Classic Rock in Eastern Europe Part 2: The Baltic Countries

Let’s get started with a little geography and history. The Baltic Sea is in Northern Europe. When maps talk about the Baltic Countries, they are usually referring to three countries, even though more than three border the Baltic Sea. So what are these three countries? Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

It is debatable if they are part of Eastern Europe or Northern Europe, but there is one thing that these three countries have in common with a lot of Eastern European countries, they were colonised by Russia. These countries were invaded and forced to join the Soviet Union. They weren’t independent countries until the early 90s. These articles: here, here, and here have some interesting information about the independence movements in 1990 and 1991 and what became of these countries afterward. Things have changed a lot since then, and the three countries have joined the EU and have capitalist economies.

Speaking of debate over what part of Europe should the Baltic States be classified as, here is an opinion piece from the Guardian, written by a journalist named Agata Pyzik. She writes about how the desire to be considered Western Europe is so they can forget the history of Russian occupation and draws parallels to her experience in Poland, where some prefer to call the country Central European. She talks about the stereotypes of the West and the East and how Eastern culture is stigmatised and even then, the border between West and East has changed so much over the centuries. I also found another article by a German blogger who is living in Lithuania talking about why he thinks Lithuania is part of Eastern Europe. Some may agree with these opinions, others may disagree. Feel free to have your say in the comments section.

Some people think that the term Eastern European, as it is used is too broad and too generalising because there are differences between the countries. Eastern Europe itself is a pretty large region and can be further divided into more regions.

Like anywhere else, there is a following of rock music in the Baltic Countries. In Vilnius, Lithuania, you’ll find a Frank Zappa statue. Music festivals can be found in all three countries.

Without further ado, let’s get to the fun part and talk about the rock bands! Very little information was found on the bands, but you’ll find a good amount of music here, just less commentary than in previous blog posts.

Estonia: If you’re interested in reading more in detail about how the Beatles impacted music in the 60s in Estonia, check out this academic paper. As the author said, it is very difficult to find much information on music from the 60s and 70s in this part of Europe because little was written about it before the late 80s, during Perestroika.

Mikronid: Band founded in 1965. They were notably on a TV show called “Nota Bene”. A drummer named Gunnar Graps was part of the band in the late 60s and early 70s. I also like the song “Sulle,” has a great garage rock organ sound to it.

Uno Naissoo: Estonian jazz rock composer. He directed many jazz ensembles and was a teacher and academic, writing papers on jazz harmony. He released an album called Mälestusi Kodust in 1978. On that album you’ll find a mix of jazz with funk, folk, and psychedelic rock. Some tracks in particular that I liked are “Kapriis”, “Marss-Eksprompt”, “Kontrastid”, and “Valss-Grotesk”.

Optimistid: 60s pop rock band formed in 1965. They were one of the first Estonian rock bands and were rather successful because they had the opportunity to play shows in other parts of the USSR, such as Moscow and Georgia. The band broke up only four years later, in 1969. It is hard to find actual albums and singles, but there are compilation albums available. The song below is one of their best known songs. It is very Merseybeat sounding. The following video is of an instrumental called “Boogie” and in the video you’ll see a slideshow of pictures of Tallinn in the 60s, during Soviet rule. Other songs of theirs like “Jaan läheb jaanitulele” are more like very early Beatles songs.

Ornament: Folk inspired hard rock band founded by students. They remind me a bit of Led Zeppelin. Gunnar Graps was also a leader in this band, playing drums and singing. Very little of their music can be found on YouTube, but one other song I liked was “Meie teisikud”.

Psycho: Prog rock band that utilised a lot of improvisation and odd time signatures in their music. They were founded in 1973. Some critics compare them to Wetton era King Crimson. I think their music reminds me a bit of early Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

Ruja: Hard rock/prog rock band. According to Mel Huang’s article on the band, their music is experimental and influenced by English prog rock, which they listened to on bootleg cassette tapes. He also added that they performed in Estonian, which made them stand out in the Estonian music scene because most bands performed instrumentals because of the KGB. They are widely considered one of Estonia’s most influential bands and played throughout the 70s and 80s. Videos of their songs on YouTube have gotten hundreds of thousands of views, so they are still remembered to this day. Below you’ll find two songs that show two sides of their music, a softer prog song and a more metal sounding prog song. More of their songs are softer sounding with a classical music influence than metal/hard rock sounding.

Suuk: Psychedelic-prog band from the 70s. They only released one album from 1976. They were formed in Tartu in 1970. Their music sounds a bit more 60s than 70s, in my opinion. The song “Peer Gynt” reminds me a bit of The Nice and ELP.

Tõnis Mägi & Andres Valkoneni Ansambel: Very little is known about this group, but the two people in the group name are Tõnis Mägi and Andres Valkonen. The former is considered an Estonian rock legend and the disco sounding song “Olimpiada” became a hit in the Soviet Union during the 1980 Moscow Olympics. His discography is pretty diverse. He covered a couple of songs that English speakers would know like Stevie Wonder’s “Ebony Eyes” in the late 70s and Shocking Blue’s “Venus”. Andres Valkonen is now a music composer for TV and film. The song below is very psychedelic sounding and was released within the past 20 years on a compilation CD.

Latvia: 

Rock bands didn’t become common enough in Latvia until the 80s. From my searches online, I couldn’t find very much information on Latvian rock bands from the 60s or 70s, but there are a few rock videos from Latvia in the 70s.

Dzeltenie Pastnieki: This song below is very ska sounding and I thought it was something to be included even if it is from 1981. I think it’s very cool that ska had an influence all around the world and made an impact as far away as the Baltics.

Eolika: Formed in the late 60s in Riga. They were influenced by 60s pop bands like The Beach Boys. Over the decades they were around, they changed their sound up a lot. They went from pop music to a more funky disco influenced sound in the early 80s.

Menuets: One of the best known Latvian rock bands. They formed in 1968. They have a pop sound with some organs. Their sound is a mix of progressive rock and 60s pop music.

Pete Anderson: Rockabilly musician from Latvia. As a teenager he fell in love with rock music from America. He had a following in Latvia in the 60s and he was in a few bands. In the 70s he was supposed to perform at a festival in England, but authorities prevented him from leaving the country. He faced many threats in his country because of the music he played. He still plays shows to this day.

Prusaku Ansamblis: A short lived blues rock band from the mid 70s. They released only one album and it is considered one of the best Latvian rock albums.

Lithuania:

Lithuanian teenagers would listen to Radio Luxembourg and get smuggled vinyl from Western Europe to get their rock and roll fix. The first staging of Jesus Christ Superstar in Europe was in Lithuania in 1971. There was still government crackdowns on rock and roll in Lithuania and this is why many records from Lithuanian bands from the 60s and 70s have not survived. It wasn’t until the 80s that rock music got very big.

One channel that has a lot of Lithuanian music from the 60s and 70s is this one.

Aitvarai: Psychedelic rock band from the late 60s to the mid 70s. They did a few songs in English like “I’m Believing You,” but I think their English covers are not as worth listening to.

Antaneliai: Garage rock band. Other songs I recommend listening to of theirs are “Riksmas”, “Improviz” (I’m guessing this is an improvisation track – it has a funky sound to it, I like it),

Bitės: Not much information can be found on them. The band were active from the late 60s to the late 70s and have a pop sound.

Eglutės: All girl big beat band active from 1968-1971.

Gėlių Vaikai: Hippie rock band from Vilnius. In English, the name translates to “Flower Children”. They started off doing covers of songs by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and The Doors and later on moved on to original material.

Ginterėliai: Rock band from Kaunas that formed in the mid 1960s. They got rather famous and got to tour internationally, going as far away as England and The Congo.

Kertukai: Big beat band from Kaunas. Like neighbouring Poland, British Invasion inspired bands were described as Big beat. According to the description on the video below, Kertukai were the first Lithuanian guitar group to be publicly noticed in their country’s media. They even appeared in movies. The band lasted from 1966-1971. If you like The Troggs and The Zombies, you might like the song below. In fact, you’ll hear a Troggs cover “With a Girl Like You” (The Sha-la-la-la-lee reminds me a bit of the Small Faces, not sure if they influenced them), in this medley.  A lot of their other songs are more soft pop or acoustic sounding. In this link, you can find pictures and more information about the band.

 

 

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