Hardcore Beat fans might not like this but for those of you who are a little more open-minded…
BERND SPIER, Tambourine Girl, 1970
BERND SPIER, Ich bin kein Rosenkavalier, 1970
When I post records on this blog everything about them looks neat and organized. Looking for records at the flea-markets and in thrift-stores is the opposite. Everything is cluttered and you have to make your own decisions. In reality the dirt and the gold are so close they seem inseparable.
Like in this case. If you know the Show Stoppers you will know the deal. If you don´t, like I didn´t when I bought this record, you´ll go by the sleeve. I liked the cartoon. So imagine my surprise when I took this “party record”, that I had purchased for 50 cents in a thrift-store, home and gave it a listen. It´s a monster Northern Soul classic!!!
For some reason the people at Metronome had decided to market this 1971 re-release of the Show Stoppers 1968 hit record as a “party record”. Misleading would be an understatement. This is a classic Soul record!!! The sleeve was drawn by the young designer Heinz Dofflein. Sadly I couldn´t find out much about Heinz Dofflein on the Internet. He did a great cartoon LP sleeve in the same style for the Guckenheimer Sauerkraut Band(1974) here. He also did a bunch of LP sleeves for Krautrock bands such as the legendary Robert Crumb inspired drawing for Berlin`s Birth Control (1972) here, Guru Guru (1972) here and a fantasy style painting for Grobschnitt (1977) here. But after that, he seemed to have stopped working. Hopefully some information will surface about Heinz Dofflein. I sure would like to know what happened to him…
( UPDATE 01/22/2010: I got a mail recently, by someone whose sister was Dofflein´s girlfriend once, informing me that Heinz Dofflein has died. That´s all they knew, not where and when, so I can´t confirm it.
Übrigens: ein kleiner erweiterter, von mir auf Deutsch geschriebener Artikel, über diese Platte der Showstoppers und über Heinz Dofflein erschien am 29. Oktober 2009 in der Wochenzeitung Jungle World. Zu finden Online hier.)
THE SHOW STOPPERS, Ain´t Nothing But A House Party, 1968
THE SHOW STOPPERS, What Can A Man Do, 1968
Heinz Dofflein also designed this sleeve but I didn´t know this when I bought it. I liked the crazy cartoon. Later I compared it with the Metronome release of the Show Stoppers and then I discovered the small signature. So I assume Dofflein was working for the Metronome label at the time. He must have done even more designs for them but I haven`t found any yet. Understandably most record collectors don´t have an eye for these things and only care about the music. I really like this great silly watercolor and ink drawing. So, if you have a similar looking Heinz Dofflein record in your collection, let me know.
It also further illustrates my point that the dirt and the gold are very closely connected. This could have been as great as the Show Stoppers…
CARL GROSS UND DIE FLASCHENKINDER, Wum Wum Wum, 1971
CARL GROSS UND DIE FLASCHENKINDER, Wir sind die Flaschenkinder, 1971
There are many songs titled Berlin, but in the early 80´s the most famous and successful ones were by the British band Fischer Z (1981) and by the local Berlin band Ideal (1980). Ideal´s cheerful yet ironic ode to West-Berlin was first released in May 1980 on their privately pressed debut single and later featured on their first LP in November of the same year. By the summer of 1981 the album had reached number 3 on the German Pop charts. I didn`t know anyone who didn`t like Ideal in 1981.
The song Berlin by Firma 33 didn´t get the same treatment for some obvious reasons: the song is not as catchy, it´s not Punk and not really New Wave (well almost) and most importantly it paints quite a different picture of Berlin in the 70´s and 80´s: a grim one. Though privately pressed in late 1979, the record even had the help of a cover shot by Jim Rakete ( sort of our German Annie Leibovitz). But the record didn´t go nowhere. It´s not even listed in the wikipedia list of songs about Berlin.
In the 80´s West-Berlin was in large parts a grey and run-down city, surrounded by a wall in the middle of communist East-Germany. Many young people that moved here were either trying to escape the draft, moving into squats or simply living the bohemian lifestyle. I know that a few people that I went to school with in a small town in Northern Germany moved to Berlin to take part in the squatters movement. However some people didn´t adjust too well to their new metropolitan surroundings. That´s what this song is about:
Berlin, everyday I eat your plastic muck/ Berlin, your fragrance is the smell of exhaust/ Berlin, you make me vomit/ I don´t know how I can live in this dump/ Berlin, at night you are stinkin´drunk and high on smack/ Berlin, how many children are you sending out to play in the shit/ Berlin, you make me vomit…
And so on and so forth… The song ends forgiving (Berlin, I can´t imagine to live without you) but by then the damage has already been done. It remains an angry and aggressive song. The majority of Berlin songs (including Fischer Z and Ideal) either celebrate the city completely or mildly romanticize the kind of decay that attracted David Bowie and Iggy Pop to live here. This Berlin song is much more critical but maybe a little more accurate in describing the atmosphere of West-Berlin before the wall came down…
This privately pressed record looks like a Punk record, but it`s not. It falls into the same category that I have already posted here repeatedly: not Punk, not New Wave, not Hard Rock (well almost), but a bit of everything. However the lyrics of Rock City make this stand out:
I´m walking the streets of my city of Berlin/ and as usual I´m driven to the bars/ Rock City, Shock City, here I come/ I also see the shadows, see dark clouds go by/ see your children high on Heroin/ I also see the dealers/ lurking in the corners/ you can wait for it/ you will soon be mourning again.
This sounds a little more like native Berliners are speaking. Musically and lyrically this is a pretty simple and short song, but the way the issue is described is decisive: there is a heartfelt sorrow for the people here that lacks any of the cynicism that most of the people showed that came to Berlin in search of a new identity and a wild lifestyle
The West-Berlin drug scene of the 80`s was described in the tape-recordings of the teenage Christiane F. that were turned into a best-selling book in 1979 and later a movie (Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, featuring a performance by David Bowie).
We read it from the pre-printed magazine articles in our German class in Hamburg in 1978 when I was twelve years old. Some of the descriptions were quite drastic and obviously our young German teacher meant to warn us of the dangers of drugs but it still turned one of the girls in my class onto the junkie lifestyle. Being fucked-up just seemed so cool back then…
Today Berlin might still be a relatively cheap city compared to most European capitals but it´s changing rapidly. Young people from smaller towns still come here oblivious to the fact that there are people born in this city. And the natives are still simple, rough and ready, but warm at heart…
( Ein von mir auf deutsch geschriebener Text über die Chou Bananah Group und Firma 33 erschien als 1. Folge der Berlin Beatet Bestes Reihe am 25. Juni 2009 in der Wochenzeitung Jungle World. Im Internet zu lesen ist er hier. )