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Illés Zenekar: Nehéz Az Út (Qualiton, 1968)

29 Mar

A swirling psychedelic road song perfectly attuned to whatever traces of the Summer of Love had managed to cross the Iron Curtain, Nehéz Az Út (Hard Road) was the title track on the first Illés LP,  Nehéz Az Út: Illés Story (Exmusic), released on Hungary’s Qualiton label in 1968. The band’s earliest roots lie in a family cabaret and folk outfit formed around 1957 but the classic Illés line up came together in 1965, at which time they also started to write their own songs. Some of these appeared on the soundtrack of the semi-documentary film Ezek a Fiatalok (These Young People) in 1967. That film also featured two other key Hungarian bands of the late 1960s, Metro (often found backing Sarolta Zalatnay) and Omega, often considered a Hungarian Rolling Stones to Illés’ Hungarian Beatles: in the film, Illés perform both by themselves and on several numbers with the renowned singer Koncz Zsuzsa. Illés released five LPs between 1968 and their eventual dissolution in 1973, but returned in the early 1980s and have remained active, one way and another, ever since, despite the death of founding member Lajos Illés in 2007. Their distinctive sound often incorporates folk elements into pop songs and hard rock structures and in their time they toured and recorded in East Germany and much of Western Europe, including the UK. It was while on a UK tour in 1969 that the band made mildly critical comments about Hungary’s government during a radio interview, leading to a 12 month ban on further recording and touring on their return – but if anything, this forced absence ensured even greater popularity than before when their next recording finally appeared in 1971. Nehéz Az Út itself seems to skirt ambiguous territory, part standard song of hard travelling, part suggestive dream of flight into exile. The Hungarian lyric can be read here and the song can be heard here

Nehéz az út (Hard Road)

(after Bródy János/Szörényi Levente, 1968)

The sky is grey. I’m tired of traveling with this wind.
Light streams in my windscreen, rushes me along a road
where distances endlessly open out to a far horizon.
Give me strength to leave. No one can help me now.

I have long since lost all the friends I once knew.
I’m leaving, though it’s hard, and keep driving on.
Hope lives in me, but, oh, I need all your help.
Give me strength to leave. I need you to help me now.

It’s so hard to keep driving with the wind at your back.
This journey ends only when I get somewhere.
If I arrive? Who knows? I might be there then gone.
Give me strength to leave. I need all the help you have.

All I know are these thoughts that rush through my head,
the grey sky, exhaustion, traveling with this wind.
I aim for horizons, hold a steering wheel tight in my hands.
Give me strength to leave. No one can help me now.

Illes - Nehez az ut (1968)

25 Jan

I’ve wanted to include this particular song since a friend first alerted me to its importance in the Hungarian context around two years ago, but that same importance has made it something it seemed crucial to get at least approximately right, and the absence of any workable and reliable gloss from the Hungarian has meant it’s only now that I’ve had an opportunity to make even this tentative attempt at an English version of the lyric. Written by the Belgrade-born but Hungarian-resident brothers Zorán and Dusán Sztevanovity for their group, Metro, in 1967, the song gained prominence when featured in a film documenting the emerging youth culture of the time, Ezek a Fiatalok (These Young People). The lyric in Hungarian runs roughly as follows:

Mostanában bármit teszünk, egyre több a vágy.
Ki az, akit vádolnak? Ki az, akit vádolnak?
Téged is, ha életkorod nem sokkal a húsz év fölött jár.
Mondd csak, mivel vádolnak? Mondd csak, mivel vádolnak?
Tűnik az, hogy korosztályunk másképp él, mint jó apáink,
nem hasonlít mégse rájuk, náluk néha többre vágyik már.
Mostanában bármit teszünk, egyre több a vágy.
Ki az, akit vádolnak? Ki az, akit vádolnak?
Téged is, ha életkorod nem sokkal a húsz év fölött jár.
Mondd csak, mivel vádolnak? Mondd csak, mivel vádolnak?
Vétek az, ha hajunk hosszú,kedves táncunk nem a tangó.
Ki az, akit vádolnak? Ki az, akit vádolnak?
Tánczenénk ha gyors, ha lassú, számukra csak fület bántó zaj.
Mondd csak, mivel vádolnak? Mondd csak, mivel vádolnak?
Évek múlva biztos mi ishallunk ehhez hasonlókat,
egyszer tán a fiaink is így mondják el bánatukat majd.

Coming only a decade after the brutal suppression of the 1956 uprising, the accusatory tone, and the song’s assertion of a basic right to be, well, young, was a potent mix. The studied insolence of the very young Sarolta Zalatnay in this performance is utterly remarkable, every bit as charismatic as her Western contemporaries and predecessors, but it’s the context of the song that seems most forceful. The refrains demanding to have accusations and charges spelled out would have had a particularly powerful bite in a context where dissidence could still be an arrestable offence, so while on a par with many equivalent Western songs asserting the rights of the young, Mostanában is a song that in its own time and place must have made a stronger statement than the familiarity of some of its sentiments to Western ears would, by themselves, indicate. The song, as performed in Ezek a Fiatalok, can be heard here.

Mostanában bármit teszünk (These Days, Whatever We Do)

(after Zorán Sztevanovity/Dusán Sztevanovity, 1967)

These days, whatever we do, it seems we want more:
What are we accused of? Who has been accused?

We’re not even twenty, hanging out with our friends:
Tell me, what’s the problem? Tell me, what’s the charge?

Our fathers are another age, we don’t compare, we want more now!
What are we accused of? Who has been accused?

We’re not even twenty, hanging out with our friends:
Tell me, what’s the problem? Tell me, what’s the charge?

We don’t dance the tango, and you think it’s a shame:
What are we accused of? Who has been accused?

Our dancing’s fast, our music hurts your ears:
Tell me, what’s the problem? Tell me, what’s the charge?

I’m sure when we’re older, we’ll dance more slowly ourselves:
What are we accused of? Who has been accused?

That day, our sons will start to complain about us:
Tell me, what’s the problem? Tell me, what’s the charge?

But these days, whatever we do, it seems we want more:
What are we accused of? Who has been accused?

We’re not even twenty, hanging out with our friends:
Tell me, what’s the problem? Tell me, what’s the charge?

What are we accused of? Who has been accused?
Tell me, what’s the problem? Tell me, what’s the charge?