday, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1960 (a first for a foreign-language picture). The song has been covered in various languages ever since (from Yiddish to Cantonese) and its popularity does not seem to be waning, as testified by more recent versions such as the one by Pink Martini.
While in New York City, where he was living since 1966, Hadjidakis recorded Reflections together with the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. Featuring English lyrics written by the band and Hadjidakis’s highly personal and emotional melodic lines, the result was an unprecedented fusion of classical, pop, rock, and traditional Greek music.
Released in 1970, the album contains some of Hadjidakis’s most captivating music. The elaborate orchestrations, ethereal melodies and gracefulness of the tunes have raised Reflections to a unique place among the composer’s oeuvre.
A rare musical marriage of seemingly disparate elements, the music of Reflections is characterized by hauntingly beautiful and melancholic overtones, that create a distinctive atmosphere of intimacy and warmth between the work and the listener.
The album’s popularity has always remained high and in 1993 it was re-recorded with Greek lyrics written by Nikos Gatsos, with Aliki Kayaloglou on vocals. More recently, the acclaimed Greek band Raining Pleasure released its own interpretation of the work, reaffirming its status as a timeless classic of Greek art music.
Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.
Although 60s-70s Greek rock music was of no particular interest to the international public (not least because of obvious linguistic reasons), there were however some notable exceptions. Perhaps the most well-known Greek English-singing band of the era is Aphrodite’s Child (named after a song by Dick Campbell), formed in 1967 by Vangelis Papathanassiou (keyboards), Demis Roussos (bass guitar and vocals), Loukas Sideras (drums and vocals), and Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris (guitar).
Their first single Rain and Tears (1968), an adaptation of Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D, was recorded while the band was based in France. It met with considerable international success and went on to sell more than one million copies.
The band’s undisputed masterpiece, however, would be 666 (The Apocalypse of John, 13/18). Recorded between late 1970 and early 1971, 666 is considered a landmark in the history of progressive rock. An album of astonishing musical diversity, it was a powerful combination of original concept and highly innovative sound.
666 was largely Vangelis’s own musical project, as is testified by the advanced (for the time) use of synthesizers/keyboards, sound effects, and overall production. Musically, the album contains several remarkable moments (e.g. Aegean Sea, Break, The Four Horsemen), however it works best when seen as an uninterrupted, thematically-unified musical composition.
Its musical merits notwithstanding, the release of 666 was not unproblematic. The record company did not approve of the record’s length and largely experimental style, to say nothing about its subject matter. To top it off, the track “∞” featured Greek actress Irene Papas singing frantically “I was, I am, I am to come” in an aural simulation of female orgasm.
When the double album was eventually released in 1972 (one year after it had been completed), its blood-red cover (where the number 666 is prominently displayed) would also stir some controversy. This, however, only helped to boost the album’s sales, which exceeded 20 million copies worldwide.
Despite being the band’s greatest achievement, 666 would also be their swan song. Relationships between band members grew increasingly worse during the album’s recording, and by the time the record was out Aphrodite’s Child had already split. Both Roussos and Vangelis would follow successful solo careers, the latter achieving worldwide fame as a composer of electronic music (including the soundtracks for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire).
Even though the children of Aphrodite had chosen to go their separate ways, they had managed to give birth (albeit a troubled one) to their psychedelic masterpiece – an everlasting monument of Greek rock music and one of the defining albums of the 70s progressive and experimental scenes.