Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out, and Moscow girls make me sing and shout.
August 12, 2011 3:17 PM   Subscribe

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 and 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)
[in MP3 on Minayev's site] 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: So we leave Minayev, now approaching 50, to tend to his very helpful website, jealously guard the border between диско and попса (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.
posted by Nomyte (43 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite


The dutch guys are surprisingly good ... they get the cadence to sound quite right for the song. I may well have to actually read this post!
posted by Bovine Love at 3:25 PM on August 12, 2011

This is epic, thanks!
posted by lumpenprole at 3:26 PM on August 12, 2011

This is incredible! Spasibo!
posted by mdonley at 3:31 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel like the holiday rap song was on Rap Trax or some other 80s rap compilation; the chorus of this song has always stuck with me because I don't know what is meant by "If you want to go yoh sven".
posted by Hoopo at 3:35 PM on August 12, 2011

Oh. Dear. God.

Holiday Rap was HUGE! H-U-G-E-!!! in German the year I lived there. It was so wond'rous-awful that I purchased 7" 45s of it to hand out as gifts to people when I returned home. I had hoped it had passed entirely out of popular knowledge. And now you've shoved it back in my face, like a dog who has messed on the carpet.

Thanks a lot. I have to call my therapist now.
posted by hippybear at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2011

Oh, and amazing post! You've completely buried your lede, but the shock and surprise of the [more inside] may be part of your point.
posted by hippybear at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the Little Superstar version!
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:45 PM on August 12, 2011

also... "kitsch musical Chess"???

Good lord. Do you realize that Chess has one of the most lauded and respected musical books of the last few decades? It's the opposite of kitsch. It's difficult and complex and is still seeking its definitive version.
posted by hippybear at 3:46 PM on August 12, 2011

Thank you (again!) for providing fantastically detailed information on Soviet/Russian culture that hasn't gotten much (if any) cover in English.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cliff Richard.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2011

I would like to give you a medal.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:58 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about Madonna today after coming across this fab cusp-of-superstardom pic.

I miss who each of us were then.
posted by Trurl at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hoopo, the "yoh" can be either joh (with accent circonflex above the o) = dude - or maybe better bro - in Dutch, or the American yo = hey, and Sven is the name of the guy being addressed. So, "If you want to go yoh sven" = if you want to go, bro, Sven or if you want to go, hey Sven.

Thanks nomyte for another epic post!
posted by likeso at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well done!!!
posted by k8t at 4:11 PM on August 12, 2011

I sometimes think I am the only American who has ever heard of Modern Talking.
posted by k8t at 4:21 PM on August 12, 2011

This is great - one of those perfect FFPs combining a subject little-known outside of its own cultural milieu and excellent framing. I'm a particular fan of your choice to leave the "the lamentable pun «убили Джоэла/у Билли Джоэла»" untranslated; a lovely surprise awaits readers at Google Translate.
posted by Chichibio at 4:21 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by GuyZero at 4:23 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I remember when DJs in clubs would rotate this with Madonna's Holiday, it was pretty mindblowing at first, almost like Voltron or something, where the whole was greater than its constituent parts. How are these two songs fitting together!? Where does one end and the other begin? And then M.A.R.R.S. et al. blew all that away shortly thereafter and sampling started getting really creative...

Question: by "take a little piece of Amsterdam", do they refer to weed/hash?
posted by stinkycheese at 5:00 PM on August 12, 2011

I had no idea that the Dutch version wasn't the only one.
posted by Sternmeyer at 5:01 PM on August 12, 2011

If there isn't a Wikipedia article already just copypasta this in in its entirety and show the rest of their articles up. +1 WOULD BUY AGAIN
posted by imperium at 5:03 PM on August 12, 2011

Alles klaar, Herr Kommissar?
posted by Flashman at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I sometimes think I am the only American who has ever heard of Modern Talking.

You may be the only American who remembers Modern Talking, but there are certainly more of us who have heard of them...
posted by Chuffy at 5:30 PM on August 12, 2011

Do you realize that Chess has one of the most lauded and respected musical books of the last few decades?

I apologize for misrepresenting it. I should try to get into it again at some point.

I sometimes think I am the only American who has ever heard of Modern Talking.

This is bad… why?

I'm a particular fan of your choice to leave the "the lamentable pun «убили Джоэла/у Билли Джоэла»" untranslated;

You should be able to hover over the phrase to get a pop-up with the English. I apologize if my abuse of the <acronym> tag has resulted in reading difficulty.
posted by Nomyte at 5:49 PM on August 12, 2011

You should be able to hover over the phrase to get a pop-up with the English. I apologize if my abuse of the tag has resulted in reading difficulty.

I'm learning about more than just Russian musical parody up in here!

Abusive clever.
posted by Chichibio at 6:28 PM on August 12, 2011

This is wonderful!
posted by otters walk among us at 6:40 PM on August 12, 2011

This is fucking magical.
posted by grapesaresour at 6:41 PM on August 12, 2011

I sometimes think I am the only American who has ever heard of Modern Talking.

Oh, no no no. Modern Talking was the scourge of the German music charts that same year I lived in Germany.

The amazing thing about Modern Talking is that they have exactly two songs. The slow song and the fast song. And they managed to re-write each song and score several hits with each version.

When I was living there, my high school homeroom teacher actually had a day where he got a bunch of Modern Talking songs and did needle drop "what song is this" tests with the class. None of them could tell the slow songs apart or the fast songs apart. It's shocking how incredibly awful that group was.
posted by hippybear at 6:47 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Was"? The entire ex-USSR still knows and loves them. And also Army of Lovers.
posted by Nomyte at 6:52 PM on August 12, 2011

Army Of Lovers is something else entirely. Truly the definition of intentional camp. I have huge affection for Army Of Lovers. I have none whatsoever for Modern Talking.

(One of the bits of AOL I love is how when La Camilla first left the group, they underscored how unnecessary she was to the success of the group by replacing her on stage during performances with a blow-up sex doll dressed up to look like her.

Alexander Bard has done a lot of interesting things. Army Of Lovers happens to be his most... um... globally visible.)
posted by hippybear at 6:58 PM on August 12, 2011

What are you talking about? La Camilla is the single most important piece of furniture in their music videos.
posted by Nomyte at 7:01 PM on August 12, 2011

Someone really needs to do an in-depth AOL/Bard FPP one of these days. I might get around to it once I've completed the 3 other mega-posts I'm working on.
posted by hippybear at 7:10 PM on August 12, 2011

Wow, this brought back a lot of memories of the originals. I had no idea that whole scene existed. My wife, brought up under communism, says this was the norm, copying western songs very very badly (but claims the Romanian stuff was still better) . She was also wildly enthusiastic about Modern Talking, which I knew from clubbing days.

Awesome post. And you weren't kidding about "more inside"!
posted by Bovine Love at 7:16 PM on August 12, 2011

Your Alphaville post was the inspiration behind this one, if you needed encouragement!
posted by Nomyte at 7:17 PM on August 12, 2011

Your Alphaville post was the inspiration behind this one, if you needed encouragement!

Awww. *blush* Thanks!

My next mega-post [SPOILER] is probably going to be about Falco.

Unless filthy light thief scoops me.
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dear God, this is a prolific post. Kudos!
posted by blucevalo at 8:20 PM on August 12, 2011

Never heard of this stuff till just now, but knowing nod of recognition from the wife. She tells me that the KVN college skit show is still a very big deal in ex-USSR: the Georgians and Armenians are usually the teams to beat, what with their genetic comedy advantages, and that the Tajiks have finally just in the past couple years managed to find sponsors and join in.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:07 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Der Kommissar rolled around on the iPod just tonight while driving to supper. German is such a lovely language for that flavour of music, I just had to crank it up and really enjoy it. Get on with it, hippybear!
posted by Bovine Love at 9:20 PM on August 12, 2011

probably going to be about Falco

Damn, I thought you said Taco and got all excited.

This is still a fantastic post.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:43 AM on August 13, 2011

Speaking of Armenian and Georgian comedy, have you see this?
posted by k8t at 5:43 AM on August 13, 2011

KVN (Russian: КВН, an abbreviation of Клуб Весёлых и Находчивых, Klub Vesyólykh i Nakhódchivykh or Ka-Ve-En, "Club of the Funny and Inventive")
posted by k8t at 5:44 AM on August 13, 2011

So fun! Loved that.
posted by nickyskye at 7:37 AM on August 13, 2011

Nomyte: check your MeMail.
posted by hippybear at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2011

Speaking of Armenian and Georgian comedy, have you see this?

I was prepared to hate this, but then they got to E.
posted by Nomyte at 1:47 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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