The Rattles The Witch b/w Geraldine 45 (Decca Yugoslavia, 1970)
Who are the Rattles? Glad you asked. The Rattles were only the top German rock’n roll band through the 1960s. The band started in Hamburg, Germany in 1960...before the arrival of the Beatles. They were the first German band to play the Star Club. They had a string of hits in Germany. They starred in their own movie. By the Seventies, they had evolved from a beat group to something that sounds like pre-glitter/glam rock. In 1970, they scored their first international hit with The Witch. The Rattles have quite a history but until a Dutch record fiend sent me this gem, I had no idea they even existed.
Empire is a funny thing. Powerful countries cruise the world over, conquer and plunder, and never look back. No one can argue that during the 20th Century and into the 21st that, because of empire, the most pervasive culture in the world is American. Our media - from television to music - rules. Go to nearly any country and you will find the cultural stamp of the United States. However, come to the United States and its a chore to find any culture not stamped American. Even Germans playing American rock’n roll get ignored simply because they are foreign.
I am not making a judgment here. I refuse to run down American culture - there is plenty of it that I love. I also refuse to make the claim that American culture rules the world because it is superior. I understand that power has privilege and part of that privilege is shoving one’s culture down whomever’s throat one feels like. I realize that pushing one’s culture on to others is a way to socialize the conquered and control them. I also know that there are plenty of people worldwide who spend a lot of money acquiring things American. There are also many people who are not American - the Germans and the Japanese, for instance - who make a lot of money from this arrangement.
As far as music goes, the effect tends to be negative. First, native music tend to get run down in the march of McBritney. Young people abandon folk music for whatever is hot in America. The result are Thai boy bands, Colombian Madonas, and Shakira. Before the rise of MTV and hardcore punk, many people tried to blend their native music with rock’n roll. Listen to Brazil’s Os Mutantes or Turkey’s Erkin Koray for examples of this mix. Nowadays, non-Anglo/American rock’n roll tends to be pretty nondescript whether it be disco pop, speed metal, or emo.
But what of these sound-a-like rock’n roll performers? Other than Shakira - whose success in the US is the result of a Pepsi ad - can you name me one international rock star? Okay, Bjork. Keep going. Abba, yes. After that the names get smaller and smaller and smaller. Sure, I know Trio and I know Kraftwerk and I know Franciouse Hardy and I know Sepultura. I also know that the more names you throw at me the more obscure they will be. The further back in time you go, the greater the chance my reply will be, “Huh?” There has been thousands of great international rock’n roll bands, bands who were big in their native country, but, because imperialism dictates that the Empire’s stars shine brightest, we are more familiar with the Starlight Vocal Band than we are Serge Gainsbourg...or the Rattles.
The Rattles’ 1970 international hit, The Witch, is one of glitter/glam rock’s classics. It starts off with a killer, clean guitar strumming a Bo Diddley riff and then a massive wah-wah kicks in and dominates the rest of the song with its accented blasts. The vocals sound very much like Sweet. The chorus is followed by a string section, timpani, and insane witch cackle building to a climax and then the Bo Diddley guitar starts up clean again. Repeat for two and a half minutes and then fade.
The flip, Geraldine, begins with one of the punchiest, funkiest drum breaks ever put on record. Piano and guitar trade riffs in a way that brings to mind T-Rex and the Konspiracy-era Kinks. There is a great horn/keyboard riff that sounds a bit Baroque. For about three minutes the song grooves.
The Rattles play two dynamic rock’n roll classics as good as anything that we think of as oldies. Other than the Germans and a handful of other Euros, who knows that?
It’s the scourge of empire, I tell you!
(If the references in the above read a bit dated that is because I wrote it in 2002.)
Believe me I don't mind criticism (though I really dont care if I offend people); however, please make sure what you think I've written is what I actually HAVE written before you start pounding words out on your keyboard. Kapeesh?
The second part of my criticism of American cultural dominance is being overlooked: Americans, including those in the music industry, assume that Americans will only listen to music that has its roots in American pop culture, ie rock, hip hop, American pop folk, "urban" contemporaty, new "country," etc. therefore what we are exposed to tends to fit within those confines, no matter what country of origin. This has changes a little bit and the internet has made things like this blog much easier to do and music easier to share. I mean, it is certainly better than the 1960s & 1970s. That "US-centrism" means not having access to music from other places or not knowing it even exists.
Or let me us a much crudder example: During the Cold War the popular American image of the Russian woman was that of a hag, a short, fat, cabbage smelling babushka wrapped in rags. Growing up, I did not know that there were beautiful Russian women. Logically, there should be. I mean we saw beautiful Russian-American women. As soon as the Wall fell, beautiful Russian women appeared. From where? We were told they didn't exist.
Point is politics and empire control what impression those both inside and outside the empire see, hear, and understand.
The Rattles single is awesome. But an aside question on German music: '77+ punk swept over Europe, but name a prominent German punk band (The Pack, PVC...ah.. Nina Hagen, Nena (of the Stripes)..Die Toten Hosen?????). Was it a cultural thing? Are we missing any rad unknown bands. Please, a rant.