At the end of July the 20th Euro Ye-yé festival takes place in Gijon in the North of Spain. It's a 3 day festival of 1960s style and music - especially all things Mod, Beat, Garage, Psych and Soul. There are bands (old and new - this year veteran soul singer Brenda Hollaway and new psych garage rockers the Night Beats headline), films, all-nighters and even a march of the mods scooter parade through town. It's a week-end long celebration 60s cool - especially the mod style that has been around for 50 years now and which still shows no sign of loosening its nostalgic grip on pop consciousness.
Ye-yé is actually a French term to describe the French singers and bands influenced by the Beatles in the mid 60s but there was also an awful lot of Ye-yé going on in Spain and the Spanish were actually pretty good at it - which is surprising when you remember that in the 1960s the country had a fascist government with an unfriendly attitude to anything new, young or liberal.
Spain was, as I said in a previous post on one the best Spanish bands of the era, Los Brincos, "a corrupt fascist dictatorship morally propped up by a Catholic church with an obvious antipathy towards the new "liberal" rock / pop culture emerging from the US and the UK. Spain was cut off and the climate was conservative and claustrophobic. Many Spaniards emigrated for reasons that were not just economic (anyone who has seen Spanish director Antonio Mercero's short metaphorical horror film "La Cabina" (The Telephone Box) will have an idea of what the atmosphere in Spain must have been like at the time). Such was this moral rigidity that even the Beatles were not warmly welcomed by the Spanish authorities when they played Madrid in the summer of 1965. Ringo Starr's abiding memory of playing in Spain (in the Beatles Anthology documentary) was of policemen beating up their young fans. However, despite all this, and rather amazingly, Spain actually had a thriving beat group scene in the 60s".
So, bearing in mind that these bands were all working, as John Lennon said, "against overwhelming oddities", let's have a look at ten of the finest examples of that thriving Spanish beat group scene. The bands they called Ye-yé because they sounded like the Beatles singing "Yeah Yeah Yeah". A scene that quietly subverted the conservative claustrophobia of their era and perhaps even offered a glimpse of a brighter future.
Micky Y Los Tonys - El problema de mis pelos ( = My hair problem) 1966
Micky (Miguel Ángel Carreño), and the Tonys - Tony de Corral (guitar), Fernando Argenta (guitar), Juan Fuster (bass) and Enrique Moddell (drums) - were a very successful band in Spain in the 60s and even made a couple of films. Like most Spanish beat groups of the era they made a career out of covering UK / US hits translated into Spanish however they soon started writing their own tongue in cheek and wryly ironic material - 'No comprendemos por qué no somos millonarios' (We can't understand why we're not millionaires), 'No sé nadar' (I Can't Swim), 'Cuarto intento de éxito (Fourth Attempt at Success) and this one - 'El problema de mis pelos' (My hair problem).
After nearly a decade of hits the Tonys split in 1970 and Micky went on to have a big MOR solo hit in Spain with 'El chico de la armónica' produced by Fernando Arbex of Los Brincos. After an unsuccessful Eurovision entry in 1977 Micky's career started to decline and by the 1980s he was lost to the Spanish 60s revival circuit. However Micky is still around and in 2010 recorded an album with Jorge Explosión of Spain's best punk garage revival band Doctor Explosión.
Micky Y Los Tonys - Ya No Estas ( = You're not there). From the film "Megatón Ye Yé" (1965)
A four piece Spanish Dutch collaboration. Otto van der Pol (vocals) and Eric de Leeuwe (drums) teamed up with Alex Sánchez (guitar) and Eduardo Amorós (bass) to record two of the best Spanish garage / psych singles of the era. A promising band that unfortunately met with no commercial success. They split up after only a few months together leaving behind these two classic singles.
Los Zooms - Algo Mas ( = Something more) 1968.
Los Zooms - Alguien Los Ha De Escucuchar ( = Someone must hear them) 1967
Los Archiduques - "Lamento de Gaitas" (= Bagpipe Lament / I love how you love me) 1967
Cover versions were standard practice at this time in Spanish rock. However this one is more original than most. A version of the Paul and Barry Ryan song by an Asturian band complete with Asturian bagpipes. The words were also rewritten and the song was changed to a lament for a dead girlfriend which I'm not sure really goes with the happy smiley tune but anyway...
Los Archiduques - Tino Casal (vocals), Armando Pelayo (organ), Pedro Bastarrica (drums), Tony and Claudio (guitars) and Tito (bass) were all actually from Asturias in the north of Spain and, although this was not a hit, it may be the first time that bagpipes were used in a rock song. The shimmering fuzz tone guitar solo also adds to the rather tasty psychedelic stew the band manage to cook up. Psychedelic "fabada" anyone?
After the band split in 1971 lead singer Tino Casal emigrated to London and later reinvented himself, David Bowie style, as a kind of Spanish glam rock / new romantic icon for the 80s. He became part of the 80s Madrid "movida" scene, which also included film director Pedro Almodovar, and became one of the most successful Spanish solo artists of the 80s. Another Barry Ryan song, Eloise, gave him a national number one in 1988. He died in a car accident in 1991.
Los Brincos - Nadie Te Quiere Ya ( = Nobody wants you now) 1968
I've written more fully about Los Brincos here. They were the best and the most successful of the bands to come out of Spain at this time and were even known as the Spanish "Beatles". They maintained a consistent run of high quality hits throughout their six years together. Nadie Te Quiere Ya is a psych classic taken from the 1968 album Contrabando recorded in London at Abbey Road in 1968 with Troggs' producer Larry Page at the controls.
Los Salvajes - Es La Edad ( = It's the age or It's an age thing) 1966
From Barcelona Los Salvajes (The Savages) were Gaby Alegret (vocals), Andy González (guitar), Julián Moreno (guitar), Sebastián Sospedra (bass) and Delfín Fernández (drums). If Los Brincos were the Spanish "Beatles" then los Salvajes were the Spanish "Rolling Stones" and had a much tougher sound. Es La Edad is a generational long hair anthem - its sentiments echoing the Who's My Generation.
Los Ángeles - Momentos 1969
Los Momentos - Poncho González (vocals, drums), Carlos Alvárez (guitar, vocals), Agustín Rodríguez (guitar, vocals) y Paco Quero (bass) - were one of the most successful bands in Spain in the late 60s. Momentos was a top ten hit in 1969 and shows a distinct mid 60s Beatles influence.
Los Íberos - Fantastic Girl 1970
Los Íberos - Enrique Lozano (Vocals), Adolfo Rodríguez (guitar), Diego Cascado (drums) and Cristóbal de Haro (bass) - were the first Spanish band to record an entire album in London. They were extremely popular in Spain and starred in a couple of films. The clip below is taken from "Topical Spanish" (1970), directed by Ramon Masats, and seems to bear a strong "Help" influence.
Los Bravos - Black is Black 1966
The one that made it. Black is Black was an enormous international success in 1966 reaching number 2 in the UK charts and number 4 in the US. It was actually the result of a certain amount of international co-operation as the song was written by three Brits (Tony Hayes, Michelle Grainger, and Steve Wadey), the band's manager, Alain Milhaud, was French, the lead singer, Mike Kennedy, was from Germany and only the band - Antonio Martinez (guitar), Manuel Fernández (organ), Miguel Vicens Danus (bass) and Pablo Gomez (drums) were actually Spanish.
Quite a bit of the credit for Black is Black should go to manager Alain Milhaud who, after the band had already achieved success in Spain, aspired to even greater things in Europe and the US. The band's Spanish label Columbia were unconvinced but he struck a deal with UK Decca to record some sessions in London with a view to a possible UK release. Black is Black was chosen by arranger Ivor Raymonde and at first the band were underwhelmed by the song. Its hit potential was obvious though - the arrangement, especially the bass line, is very Motown inspired and Kennedy's vocals bear more than a passing resemblance to Gene Pitney. The band however did not play on the recording and what you actually hear are some of London's finest session musicians. The song was released in the UK on Decca in the summer of 1966 and picked up by Pirate station Radio Caroline who turned it into a hit. Unfortunately the band couldn't follow it up and, although they continued to have massive success in Spain, to the rest of the world Los Bravos remain one-hit-wonders.
Semi-interesting footnote: In 1970, after Mike Kennedy left the group, the band recruited a British singer, Andy Anderson, and recorded a single Individuality. Andy was the brother of Jon Anderson who was about to achieve mega-success with prog-rockers Yes.
Note; I've attempted to be accurate with the band line-ups but one of the many problems Spanish bands had at this time was the call-up. Military service was compulsory in Spain right up to the 80s and quite a few of these bands had members temporarily sacrificed to what in Spain was known as "La Mili"
Most of the band information here was sourced from the excellent Spanish online rock encyclopedia la fonoteca http://lafonoteca.net/ (in Spanish)
There seem to be very few decently written histories of this period in Spanish rock. Not even Los Brincos - one of the most important bands of the period - have a biography written about them. Compared to the US and UK where rock has become a nostalgia industry the Spanish seem quite uninterested in their recent past. An explanation for this apparent indifference could be, as I mentioned in my post on Los Brincos, "that for many Spaniards "the swinging 60s" did not exist. There was censorship and no freedom of speech. Any form of protest could get you locked up, beaten up or even killed. Spain would have to wait until the late 70s and the death of Franco to regain democracy. So, the Spanish tend not to look back nostalgically on the 60s as a golden era of change and musical / artistic development because, for them, it wasn't".
However, as I said in my introduction, in their own subtle way perhaps these bands offered a glimpse of a future where change was indeed possible.
For that they deserve respect.
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