Friday, July 25, 2008

Harpo - Not To Be Confused With The Marx Variety

For most people the name Harpo probably conjures up images of a the curly haired silent member of the legendary Marx Brothers, and the most musical thing about him was that bicycle horn he used to toot. But to those of you who recall the little known hitmakers of yesteryear Harpo is also the guy who sang the hit ‘Moviestar’.

Of course Harpo wasn’t his real name, but the Swedish born Jan Svensson started his showbiz career in children’s theatre, so maybe he was a fan of the Marx Brothers work. By the late 60s Harpo had developed an interest in music and began writing his own songs and touring as a singer soon after. He came to the attention of Stig Anderson who signed him to the Polar Music label, with an arrangement in place for Harpo to record an album of children’s songs in Swedish, to be produced by none other than Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (they of the ABBA fame).

The album didn’t come to fruition so Harpo soon moved over to the EMI label, releasing his first two singles, ‘Honolulu’ and ‘Sayonara’ (strange choices for a Swedish singer but anyhow), in 1973. Both songs reached the Swedish top 10, with ‘Sayonara’ holding down the #1 spot for five weeks in early ‘74. He toured throughout Europe in support of his debut album ‘Leo The Leopard’ during most of ‘74, with two more singles ‘My Teenage Queen’ and ‘Baby Boomerang’ (the Swedes were big on boomerangs at the time), also charting well.

Early 1975 saw Harpo record the track that would introduce him to the English speaking world. Taken from the album of the same name, ‘Moviestar’ was your classic light weight pop song. That’s not to detract from it being a great song, but it didn’t aspire to be anything more than pure pop. The song also featured backing vocals from one Anni-Frid Lyngstad, better known as Frida from the pop supergroup ABBA. Frida had also sung backing vocals on another album track called ‘Pin Up Girl’.

‘Moviestar’ didn’t exactly deliver Harpo that result, but it did make him a music star, albeit for a limited time. The song had already soared to the top of the Swedish and German charts during 1975, before it hit the Australian charts in early ‘76. ‘Countdown’s Molly Meldrum must have had a liking for the song, or maybe Harpo, because it became a regular on the music show’s playlist. ‘Moviestar’ debuted on the Australian charts in March of ‘76 and had peaked at #3 by mid year, going on to spend a mammoth 34 weeks inside the top 100. ‘Moviestar’ also performed well on the British charts, reaching #24.

The album of the same name sold well enough in Australia and yielded the follow up hit ‘Horoscope’ (OZ#24) in late ‘76, the song having already been a Danish #1. ‘Motorcycle Mama’ was also a top 10 hit in Germany around the same time, and for a period Harpo was rock royalty across Europe. But Harpo’s personal horoscope apparently didn’t foretell of the dip in his fortunes that would follow. The hit ‘Television’ was taken from Harpo’s U.S. recorded album ‘The Hollywood Tapes’ (seems to me he must have been a frustrated actor). Soon after Harpo hit the headlines for a different reason, having been imprisoned for a month for refusing Swedish Military Service. Around the same period Australian charts farewelled Harpo for the final time with the minor hit ‘Rock N Roll Clown’ (#80).

A free man once again, Harpo then made the curious career move of making the album of Swedish children’s songs he’d originally planned pre-‘Moviestar’, then followed this up with an album of rock song covers again recorded only in Swedish. He then attempted to revive his flagging pop career with the 1980 single ‘She Loves It Too’ but soon after was severely injured when he was kicked in the face by one of his horses (all pop stars have horses or cars or both apparently). Harpo did make a recovery (though sadly lost sight in one eye) and even dedicated his next album ‘Starter’ to the offending horse - shows he doesn’t hold a grudge.

Harpo never regained the momentum of his mid 70s career, but continued to record and release albums regularly through the 80s and early 90s. He also turned his hand to producing several Swedish groups, including the popular Shanghai, and started his own record label Igloo Records in 1987. Aside from recording a couple of new tracks for a greatest hits compilation in 1997, Harpo remained quiet on the recording front until 2005’s album ‘Jan Harpo Svensson 05’ credited to, you guessed it, Jan Harpo Svensson. He then set about a regular touring schedule through parts of Europe over the next couple of years, and remains popular throughout Scandinavia and Germany in particular.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Harpo" was in fact a middle name; Harpo's full name was Jan Harpo Torsten Svensson.