If you have been following my blogs for quite a while (chances are you haven’t), you would know that I’m a big fan of the band Chicago. Yes, that Chicago that used to be rock with horns badasses then turned into a middle-of-the-road rock champion, and then an AOR ballad band, and then a band too persistent to quit (still touring after all these years). Out of all the former and current members of Chicago, only Peter Cetera and Robert Lamm maintain solo careers (and also Bill Champlin, if we consider that The Sons of Champlin is his band, and not actually a collective of musicians who reunited after Champlin left Chicago) that can be considered rather existing yet hardly consistent. Lamm, however, is still in Chicago and his outputs over the years were rather sparse since he is busy touring. Cetera, on the other hand, left Chicago in 1985 largely because he was too busy touring with Chicago and didn’t have time to spend with his family and solo material.
Peter Cetera (1981)
When Chicago was on hiatus after the catastrophic failure of their XIV album (1980), Cetera (I’ll call him PC too in this review) had already been working on his eponymous solo album. As the band was moving to a new label, Full Moon/Warner Bros., Cetera had to buy the rights for his own album from Chicago’s old label (Columbia) to continue working and later release it under Chicago’s new label. He eventually completed the album with the help of session musicians. No original Chicago members were involved in making the album. The only involvement from Chicago’s side was Chris Pinnick’s, who played guitar on most of the tracks in the album; Pinnick was Chicago’s guitar player at that time, but was never considered an official member. Another notable contribution is from Carl Wilson, the Beach Boys’ guitarist, who co-wrote and played guitar on one song.
The album was released in 1981 with almost no fanfare. Warner Bros. refused to promote the album. Up to that point, Cetera’s prominence in the band had become evident in terms of songwriting and musical direction, and his expertise in writing ballads certainly sat in well with the label and producer David Foster (yes, that David Foster, the hit man), who radically changed the sound of the band and certainly called for another smashing hit in the form of a Cetera ballad, which he did previously with “If You Leave Me Now”, “Baby, What a Big Surprise”, and to a certain extent “No Tell Lover”. Warner was afraid that Cetera would get very successful on his own, thus jeopardizing the fate of the Chicago album in the works. As a result, the album did not sell well due to lack of promotion and it remained a somewhat obscure release. Outside of the US, particularly in Indonesia, the album is even more unknown. I only found out about the album in the early 2000s, in the form of an imported cassette tape which I didn’t buy because it was ridiculously expensive and marked rare.
The album itself is actually musically very good and is often an underrated output in Cetera’s catalog. Although still a product of its time, the album’s sound holds up very well. It is overall more well thought of than the half-baked Chicago XIV and despite strands of similarities, it is still quite refreshingly different from Chicago 16 that comes after it. To my surprise (and perhaps to the surprise of everyone familiar with Cetera’s work in Chicago and after), this is not an album of saccharine ballads. The first song and the lone single from the album, “Livin’ in the Limelight”, is a straightforward hard-hitting guitar-distortion-and-synth rock anthem, with sarcastic lyrics on fame and excesses. The awesome pyrotechnical guitar solo was contributed by none other than Steve Lukather of Toto, who was also in the studio to record some of his guitar work for the upcoming Chicago 16. The song happened because Pete wanted to rock sometimes, and this is a logical and more fully realized continuation of his half-baked (did I use this adjective earlier for the XIV album?) “Hold On” in XIV. The song peaked at number six on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and for that one moment in his life, Peter Cetera was a mainstream rockstar! Nevertheless, the lack of promotion for the album meant that was it and no further singles were released from the album.
The subsequent songs are not as hard-hitting as the first, but they are very competently written and recorded. The rock ballad co-written by Carl Wilson, “I Can Feel It” is certainly not the most exciting song in the album, but it certainly is very slick and is a great change of pace from “Livin’ in the Limelight”. The album also shows that Cetera could work well in a rather original way without Chicago and the elements that he experimented with in Chicago do work better in a solo career setting. “Livin’ in the Limelight” is one example, while his P.C. Moblee voice is another. As strange as it sounds, P.C. Moblee was a persona that Peter Cetera created when he sang songs in the lower register of his voice, mainly for Chicago XIII. This “experiment” resulted in perhaps the cringiest moments in the nearly cringe-worthy Latin-discoish album, with Moblee’s voice sounding either very inadequately restrained or very wrongly sexually charged like cheap cool jazz music accompanying adult movies. However, this album shows that Moblee could work! Use it on a New Wave/white reggae-ish song (“How Many Times”), and it’s done! Use it rather sparingly in a song that’s bombastic and unabashedly sensual, and you got “Holy Moly”!” Both songs are well done, and they show that PC could make good use of his whole vocal range with the right melody and arrangements.
My personal favorite of this album is the fifth track, “Mona Mona”, whose more organic and fluid movement seem to contrast the contemporary (early 80’s) electronic sounding previous four tracks. It is a fun and short, no-nonsense upbeat pop gem. It sounds like something that Chicago could’ve done back in the day, but it could also have been a song that Chicago rejected for sounding too fun. The horn arrangements here are minimal but effective, and the sax solo is nothing short of amazingly fitting; the song shows that PC could do horns too, and it’s a shame that this fun song never made it into Chicago’s repertoire. Chicago did perform “Livin’ in the Limelight” during their 1982 tour for Chicago 16 for good measure, but that was it.
The sixth track, “On the Line” sounds really familiar to me when I first listened to it; it was released as the B-side to “Glory of Love” later in 1986 (more on this later), so it might have had some radio airplay back in the day when I was still a toddler. Both “On the Line” and the following track “Not Afraid To Cry” show that PC still loved country music, as these two were thinly veiled attempts at creating country-ish songs. PC’s love for country music was most evident in his early songs with Chicago, such as “Where Do We Go From Here”, “What Else Can I Say”, and “In Terms of Two”. “On the Line” was more refreshing in terms of musical exploration; it closes with a guitar solo that erupts somewhat surprisingly into a speedy synthesizer run. The prog-ish side of PC continues with the “Evil Eye”/”Practical Man”. I put a slash between the two songs because they are actually a two-part suite. It starts out as a Cetera rocker (“Evil Eye”) with an excellent Cetera bridge that segues into a short Cetera acapella choir (excellent vocal arrangement), which then breaks down into a slow drawn-out intro of “Practical Man” which is a staple proggy move. The break down parts interchange with the faster singing parts. The suite doesn’t take itself very seriously (which is a good thing), and it ends with an interplay between festive horns (in the fashion of “Mona Mona”) and fat synthesizer solo. It is a great short suite that showcases the gamut of PC’s musical exploration. The album ends with “Ivy Covered Walls”, a relaxing ballad that really does not do much, but it is excellent in its minimalism. It is a great cooling down move after the busy pace that starts with the outro of “On the Line”.
Peter Cetera’s first album is an excellent album, one that I would perhaps call one of his best solo albums. The songwriting and arrangements, mostly done by PC himself, are excellent. The album itself seems to be divided into two parts; if you want big 80s AOR (adult-oriented rock) sound, go with the first four tracks, but if you want more organic, band-oriented and fluid sound, go with the rest of the album. I myself prefer the second part, but the first part is well done and was, at the time, the more commercial draw of the album. Too bad the album wasn’t promoted enough by the record label, presumably in fear of PC hitting it big by himself, and it was almost totally eclipsed by PC’s sophomore effort five year later.
If you are a self-confessed lover of Peter Cetera’s music but you missed this album for whatever reason, you should listen to this album; you might end up not liking the album too much for its too early-80s sound (particularly the first four tracks) or the lack of uplifting ballads PC was later known for, but you will surely acknowledge that he was a very inventive songwriter and a damn fine rock singer. If you do not like Peter Cetera’s music in general for its saccharine and AORish content, this album might not change your mind, but it might refresh you with some interesting things that Cetera did at the very beginning of his solo career. Speaking of AORish, the second part of this review will deal with Cetera’s second, and more successful, solo album, Solitude/Solitaire. See you then!
Bee Gees 1st was released fifty years ago yesterday. Contrary to its own title, it was not the Bee Gees’ first long-play or full-length release. It was titled and marketed as such to mark the then-quintet’s (the three brothers and two other unrelated musicians) first foray into the international music market, following their considerable success in the brothers’ adopted homeland Australia with a string of singles and a couple of long-plays.
As an album released in both the US and the UK in 1967, it was facing stiff creative competition from many great albums also released in the same year (just look at Robert Christgau’s list of influential 1967 albums (https://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/rs/albums1967-07.php); How dare he missed July and not included 1st?), including that little album called Sgt. Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band just released in the preceding month of June. However, the singles persevered and the Bee Gees went on to become pop sensations themselves as the hits kept coming.
1st also marked the Bee Gees’ first taste at international pop stardom, with the singles taken off the album charting highly in many places, including the now-classic “Holiday”, “New York Mining Disaster 1941”, “To Love Somebody”, and “I Can’t See Nobody”. The longevity of these singles and the brothers’ subsequent chart success have somewhat overshadowed the excellence of the rest of the album, which showcases that the brothers were an energetically psychedelic songwriting powerhouse.
1st is certainly not a very unified and conceptual effort compared to the likes of Sgt. Pepper and the Moody Blues’s Days of Future Passed, but it is a journey through the many creative possibilities that the brothers explored throughout the album. The album opens with “Turn of the Century”, a note on the fascination of the late Victorian era accompanied with a clever orchestration and studio production that imparts an old record sound; Robin Gibb’s trembling voice only strengthens this image. The bleak and haunting yet beautiful melody of “Holiday” soon follows. Just after “Holiday” ends with a cold “dee dee dee dee dee”, a loud drum fill suddenly segues into “Red Chair Fade Away” , a short psychedelic trip, with odd time signatures and far out lyrics. “One Minute Woman” is a sappy ballad that shouldn’t have had any place in the album, but somehow it just works thanks to Barry Gibb’s excellent delivery. This is again contrasted with the following “In My Own Time” which hails back to the garage-y sound they explored in Australia combined with a certain strain of Revolver/Rubber Soul Beatlesque influence. Bringing the contrast game even further, the album continues with the eerie “Every Christian Lion-hearted Man Will Show You” which opens with a haunting Mellotron intro and Barry Gibb singing in Latin in a very low register, resembling a Gregorian chant, which is then broken off by guitar strumming and a clever three-part harmony melody. Up to this point, it is evident that the brothers (particularly Barry and Robin) excelled at any kind of form they experimented in, had two magnificent singers in Barry and Robin (whose unique voice is further explored in “Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts”, a Kinks-ish tune), and had a strong three-part harmony (with Maurice giving the ample low end to the two singers) which would soon become their trademark characteristic.
“New York Mining Disaster 1941” continues the bleak but beautiful approach of “Holiday”, and adds an interesting narrative quality through its lyrics of a monologue of a person trapped in a mine shaft, inspired by actual mining disasters. At this point, it can also be concluded that Barry and Robin are lyricists who took very interesting, rather unusual points of view in their often narrative lyrics, which was also evident in the following “Cucumber Castle”, a rather puzzling story of a person and his attachment to his property, accompanied by a dramatic orchestration. “To Love Somebody” and “I Can’t See Nobody” prove that the then-current proto-psychedelic wave wasn’t the Bee Gees’ only influence. These were certainly influenced by that decade’s soul music and R&B, particularly Motown; it is interesting to hear that the former song showcases Barry at his most soulful, while the latter portrays Robin in a very similar light. Between these two is “I Close My Eyes” a very catchy and enjoyable psychedelic romp. “Please Read Me” follows the same vein as “Red Chair” but with the vocal harmony sustained throughout the song. The album ends with the excellent “Close Another Door” which starts out with Robin’s lamenting voice which suddenly burst into a rocking middle, and ends tastefully in orchestration and Robin’s majestic ad-libbed cadenza.
1st is a truly swirling journey from start to end. It is an album I would definitely recommend to people starting to get interested in psychedelic music, people who appreciate crafty songwriting and harmony singing, and even casual Bee Gees listeners who want to find out more than the brothers’ usual One Night Only set. It is also an album from 1967 I would definitely recommend among many other great albums released in that very crowded year in popular music in English.
Satu hal yang dulu saya impikan untuk dilakukan di Amerika Serikat dan sekarang sering saya lakukan adalah adalah thrift shopping, berburu barang-barang bekas (dan terkadang baru) dengan harga sangat miring di berbagai tempat. Di Lawrence, Kansas tempat saya tinggal, terdapat beberapa thrift stores, toko-toko yang khusus menjual barang-barang sumbangan dengan harga miring, misalnya jaringan nasional seperti Goodwill dan Salvation Army serta pula toko-toko lokal seperti St. John’s Rummage Shop dan Social Service League. Sebagian hasil penjualan barang-barang ini umumnya disumbangkan untuk program-program kemanusiaan seperti pengentasan kemiskinan dan pencegahan dan penyembuhan penyakit.
Akan tetapi, thrifting tidak hanya berhenti di thrift stores saja. Ada banyak kesempatan untuk berburu barang-barang murah dengan harga sangat miring di tempat-tempat lain, semisal di garage sale yang bisa jadi diadakan oleh perorangan atau komunitas pada akhir pekan. Garage sale jadi semacam kegiatan akhir pekan favorit bagi kami, berkunjung ke garasi tetangga yang menjual sebagian barang yang sudah tidak digunakannya lagi dengan harga sangat murah dan terkadang bisa ditawar.
Bisnis ritel di Amerika Serikat saat ini melesu dan thrifting menjalar ke toko-toko yang akan bangkrut. Toko-toko yang akan tutup ini umumnya melakukan liquidation sale, menjual semua aset dengan harga sangat miring. Salah satu jaringan department store yang sudah bangkrut di Lawrence adalah Hastings, yang sempat saya kunjungi pada bulan Oktober lalu sebelum tutup selamanya pada bulan November. Yang akan tutup berikutnya sepertinya adalah jaringan toko pakaian JC Penney, yang saat ini sedang melakukan liquidation sale.
Saya berusaha untuk tidak menyia-nyiakan kesempatan thrifting ini dengan mengoleksi musik dalam format CD. Mengapa CD? Tentunya karena CD lebih mudah ditemui di Amerika Serikat daripada kaset, yang banyak saya koleksi di Indonesia. Harga CD di thrift stores pun lebih bersahabat, umumnya berkisar hanya dari 50 sen hingga 2 dolar saja per CD, dan di garage sale bisa jadi malah lebih murah, bahkan untuk album yang bisa dibilang langka, setidaknya langka bagi saya yang tidak pernah menemukan album tersebut di Indonesia. Sebagai pendengar musik rock klasik, tujuan utama saya dalam berburu CD adalah album-album yang rock 60an dan 70an yang kerap dianggap klasik, tetapi saya pun terkadang juga membeli album-album yang menurut saya menarik atau punya nilai emosional dan nostalgik.
Saya pertama kali berburu CD di Hastings, toko yang saya sebut di atas, sekitar sebulan sebelum toko itu tutup. Seluruh koleksi CD diobral dengan harga mulai dari 80 sen saja. Berikut ini adalah beberapa CD yang saya peroleh di Hastings, selain juga beberapa DVD, buku komik, dan pakaian.
Blood, Sweat and Tears – Child Is Father to the Man (1968, versi rilis CD 2000)
Album ini adalah salah satu album yang telah lama masuk ke dalam daftar album yang paling ingin saya miliki, dan saya menemukannya di Hastings dengan harga hanya sedolar saja! Ini adalah album pertama Blood, Sweat and Tears, band yang didirikan oleh Al Kooper yang awalnya populer karena suara organ yang ikonik di single elektrik pertama Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”, padahal Al Kooper sendiri awalnya adalah seorang gitaris. Di Indonesia, Blood, Sweat and Tears dikenal pertama kali lewat lagu “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” yang bluesy, single pertama dari album ini. Akan tetapi, album ini lebih dari sekadar blues dan suara organ Hammond. Ini mungkin adalah salah satu album rock paling eksploratif dengan sentuhan orkestra, blues, jazz, aroma psikedelik yang kental, dan seksi tiup yang integral (sebelum Chicago datang setahun kemudian). Ini adalah album yang unik dan mungkin terbaik dalam sejarah Blood, Sweat and Tears, karena setelah ini Al Kooper memilih mundur dari band yang didirikannya dan Blood, Sweat and Tears memilih jalur yang lebih komersial tetapi tidak pernah seinovatif ini.
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson 40th Anniversary Edition (1969, versi rilis CD 2009)
Ketika saya melihat album ini di rak Hastings, saya hampir berteriak, seperti lukisan Barry Godber yang menjadi sampul album ini. In the Court of the Crimson King edisi khusus 40 tahun, 2 CD, baru hanya seharga $1.78 pula! Ini adalah album yang cukup sulit didapat di Indonesia, yang ketika tersedia pun umumnya harganya cukup mahal. Bagi para pendengar rock progresif, ini adalah salah satu album pelopor dalam eksplorasi progresif. Ini adalah album yang tetap segar dan menua dengan sangat baik; putar “21st Century Schizoid Man” dan sulit untuk tidak mengira bahwa Tool, Porcupine Tree, dan Mars Volta terpengaruh oleh band ini. Hasil remix stereo Steven Wilson (ya, Steven Wilson dari Porcupine Tree) di edisi ini membuat album ini terdengar lebih segar dan detil. Bagi yang menginginkan pengalaman yang lebih dekat dengan versi tahun 1969, CD 2 berisi edisi master orisinil yang pernah dirilis sebelumnya pada tahun 2004.
Kula Shaker – K (1996, edisi CD pertama)
K adalah album yang saya dengar dalam berbagai fase hidup saya sejak saya masih SMP (walaupun pada waktu itu saya masih belum bisa menikmati album ini sepenuhnya) lewat kaset pinjaman dari seorang teman sekelas, tetapi ini juga album yang tidak pernah saya punya dalam format apapun sampai saat ini. Ini adalah album yang masih saya nikmati sampai sekarang, terutama sejak saya membeli CD ini bulan Oktober lalu. Secara musikal, ini adalah rock Inggris (atau Britpop, terserah deh) psikedelik yang sangat bagus dan secara personal, ini adalah album yang penuh nostalgia.
New Kids on the Block – Step by Step (1990, versi rilis CD 2000)
Akhir tahun 1990 bagi saya adalah serial animasi New Kids on the Block di TPI pada Minggu pagi dan video klip “Step by Step” dan “Tonight” di malam hari. Di antara dua tayangan tersebut, saya biasa menghabiskan waktu bermain dengan teman-teman yang kerap berbaju gombrong ala Danny Wood atau Jordan Knight atau bertopi hitam seperti Donnie Wahlberg. Album pertama yang orang tua saya belikan khusus untuk saya adalah album Step by Step dalam format kaset. Walaupun kegemaran saya akan NKOTB tidak berlanjut hingga saya remaja, Step by Step menurut saya masih salah satu album pop terbaik pada masanya dan album boyband terbaik dari segi musik. Ketika saya menemukan album ini dalam format CD di Hastings, tentunya tidak ada pilihan lain selain membelinya (lagipula harganya hanya sedolar)!
Sampai jumpa di artikel berburu CD musik berikutnya dengan CD-CD yang saya temukan di thrift stores!
Selamat Hari Musik Nasional (walaupun agak terlambat)!
Dalam rangka merayakan Hari Musik Nasional 2017, saya mengunggah sebuah lagu berjudul “Senandung Damba Smaradhana.” Sila dengarkan lagu ini dengan meng-klik tombol play pada kotak Soundcloud di bawah ini:
Bagi saya (sebagai pemain musik dan pencipta lagu paruh waktu), tidak ada cara yang lebih pantas untuk merayakan Hari Musik Nasional selain dengan menghormati para tokoh musik yang memengaruhi saya dalam menggubah musik. “Senandung Damba Smaradhana” adalah lagu yang saya tulis sebagai upaya penghormatan tersebut.
Sejak saya mulai bisa mengapresiasi musik bertahun-tahun lalu, saya selalu ingin bisa menulis lagu pop seperti yang dihasilkan dan ditampilkan oleh triumvirat Guruh Soekarno Putra – Chrisye – Yockie Suryoprayogo. Tentu triumvirat paling berbahaya dalam sejarah musik Indonesia menurut saya, Eros Djarot – Chrisye – Yockie Suryoprayogo, telah juga memengaruhi saya dan membentuk selera musik saya, tetapi juga ada senyawa kimiawi yang kuat antara Guruh – Chrisye – Yockie. Komposisi Guruh sangat khas; melodi dan irama lagu-lagunya selalu dipengaruhi musik Bali tetapi dengan cara yang halus dan tidak intrusif (tentunya pasca-Guruh Gipsy). Lirik-lirik lagunya pun khas, walaupun cukup sulit diakses karena ia banyak dipengaruhi kosa kata Sansekerta dan bahasa Bali. Ia adalah prototipe Katon Bagaskara di departemen penulisan lirik.
Sejak menyanyikan “Chopin Larung” di album Guruh Gipsy, Chrisye adalah penafsir mumpuni karya-karya Guruh dan kemungkinan besar adalah penyanyi yang paling sering menyanyikan lagu-lagu Guruh. Di setiap era karir Chrisye, kita selalu menemukan satu karya Guruh Soekarno Putra yang menjadi lagu klasik, dari “Kala Sang Surya Tenggelam” di tahun 1970an, “Sendiri” di tahun 1980an, hingga “Kala Cinta Menggoda” di tahun 1990an. Yockie Suryoprayogo sebagai penata musik dan produser Chrisye di masa awal karirnya (1977-1983), menurut saya juga adalah seorang penafsir Guruh yang mumpuni. Karya Guruh yang pertama ia tafsir untuk album solo pertama Chrisye, Sabda Alam, adalah sebuah pertaruhan. Mereka yang familiar dengan Guruh Gipsy akan mafhum bahwa Yockie merombak ulang secara musikal lagu “Smaradhana”, lagu balada pop penutup album Guruh Gipsy, dan menjadikannya lagu hustle upbeat yang lincah, dengan penekanan pada piano. Karena album Sabda Alam lebih sukses secara komersial dan lebih mudah diakses (karena cukup sering dirilis ulang dalam berbagai format), bagi banyak pendengar Chrisye (termasuk saya), “Smaradhana” versi Sabda Alam adalah perkenalan pertama mereka dengan triumvirat Guruh-Chrisye-Yockie.
Menurut saya, “Smaradhana” adalah lagu jatuh cinta yang sempurna. Irama hustle-nya seolah perlambang lonjakan-lonjakan dalam dada. Progresi kordnya rumit tetapi presentasi lagunya terdengar sederhana dan tidak terdengar pretensius, tetapi juga terdengar progresif di saat yang sama. Fokus suara lagu pada denting piano (dengan sentuhan clavinet/harpsichord pada rif pembuka) dan bel (atau segitiga logam) yang dilatari suara gitar lamat-lamat dengan chorus yang jernih, menyediakan kebeningan seperti seorang yang memandang kekasihnya secara langsung. Lirik lagunya seolah tidak meminta untuk dimengerti (kecuali jika anda ingin dan punya waktu untuk membuka kamus dan buku mitologi Hindu Bali), hanya kata asmara dan cinta yang terdengar jelas, seolah menunjukkan betapa njelimetnya mendeskripsikan pengalaman jatuh cinta; ia sulit diungkapkan dengan kata-kata, dan ketika ia diungkapkan, kata-kata terumitlah yang terlintas.
Dalam kekaguman kepada lagu inilah saya menulis “Senandung Damba Smaradhana.” Saat itu tahun 2005, saya baru saja lulus kuliah dan sedang pula jatuh cinta. Saya ingin menulis lagu cinta, tetapi pengetahuan saya tentang menulis lagu pop sungguh kopong. Selama beberapa tahun ketika kuliah, karena pertemanan dan pergaulan saya lebih banyak terlibat dalam musik yang lebih eksperimental. Pada awalnya, “Senandung Damba Smaradhana” adalah sebuah puisi tanpa nada dan irama yang saya tulis setelah membolak-balik buklet lirik lagu album Sabda Alam, sehingga pengaruh terbesar saya dalam menulis lirik lagu ini adalah Guruh Soekarno Putra dan Junaedi Salat. Saya banyak meminjam kata-kata dalam bahasa Sansekerta dan juga meminjam beberapa karakter dari mitologi Hindu.
Saya mendengarkan lagu “Smaradhana” berulang-ulang dan bahkan kemudian menguliknya sebisa saya, dengan perbendaharaan kord yang terbatas. Ketidaktepatan pengulikan lagu inilah yang kemudian justru menjadi dasar progresi kord untuk lagu “Senandung Damba Smaradhana.” Karena saya tidak bisa menyanyi, maka untuk penampilan lagu ini saya meminta bantuan dari Unoy (Chusnul Chotimah, sekarang vokalis unit reggae solid dari Malang, Tropical Forest) untuk menyanyikannya pada acara syukuran kelulusan saya suatu hari di bulan Oktober 2005. Itulah penampilan pertama dan terakhir dari lagu pop pertama saya (yang saya sangka pun akan jadi lagu pop terakhir saya), setidaknya dalam kurun waktu enam tahun.
Setelah bermusik listrik selama beberapa tahun, saya bosan dan ingin kembali menulis lagu pop. Saya kemudian menulis beberapa lagu, dan kemudian mengajak Dhea untuk menyanyikannya dan juga Rayhan untuk merekamnya dan sekaligus membantu saya dengan aransemen, terutama aransemen vokal. Pada saat itulah, saya berpikir untuk merekam “Senandung Damba Smaradhana”, kali ini dengan suara Dhea, sentuhan synthesizer dan aransemen vokal oleh Rayhan. Proses perekaman vokal lagu ini cukup sulit, terutama karena “liukan” progresi kord di awal lagu membentuk melodi dasar yang kurang lazim untuk musik pop kini, menurut Rayhan. Versi yang saya unggah hari ini direkam pada sesi ketiga rekaman DYA, yang merupakan versi campur aduk dari backing track Oktober 2011, synthesizer dan vokal Desember 2011, dan gitar bulan September 2012. Saat ini saya tengah mengerjakan versi yang kemungkinan besar menjadi versi terakhir dari lagu ini dan bersiap melepaskan keintiman saya dengan “Senandung Damba Smaradhana” yang telah berlangsung hampir 12 tahun. Selamat menikmati!
The Mercy’s are a pop band formed in Medan, Sumatera Utara, Indonesia in the late 60s. They were one of the bands that gained considerable popularity after the wake of Koes Plus. During their heydays in the 70s, they were considered among the top five bands of the era, along with Koes Plus, Panbers, D’lloyd, and the Favourite’s Group. Much like the other four bands, they continue to enjoy lasting success and recognition through a number of hit songs, re-released and remastered over the years by their record label, Remaco. Some of the members of the band have been elevated to legendary status as they charted lasting impact in the history of popular music in Indonesia.
Depending on the sources on the net, The Mercy’s formed in either 1965 or 1969. The band’s name was said to derive from the popular nickname of Mercedes-Benz cars, the Mercy. It was possible that the band formed in 1965, yet they did not fare well until 1969, when they secured a contract for a string of gigs in Malaysia and Singapore. At the time, a great number of Indonesian bands and singers had been contracted for playing in public places in Malaysia and Singapore, sometimes for months. The first of these bands were The Peels, which included future prog luminary Benny Soebardja on guitar, whose tenure in 1967 resulted in a local best-selling live album as well as a handful of singles, mostly covers on Indonesian traditional and popular songs. The trend of Indonesian musicians touring Malaysia and Singapore started from then on to the early 70s, with a number of these bands and singers eventually signing recording deals with international record labels, such as RCA/Victor and Philips.
The line-up that had been set to play in Malaysia comprised founding members Rizal Arsyad (rhythm guitar), brothers Erwin (lead guitar) and Rinto Harahap (bass guitar, vocal), Iskandar (lead vocal, keyboards) and Reynold Panggabean (drums, percussion). Prior to their departure, Iskandar left the band to concentrate more on his studies in medicine. The remaining members of the band rushed to find the replacement and installed Charles Hutagalung to fill in Iskandar’s spot. Charles proved to be a dependable member and soon became key to The Mercy’s success in both performance and recording. The band’s tenure in Malaysia lasted six months, with the band performing covers of Indonesian popular and traditional songs with originals thrown in here and there for good measure. They enjoyed lasting popularity in Malaysia, resulting in some of their albums released by Malaysian labels in the 70s.
Going back to Medan from Malaysia, with cancelled Singaporean tour dates and Charles becoming a full-time member, the band seek to secure a recording contract. Following in the footsteps of Panbers, a fellow Medan band whose first album had made considerable national impact, The Mercy’s made a move to Jakarta in the early 70s. Rizal refused to move with the band and chose to continue his study in Germany.
After a series of sessions, it was clear that the band’s main songwriters were Charles and Rinto, with few contribution from Erwin and Reynold. However, the “leader” of the band was always Erwin Harahap, as was also stated later on the sleeves of their albums. Charles and Rinto each had a fair share of writing both sentimental, slow songs and more upbeat, rock n’ roll tunes which was showcased in their early efforts, particularly in the first two albums (later re-released by Remaco in 2003 as a single-cassette split album). Seeking to diversify their sound, which was by then dominated by Charles’s organ sweeps and Reynold’s percussive attack, the band asked Albert Sumlang, an aspiring saxophone player, to join in. In the band’s first album, Albert’s expressive, soaring and sometimes wailing saxophone work can be heard on a number of songs. Albert also contributed one song to the first album, “Kisah Seorang Pramuria,” one of the band’s career-defining songs.
The band eventually secured a contract with Purnama Records and in 1972, their first album was released to much fanfare. The upbeat songs, such as “Di Pantai”, showcased what The Mercy’s were made of. It was, however, the band’s slower, more melancholic songs that fared better: “Tiada Lagi”, “Kisah Seorang Pramuria” and “Love.” The success of “Tiada Lagi”, their first single, was interrupted by a fellow Medan band, Judas, claiming that the song was theirs. To this day, however, the song still belongs to the Mercy’s back catalogue. “Kisah Seorang Pramuria” was considered to be their runaway success and perhaps their career-defining song. It was the song that people today identify most with The Mercy’s. It has all the trademarks of the band’s career: Charles’s nasal voice and Farfisa riffing, Albert’s meandering saxophone work and the sense of balladry supported by narrative lyrics told in first person which was to become The Mercy’s lasting style. The band also started their trend of inserting a song with English lyrics in their albums with the song “Love”, known for Charles’s and Albert’s emotional delivery on their instruments.
The second album followed a year later with pretty much the same formula and met with pretty much the same success. By the third album, the band had pretty much established a stable formula: lots of the trademark ballads with a few upbeat and jamming-oriented songs such as “Woman” and “Tak Mungkin” sometimes showcasing their rock n’ roll, blues and hustle roots. During this era, the band accumulated a lot of following and was even voted as the most popular band by several magazines and polls, including the poll conducted by the Armed Forces (!), considered the most prestigious popular music poll at the time.
At the height of the band’s popularity, Albert was fired in 1974 shortly after finishing the band’s eighth album, citing personal and musical differences. The band decided that they could go on without Albert and moved on as a quartet. After Albert’s departure, things got more laid back in the band’s quarter, thus allowing Charles to form a short-lived project called Ge & Ge (Genial and Gentlemen), whose musical output was not drastically different from The Mercy’s. The project, however, enjoyed moderate success with the single “Hanya Satu,” which sometimes finds itself amidst a compilation of The Mercy’s songs, despite being performed by an entirely different band. Rinto traced back his Malay and Batak roots and experimented with traditional music. This was evident later in the band’s three volumes of pop Melayu (Malay pop), released perhaps to cash in on the success of Koes Plus’s pop Melayu albums. Koes Plus were The Mercy’s label mates as The Mercy’s switched labels from Purnama to Remaco from their eighth album onwards. However, being more in touch with Malay and Batak musical tradition, The Mercy’s Malay pop outputs were drastically different from Koes Plus’s. While Koes Plus rejected to release a Mandarin-pop-influenced album, The Mercy’s agreed on releasing a Mandarin-pop-styled album, sometime at the end of their recording career. It was at this point also The Mercy’s re-recorded their early hits without Albert, with Charles’s organ and Erwin’s guitar solos replacing Albert’s parts. The session resulted in sleeker and more polished versions of their songs. The results of this session were later used for many of the band’s greatest hits compilation albums, thus diminishing Albert’s role in the eyes of many late listeners of the band except for a handful of songs.
By 1978, it was clear that the band had become a shadow of their former selves. The balladry formula was no longer tried and true, but rather a tired one. Their ballads have become sappier yet less emotional. The return of Albert and the release of their final studio album, Mimpi, did not save them from calling it a day. By late 1978, the members parted ways and minded their own business. Charles chose to pursue his solo career and did not revive Ge & Ge. Rinto and Erwin became songwriters and producers for other musicians, establishing Lollypop Records, with Rinto becoming a more influential figure in pop music. Reynold ventured into the realm of fusion dangdut with his then wife, Camellia Malik, in an outfit called Tarantula. Albert continued on as a session saxophonist and ventured cafes in the Netherlands at times.
Twenty years after the breakup, the band chose to reunite and tour the nostalgia circuit. The reunion resulted in a live album and a karaoke album with old songs in new arrangements. They toured extensively with great success with Charles particularly in good spirits after recovering from stroke. One of their most memorable post-reunion performances was the televised sold out concert at Ancol, where they shared the stage with their contemporaries, D’lloyd and Koes Plus. The band’s newfound success was cut short, however, by Charles’s death in 2001. Realizing that they could never replace Charles, the remaining band members parted ways once again.
The legacy of the band lives on to this day, thanks to Remaco releasing a number of greatest hits albums and inserting the band’s songs into select compilation albums of Indonesian evergreen hits. In 2003, Remaco also remastered and re-released the band’s first six albums, whose rights were previously owned by Purnama Records, finally giving a chance to the younger generation to grasp The Mercy’s original, rawer sound. In January 2005, the band’s Rinto-penned ballad, “Ayah,” was reworked as “Aceh” and released as a single from the charity album for the 2004 tsunami/earthquake disaster in Aceh. The single was performed by a number of well-known Indonesian singers, including Ariel of Peterpan and Candil (then) of Seurieus.
Rinto hinted in an interview that The Mercy’s were never dissolved, but the band’s reunion is rendered improbable due to the apparent absence of Charles and that, at the time, there was nobody suitable enough to replace him. However, the final fate of the band was seemingly sealed by the death of Albert Sumlang in 2009. Concerts to honor The Mercy’s musical legacy have been held sporadically at times, with the latest held in November 2012, joined by Rinto who jammed with the sons of Albert Sumlang.
It is never an understatement to say that The Mercy’s have lasting impact on popular music in Indonesia. Along with Panbers and D’lloyd, they were the main proponents of Malay music influence in Indonesian popular music, which can be traced in a number of Indonesian bands today. The members of The Mercy’s are also astute in continuing their band’s legacy. The Mercy’s were influenced by Batak pop music and they also, in turn, influenced Batak pop music. This was continued by Charles Hutagalung through his activities in Batak pop music circles, making him a respectable figure in the development of Batak pop music. Rinto Harahap almost single-handedly revived Indonesian sentimental pop in early 80s and brought an unprecedented number of mostly female Indonesian sentimental singers to fame. This move has led him to both fame and notoriety. He, along with other producers following in his footsteps, was blamed for over-sentimentalizing pop music, resulting in sappy and counterproductive songs which were banned (!) by the Ministry of Information in the late 80s. However, to many musicians today, Rinto is respected as a great songwriter and producer and his great contribution to The Mercy’s and Indonesian pop music in general has been honored by two tribute albums by younger musicians.