|"Här kommer natten", released as a single, also in 1969.|
Monday, September 24, 2012
PUGH – Ja dä ä dä! (Metronome, 1969)
International relevance ***
If the words ”legendary” and ”classic” were invented for a reason, then ”Ja dä ä dä!” is that reason. Generally considered the first proper rock album entirely sung in Swedish, this is where the whole Swedish progg music really began. True that bands like Baby Grandmothers and Hansson & Karlsson had been going on prior to the release of Pugh's debut, but this album took it all one step further. If not three steps further. Because there had never been an album like this before, not in Sweden, and not internationally.
It's an utterly groovy album (groovy as in ”groovy, man!” and as in organic, swinging, moving rhythms), recorded after Pugh escaped mandatory military service. The playing is top notch, loose and free and yet with excellent discipline. It's amazing how richly textured a trio can be, but then again, the musicians are among the very finest Sweden had to offer at the time. Janne Carlsson is the Karlsson (note the change in spelling!) in the aforementioned Hansson & Karlsson, while Georg Wadenius, popularly known as Jojje, later had fame in Made in Sweden, fortune in Blood, Sweat and Tears, and sheer excellence on the children's album ”Goda' goda'”. He's best known as a guitarist so it's curious to hear him pounding away on the bass on ”Ja dä ä dä!”. Guitars are in fact played by Pugh himself; wild, stoned, crazy guitars at its finest. In many ways, the trio is closer to jazz than rock music. No wonder, as Carlsson was a jazz drummer from the beginning.”Ja dä ä dä!”.
What makes this a Swedish classic is of course the lyrics. Not only because it was the first time we had a rock album sung entirely in Swedish, but also because Pugh had a very original way to use the Swedish language. No one has every written lyrics in a similar fashion as Pugh. They are deep and naive at the same time. At a first glance they might appear as simple banalities, but nothing could be further from the truth. There's a whole lot of depth beneath the surface of the playful sentences, and it's a pity that this is lost on a foreign listener not familiar to the Swedish language. (He even touched on homsexuality in the song ”Du tände lyset Andersson” – not a common topic in 60's lyrics.) But don't let the language put you off, because even if you don't know a single word of what Pugh sings, the music speaks on a level that can be fully understood by anyone with a heart and a soul. The great playing would mean nothing at all if it wasn't for the excellent songwriting. ”Ja dä ä dä!” doesn't have a single weak track.
But it does offer some favourites. ”Här kommer natten” is one of the best songs ever to emerge from the pen of a Swedish songwriter, and ”Små lätta moln” is summer at its most romantic. The cover of Kurt Weill's ”Surabaya Johnny” (in Swedish, of course) slips effortlessly in with the original numbers. When speaking of classic debut albums, this is among the very best.
A curious fact is that US label Vault licensed this for an American release in 1970. Vault obviously specialized in albums with no commercial potential whatsoever, but even by their standards, ”Ja dä ä dä!” (renamed ”Ja da a da!” for the domestic market – as if that would make any more sense!) is among their very weirdest releases. The vocals weren't overdubbed with English lyrics, but the back cover sported English translations of the words, complete with some unintentional humour to Swedish readers. (”You switched the light on Andersson” just doesn't sound very catchy in English.) If the lyrics was a mystery even translated, one can only imagine what troubles Pugh's name might have caused over there. Pugh's real name is Torbjörn Rogefeldt, and even that would have been a better name when trying to market his album to non-Swedish record buyers. I mean, how do you pronounce Pugh? Like ”Pew”? ”Pewg”? ”Puff”? ”Pah”? The correct answer is something like ”Puhgg” but who could tell?
I have no idea how many US copies were pressed, but it's a safe bet that the lion's share of the edition were shipped to Sweden. Every once in a while US copies turn up for sale here, and I've seen more of these than of Swedish originals over the years. (The album has since been rereleased many times. Those who take notes of sleeve variations, originals have the title in black lettering, whereas later copies are in white. It also comes with a foldout cover with an orange lyric sheet stapled to the spine inside. Also, blue record label.)
Another funny anecdote regarding Pugh is that the politically questionable writer Michael Moynihan in his book on the Norweigan black metal scene, ”Lords of Chaos”, stated that Pugh was the guy behind Swedish black metal pioneers Bathory. I can hereby clarify that this is NOT the case...
Hopefully, time has turned for the better as regards this album's international appeal. What must have been nothing more than a confusing curio on the international market in 1970 ought to stand out as a striking masterpiece some 40 years later. Given the ever growing interest in international progressive music, this should be hailed worldwide as the true masterpiece it is. Like I said, there never was an album like it, and I'll even go as far as to say there never will.
By the way, the title means ”Yes, it is!” and is spelled in the dialect of Västerås, the town where Pugh grew up.
(whacked out demo version of "Små lätta moln", not on original album)