Having unearthed girl-pop delights from France, Sweden, Japan, Italy and Spain in recent years, Ace now turn their attention to the Eastern Bloc with this compilation of female-fronted records from Hungary.
Following a relaxation of the rule that all music must adhere to strict socialist values, and with nearly 40% of Hungary’s population aged 20 or under, by the mid-60s the younger generation was looking to the West for entertainment. Via European radio stations they discovered beat music, which would become the musical style of choice for many budding bands and singers. All musical work was still required to abide by the government’s Prohibited, Permitted and Propagated policy, which restricted lyrics and dress codes that were deemed permissive or subversive, while every song recorded (or performed live) had to be approved by the National Centre for Popular Music. Once approved, artists were allowed to record with accompaniment by the National TV & Radio Orchestra, the Stúdió 11 ensemble, or – as is the case with most tracks here – by one of a select few Hungarian beat groups that were authorised to record at the time.
The KISZ (Hungarian Young Communist League), noting the burgeoning passion for Western music, decided to promote a Hungarian pop culture – where young people could be steered towards performing songs in the national language and with traditional folk instruments. The Táncdalfesztivál, a televised annual song contest set up in 1966, allowed acts to compete live against each other, and proved very popular with viewers. All of the vocalists featured here competed at the Táncdalfesztivál during its initial four-year run.
All Hungarian records were issued on the state-run Qualiton label, often with different acts featured on each side. The most successful artists were afforded picture sleeves for their releases but most were packaged in Qualiton company bags, of which there were scores of exceptionally well-designed variations (see back page for some striking examples). In the mid-60s the company began to prioritise the main girl singers – Sarolta Zalatnay, Kati Kovács and Zsuzsa Koncz – and the groups Illés, Omega and Metro, who between them would dominate the Hungarian music scene for the next few years.
Sarolta Zalatnay kicked off her solo career with a hit record that helped land her a scholarship in London. There she discovered blues and soul music, which would shape the sound of later recordings such ‘Fekete Beat’ backed by Metro. Kati Kovács’ organ-drenched ‘Hazudik A Drága’ with the band Olympiais just one of many choice cuts from a career that spans 20 albums. Like Kati, Zsuzsa Koncz appeared on the TV talent show Ki Mit Tud? before releasing records. She fronted the beat combo Illés, who back her on the gorgeous ‘Keresem A Szót’.
Other highlights here include ‘Ha Csak Egy Fokkal Szebb Az Ördögnél’ by pocket-sized belter Gabi Fenyvesi, ‘Keresek Egy Fiút’ by Mária Wittek, the first performer to don go-go boots and mini skirt on Hungarian TV, and ‘Ez Az Utolsó Randevúnk’ by Éva Nagy, a veritable freakbeat masterpiece.
The collection is available in 24-track CD and 14-track vinyl formats. The CD version comes with a bumper 28-page booklet, and the LP is pressed on 180g transparent red vinyl in an illustrated inner bag – each featuring a picture-packed 7,000-word track commentary by compilers Mick Patrick and Matt Meek.