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The blue song

Petr Spálený & Apollobeat – Modrá píseň (Finále)
from album “Zvon šílencův”, 1971, Supraphon 0130918
produced by Jan Spálený
SpalenyPetr_Zvonsilencuv_a_128 SpalenyPetr_Zvonsilencuv_b_128
original LP sleeve (front/back)
Zvon šílencův (Madman’s Bell), what an album title considering the maddening political events in Czechoslovakia almost three years earlier. I don’t know what impact this record originally had but it was quite obviously meant as a statement. And despite the fact that the LP has been released in Supraphon’s “Gramofonový klub” edition and therefore initially available to subscribers only, it has reached a gold status in Czechoslovakia.
The group started in 1965 as The Hippopotamuses a.k.a. The Hipp’s [sic], merging beat, easy listening and soul. Some of them were Prague Conservatory students, led by the young composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Jan Spálený (1942). His younger brother Petr (1944), formerly a drummer with various local rock’n’roll groups, became the lead singer. In 1967 they were hired by Jiří Štaidl as the second house band of the famous Apollo theatre (the one in Prague, of course) while Štaidl’s own orchestra was playing Las Vegas with superstar Karel Gott. The Hipp’s then changed their name to Apollobeat. Petr – with his sexy barytone voice à la Lee Hazlewood – soon became a pop star on his own, releasing one hit after another. Aside from several popular cover versions like To vadí (Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da), most of the song material was written either by Jan Spálený or by the other multi-instrumentalist Pavel Krejča. Other long-time players were Vladimír Bár on organ, Eduard Parma jr. on bass, Miroslav Žižka on drums and Josef Švehla on trumpet. Krejča was on mellophone and electric mandolin and Jan Spálený played barytone sax, trombone, tuba or piano. That’s right folks, no guitar, at least not between 1967 and 1973. That has certainly helped to create the group’s individual sound just as much as Petr’s voice and Jan’s unique songwriting did.
Modrá píseň (Finále) (The Blue Song Finale) is the closing track from the album, a frantic soul-beat tune in the spirit of late sixties Italian movie soundtracks. Petr Fleischer’s lyrics are quite obviously inspired by the blues, it’s all about letting go and saying good bye. And the madman? The conceptual Zvon šílencův (Madman’s Bell) suite – recorded in summer 1969 with the Václav Zahradník orchestra – fills up the whole side one. Progressive beat-jazz with rich orchestration. Side two from 1970 is dedicated to pet animals, including the jazzy and almost zappaesque instrumental Malá suita pro domácí zvířátka (A Small Suite For Little Domestic Animals). Jan Spálený wrote all the music. In the end, the album message is not as “heavy” as the title might imply. Actually the lyrics are more funny or good-hearted rather than political. That was most likely the intention however, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any chance to bring the record to the public.
Petr Spálený’s other vinyl long-players from the early years were two compilations of his hit singles, an English sung export compilation with the US spaceship Apollo on its cover (I mean, a US spaceship?! In the middle of the Cold War?!) and Czechoslovakia’s first live pop album Petr v Lucerně (Petr In The Lucerna Hall), both from 1971. During the 1970s Petr Spálený with Krejča were inclined more and more toward country music which is already notacible on the 1975 concept double album Podoby (Resemblances). Jan Spálený left the group and worked behind the scenes as arranger and composer, apart from his busy day job as producer (or in the socialistic newspeak: “musical director”) in the Supraphon recording studio Dejvice since 1970. And while Petr kept on fading into deep C&W obscurity (from our funky point of view, that is; his C&W albums are still very popular), Jan returned as a respected solo artist in the late seventies with two conceptual jazzrock-vs.-poetry albums, two excellent blues-rock-wave albums in the eighties and as the leader of the ASPM folk-blues collective.
Although there are plenty of Apollobeat/Spálený vinyls and CDs available, Zvon šílencův is without doubt the best album for you and me and therefore becoming quite rare. Even the 1996 CD reissue might be out of print. Some of their old single sides may be cheesier than others but that depends on your musical taste. Check out the official discography and a “singlography“. Those 45s were mostly released with a Petr-Spálený-sleeve, however some were also labelled as “Apollobeat” but in fact there isn’t any difference: the Supraphon label often made a big mess with SP sleeves (another bad example was the Golden Kids/Kubišová/Vondráčková/Neckář tohuwabohu). The responsible bureaucrats simply didn’t care because they knew that people would buy them anyway, not judging a record by its cover… Oh yes, and don’t forget to check out my web shop, I’ve got an LP and some 45s for sale: items no. 475, 837, 1072, 1262 (the b-side comes from Zvon šílencův!), 1263 (the first album) and 1268, as well as no. 839 and 840 from Jan S.

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