“Theme for atoms”
May 25, 2016 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Sahara Hotnight’s Josephine Forsman teams up with the grande dame of Swedish folk groove Merit Hemmingson and a music professor to produce a tune that’s scientifically guaranteed to give you extra energy (at least if you live in the 50 Hz parts of the world, so ymmv) (full song (WAV), Spotify). But enough about power company marketing stunts, let’s talk a bit about the legendary "Queen of Swedish folk groove" Merit Hemmingson instead.

Hemmingson started playing in local bands as a kid, soon made it to the Stockholm jazz scene, and in her early twenties decided to go to Toronto to study under Oscar Peterson. She ended up in New York instead, hung out with Miles Davis’ band, and put together an all-female jazz band that toured Scandinavia as “Merit H. And her Girl Stars”. A few years later, she discovered the Hammond organ, and was hooked. With the Girl Stars back in the US, she formed a new band, The Meritones, and played clubs in Stockholm (here a live recording of Hancock’s Watermelon Man from 1967).

Working as arranger and bandleader for a Swedish record company, she was involved in a ton of projects (here grooving with Swedish supergroup Made in Sweden in 1969), but her big break came in 1971 when she released the first of three bestselling albums where she rearranged traditional Swedish folk tunes and psalms for the Hammond, possibly inspired by pianist Jan Johansson’s jazz explorations from the mid-sixties (previously) (here a couple of examples, Gånglåt från Ovanåker from 1971 and Gammal Fäbodpsalm from 1972).

The big hit from these albums, which would become her signature melody, was a reworking of a bridal wedding march from the late 18th century, Gammal Jämtländsk Brudmarsch, here live in front of 30,000 people in 1973 at the norwegian Ragnarock music festival.

Soon thereafter, her B3 got smashed up beyond repair in an accident, and she went on to work on many other projects as composer, arranger, and vocalist, but a few years ago she returned to the classic Hammond, and are back touring with a organ/drum setting. Her most recent album is an homage to Jan Johansson, rearranging his folk music adaptations and other works for the organ (here a couple of recent live clips, Gånglek från Älvdalen and Ack Göta Konungarike; here a longer mini documentary from the recording sessions, full album on YouTube or Spotify). She has a new album coming out this autumn.
posted by effbot (7 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic post. Thank you!
posted by Kabanos at 6:57 AM on May 25, 2016

Man, that 50Hz hum is really ominous, speaking as a 60Hz resident.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:58 AM on May 25, 2016

The Theme for Atoms seems to have borrowed a bit from A Fifth of Beethoven.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:29 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the reminder that the Sahara Hotnights exist, because I think I'd literally forgotten about them for a whole decade. Remember when they were gonna rule the world with the Donnas? I miss those days.
posted by chrominance at 8:36 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ah, I see that JTQ owes Merit Hemmingson pretty much everything for their sound.
posted by scruss at 9:04 AM on May 25, 2016

Man, I would have hated this stuff back in the 70s. It would have struck me as part of the "problem" for which punk and new wave (and ABBA) were the solution. But now, the pop music wars are over, and I can relax and enjoy Forsman and her music, which now has a kind of charming, antique sound.
posted by Modest House at 3:32 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

For comparison, here's ABBA's "cheap synth" version of Gammal Fäbodpsalm.

(Not going to link to how pre-ABBA sounded around 1965-72 :-)
posted by effbot at 2:56 AM on May 26, 2016

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