Simanaitis Says

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ROCK MUSIC in Russia has an interesting history, as I was reminded while sorting some old vinyl LPs looking for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band that appeared here at SimanaitisSays earlier this month.

But do I remember Мик Джеггер? Or Элвис?

I bought my Элвис (Elvis) and other Melodiya albums in St. Petersburg back in 1990, just about the time the Soviet Union was crumbling and Leningrad aka Petrograd was changing its name back to the original.

This fine collection of Elvisiana includes “That’s All Right,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “All Shook Up,” and nine other favorites.

Элвис Пресли, Все В Порядке/Elvis Presley, That’s All Right, Archives of Popular Music 11, Melodiya, Mono M80 48919 003, 1990.

Is it just me, or does this cover shot look like Elvis’s head was added to another guy’s body?

In researching Melodiya, I learned what a breakthrough it was for the USSR to publish sentiments such as those expressed in “Тюремный рок,” that is, “Jailhouse Rock.”

The All-Union Gramophone Record Firm of the USSR Ministry of Culture Melodiya was established in 1964 as the country’s sole participant in the world’s recording industry. Melodiya’s initial offerings, in 33 1/3 and 78 format, were predominately classical recordings of Soviet composers and performers. Provided, of course, they were in good standing with the Kremlin at the time.

Let’s chat about Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich another day.

As Wikipedia notes, “Prior to the late Sixtes, music in the Soviet Union was divided into two groups, music published by state record company Melodiya and everything else.” There were some underground bards who fashioned a genre known as “author’s songs.” Some of the latter were subversive, suppressed by the government, and, of course, immensely popular. Others carefully avoided any hint of protest.

Gee, just like today.

Then, in the mid-1960s, along came the Beatles. Melodiya figured rock was here to stay, and the company responded with state-sponsored piracy.

Soviet rights? We’ll tell you Soviet rights.

At the same time, Russian bands cropped up, typically Beatles covers. These early Russian rock singers had a tough time of it. Their lyrics were strictly monitored and their gigs couldn’t be officially recorded.

Alexander Borisovich Gradsky, Kopeysk-born 1949, Russian bard, rock singer, composer of rock operas and film music. Image by Rpo.

On the other hand, a fellow named Alexander Gradsky made his name in 1967 with bard-rock fusion. His band’s lyrics were Kremlin-clean, though I suspect its name, The Buffoons, wasn’t lost on its audience. Gradsky has gone on to compose two rock operas and soundtrack music for several films.

Элтон Джон,Твоя песня/Elton John, Your Song, Archives of Popular Music 9, Melodiya, Stereo C60 26031 002, 1987.

But whatever do you suppose the Kremlin thought of Элтон Джон? Elton John’s Melodiya Your Song pictures him in High-Glam mode, though the album shares contents of his second and third studio albums, the 1970’s Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection. “Your Song,” “Take Me to the Pilot,” and “Border Song” are scammed from this second album; “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun,” “Where To Now, St. Peter?,” and “Country Comfort” are among Tumbleweed’s country-western Americana selections. Even “Tiny Dancer,” from his fourth album, Madman Across the Water, still had Elton in his original grunge look. High-Glam came later.

Роллинг Стоунэ, Леди Джейн/The Rolling Stones, Lady Jane, Archives of Popular Music 5, Melodiya, Stereo C60 27411 006, 1988.

Melodiya’s Lady Jane is a compendium of The Rolling Stones’ hits. Among its selections are “Get Off My Cloud,” “Satisfaction,” “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and several from the group’s 1966 Aftermath album, including “Out of Time,” “Under My Thumb,” and the title song “Lady Jane.”

And can you imagine Keith Richards ever looking so young? He’s the dark-haired guy next to Мик Джеггер. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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