July 31 2011: Tisíc tváří lásky by Marie Rottrová and Flamingo (Supraphon, 1971)

25 Or 6 To 4 is a late sixties recording by Chicago, a band who later became a behemoth of MOR rock, but early on, at least, betrayed their origins in the West Coast psychedelic scene of the late 1960s. It’s of interest here because a recent arrival in the post was a 1971 Czech language version of the song, by Marie Rottrová & Flamingo, under the title Tisíc tváří lásky (A Thousand Faces). It’s a good example of the ways music often crossed the Iron Curtain, despite the heavy censorship of its time – at this stage, long after the 1968 invasion had ended the Prague Spring, and Gustav Husak’s ‘normalisation’ had taken hold: an earlier Flamingo cover version, closer to that initial wave of mid sixties energy, was a sultry take on Aretha Franklin’s Chain Of Fools, sung in English. The other side of the 45 featuring the Chicago song, meanwhile, is Kůň bílý (White Horse), itself a West Coast style song, clearly influenced by developments in the United States and – as noted in the Communist Rock’n’Roll talk in relation to Marta Kubisova‘s late sixties work – politically aligned with student and broadly liberal-leftist ideas circulating in the West at the same moment.

It seems telling that these ideas were dismissed by those in power according to what suited themselves: as ‘anti-American’ and ‘quasi-Communist’ in the West, as ‘anti-Communist’ and ‘pro-Western’ in the East. The unifying feature was opposition to unaccountable power, and whoever that power was represented by – Nixon or Brezhnev, The Party or Corporate lobbyists and contractors – its operations were generally more comparable than the propaganda on either side of the Iron Curtain cared to admit. The years after 1968 saw a reassertion of quasi-Stalinist models of control in the Eastern Bloc, running in parallel to a less traumatic, but sometimes comparable  political chill in the West, as polarisation and economic contraction led to moves away from the post-war consensus established in 1945 that remain dominant in Anglo-American politics. Few will need reminding that this shift in political gravity has taken us into territory where what was considered far outside the mainstream of political acceptability in the West of 1969 has long been presented to us as ‘the middle ground’. Is it all that surprising, then, that were Richard Nixon to stand as a Republican candidate today on his 1970 platform, he’d outflank Barack Obama on his left by some considerable degree?

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