01 (intro) Ez sztereo! [This Is Stereo!]
Spoken word introduction, stereo demonstration/test LP, 1965. Released on the national recording company's Qualiton label - as almost all of the tracks here.
02 Bergendi: Magyar tancok [Hungarian Dances]
Brass-driven groovyness, 1965, based on Johannes Brahms' composition of the same name. The group (correct spelling: Bergendy), with its roots in jazz, was one of the first to play "beat" music in Hungary; this recording is from a 4-track 7" that has them playing behind Sarolta Zalatnay (then-young Hungarian pop diva, still very much a public figure thanks to a) her being the oldest person ever to pose for a Playboy spread in 2001, when she was 54 and b) currently serving jail time for fraud) on 2 songs. Bergendy went on to a very popular, fusion-influenced pop sound by the 70's, then transformed to an all-round ballrooom band. Still active at weddings, graduation parties etc.
03 (interlude) Ez sztereo! [This Is Stereo!]
See track 01.
04 Antal Varhelyi: Malom a Fekete-erdoben [A Mill in the Black Forest]
Excerpt from an organ rendition of Richard Eilenberg's piano composition, included here because of the various bird sounds. Antal Varhelyi worked as organist and vice-chorusmaster for the Mathias Church in Budapest; how and why this had been recorded, let alone released (4-track 7", cca. early 60's) is a very puzzling mistery.
05 Studio 11 featuring Harmonia Vocal & MHV String Orchestra: Eldorado
Founded in 1963, Studio 11 is the national Hungarian Radio's dance orchestra (yes, it still exists), while MHV was the name of the state-run record company, This is from an early LP called "Tancoljon velunk" ("Dance with Us").
06 Peter Hajdu: Vidam hangok [Cheerful Voices]
While recordings by Western artists were virtually unavailable in Hungary before the 80's (people taped Radio Luxembourg and Radio Free Europe shows instead), time after time so-called "international stars" bobbed up doing recordings in Hungary. This is from an early 60's LP by someone named Nicolette Darieux, who must have been quite a presence on radio, because the only mention of her on the web is in an article about the emergence of Hungarian rock/beat music (Nicolette is cited as a symbol of the pre-rock old guard). Never mind, it's just the backing band on this track, a furiously gleeful rhythm by erstwhile big band leader Peter Hajdu's band.
07 Budapest Harmonica Trio: El Relicario
Google says that this is a Latin American song, that it's a "salon orchestra favourite", even a "light music classic". This is from the same 7" as track 04 and it is exactly what's written on the label: a light music classic performed by 3 musicians playing harmonicas. Just try not to picture them doing it.
08 Lajos Martiny: Marvellous Mambo
Pianist/arranger/bandleader Martiny (1912-1985) was the single most important figure of Hungary's early jazz scene, working with (very) big bands and small combos as well. This recording is from the era of his legendary 50's quintet and with its Perez Prado-style "uh!"-s represents the lighter side of his work. This was the path he followed: after 1960 he mostly worked as an arranger and leader for big, strings-based dance orchestras (see also track 27).
09 Club Ensemble + Studio Vocal: Presszo Csa Csa [Espresso Cha Cha]
Same situation as with track 06, this time the star is supposed Italian singer Ines Taddio (her IMDb entry suggests German nationality). "Presszo"-s, as Judit Wild puts it, "are special Hungarian phenomena; they are pubs, restaurants and coffeehauses in one". In the words of Victor Gomez, the "presszo" was a "prevalent feature of Hungarian nightlife under communism, a type of watering hole that was specifically created by the regime to replace the old grand cafes of Budapest. The presszo bars were dim and cheap places to drink and smoke". This track, with its almost Roland-preset-like rhythm and doo-doo vocals captures perfectly the lighter side of "presszo" life and "presszo" music.
10 Vilmos Kormendi: Braziliana
He might have been a player of syrupy music, but his spirit was clearly rock 'n' roll. Legend has it that Kormendi as a young conservatory student was heir apparent to Zoltan Kodaly, the country's foremost contemporary composer. Instead, he choose to lead and arrange dance orchestras. When asked about the motives of his change, Kormendi replied: "Three things crossed my path: the pussy, the booze and the 'Chattanooga Choo-Choo'".
11 Koltay-Papp Ensemble: Kling-Klang
In 1963 the hip youth of Hungary was perfectly aware of the Beatles but this hadn't kept MHV from releasing a 4-track instrumental twist 7" by this group. Gyula Papp went on to be the keyboard player of various rock bands. No idea about Koltay, though.
12 Illes: Protonok tanca [Dance of the Protons]
Ventures-style early (1965) track by the group that went on to be regarded as the "Hungarian Beatles", composed by leader/keyboard player Lajos Illes. (Sci-fi feel achieved by futuristic electronic effects at beginning and end.) This genre was briefly very popular at the dawn of the "beat age", right before in 1966 somebody (the rhythm guitar player in Illes to be precise) had the brave idea to put Hungarian words to English-type songs. Illes had the grace to effectively disband in 1973, thus sealing the legend and making possible an endless run of reunion shows from the early 80's on.
13 Harmonia Vocal: Selejtezo szam [Qualifying Track]
Totally brilliant "Soul Bossa Nova" rip-off that has whistling, wordless vocals, cowbell break, Chuck Berry-inspired guitar solo - and all well under two minutes. It was featured in a movie called "Patyolat akcio" (1965) that has a band of young soldiers competing in the national talent contest (hence the title: this is what they play in the qualifying round of the contest).
14 (interlude) Ez sztereo! [This Is Stereo!]
See track 01.
15 Metro: Volgai hajosok dala [Song of the Volga Boatmen]
Considered an exotic novelty song elsewhere (witness the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra's version), in Warsaw Pact countries this was a mandatory high-school singalong thanks to its topic being the struggle of the working class in pre-revolution Russia (no, this is not a joke). On the other hand, this recording is clearly influenced by jazzy-groovy 60's film music and the Shadows as well. It also has a male choir so it's fun. There's a compilation LP called "Ritmus 65" (probably the first in Hungary to be issued in both mono and stereo versions) including the Illes track above and this one as well, and Metro's history followed the route paved by Illes: they became a successful vocal band of the "beat" kind. Also disbanded, also reunited countless times.
16 Andor Kovacs: Tabu [Taboo]
Born in 1929, guitar player Andor Kovacs was a major figure of the 40's-50's Hungarian jazz scene. He played with Mihaly Tabanyi (see next track) and Lajos Martiny (see track 08) and recorded from 1947. This is a rudimentary, but almost hypnotic recording of the exotica standard, done sometime before 1964 (the year Qualiton switched from yellow to blue labels).
17 Mihaly Tabanyi & His Soloists: Mambo
Accordeon virtuoso Tabanyi was the biggest star in Hungarian popular music during the pre-beat years. He also was instrumental in the development of Hungarian jazz, as he employed the finest young talent in his jazz/dance combo: Andor Kovacs (see previous track) plays guitar, Aladar Pege bass, Gyula Kovacs drums on this 1962 recording. Tabanyi effectively retired after the beat boom in the 60's, only to re-emerge at the end of the 90's, musical abilities, charisma and smile undimininished.
18 Hungarian Radio Dance Orchestra featuring Imre Zsoldos: Bakfis [Flapper]
Trumpet player Zsoldos was the bandleader of Studio 11 (see track 05) and a defining figure of the Hungarian "dance music" scene. This is from a joint 10" with the (apparently Polish) Skowronski Dance Orchestra and wouldn't sound out of place in an early 60's French movie.
19 Hungarian Radio Dance Orchestra: Mezes macko [Honey Bear]
Composed by Tamas Balassa, prolific bandleader/arranger of the pre-beat era, this sax-driven easy swing thing is from an early 60's 7" that also features the "Cembalo boogie".
20 MHV String Orchestra: Tango
Tango was a very popular musical form in Hungary during the 30's/40's: tragic fate and doomed romance is something Hungarians can relate to (sample lyric: "I don't have dreams any more / I don't have desires any more / I do not want anything from life"). Nevertheless, this is from the 60's and is strictly for the Mantovani crowd.
21 Jozsef Szabo & Jeno "Bubi" Beamter: Mambo-cocktail
Leading figures of the Hungarian jazz scene, pianist Szabo (1925-1965) and vibes player/drummer Beamter (1912-1984) were both legends in their own time, colourful, defining personalities of the Budapest nightlife. They mostly played in bars and cafes, as members and/or leaders of various combos and orchestras (as on this 1959 recording) and most successfully as a duo. Szabo was the first Hungarian musician to receive a platinum disc (he was kicked in the head by a horse at age 3 and his forehead had to be implemented with metal - very bad pun, true story).
22 OSZK Dance Orchestra: Broadway
In Warsaw Pact countries everything was centralized and nationalized and all the central/national organisations had nice acronyms as their name (a tradition going back to the Russian revolution of 1917). OSZK stands for National Center of Entertainment Music and this is 1964 recording is a Cugat/Prado-style cover of a song by Nico Gomez (identified as a "bossa nova" on the label).
23 Visszhang Vocal with rhythm ensemble: Mambo
Silly but fun track from an 4-track 7", 1959. Cugat/Prado inspiration eminent.
24 (interlude) New Year's Eve, 1965
From national Hungarian Television's New Year's Eve Show. The joke is that young people talk so differently, older ones need to learn their lingo like it was a foreign tongue.
25 MHV Small Ensemble: Je t'aime
This is from the 70's, a rather intriguing choice for a cover version. The B-side of an instrumental "Guantanamera" (just as "Volga Boatmen", considered a song of communist tradition), this has been released on the Pepita label.
26 Imre Zsoldos: Delibabos Hortobagyon [Hortobagy, Land of the Mirage]
This is from Zsoldos's (see also track 18) 1976 "evergreens" LP, a conscious attempt at James Last-style easyness. The song is from an operetta by Jeno Huszka, the arrangement is done by Vilmos Kormendi (see track 10), includes some vocals and a fun percussion break.
27 Jeno "Bubi" Beamter & Lajos Martiny: Les feuilles mortes
Beamter (see also track 21) had been the drummer in Martiny's very first combo in 1936 (see also track 08) and guested regularly on vibes with Martiny's famous 50's quintet at their Hotel Gellert residency. Though Beamter retired from music in 1976, at the beginnig of the 80's they formed a new combo and frequently. This track - an international standard composed by Budapest-born Joseph Kosma - is from their 1982 LP. The music on that record is not really jazz but it's not simple "light music" either: beautifully crafted arrangements, elegant playing, fizzling tempo changes - a heart-warming, nostalgic farewell from two masters of quality entertainment music.
28 (bonus track) Janos Koos: Zug a Volga [Song of the Volga Boatmen]
A vocal version of the workers' movement standard (see also track 15), performed by the Hungarian Tom Jones (sort of) in 1973. The backing band clearly thinks it's Procol Harum.