I'm sure if Emily Post had foreseen to write etiquette guidelines for music bloggers, having a Christmas post as one's latest entry as we begin, *gulp*, May would be considered a dreadful faux pas. Once again, I've found myself on an unintended hiatus from blogging, and I'm hoping to get back to posting regularly. For now at least, it's time for my blog to cease to be the virtual equivalent of a home strewn with tattered decorations and a sad Christmas tree wilting away months after 'twas the season.
Recently, I picked up an excellent CD compilation called Greek Beat Greats, released by Gyro Records. This is definitely not a CD to judge by its cover: the artwork alone, with a polite-looking combo hovering in the sky over a generic picture of the Acropolis, would make me fear I'm in for something supremely dodgy, akin to what I'd find in my parents' vast collection of 70s Greek "easy"-listening records. Thankfully, that's not the case. Instead, it's packed with 29 fun, melodic, upbeat tracks from the 60s Greek garage scene. Greek Beat Greats is Vol. 4 in a Gyro's Wildworld series (Vols 1, 2 and 3 featured 60s garage from around the world, Japan and Italy respectively).
The entire CD is worth getting your hands on, but I was particularly excited by a surprising find in the form of the very last track. 'Let's Shake, Baby'* by Zoe & The Stormies is an English-language cover of France Gall's 'Laisse tomber les filles'. A Greek 60s cover of 'Laisse tomber les filles' in English! Who knew?! (Just the one mention of it online is at Garage Hangover - one that, likely due to the misspelling, escaped even my prided Google super-skills at first).
The lyrics of the Stormies' version aren't a translation of the original, where France Gall warns her main squeeze to give up his girl-crazy ways or else. It's a tough song to translate directly into English and retain both the vocal phrasing and the magic of the song's simmering, don't-mess-with me vibe. A direct translation would mean the song would start with the clunky, dull-sounding "Drop the girls, drop the girls, or one day it's you who will be dropped". April March's 1995 English cover, 'Chick Habit ' was an excellent re-imagining, keeping the theme in tact but opting for different lyrics which give it more flavour than a dry translation could, and sprinkling in some retro slang to complement the feel.
'Let's Shake, Baby' follows the approach sometimes found in the reverse scenario of English hits covered in French, where lyrics that loosely mimic the phonetics of the main lyrical hook were used. An example that comes to mind is 'Chains' by the Cookies, covered by both Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan as 'Chance' ('Luck'). Another French 60s singer, Dick Rivers, covered Buddy Holly's 'Rave On' as 'Yvonne' in 1991. So here, 'lai-sse tomber' becomes 'let's-shake together'. Remember, I said loosely! But it does in effect sound similar. Interesting that Gall's 'Laisse' did have a Greek release: I suspect that in cases where the original song is already known, the translators wanted to maximise cashing-in potential by not straying to far from what was already familiar to listeners' ears.
From there, 'Let's Shake, Baby' sidesteps most of the original's theme: where Gall warned her steady his playboy days must come to an end, Zoe has already lost her love and is trying to lure him back from his new lady with a provocative invitation to 'shake it' with her. Double entendre alert: while she is definitely referring to recapturing their chemistry on the dancefloor ("let's show them that we'll really dance"), when Zoe offers to "show you what I'll do", you get the feeling she's also offering a little more. The fast-paced bongo beat, a unique addition not present in 'Laisse', adds to the seductive feel of the song.
The word 'shake' pops up a lot in anything to do with Greek 60s rock, e.g. '60s shake', 'Greek shake bands', and seems to be a blanket term for that style of music. Whether this was adopted at the time or is a retrospective term, I don't know. If the former, it reminds me of the way the French 60s scene used the word 'twist', which was used not just to refer to the dance itself or music specifically designated for dancing the twist to, but to more broadly refer to any danceable pop/rock music. The Shake was also a 60s dance move, so possibly the term's use in Greece is comparable.
The 'shake' then in Zoe and her Stormies' call to "shake together, baby" perhaps served a triple purpose, making it an ode to dancing, sex and rock'n'roll. And if shake was in fact the buzzword of the time, its inclusion in the title - just like the word 'twist' in French 60s song titles - might have been a canny choice, intended to prick up the ears of hip young things.
The Stormies was a supergroup of sorts, formed around 1964 and including members of The Charms and The Forminx, an early and wildly popular Greek rock band formed by a young Vangelis, later better known as an electronic music pioneer.
What looks like a very interesting article in Greek on the history of the Greek 60s bands can be found here. It's written by Nikos Mastorakis who was a songwriter for many of the bands and possibly a svengali/manager/promoter to some. What I can best extract from the article is that Nikos put together the Stormies when he temporarily parted ways with the Forminx, for whom he was writing songs. He says the Stormies are an example of a band created out of "retaliation, rather than need", implying the nature of the "retaliation" was to outdo whatever band one was on the outs with.
Zoe was Zoitsa Kouroukli (Ζωίτσα Κουρούκλη; -itsa is an affectionate diminutive in Greek), a jazz singer in the 50s who'd been out of the limelight for a little while. Nikos hatched a plan to reinvent her as Zoe (in the anglicised spelling: the Greek rock scene seems to have been quite Anglophilic), and dress her in miniskirts and boots as a hip symbol of the modern era. He teamed her with the Stormies, and promoted them as the band to watch - and it worked. A frenzied young audience "waited with baited breath for the first appearance of the brand new Zoe with the group onstage at the Orphea. [There were] two thousand teenagers in seats, corridors and balconies, and ten thousand others outside, trying to break the police barricade. Zoitsa and the Stormies were suddenly the hottest name in pop."
Most of their success must have been on the thriving live scene, as they only recorded one 45 together, featuring 'Let's Shake, Baby' and 'The Girl Of Ye-Ye', an English cover of the 1965 Spanish mega-hit 'La chica yé-yé'. On 'The Girl Of Ye-Ye', the lyrics stay true to the original's tale of a girl who knocks back the boy she loves because her heart belongs to rock 'n'roll, but a little more detail is added (again necessary in English to fill out the vocal melody), including a cute line about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The lyrics don't entirely make sense ("you're in love with moonlight glow"), though this only adds to the song's charm. Even the title phrase "Girl of Ye-Ye" is in slightly-off English, making the song's title a succinct summary of why the song itself is an interesting artefact from the annals of European pop: that it's a song from Greece in English referring to a Spanish term for rock borrowed from the French!
Curiously, a band credited as Zoe & The Storms perform in the 1966 film Na zei kaneis in na mi zei? (Να Ζει κανεισ η να μη ζει;). They perform a fun bubblegum go-go number, 'The Yupee Ya Ya Song' and 'Akou Me', a ballad with a subtly groovy backing which sees Zoe's splendid voice soar into a passionate chorus. The credit is curious because 'The Yupee Ya Ya Song' was actually released on record by Zoe and The Minis. Perhaps the Storms was a transitional name between the Stormies and the Minis? A couple of members of the Minis, Demis Roussos and Lukas Sideris may have played in the later days of the Stormies (according to this article), and I believe can both be seen in the above videos (on bass and drums respectively).
Zoitsa appeared on vocals on just the Minis' first single, 'The Yupee Ya Ya Song' backed with 'Darlin'. Minis members Roussos, Sideris and Anargyros "Silver" Koulouris along with Vangelis (who guest-spotted on a Minis record) would soon after form Aphrodite's Child, the Paris-based prog rock outfit who achieved success throughout Europe. Roussos, like Vangelis, is now best known for his later solo work, in his case as an extravagantly mumu'd warbler (who prominently features in the afore-mentioned torturous parental record stash).
As for Zoitsa, not much else about her career is clear: I can't find anything about her pre-Stormies career other than that she performed in the Greek Song Contest (modelled after Italy's San Remo festival) in 1961, singing 'To Peristeraki', a song that launched the songwriting career of Stavros Koujioumtzis, a significant Greek composer. She took part in the festival again in 1963, this time placing second. There are several film credits to her name from the late 50s to the late 60s, probably again as musical guest appearances.
She recorded pop tunes solo until at least the the late 60s, including a song written by Vangelis and Mastorakis, 'Oldies But Goodies', in 1966. Many of her recordings were covers of songs from other countries like French singer Antoine's 1968 San Remo entry 'La Tramontana' and Brazilian song 'Nem vem que não tem' as 'Sakoumdi Sakoumda' (also covered by both Marcel Zanini and Brigitte Bardot in French as 'Tu veux ou tu veux pas' and Italian singer Mina as 'Sacumdi Sacumda'). Her cover of 'Those Were The Days', best known as Mary Hopkin's 1968 UK number #1 hit, sounds really lovely in the Greek tongue:
Where To Buy
I was excited to find a collection of Zoitsa Kouroukli's greatest hits on Emusic because it means there's an affordable way to collect her hard-to-find music. The album features the songs posted and mentioned above and more:
Megales Epitihies @ Emusic.
It's also available to buy on MP3 at
The CD doesn't seem to be available outside of Greece: try Studio 52 (in English), or this google search (in Greek) to search for more Greek stockists.
The same label has also released two Greek 60s comps that have some of the above tracks, and lots of other fantastic stuff from Greek 'shake' bands. Be kind, support the small labels that put together great comps like these!
Note: Confusingly, the first volume's title is misspelt and incorrectly listed as No. 2 on both sites.
Both volumes on CD @ Studio 52 (Greece)
Or got a spare $273 to buy 'The Girl of Ye-Ye'/'Let's Shake, Baby'
on 45? Wow.
*'Let's Shake, Baby' is incorrectly credited on Greek Beat Greats as 'Let's Shake It Baby'.