Friday, 15 June 2012

What Did You Do During the War, Daddy?

Today I present for your enjoyment one of the darnedest things I’ve ever heard, and one of the oddest couplings ever, Auschwitz backed with 29th September by the Italian beat combo Equipe 84.

You’d have thought just two short decades after the liberation of Auschwitz the world would have been ready for a pop song about the horrors encountered there, wouldn’t you? Apparently not. The mind fair boggles: who in God’s name ever thought that this was a good idea? The B-side (or the A-side if you possess the American pressing) is even better; histrionic caterwauling, dreadfully out of tune vocals and someone intoning the phrase 29th of September (and, later, 30th of September) over and over again. It makes a little more sense in its original language where the disembodied voice repeating the date endlessly is replaced by a radio announcer reading a news story; unfortunately you still get the same histrionic caterwauling, only this time in Italian.

Auschwitz was originally issued in Italy in 1966 as the B-side of their cover of the Cher hit Bang Bang, with 29th September (as 29 Settembre) released as the A-side to its follow up in early 1967. Both tracks were re-recorded specifically for the English-speaking market, with English lyrics written by Tommy Scott (a minor 60s recording artist who also penned English lyrics to the brilliant early Eurovision hit Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son), and released as a single in the UK on Major Minor and, with the sides flipped, in the USA by Imperial.

Surprisingly the disc flopped in both countries, making it relatively hard to find these days and rather expensive when copies do turn up: at the time of writing there’s a UK copy on eBay for £45. I can’t quite work out why it stiffed; surely a song about life (and, naturally, death) in a concentration camp should have been a hit? How could it fail to chart with lyrics like:

I died when I was a child
I died with hundreds of people
From a furnace through a chimney
And now I am cradled by the wind

At Auschwitz, snow on the ground
The smoke it drove so slowly
In the fields lay the ashes
Of the people which spread in the wind

….it beggars belief. 1967! Peace and love! Hippies and flowers! Hitler and gas chambers! It is thought that around 1,300,000 people were murdered at Auschwitz, and this is the best you can do?

Originally formed in Modena in 1963, Equipe 84 was one of Italy’s most successful beat/psych bands, their chart career filled with covers of British and American hits such as Blackberry Way (as Tutta Mia la Citta), Papa Oom Mow Mow (as Papa e Mamma), Go Now (Ora Puoi Tornare) and the aforementioned Bang Bang badly translated into Italian, plus their own highly derivative originals and some examples of leftfield madness like the tracks we feature today. The band released seven albums (and a whole bunch of live albums and compilations) and around 30 singles before splitting at the end of the 1970s, only to reform in 1984. That incarnation of the group continued for a further decade(relesaing a further album)  before once again imploding, although founding member Franco Ceccarelli, who originally left in 1970 but reenlisted in 1984, still steps out from time to time under the band’s moniker.

There has, thankfully, been no new material since 1989.


  1. David V. Matthews19 June 2012 at 22:47

    The "Auschwitz" download ends quite suddenly at 3:20. The Italian version has a run time of 3:49; does the English version have this run time, too?

    1. Hi David, I've just checked and for some reason the file does cut out before the end. I'm sorry but at the moment that's the only copy of the English-language version I have...if I can find a full version I'll replace the file and let you know.

  2. like mostly everything recorded by these schlocks: una vera merda!!!! (probabely you won't need to look up your dictionary....)

    best greetings from the home of worst records!

  3. Maybe songs with such complex and emotional contents shouldn't be transalted and presented outside the socio-cultural context where they were first issued. "Auschwitz", btw, was composed by Francesco Guccini for the band "I Nomadi" (wonder why in the English speaking world the minor version released by Equipe 84 has become the most famous). In Italy in the '60s, especially in northern Italy where the Nazi domination and atrocities were and still are well remembered facts and not just second-hand listening, it made perfect sense; it had - and still has - a great success as an anti-war song and a powerful memento. People listen to it with the required respect for the victims of the Nazi's persecution, not making fun of them.


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