Hljómar were one of the biggest, most popular rock bands in Iceland in the 1960s. Despite their best efforts, however, they were never able to break out into the international market in any kind of meaningful way. At the end of the decade the band broke apart with a number of members going on to form another popular group, Trúbrot, but by 1973 they were ready to resurrect Hljómar for another run at international fame, traveling the US in 1974 to record their new English language prog-rock record, Hljómar ’74.
The esteemed Icelandic music historian Dr. Gunni describes Hljómar ’74 a a few different ways in his new book Blue Eyed Pop (I’ll be reviewing this on the blog in the next few weeks), referring to it as “hard rock and balladry, with a dash of reggae thrown in for good measure,” and calling it the band’s “ill-fated country rock opus.” I agree completely with balladry and there’s certainly a touch of reggae influence here and there, most notably in the opening track “Let it Flow,” and there is a whiff of country rock here too. But really I think prog sums it up nicely… though with folk a close second. I hear influences here of James Taylor, Crosby, Stills & Nash (especially on “Lover Man”), and even some early disco sounds. And as for the lyrics… ah the lyrics…
Wild child dancin’ out in the street,
Little girl tryin’ to be free.
But I just want her, want her to be with me,
Be with me.
Cause I’m her lover man, I’m gonna hold her hand.
Make her understand OOOhOOOh, I’m her lover man.
— “Lover Man”
I’m her lover man, baby. Wow. So there you have it.
These are songs about relationships, loves and heartbreak, and women. Four of the 10 songs include “love” or “lover” in the lyrics, and frankly there isn’t a tune on the entire record where you couldn’t put “love” in and have it fit just fine. This might actually be a bit “soft” to even be prog… Hljómar weren’t exploring any kind of sonic space here with their instruments. These are more or less straight forward folk-rock songs. And you know, they’re pretty decent for what they are. This isn’t usually my style, but I’d have no problem playing Hljómar ’74 on a dark winter evening, maybe while it’s snowing outside, enjoying a glass of wine or cup of coffee and sitting under a blanket on the couch with my wife. Of course, since I live in Seattle that intersection of events might occur once every two years… but still!
I kid a little, but Hljómar ’74 is a decent, if not heavily dated, record. I got this for a pretty nice price at the Reykjavik flea market, and I’m glad I didn’t pass it up.