The Plastic People Of The Universe – Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned (1978) [Reissue 2010]
PS3 Rip | SACD ISO | DSD64 2.0 > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | 52:26 minutes | Scans included | 2,13 GB
or FLAC(converted with foobar2000 to tracks) 24bit/88,2 kHz | Full Scans included | 1,02 GB
Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned is an album by Czech underground band The Plastic People of the Universe. It was recorded in 1974/75, mainly at Houska Castle, enabled by the castle’s then warden Svatopluk Karásek, with some songs being recorded in Prague. The album could not be officially released and distributed under the former Communist regime in Czechoslovakia; instead fans duplicated tapes with one another, often resulting in poor technical quality. It was released in 1978 in France by SCOPA Invisible Production. In the Czech Republic a remastered version was published on CD in 2001 by Globus Music. The album title is a parody of The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Most of the songs on the record are settings of poems by Egon Bondy.
‘Egon Bondy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned’ was the first album actually released for public consumption by the Iron Curtain-restrained Plastic People of the Universe. ‘Ach to státu hanobení’ contains earlier recordings, but to the best of my knowledge that record was never actually released until Globus took a shining to the band’s body of work around the turn of the century.
And from what I’ve read the band didn’t even know this was released at the time. These tracks were mostly recorded surreptitiously in 1974 in Czechoslovakia. But the Plastics were not an officially-sanctioned musical group by the Soviet regime at the time, so actually releasing the record was out of the question. Some friends of the band managed to transport the tapes to France in 1978, where something known as Scopa Invisible Productions released it on vinyl.
I first heard most of these tracks on the ‘1997’ live CD that the band recorded during a triumphant return to Prague after the fall of the Soviet Union. The difference between these early, very primitive recordings and the comparatively more polished 1997 versions is quite striking. The sound quality on these recordings is very uneven, and I suppose would be considered poor at times. And the arrangements, such as they are, take on more of an improvisational tenor most of the time. But that was the modus operandi of the band at that time: they practiced parts, usually individually, in friends apartments or secret locations when they could, and typically only put the pieces together when they found their way onto an occasional stage.
The first track “Dvacet” (or “20”) is a good example. On the 1997 recording this is almost note-for-note the same song, but the inflections of the brass and guitars, as well as the scratchy recording tapes on ‘Egon Bondy’ make this sound more like an eerie soundtrack for a zombie movie.
“Toxika” is another track that sounds like an early, primitive version of the hypnotic, pulsating psych dirge that the band would morph it into by 1997. The tempo is much slower, the strings a bit hesitant, and again the recording quality sucks. But if you’ve heard the finished product from twenty years later, this one has a certain emergent charm that is quite engaging. Same goes for “Magické noci”, another heavy-tempo number that not only got more polished by the time the band emerged from hiding years after the Prague Spring, but also became something of an extended live jam bit. On this album it comes off like a tuning session, but again – it’s very fun to listen to side-by- side with later versions.
“Metro Goldwyn Mayer” is probably the slowest and most restrained thing I’ve ever heard the band do, and the slowly wailing brass must have been totally intoxicating played under the stars at secret festivals while the Soviet fascists patrolled the nearby parks and hang-outs of Prague in the mid-seventies.
The hidden gem here is “Elegie”, a five-minute rendition of a song that was little more than a transition piece in the 1997 concert. Here it gets a full treatment of percussion, brass, and a seductively lively bass line. Frank Zappa would have been suitably impressed (and he probably was, as I’m quite sure he had occasion to spin this record a few times back in the day).
And finally there’s “Jó, to se ti to spí”, a kind of folkish, silly ditty that closes this record just as it closed the 1997 concert. It’s amazing to me that these guys were able to process all the sh!t they had to endure to be able to make music behind the Iron Curtain, yet were still able to pull off a silly little light-hearted jaunt like this one to send a satisfied audience back into their dark lives.
01. Dvacet – Twenty
02. Zacpa – Constipation
03. Toxika – Toxic Chemicals
04. Magicke noci – Magical Nights
05. M.G.M. – Metro Goldwyn Mayer
06. Okolo okna – Around The Window
07. Elegie – Elegy
08. Podivuhodny mandarin – The Wondrous Mandarin
09. Nikdo – Nobody
10. Jo, to se ti to spi – Oh Yeah, How Nicely You Sleep
11. Ja a Mike – Me And Mike
12. Ranni ptace – Early Bird
14. Jednou nohou – By One Foot
15. Spofa blues
Milan Hlavsa – bass guitar, vocals
Josef Janíček – claviphone, guitar, vibraphone, vocals
Jiří Kabeš – violin, vocals
Vratislav Brabenec – alt saxophone
Jiří Šula – drums
Jaroslav Vožniak – drums
Vasil Šnajdr – flute
Zdeněk Fišer – theremin