27 October 2010
Second Hand Record Dip Part 64 - Topol Sings Israeli Freedom Songs
What: Sings Israeli Freedom Songs
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound
If popular culture myths are to be believed, 1967 was the year the world went wonky, LSD fell into the reservoirs, and everyone wigged out. Nonsense, of course. Somebody genuinely would have had to spike the water supplies of every major town and city on Earth to have inspired such a seachange, and in reality, life for most people simply rolled on as usual. The closest my father came to witnessing the psychedelic underground up close was when Peter Starstedt popped into his Peckham local for a pint - and let's be honest, Starstedt wasn't really any underground hero, and apparently came quite close to being given a thorough drubbing. Wherever his lovely went to, it clearly wasn't pubs off the Old Kent Road.
So then, whereas 1967 to some people may involve Pink Floyd, The Beatles going ker-azy, the UFO club, and all manner of absurdities besides, in reality for other people it might have meant Ken Dodd and Engelbert Humperdinck (saleswise, Eng was something of a runaway victor in that year). And whilst others dictated peace and love, other recording artists were going quite berserk with other more militant concerns, which finally brings us on to Topol, star of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof". When the 1967 Israel-Syria conflict came to a head, he decided to down tools as a performer and fight for his country. Not only that, he produced a concept album of songs about it.
Originally, I was tempted to post the sleeve of this record up for public viewing and leave it at that. Extra comment seemed somehow superfluous. This entire album is not in English, so it's impossible to hear exactly what he's telling us, but with song titles like "The Canon Song", "World's End", "One Hundred and Twenty Men" and "We Are Coming To You", it's perfectly possible to fill in some of the blanks yourself. The accompanying sleeve notes written by Benny Green of The Observer newspaper also give us some background: "...when his homeland was threatened, he stopped fiddling on the roof and returned to what was in effect a beleaguered Nation, fulfilling the first duty of every citizen of that astounding country, which is to die for it before seeing it destroyed... The songs he sings on this album, seen in the context of the national crisis which inspired them are an inspiration not only to Israelis but to everyone who believes that fundamental human rights are worth any sacrifice".
I don't want to get sucked into a debate about the moral rights or wrongs of this record, but I don't think it's remotely unfair to say that in peacetime (if not before) the sleeve image of Topol hollering into a hand grenade instead of a microphone isn't so much of a powerful image as a truly preposterous one. Even the worst, bargain basement Clash-inspired punk band would have turned down such a sleeve art suggestion. It doesn't cause one to stop and think, it just immediately suggests that the poor bastard may have had a bit of a funny turn when it came to the photo session. Nor should it surprise anyone to learn that in Britain at least, this album did not sell, but just you try seeing it in the reduced racks of a second hand record store and looking the other way... It's just a shame I can't find any English translations of the lyrics anywhere.
Sorry for not uploading the whole album, by the way. I couldn't face it. If enough people desperately need to hear the rest I may reconsider.
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