A few weeks ago I was browsing the web looking for fake Beatles songs, one of my favorite musical genres, and unexpectedly happened upon the awesome video for “Nie zadzieraj nosa” by the Polish group Czerwone Gitary. A quick glance at the sidebar made it clear that I would spend the next few days poring through a treasure trove of old Polish music videos. Here are the highlights of my findings, with the understanding that I know nothing about the Polish language or culture. If you don’t have all day to watch them all, my personal favorites are in bold.
“Nie zadzieraj nosa” itself really is a superbly crafted and performed fake-Beatles song. It’s perhaps just a touch too regular to be a real Lennon-McCartney, but all the idioms are spot on. Just watching their evident joy (especially the guy on the right) at performing music this awesome makes me smile.
Czerwone Gitary apparently still exists and is one of the most popular Polish bands of all time, but unfortunately for me they seemed to grow out of their faux-Beatles phase pretty quickly and transition into more of a folk-rock style. Another 60s band that seems to have followed a similar trajectory, with even more of a folk influence, is Trubadurzy. “Znamy sie tylko z widzenia” is worth watching just for the bass balalaika and (slightly) fancy footwork, but the video I’m obsessed with is “Kasia”. The song itself is a great earworm, a simple six-line verse sung over and over (with different words), and I can’t get over the charm of the video – the cinematography somehow making it seem like they’re all six inches tall, the fact that it takes five seconds for them to decide where the beat is despite the fact that they’re lip-syncing, the apparently terrified bass player, the barely-adequate dance steps. I must have already watched it thirty times. Trubadurzy seems to have then gone through a brief more rocky phase (“Usmiechajcie sie dziewczeta”) before descending into gloopy folkiness.
Another contemporary band worth checking out is Skaldowie, featuring a charmingly nerdy heartthrob. “Medytacje wiejskiego listonosza “ is rather Monkees-like both in its song and its video, while the video for “Śpiewam bo muszę” reminds me of the Monkees again, but in some sort of weird dystopia. The singer pulls a prank on everyone by dressing up in a polar bear suit… then removes its head while solemnly declaiming the rest of the song. Righto.
Perhaps the most reliably entertaining videos of the bunch for me belong to Alibabki, a group of six women singers with rotating membership. “Kiedyk pasła bydło” seems like a rocked-up version of a traditional tune or something, including those awesome piercing open Eastern European vocal harmonies, but its most arresting feature is the occasional banshee shriek, which I assume is meant to be laughter because it is always followed by a broad and very unconvincing smile. My favorite is “Niech wie jak jest”, with a very nice bittersweet chord progression and a gently burbling accompaniment that somehow reminds me of early R.E.M.
Most of the groups here seem to have lasted forever, or at least decades, constantly changing their musical style to fit with the times (which makes them less interesting to me once they hit the 1970s). I wonder if this is at all correlated with Poland being a Communist state then, or if it’s just sampling bias. The best example is Czesław Niemen, “arguably the most acclaimed Polish singer of all time”, whose career you can follow from a Twist and Shout-style raveup (“Ciuciubabka”, featuring Alibabki again — with the bonus that you can pretending they’re singing “Chewbacca”) to It’s A Man’s World-style wailing (“Io Senza Lei”) to electric gospel (“Jednego serca “) to early electronica (“Mleczna Droga”).
These are the videos that grabbed me the most, but this is just the tip of the iceberg — there are literally hundreds more. Go spend a day checking them out; I’m moving on to Yugoslavia.