Minggu lalu dan minggu ini saya rindu sekali pada satu lagu yang dulu sering saya dengarkan waktu saya masih kecil; saking sukanya saya pada lagu itu, ketika alm. bapak merekam suara saya untuk pertama kali, saya nyanyikan lagu itu. Dengan kekuatan YouTube, akhirnya saya temukan lagu yang saya rindukan itu, bahkan sekaligus dalam album orisinalnya yang ditransfer dari piringan hitam dengan cermat oleh bung John Kwa Indonesia, yang sebelumnya dikenal telah pula mengunggah diskografi lengkap Koes Bersaudara dan Koes Plus. Lagu yang saya kangeni adalah lagu pertama di album bertajuk Favourite’s Group Vol(ume) 4, yang dirilis sekitar tahun 1974 (umumnya album-album pop Indonesia pada masa itu tidak berangka tahun).
Seingat saya, lagu ini pertama kali saya dengar bukan dari Volume 4, tapi dari kaset kompilasi bertajuk The Very Best of Favourite’s Group. Almarhum bapak membeli kaset itu karena seleksi lagunya sangat bagus dan lebih banyak berfokus pada formasi klasik Favourite’s Group (dijelaskan sedikit di bawah), formasi yang paling ia suka. Saya mulai ikut-ikutan memutar kaset itu dan menyukai banyak lagu di dalamnya, di antaranya lagu “Aku Tak Berdosa” ini, “Ma Onah”, “Cinta Monyet”, dan “Cari Kawan Lain”.
Jadi, siapa saja sebenarnya anggota formasi klasik Favourite’s Group? Favourite’s Group pertama didirikan pada tahun 1972 atas cetusan A. Riyanto, pencipta lagu, pemain kibor, dan produser veteran yang telah menulis banyak lagu sukses pada 1960an dan awal 1970an dan mengiringi beberapa penyanyi di studio rekaman bersama band-nya 4 Nada; beberapa penyanyi yang paling sukses ditanganinya adalah Tetty Kadi dan Arie Koesmiran. Formasi pertama Favourite’s Group bisa dikatakan adalah 4 Nada yang berganti nama, dan ditambah Mus Mulyadi sebagai penyanyi utama (walau A. Riyanto ikut pula bernyanyi beberapa lagu). Formasi pertama hanya bertahan sampai album pertama mereka usai direkam. Is Haryanto (dram) dan Harry Toos (gitar) bergabung untuk rekaman album kedua, dan Mus Mulyadi mengisi posisi gitar bas, instrumen yang ia mainkan sewaktu masih bergabung dengan band Ariesta Birawa. Tommy WS (bas) bergabung untuk album ketiga dan seterusnya, dan lengkaplah formasi klasik Favourite’s Group. Formasi ini awalnya hanya merekam dua album, Volume 3 dan 4, sebelum Mus Mulyadi memutuskan untuk fokus bersolo karir. Formasi ini kemudian bereuni pada tahun 1978 dan merilis beberapa album hingga pengunduran diri Harry Toos pada tahun 1989.
Lagu “Aku Tak Berdosa” dari Volume 4 ini mungkin lagu Favourite’s Group’s yang paling (atau mungkin salah satu yang paling) psikedelik dan bergitar. Lagu ini dibuka dengan melodi gitar sederhana yang berulang selama setengah menit yang mendadak dipotong oleh distorsi gitar satu not, diikuti dengan gitar ritem yang terdengar mirip “Hi Ho Silver Lining”-nya Jeff Beck Group. Lagu kemudian berlanjut dengan lirik utama yang dinyanyikan oleh A. Riyanto dan Mus Mulyadi, lirik dan melodi yang membius saya sewaktu saya kelas satu SD dan memutar kaset ini hampir setiap hari sepulang sekolah. Refrain lagu ini dinyanyikan oleh A. Riyanto yang sepertinya terlalu memaksakan pita suaranya untuk mencapai nada tinggi, tapi menurut saya justru inilah bagian paling krusial sekaligus paling menggelikan dari lagu ini. Bagian refrain lagu ini kemudian mendadak pindah ke bagian bridge yang sangat sepi, dan sangat psikedelik, sebelum kembali lagi ke refrain. Lagu ini diakhiri dengan solo gitar Harry Toos hingga akhirnya menghilang dan selesai. Singkatnya, ini adalah lagu keren dan unik dalam katalog lagu Favourite’s Group; lagu ini cenderung lebih keras dengan aransemen yang lebih longgar, cukup berbeda dibandingkan lagu-lagu balada mereka yang cenderung simfonik atau lagu-lagu upbeat mereka yang terasa lebih ringan dan umumnya dipengaruhi unsur musik keroncong atau dolanan Jawa.
Selama bertahun-tahun sejak tahun 1989 saya berusaha memahami maksud lirik lagu ini (lihat di bawah), tetapi terlalu banyak interpretasi bermunculan di benak saya. Apakah ini lagu tentang dosa asal (original sin)? Apakah ini lagu tentang kepolosan manusia di tengah alam, dan kemudian membandingkan dirinya dengan kepolosan alam? Apakah lagu ini ungkapan terima kasih pada Tuhan atas anugerah hidup dan penebusan dari dosa? Entahlah. Saat ini saya sebaiknya menikmati saja lagu keren ini.
Aku Tak Berdosa
Siapa yang berdosa
Tak dapat ku berkata
Siapa yang bersalah
Siapakah harus berdosa?
Siapakah harus dicela
Bila rambut panjang terurai?
Mengapa tidak kau restui?
Mengapa tidak kau hayati
Indah dan bebas dan alam ini?
Pohon lebat daunnya
Begitu pun rambutku
Telah diciptakanNya sejak dahulu
Di mana tempatku berdiri
Indahnya alam kunikmati
Syukur pada Tuhan Yang Esa
(Ulang *, Bridge, Refrain 2, dan *)
This week I’ve been longing to listen to a song of my childhood, a song I was so fond of that when my father recorded my voice for the first time on our first tape recorder when I was a first grader, it was the voice of me singing this song. With the magic of YouTube, I found somebody had digitally transferred the album the song is on from a very good vinyl copy. The credit goes to John Kwa Indonesia, the uploader. The song is the first track on this album called Favourite’s Group Vol(ume) 4, which was released some time in 1974.
But I remember that I didn’t hear this song for the first time from this particular album, but rather from a compilation album called The Very Best of Favourite’s Group. My father bought the album in 1989 because he loved the selection of songs, which are basically the Favourite Group’s songs that he grew up with. I began playing the album over and over mainly because of two songs, “Ma Onah” (perhaps more on this later) and this song.
So, let’s get things straight first: who were the Favourite’s Group? The Favourite’s Group was somewhat of an early Indonesian pop supergroup of the 1970s. It formed in 1972 out of veteran (even at that time) songwriter, keyboardist, and studio A&R person A. Riyanto’s idea of turning the backing band of his recording studio into an independent, hitmaking pop sensation. The band’s first album was instantly successful due to Riyanto’s presence and immaculate pop songwriting and production, Mus Mulyadi’s strong and unique vocal work, and the band’s high degree of musicianship, owing to the fact that it consisted of experienced session musicians. The original incarnation of the band didn’t stick around for too long, leaving A. Riyanto and Mus Mulyadi to complete the line-up with what is considered the classic Favourite’s Group line-up with Harry Toos on guitar, Is Haryanto on drums, and later Tommy WS on bass guitar by the time their third album rolled. It was unusual for Indonesian bands of the early 1970s to title their album, so each album is only called a volume with a corresponding number, so the Favourite’s Group first album is called Volume 1, second album Volume 2, and so on. The classic line-up recorded Volume 3 and 4 before Mus Mulyadi decided to focus on his solo career.
The song “Aku Tak Berdosa” from Volume 4 is perhaps the Favourite’s Group’s most psychedelic-sounding and guitar-centric song. The song starts with a simple clean electric guitar melody that goes on for about half a minute before getting abruptly cut by a long single note on distorted electric guitar, followed by a rhythm guitar pattern reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and then the main verse of the song, sung in harmony by A. Riyanto and Mus Mulyadi. The melody of this main verse was the melody that captivated me as a kid for whatever reason. The chorus of the song is sung by A. Riyanto attempting to reach a high note and straining his vocal cords, but I always find this part fitting albeit a little cringey. The chorus then breaks down into a quieter middle eight section before coming full force into the chorus with different lyrics. The song ends with a guitar solo that fades out. In short, it was a great and unique song in the Favourite’s Group catalogue; it is an almost all-out rocking psychedelic and somewhat loose track in the band’s usually tight and more symphonic approach to their music arrangements.
And by the way, the lyrics just don’t seem to make sense while the title means “I’m Not Sinful” or “I’m Free of Sins”, or “I’m Innocent”; if you’re new to the Indonesian language, the lyrics will sound even more like random jumbled phrases. Is this a song about a person freed from the original sin? Is this a song about the innocence of man amidst nature or compared to the innocence of nature? Is this a song of gratitude to God for the gift of life and innocence? Was the band on something when they wrote and recorded this song? I don’t know. What’s important is that this song is awesome and brings back good memories.
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!
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!
Janto Diablo just added me as a friend on facebook and we had a short chat afterwards. And my heart leapt up. He sang lead on two songs, shared vocal duties on two more songs, played bass and flute and provided backing vocals in Shark Move’s only album, Ghede Chokra’s, released in perhaps 1970 or 1971. His outstanding contribution to the album is often overshadowed by the fact that the band was directed by prog luminary Benny Soebardja, who would go on to break new grounds and scored longer success with the proto-prog-metal outfit Giant Step.
The songs that he sang, the bluesy and improvisational “Harga” (in which Janto also played a wicked flute solo) and the anti-drug song (!) “Madat” are perhaps two of the best rock ballads ever to grace my life. The bass guitar riff and solo of “Evil War” will be forever etched in my mind. His high-pitched, bluesy vocal work is tinged here and there with Sundanese intonation and inflection, making his voice all the more unique.
Janto Diablo (born Janto Suprapto) hailed from Bandung and has been living in the city ever since. He started his career in music in the 1960s. Later in the decade, Janto formed and performed with Diablo, a rather tenacious yet short-lived rock band. Shortly thereafter, he became known as Janto Diablo. The nickname was carried over to his next band, Shark Move, after Diablo folded in early 1970. Shark Move folded too only over a year later, after some of the members left, including keyboardist Soman Lubis who later joined aspiring God Bless. Benny Soebardja eventually called it a day for the band and moved on to form Giant Step. After Shark Move, Janto was involved in a number of musical projects before settling on working for Aktuil production house, as well as having a long backstage career as a stage manager and later as a concert promoter. One of the concerts that he managed early in his career was the bustling Deep Purple Concert in 1975 in Istora Senayan, Jakarta.
35 years after they called it quits, Shark Move reunited in a tribute to the late Gito Rollies, former lead singer of fellow Bandung band The Rollies and a legendary artist on his own right. Shark Move went on to perform in a full-scale reunion concert, titled Shark on the Move (a reference to Giant Step’s album, Giant on the Move, and the fact that the reunion featured also several songs by Giant Step) featuring a fixed Shark Move line-up along with performances from former Giant Step members and Benny Soebardja’s sons playing an expanded repertoire of Shark Move and Giant Step songs. Shark Move still performs occasionally up to this day with revolving line-ups, with Benny and Janto as the mainstays. Amazingly, Janto’s voice has changed very little after more than forty years. He still sings “Madat” with the same bravado found in Ghede Chokra’s:
Kini telah kuniatkan
Persetan dengan goda dan rintangan
Segala omong kosong tentang kasih dan sayang
Persetan dengan cinta dan perdamaian
‘Kan kuserbu musuh biar seribu
‘Kan kubunuh, ‘kan kubunuh, ‘kan kubunuh…
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.