Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Odd Songs #005: Moviestar

Another in a "series" about "odd" songs - ones that stand out for one reason or other, usually because they were little-loved or even ignored at the time, but still get regular play on oldies stations (and yes Radio 2, you're included).  I probably should have done a numbered sequence of them, but didn't think to do so at the time.  I should really get around to doing that.

[Edit @ 22/09/2016:  This is now rectified...I think.]

Anyway, this one's about "Moviestar" (oh yeah, all one word for this one) by the Swedish artist Harpo.  It's incredibly cheesy, but I see that as a good thing:

It only made #24 in the UK charts in April 1976 (although the track itself was recorded the previous year), but I'd be amazingly surprised if you - assuming you live in the UK and listen to radio and all that - hadn't heard it before.  And once heard, never forgotten (that can be taken as either complimentary or not, depending on your tastes).  However, it was his only UK hit.

Harpo (born Jan Harpo Torsten Svensson, on the 5th April 1950 in a suburb of Stockholm) was, however, a big pop star not only in his native Sweden for a brief period; this success also translated to much of the rest of Europe as well as - strangely - Australasia. The song was a number one hit in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and (naturally) Sweden.  It was actually a number one in Sweden twice, first the English version, then again in a Swedish version.  It also made #3 in Australia, #9 in New Zealand and #13 in Ireland.

It's the song I'm interested in though, rather than Harpo himself (although his alarmingly short chart career is quite interesting, spanning only 1973-1976, is in itself quite fascinating).  He's got quite a good Wikipedia page that goes into all that stuff, if you want more background (and who wouldn't!?) then that's the place to go.

Obviously he performed the song, but he also wrote it (from the songwriting credits, this suggests both music and lyrics), although the production and arrangement is credited to one Bengt Palmers. As far as I can tell, Bengt Palmers was (and still is) a big cheese in the Swedish music industry.  I like to think of him as the Simon Cowell of the Swedish version of X-Factor, "Reach For The Stars".

As for "Moviestar", it's got a number of interesting things going for it, not least the lyrics:

You feel like Steve McQueen
When you're driving in your car
And you think you look like James Bond
When you're smoking your cigar
It's so bizarre
You think you are a new kind of James Dean
But the only thing I've ever seen of you
Was a commercial spot on the screen
Movie Star oh Movie Star
You think you are a Movie
Movie Star oh Movie Star
You think you are a Movie
You should belong to the jet-set
Fly your own private Lear jet
But you worked in the grocery store every day
Until you could afford to get away
So you went to Sweden to meet Igmar Bergman
He wasn't there or he just didn't care
I think it's time for you my friend
Just stop pretending that you are a...
(Movie Star oh Movie star) etc.

It's obviously written about a particular person, but I can't work out who.  Then again, my Swedish cultural knowledge is sadly lacking.

Another interesting fact about the track is that one of the backing singers was Anna-Frid Lyngstad (yes, that one out of ABBA). She did the "Moviestar, oh moviestar, oh-oh-oh" bits in the backing.  But considering that ABBA had already won Eurovision in 1974, it does make you wonder what she was doing singing backing vocals (uncredited too) on a track the following year?  Admittedly Harpo was big in Sweden at the time, but even so?  A favour returned maybe?

Anyway, here's some cover versions, which are always interesting (except when they're shite):

Here's a version by Stereo Total from 1995.  It's pretty faithful to the original:

A more electronically-based version by the Scandinavian outfit "And One" from 1996:

And why not this - a Spanish version from Miguel Gallardo:

Interestingly, Miguel didn't do a completely straight version; he retained the melody but seemingly completely rewrote the lyrics and called it "Tu amante o tu enemigo".  My Spanish isn't very good (in fact my understanding of the language is pretty much non-existent) but I don't think he's singing about the same subject as Harpo.

And of course, Sacha Distel had a go at it (retitling it "Baby Star"):

Personally, I think Sacha would give anything a go back then.  Not to imply that he was a hack or anything, he was just into singing, I reckon.

This, though, is my favourite cover (I can't even make a reasonable attempt at the artist name, something like Elakelaiset but with accents all over the shop) but I have figured out what they retitled it for their version - "Humppastara" (whatever that means):

I think it's the shoehorning in of an oompah rhythm that elevates it to a new level.

Bet there's loads more versions out there but - as ever - I can't be bothered to track them all down.  I am, after all, lazy.

However, I've a few more like this up my metaphorical musical sleeve.  Don't say you weren't warned!

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