Monday, April 16, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #150

There is both beauty and elegance in simplicity, yet at times simplicity itself can become quite convoluted.  Consider three musicians from Großenkneten, Germany (keyboardist Stephan Remmler, guitarist Gert 'Kralle' Krawinkel, and drummer Peter Behrens) who, over a five-year span, made some of the most severely minimalist music imaginable:  though gloriously simple in approach with their three-chord skullthumpers created from preprogrammed Casio keyboard tracks, basic guitar riffs without a hint of anything resembling a "solo," and drum kit stripped down to only kick-drum, snare and hi-hat, these three managed to create a nearly impenetrable discography of albums and EPs with overlapping songs, titles, and occasionally cover art, often released in numerous variations, and in both German and English versions.  The band name they chose was indicative of their simplistic approach as well.  What else do you call a band of three musicians besides Trio?

The discographical confusion caused by their beyond-bare-bones approach began right out of the gate:  each of their first three releases are essentially untitled; they are each referred to most often as Trio.  The first Trio, a three-song 10-inch EP issued in 1980, laid the groundwork for what was to come with its thunka-thunka rhythms and repetitive lyrics.  The cover art, such as it was, consisted of the band's logo with two hearts, one crossed out, looking as though it had been hastily scrawled in black Sharpie on a generic white stock sleeve.  The following year's Trio was a full album that included all three songs from the original release and sported nearly identical cover art, save for the addition of the band's actual address and telephone number printed below the logo.

In 1982, Trio recorded their most well-known song, "Da Da Da I Don't Love You You Don't Love Me Aha Aha Aha," which would become a hit single in at least 30 countries (and, 15 years later, see a resurgence in popularity here in the US when Volkswagen used it in an advertising campaign).  "Da Da Da" was so popular in Europe that the Trio album was reissued at first with copies of the single included, and later with the song appended to the album.  Also in that year, a third release appeared, again called Trio.  This six-song EP again repeated two of three songs from the 1980 EP, repeated one song from the 1981 album, and added an extended version of "Da Da Da" as well as another new single, "Anna - Letmein Letmeout."  This time the cover art abandoned the address and phone number, replacing them with three crudely drawn portraits of the band members and the legends "Contains the hit Da Da Da" and "Specially priced mini LP," again all done in black Sharpie on white stock sleeve.

Around the same time, a live album appeared. Live im Frühjahr '82 presented the band playing songs and telling stories before an enthusiastic crowd.  No new songs were debuted here, but everything was sung in German (most of their songs can be found in both German and English variations - and occasionally with both languages combined).

Their next full-length album, 1983's Bye Bye, brought new material to the mix. Their next single, "Boom Boom," kicked off the record in fine style; their skeletal cover of "Tutti Frutti" is exactly what you'd expect; the hauntingly beautiful "Tooralooralooraloo (Is It Old and Is It New?)" will catch you off guard.  In addition to new stuff, "Da Da Da" is back again, as is "Anna," but in a slightly revamped version.  The standard issue cover art was abandoned for this project in favor of a sleeve with eight blocks on the front which were sold as advertising space, resulting in innumerable sleeve variations.  Finally, the album was released in America under a different title, Trio and Error, with entirely different cover art that more closely matched the standard Trio album jacket.

With me so far?  Good, because there's more!

Trio's final proper album, 1985's What's the Password?, broke the mold completely.  Fuller production, additional instruments, and an actual photo of the band on the cover made this the black sheep Trio album.  Not surprisingly, long-time fans were turned off.  Though Peter Behrens appears in the cover photo, he did not actually play on the record, having had a falling out with the other two.  By year's end, Trio was done.

Almost immediately, a retrospective album, 1981 - 1985: 5 Jahre zuviel ("5 years too many") appeared; ten years later would come two more "best ofs," each of which were titled Da Da Da. The first Da Da Da was a 1996 European release; the second Da Da Da was a cash-in on the popularity of the title song via the Volkswagen ads. Essentially a reordered CD reissue of Trio and Error with a few songs added, it used the exact same cover art as the 1982 Trio EP, only with the notation "Specially priced mini LP" removed.  Finally, 2000's Triologie offered the most complete career retrospective to date.

Trio was a wonderful band whose music, stark as it was, was witty and clever, but as you can see trying to track down the exact record you want can be a chore (I didn't even mention the various singles and 12-inches!).  Take your pick and take your chances.

This week, we enjoy Trio's two most classic singles, in versions not often heard in the US:  First up, of course, is a mixed German and English version of "Da Da Da," following that is the German version of "Anna - Letmein Letmeout."  Enjoy!

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