Pop was a synonym for youth, "a mirror and greenhouse for a society that definitely no longer looked to long-established institutions such as the church, state and schools for its ideas and symbols", to use the words of Basel pop-expert Martin Schäfer. Although, what precisely is pop?
First of all, it is a catchy contraction (which too is pop!) of the word "popular". Pop means popular, but there are a handful of politicians and any number of sport stars who can also be considered as popular but who are not referred to as pop stars (although this once may be a case for closer examination of the complex interrelations between politics, sport and pop). Our term "pop" here has something to do with culture.
"Pop culture", a catchword that began to make the rounds in our part of the world around mid 60's, was first associated with beatnik writers such as Jack Kerouac and fine arts. The large-scale, colorful paintings by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein which found their way into museums had been inspired more by comics than by the Dutch masters or the impressionists.
Pop was hailed as the form of expression of a new, emerging generation. A generation that rejected the confining uniformity and materialism of the post-war years. Pop was synonym for youth, "a mirror and greenhouse for a society that definitely no longer kept its ties with long-established institutions such as the church, state and schools for ideas and symbols", referring to Basel pop-expert Martin Schäfer.
Pop culture and song culture
Pop had already established itself as musical term for quite some time. The recording industry had coined it in order to help guide potential customers to their favorite discs in the record shop. Pop was definitely light entertainment and not "serious" music. But does pop also refer to jazz, swing, late rock 'n' roll, etc.?
Pop means popular and consequently anything that is successful could be defined as pop and everything else relegated to the cubbyholes of stylistic categories. But this wouldn't serve as a satisfying definition. Pop is not an economic index but a cultural term. Pop music culture essentially is song culture. The joint between a clearly structured melody (a "hook", in older terminology) and a catchy message is classical pop. Pop without text is nothing but music, and a text without melody is at its best a poem. Pop culture is Anglo-American culture, a culture whose importance has grown steadily since second world war, in Switzerland as elsewhere, through records, compact discs and the media.
German-language "Schlagerhits" [hit songs] of the 50's and 60's represented one European version of this trend. They made use of German or other native languages instead of English and did not shy away from employing traditional sounds drawn from native folk- or schmaltzy music. "Schlager" music was and is a derivation of pop, lacking just a bit too much in sophistication to assert itself as real pop.
During mid-60's pop became popular in our hemisphere. In 1966 young publisher Jürg Marquard named the first Swiss-German teenager magazine "Pop". "Beat music", with its youthful, uncomplicated combination of rock 'n' roll rhythms and vocal harmonizations, was fading in popularity. Following their Anglo-American models, the Swiss were likewise switching their allegiance to pop and its greater variety.
This development was echoed by the increasing influence of radio on the listening preferences. The management of the national Swiss radio stations, Beromünster (German-language) and Sottens (French), had previously refused more or less adamantly to broadcast Anglo-American pop music. Young Swiss music-lovers were virtually forced to turn to foreign stations such as France's Europe 1, Radio Luxembourg or the American Forces Networks. But the advent of lushly-arranged songs for pop stars such as Tom Jones and Neil Diamond caused the station-managers' resistance to waver.
This new song style gradually won over ever broader age groups while also creating more acceptance for styles such as progressive rock, experimental fusion sounds and resolute protest songs.
In 1983 the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation finally launched DRS 3. This first "officially approved jamming transmitter" for young audiences (along with pop-oriented private radio stations) simultaneously went on air throughout the country. Pop music had gained a solid position in Switzerland once and for all.
So hardly surprising the majority of Swiss songs on this Anthology sound like custom-tailored for FM radio. And consequently nearly all of them date from after the heyday of the elaborate, extravagant and excessive rock music of the 70's. Of course there were authentic Swiss pop songs before that time, too. To wit, Lys Assia's chart-topper 'Oh Mein Papa', the Sauterelles' smash hit "Heavenly Club", Pepe Lienhard's "Swiss Lady" or the Eurovision hits of Peter, Sue and Marc.
But with the appearance of the third national radio network as well as local (private) radio stations, the production of Swiss pop songs increased substantially. The broad spectrum of music grouped under the title "pop made in Switzerland" reaches from the home-made reggae adaptation by the folk-rock group Ocean from Berne ("Jamaica") to the self-ironic computer sonorities concocted by electronic tinker PJ Wassermann ("Muh!"). It includes flirts with new wave of the 80's by artists such as the Bo Katzman Gang from Basel, the Bernese group Slapstick, Maladie Honteux from Lausanne and the guitar-crazy Needles from Geneva.
Also to be found are pop songs with an international flavor. For example Hardy Hepp's "Winterland" (recorded in Nashville) or Phil Carmen's radio immortal "On My Way in L.A.". Also female vocalists such as Olivia Gray and Betty Legler, helped to open doors into Swiss pop business for female artists. A new movement after years of almost exclusive male domination of the rock 'n' roll scene during the 60's and 70's.
And finally some of Swiss pop achieved international stature. Were it Andreas Vollenweider (classified under "pop" primarily for marketing reasons) or Yello and Double who have proved that the world of pop music defies the notion of "Swiss pop" as beig an alien phenomenon. For the main thing to define good pop music is: it knows no borders.
Liner notes by Samuel Mumenthaler
Translation by Mark Manion
Swiss Pop & Rock Anthology, POP Vol. 4 (2003). SD 03104. Produced by swissinfo/SRI and SUISA-Foundation for music. Producers: Hardy Hepp, musician (head of task group). Christian Strickler (swissinfo/SRI). Claude Delley (SUISA-Foundation for music).
Swiss Pop & Rock Anthology on CD: Box Vol. 1-5. Distribution: Sound Service