You've probably heard Madonna's Holiday
. You might be aware of the Dutch rap version
by MC Miker G & Deejay Sven
. What may be new to you is the Soviet parody
.(This FPP may be of particular interest to: Russophiles who also love camp; fans of 80s Europop, which is campy by definition; and readers interested in changes in popular culture under Perestroika.)
Born in 1962, Сергей Минаев|Sergey Minayev is best described as the USSR's Weird Al, although, in all fairness, his fans and listeners probably think of Weird Al as USA's Sergey Minayev.
Bootlegged Europop compilations flooded the USSR in the mid-1980s and Minayev, with his characteristic mushroom-cloud Afro, emerged soon after. It's difficult to fully explain what he did with his source material, which was often smuggled karaoke versions of contemporary Europop, disco, and Eurodisco
hits. Most of his later output is clear parody, and not particularly mordant parody at that. His early work, made available before the fall of the USSR, also has a strong element of parody, but there is a deep undercurrent of appropriation and "domestication" of what was then mysterious, foreign, and somewhat risqué music, with opaque English and French lyrics, played and sung by performers who looked nothing like typical Soviet people. Minayev's rewritten Russian lyrics sometimes cleaved to the originals and sometimes departed wildly (compare the numerous "national" versions of the Numa Numa song — 12345
, and so on). Sometimes they were sentimental, and at other times they ridiculed the appearance and vocal styles of the original performers. Some songs lampooned living conditions in the USSR and immediately after its fall. Others sent up contemporary Soviet and Russian singers. Sometimes the intro of the song contained a skit or spoken-word intro, often involving changes in the tape speed to alter the pitch of Minayev's voice (à la Laurie Anderson). Minayev proved that Europop was not impenetrable: it could be imitated, duplicated, made familiar. Even a Russian could do it.
And then there were the "music videos" with the dancing. The dancing was completely sincere. (More actual dancing below.)
The mile-a-minute rap of the Madonna parody (sometimes titled «Худсовет» or "Cultural Committee" — see here
for more on what those were) tells the story of a committee deliberating whether to allow a modern discotheque to open. The members' objections clearly illustrate their devout passion for and intimate understanding of contemporary popular music:
На дискотеке нужно чтоб был КВН A discotheque must have KVN*
Чайковский, Глюк, на крайний случай — Бони Эм Tchaikovsky, Gluck, at most Boney M.
Хоть память мне не будет сейчас изменять And if my memory serves me
Пластинку их мы выпустим лет через пять We'll put their record out in five years or so
А Модерн Токинг — это просто чудеса And Modern Talking is just wonderful
Певица просто прелесть, молодая краса Their vocalist is just great, she's such a young beauty†
И через десять лет, когда все диско помрет And in ten years, when all disco‡ dies out
К нам Токинг все же на гастроли попадет We'll definitely get them on tour
* КВН is a long-running intercollegiate skit and improv comedy competition. It began airing during the Thaw, was canceled during the Breznev stagnation, was later revived during Perestroika, and is still ongoing (with the same host). The annual competition is a major broadcast event on Russian (and regional) television.
† Modern Talking is primarily two dudes.
‡ Then and now, "disco" to Russian listeners primarily means Eurodisco and even "Italo disco."
Public performance of music by Western artists was semi-illegal in the USSR until 1987. Prior to that time, Europop played in underground clubs, smoky basements, and designated outdoor dance areas
. (You might object by saying that the night clubs you're familiar with occupy similar spaces, but changes in official attitudes was what made it possible to have sold-out Billy Joel concerts
in stadiums and cavernous indoor arenas.) Rap was also alien and almost completely unheard-of.
(I have linked and listed some selected tracks from Minayev's first few albums, along with notes on lyrics and source material. My knowledge of 1980s schlock is not nearly deep or broad enough to compile a complete catalog — most of my crib notes come from the performer's site (RU) and the Russian Wikipedia page. The goal is to provide a survey of Minayev's output and perhaps educate you on random 80s pop. And, of course, not everything is available on YouTube. Most tracks can be listened to and downloaded from the corresponding page on Minayev's site, including comedy intros, outros, and interludes.)
Minayev started out as a party DJ. Born in Moscow, he attended ГУЦЭИ (RU)
(National School of Circus
and Performance), a circus school, later going on to ГИТИС (RU)
(the National College of Theater Arts), the alma mater of Vsevolod Meyerhold
and Alla Pugacheva
. Having no interest in becoming a ringmaster, Minayev turned to Europop. His first "album
" — really, just a mix tape — was recorded using a regular microphone and a portable tape recorder whenever he could find a quiet moment, around hotel dance floors and after party banquets (the other
kind of party).
After much effort, Minayev found his way into a real recording studio for his next release. Bootlegged karaoke tapes from Indonesia and Malaysia formed the backbone of his repertoire. Due to their overall rarity, few listeners were aware of many of the originals.
Первые опыты | First Attempts (1984, cassette)
on Minayev's site]
- Бангкок | Bangkok — based on One Night in Bangkok from the kitsch musical Chess (1984) by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus — Minayev's version is a cheesy police procedural not far removed from the original.
- Шери-бренди | Sherry-Brandy — based on Cheri Cheri Lady by German Europop duo Modern Talking ("Besser als Justin Bieber"!) The song was not part of an album until 1985's Let's Talk About Love, suggesting that Minayev's source material was an earlier, non-album version. Modern Talking would become the mainstay of Minayev's repertoire, more likely because of its availability rather than any exceptional stylistic excesses. — The parody sets some Soviet slogans to the dancey beats. Note that the female vocals are just Minayev's voice speeded up.
- Я люблю проснуться летним утром рано | I Love Waking Up Early in the Summertime — based on Stevie Wonder's Part-Time Lover off 1985's In Square Circle — A regular, sentimental pop song about having fun and enjoying yourself, etc.
- Мне мой мир сегодня тесен | My World Feels Cramped Today — based on Tina Turner's We Don't Need Another Hero, best known as the theme song from 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome — Note Minayev's ridiculous imitation of the vocal style. A song about creative exhaustion.
- Тарзан | Tarzan — based on Italian Europop one-hit wonder Baltimora's 1985 single, Tarzan-Boy.
- Майкл Джексон | Michael Jackson — based on Billie Jean off 1982's Thriller — A song about how great MJ is. Jackson's choreography especially was remarkable to Soviet viewers, used to performers whose stage presence was restricted to a kind of slow, rotating shamble.
- Дорога | The Road — based on Goodbye, Bad Times (do watch the lovely video) by the collaborative duo of The Human League's Phil Oakey and synthesizer impresario Giorgio Moroder — Another straightforward pop song about youthful optimism, chasing your dreams, and so on. Includes a weird rap breakdown!
Reportedly, the next album was recorded in a studio with top-of-the-line equipment very near a wastewater treatment facility.
Коллаж | Collage (1985, cassette)
[on Minayev's site here
Some time in 1986, Minayev has his first TV appearance, on «Весёлые ребята» ("Fun Guys"), an occasional comedy TV special that started as a KVN (vide supra)
knockoff and then became a semi-regular topical comedy show.
- Карнавал | Carnival
— based on Stars de la Pub by early 1980s French synth-pop act Movie Music — The song was one of earliest Europop covers Minayev had recorded, a sentimental song for youth dances. Behold the cutting-edge video effects.
The fourth and most polished collection of tracks came out in 1987, capitalizing on and amplifying Minayev's earlier success. It was also the year he graduated from theater school and left behind the shiftless, sleepless life of semi-underground party DJ. The elements of parody finally come together and create a coherent worldview.
Радио «Абракадабра» | Radio Abracadabra (1987, cassette)
[on the Minayev's site here
The album begins with the following boast: «И тенором, и басом, и женским, и мужским, короче — я спою вам голосом любым.
- Кто стучится на мой «Хаус» | Who Knocks at My Haus? — couldn't find on YouTube; you can listen on the album page: it's track 2. What I really want you to do is listen to the source material: Dead or Alive's Something in My House, which is a tragically (mercifully?) underappreciated Halloween classic. Minayev's version starts out as a song about a home invasion and somehow turns into a paean to metal, both musical and physical. Probably one of his best-known and best-produced songs.
- Мини-макси | Mini-Maxi — based on Disco Lady (1986) by German Eurodisco star Rocky M — Ah, here's that dancing. Minayev's source tapes were missing the vocal track, so his vocal arrangement is completely different from the original. Minayev's version is basically the Soviet analog of Weird Al's Fat.
- The skit that appears as track 4 features the lamentable pun «убили Джоэла/у Билли Джоэла». The tape's release coincided with Joel's groundbreaking Soviet tour.
- Тяжёлый день | A Difficult Day — based on In the Army Now from the 1986 album of the same title by English rockers Status Quo — A song about Mondays. Note the dandy sleeve protectors!
- Карина | Karina — based on Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room) by ex-model and disco singer Paul Lekakis (if ever a song deserved a 12-inch extended remix…) — "Karina" is, reportedly, period slang for a prostitute whose clients are foreigners traveling with Soviet travel agency Intourist (NYT). A surprisingly heavy song, given the kitsch treatment.
- ВДНХ | Exhibition of Advances in National Economy, renamed "All-Russia Exhibition Center" in 1992 — based on USSR, Europop star Eddy Huntington's biggest hit. After his short-lived musical career, Huntington apparently retrained as a teacher and taught in the UK and in Southeast Asia. — A hapless CIA saboteur's paean to Major Pronin, the personification of the supernatural omnipresence of the Soviet investigative services (Sample anekdot: "007 hides in a restroom stall to read the secret message from the headquarters. He rips it up, but when he is about to flush it, he is startled to see Major Pronin's intelligent, melancholy eyes observing him from below the water's calm surface.").
An LP — a real LP! with a strangely Bob Dylan-looking cover! — came out in 1990. Original material makes up a sizable fraction of the tracks. It's hard to argue that the original stuff on the LP sounds as polished as the Europop karaoke, but it's quite interesting thematically.
[on Minayev's site here
- Вояж | Voyage — based on Voyage Voyage, the hit 1986 single by Desireless, the French Annie Lennox — A song about the pursuit of hard currency and the tantalizing promise of travel to the "far abroad." (The Russian lyrics introduced me to the French loanword mistral, a regional wind in France.)
- Ксива | Fake Papers — not on YouTube, but track 3 on the album's page; based on Boney M's version of the jazz classic Fever — With his first LP, Minayev's came closest to outright social commentary, an apt reaction given the turbulent times. The in-character lyrics are inflected with street-thug slang, gently chiding the listener for assuming that times have changed for the better.
- 22 притопа | 22 Stomps — original composition — Minayev's satyrical song about (what he perceived as) the immediate "cheapening" and commercialization of popular music in USSR: «Пусть музон мой не для умов, пусть музон мой не нов, я знаю точно, что сейчас на рынке клёво, я раскручу свою продукцию с размахом.»
- Начинается свастика | That Way Lies the Swastika — original composition — A song about grass-roots origins of nationalist extremism (video and photo of the same violent demonstration in December 2010). Natürlich, the Russian-language comments to the video claim, in the most vitriolic terms available, that Jews exaggerate everything, and they're not Russians anyway, so they obviously deserve what's coming to 'em.
- Орфоэпия | Orthoepy — another original composition — And we're back to light humor: a song about a pronunciation tutor. Bonus: Full of Russian tongue-twisters! «На мели вы налима лениво ловили, меняли налима вы мне на линя. О любви не меня ли вы мило молили, в туманы лимана манили меня.»
In the two decades since the LP, Minayev integrated into the mainstream of Russian pop music. No longer risqué and cutting edge, he became one of those performers that never seem to change or go away, increasingly becoming caricatures of themselves. He has put out a number of new albums and compilations, although his oldest material, based on "seminal" 80s hits, is what he is doomed to perform forever on cheesy TV shows
. (This particular one is an appearance at Discotheque 80 (RU)
, an annual musical festival dedicated to reliving the 1980s indefinitely, organized by the AvtoRadio
broadcast network.) Minayev sang the part of Judas in the 1992 Russian version of Jesus Christ Superstar and appeared on stage in a few productions (including Pushkin's Feast in the Time of the Plague
). He also toured in support of Yeltsin during the 1996 presidential election
, releasing the album Голосуй или проиграешь!
| Vote or Lose!
Some of Minayev's more popular parodies since 1990 have included:
- Parodies of the Macarena and the Lambada (the latter including some bizarre macaronic Spanish-English-Russian lyrics).
- Белые Козы/White Goats (skit comedy version), an absolutely repellent take on the even more reprehensible Белые розы/White Roses by Юра Шатунов/Yura Shatunov of Ласковый май (RU)/Gentle May, USSR's first homegrown teen pop sensation (perhaps best compared to Spain's Josmar Gerona). Here is Shatunov two decades later, performing the same damn song he sang as a 15-year-old. And what's this?
- More recent material includes Музыка поп | Pop Music, based on Aqua's obnoxious Roses are Red, using the obvious pun on музыка поп/"music for butts"; and Яки-да | Yaki-da, based on Yaki-Da's I Saw You Dancing.
So we leave Minayev, now approaching 50, to tend to his very helpful website, jealously guard the border between диско
(two major camps of popular music in Russia — roughly, dance music and idol pop), complain about the growth of пошлость
in show business, and claim in interviews (RU)
that the original lyrics of the songs he adapted are obscene and not fit for Russian ears. You probably want more dancing
Finally, you may be puzzled by the rampant, readily apparent lip-synching in the clips from live appearances. Here are a couple unapologetic examples
of other performers from that era doing little more than walk around on a stage to the sounds of their own music. (The second clip also features a largely motionless orchestra.) Soviet audiences tolerated and even welcomed lip-synching («пение под фанеру
») as a marker of popularity and as a means to see the artist live while hearing the familiar studio versions of their songs. The Soviet pop music model was based on a small number of astronomically popular performers, rather than the alternative of a multitude of moderately popular artists. Popular concerts, which often took place in stadiums and venues of similar size, took on the character of celebrity appearances. Perhaps audiences appreciated the fact that lip-synching allowed artists to interact with the audience, rather than devote undivided attention to the task of singing or playing an instrument.