Compilation captures the nineties

The nineties saw a tremendous musical output in Latvia. Free of the oppressive Soviet system and rules, artists and groups were free to play whatever they wanted to and sing whatever lyrics they wanted to. To celebrate this memorable decade, Mikrofona ieraksti has released a compilation of the most popular songs of these years, Desmitgades top dziesmas.

The compact disc as an impressive list of artists, including Līvi, Pērkons, Jauns mēness and even Raimonds Pauls, not to mention a number of others.

Now, if you are like me, you most likely already had most of these songs anyway, but there are a few I had not heard before. Also, it is very convenient to have all these great songs on one CD, providing a great introduction for those who are not as familiar with Latvian music.

Jauns mēness has two songs on the album, the early hits “Piekūns skrien debesīs” and “Kad mēness jūrā krīt” (which is probably my favorite Jauns mēness song of all time). It also shows how Jauns mēness could easily move between a melodic song like “Piekīns” and a hard-driving song like “Mēness.”

Jumprava is represented by its quirky hit “Peldētājs.” Upon first listen of this song many years ago, I could not believe that this could have been a hit, but hearing it now reminds me of its individuality.

One thing that left me a bit confused is that the band Pērkons is represented by the song “Gandrīz tautas dziesma.” Not that I doubt the greatness of this song, but in the liner notes, it is listed as being from 1992 when it originally was released in 1987. I surely will not argue with its inclusion here; it is truly one of the great Latvian rock songs.

Another Latvian folk-rock institution is Bet Bet. The band also get two songs on this collection: “Vakara vējā” and “Kapēc man nav sarkans mersedes.” The former is also one of my favorites, due to the beautiful lyrics and guitar melody that opens the song.

Though most of the songs on the CD are in rock style, pop and dance also put in appearances. The sentimental ballad “Kad man vairs nebūs 16,” performed by Olga and Bāze-7, is a song I had not heard before. I guess it is likeable in its own way, but perhaps a bit heavy on the syrup. Latvian dance duo 100. debija is represented with its version of the Jumprava classic “Vēlreiz.” I think that this is a very excellent reworking of the song. Also included is the slick 2000 hit “Baltā dziesma” by Raimonds Pauls, performed by Gunārs Kalniņš and Kristena. This song is very well produced, but is surely not for me—I skip it every time I listen to the album!

Hard rock fans will also rejoice, since hard rock stalwarts Linga and Līvi are included as well. Linga’s song “Spēle” (which took a few listens before I began to appreciate it) is a great heavy song, with a very catchy chorus. Līvi is represented by the big hit “Piedod man” (again with a simple but memorable chorus) and the appropriately titled “2001.”

Satirists and irreverent commentators Labvēligais tips also get two songs. These are “Alumūnijas cūka” (the original version, not the one from the band’s “best of” collection), and the tale of an out-of-control bus, “Omnibuss” (which has the last minute hacked off, probably due to time constraints).

No Latvian compilation would be complete without the music of Imants Kalniņš. The group Menuets performs “Alvas zaldātiņi” and Jauns mēness performs the hauntingly beautiful “Es redzēju sapnī,” highlighted by the textured keyboard part.

Veteran Latvian singer Igo also gets a song on this collection, “Bet dzīvē viss ir savadāk,” once again showing why he is remains one of the most popular singers.

And, of course, who could forget the biggest Latvian rock band at this time, Prāta Vētra? The band’s megahits “Tavas majas manā azotē” (probably my favorite Prāta Vētra song) and “Brīvdienas nav manas laimīgās dienas” add to the already bright star power of this record.

The liner notes on this record stink, however. You would figure that besides having the music of the 1990s, maybe MICREC could have had some commentary from some of the bands, giving their opinion of the decade. But what we get is two pages of advertisements for gasoline and hardware, among other things. I suppose I can’t complain too much, since it was these companies that made this record possible.

Summarizing all of the 1990s on one CD is an impossible task. However, this collection does an admirable job. Listeners could argue for hours on end about what should have been here, what should not have been here and so on, but if you are looking for a great introduction to Latvian music, look no further.


Desmitgades top dziesmas

Various artists

MICREC,  2001

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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