Pop compilations beg for history lesson

The thought of buying a compilation album featuring songs from a selection of artists usually leaves me feeling cheap in a K-tel kind of way. So when Rīga-based MICREC late last year released its Non Stop Ballīte collection of 18 pop tunes, I was dubious about the album’s value.

With the release a few months ago of Non Stop Ballīte 2: Vecie labie…, this time focusing on songs that were popular a generation ago, I am gradually being swayed to accept that these albums are interesting additions to one’s collection of Latvian music. However, both albums could have been much better vehicles for showcasing the development and influences on Latvian pop.

Both albums operate under a simple idea: Put into one recording a good number of popular songs, stringing them together without breaks (hence the “nonstop” adjective). The transitions between most songs generally work well, but in a few parts are noticeably forced. Both albums would be nicer to listen to without this annoyance.

The first Non Stop Ballīte collection features 18 songs that have been made popular by Latvian performers in roughly the past decade. A treat for fans of the satirical Labvelīgais tips is the German version of the hit tune, “Aluminijas cūka.” Andris Freidenfelds’ rendition of “Aluminium Schwein” is followed immediately by “Meitene, zeltene,” one of the best-loved tunes by rock group Līvi.

Anyone who has listened to Latvian radio or purchased tapes or compact discs since the country regained its independence will recognize many of the other songs in this collection. There’s “Viss ir tieši tā kā Tu vēlies” by the pop-rock stars Prāta Vētra, “Meitene” by the Latvian “country” crooner Gunārs Meijers, “Aka aka” by joker Roberts Gobziņš and the techno-driven, twisted folk song “Rikšiem bērīt” by the short-lived Saule project.

For me, the prize on this album was one of my favorite songs, “Manas mīļakas puķes” by Zodiaks, with vocals by Maija Lūsēna.

A couple of songs seem ill-suited for this collection: the downright weird “Disnejlenda” by Credo and the irritating schlager hit “Zvaigznīte, zvaigznīte” by Fiska. The album also is ruined by the rude and unnecessary closing track, “Nobeigums.”

My major criticism of the album is that it could have been aided by fuller liner notes, briefing the listener on the history of the songs and the performers. MICREC let a wonderful opportunity slip by, especially for listeners from outside of Latvia who may not be familiar with some of these artists.

This becomes particularly clear with the second compilation, Non Stop Ballīte 2: Vecie labie…, which features 25 songs from the 1970s. Sure, we’ve all heard of composer Raimonds Pauls, who continues to produce new material. But what of singers such as Viktors Lapčēnoks, Nora Bumbiere, Ojārs Grīnbergs, Žoržs Siksna and the late Edgars Liepiņš? Outside of Latvia, some of these names may still be recognized: Lapčēnoks’ star seems to be rising again; Liepiņš once toured Latvian centers in North America. To know more about these performers and the songs they sing would have been wonderful.

Like the first Non Stop album, Vecie labie… suffers from the “nonstop” concept. Some transitions are forced, others are not clear. I even missed the transition between the first two songs, “Salds italiešu kino” and “Tā diena.”

Vecie labie… presents a taste of “estrādes mūzika” from the 1970s. MICREC, in its promotional material for the album, characterized these songs as the music that the parents of today’s youth listened to. If that’s so, the historical context becomes even more necessary, both for those of us in the West and for those of today’s Latvian youth who may be wondering about the 1970s. Certainly, those of us who grew up in the West, inundated by the “star-making machinery” of commercialized pop and rock, can only sit and wonder at how much the music of occupied Latvia differed from what we were hearing on our turntables and the FM radio.

While for younger listeners the first Non Stop may readily bring back memories of when the song made the moment, Vecie labie… could well hold the same magic for the youth of the 1970s. For those of us who grew up outside of Latvia, there might only be glimmers of recognition. Despite their failings, we can only hope that MICREC doesn’t stop with just these two recordings.


Non Stop Ballīte 2: Vecie labie

Various artists

MICREC,  2000

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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