Saturday, May 23, 2009

Da Da Da - This Song Makes No Sense

Popular music has thrown up its share of quirky, nonsensical, and just plain weird songs over the last fifty years. The practice of employing silly lyrics and/or titles, reached its highpoint in the late 50s through 60s, with the likes of ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, ‘Rama Lama Ding Dong’ and ‘Ooby Dooby’. But the Police showed the art of the absurd song title hadn’t been lost, with 1981’s ‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’, and a year later, the German trio of Trio, followed suit with their worldwide hit ‘Da Da Da’, or to give it its full title, ‘Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha’.

Trio were a minimalist synth-pop outfit, and it may come as a shock to you to learn that the group comprised, not one, not two, but three members. What?!? Three members? Well, that’s right, it seems that as outlandish as these people were prepared to be with their music, they weren’t willing to fly in the face of trio tradition. The three musicians concerned, hailed from the small German town of Großenkneten, somewhere in the Lower Saxony area of Germany, and a place that features, what appear to be, two blocks of wood and a captive collection of asparagus, on its coat of arms. In around 1979, local residents Stephan Remmler, Gert ‘Kralle’ Krawinkel, and Peter Behrens, decided that the German music scene needed cheering up, and so they came up with what they referred to as ‘Neue Deutsche Frohlichkeit’, or ‘New German Cheerfulness’, as an approach to musical expression. Actually, in practice it meant that they stuck to a basic premise of taking extremely simple song structures, to exceed three chords was a rarity, and produce a very clean, stripped down song. Influence, and inspiration, was drawn from the likes of German synth-pop pioneers like Faust, Nau and Kraftwerk, in addition to the stripped down, rawness of punk rock. Like a young British musician by the name of Daniel Miller (see recent post on The Normal), Trio achieved a starkly minimalist aural soundscape, with monotone vocals, syncopated rhythm tracks, and a robotic, industrial ambience, that proved oddly hypnotic in its cold blandness.

Remmler (keyboards/ vocals), Kralle (guitar), and Behrens (drums), strayed little from the use of their core instrumental palette, with bass rarely getting a look in on their early material. But these guys weren’t simply in-studio experimenters, and proved they could reproduce their sound live. Remmler did rely on some simple preprogrammed rhythms and melodies via his Casio VL-1 keyboard, though few pop/rock groups avoid using pre-recorded material that to some extent enhance their live shows. Though I doubt many drummers eat an apple, whilst standing up and playing one handed, which is reputedly the approach taken by Behrens. The band emerged with their self titled debut album in 1981, which initially only received a release in Germany. Most of the album’s vocals are performed, appropriately enough, in German, and stick mostly to a basic arrangement of vocals, guitar and drums, though ironically it was produced by a bassist, in the legendary form of Klaus Voorman (of Beatles/Lennon association). It was simple, bare bones synth-rock, and though Trio were lumped in with the Neue Deutsche Welle, or New German Wave, their music didn’t strictly fit into either punk or new wave categories, usually associated with that movement. The single ‘Stop Before I Go Crazy’ (or ‘Halt Mich Fest Ich Werd Verruckt’, had already been released to some notice, but the first single from the ‘Trio’ album (OZ#91), would garner considerably wider notice.

‘Da Da Da Ich Lieb Dich Nicht Du Liebst Mich Nicht Aha Aha Aha’, or its English language title equivalent ‘Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha’, was first released in 1981, and started to make wa-wa-wa-waves across parts of Europe. Lyrically, the track was a quirky take on the whole concept of unrequited love, and bounced between German and English and ‘language unknown’ lyrics. Its relentlessly repetitive structure, and monotone vocals, made ‘Da Da Da’ one of those songs that you either love or hate, that is to say, it’s damn near impossible to be ambivalent about something that’s so pointedly unconventional. The Mobile Suit Corporation label (distributed through Mercury) saw the song’s hit potential, and as it turned out, this eccentric little German number proved loveable to enough British to reach #2 in mid 1982. Australia (#4) and Canada (#3) followed suit soon after, and the track even made some waves on the U.S. club scene (#33 Club Play chart). With over a million copies sold worldwide, ‘Da Da Da’ became one of the biggest selling German language singles in pop music history. In keeping with Trio’s minimalist approach to things, both album and single cover art featured variations on a handwritten ‘Trio’ with two scrawled heart symbols, one crossed out, one not, and may well have been designed by a five year old in their kindergarten art class (though some countries received cover art featuring the band).

During 1982, Trio released a cassette only live album, titled ‘Live Im Frühjahr ‘82’ (‘Live In Spring ‘82’), and several more singles were released, in both German and English language versions. An EP, also titled ‘Trio’, was released later in 1982, featuring the German hit ‘Broken Hearts For You And Me’. In the U.S., both ‘Trio’ the album, and ‘Trio’ the EP, were packaged under the single amalgamated title of ‘Trio & Error’.

In 1983, Trio once more teamed up with producer Klaus Voorman on their sophomore album proper, titled ‘Bye Bye’. The album spawned two more German hits, with ‘Anna - Lassmichrein Lassmichraus’ (‘Anna - Letmein Letmeout’), and ‘Hearts Are Trump’ (‘Herz Ist Trumpf’), but Trio couldn’t repeat their commercial success in English speaking territories. The title of the ‘Bye Bye’ album was mildly prophetic in terms of the limited future of Trio, at least as a trio. They had the bright idea of adapting their madcap musical persona to cinematic form, via the film ‘Drei Gegen Drei’, or ‘Three Against Three’. The basic plot involved the members of Trio playing three characters, who in a diabolical get rich quick scheme, murdered doubles of themselves. Sadly, Trio’s talents as musicians didn’t translate to the big screen. Back in the real world, drummer Peter Behrens had decided to leave Trio, apparently over a pay dispute of some kind, and consequently he wasn’t involved in the associated soundtrack to the film, which eventually saw release in 1985 under the title ‘What’s The Password’. The combination of the failed movie venture, and Behrens’ departure, led to Stephan Remmler and Gert Krawinkel calling an end to the Trio endeavour.

It wouldn’t be just to define Trio’s career on the basis of just one hit, but doubtless ‘Da Da Da’ is what they’re best known for. The song charted in over thirty countries worldwide, sold millions of copies, and remains one of the defining moments of synth-pop. Countless cover versions have been released over the years, in various languages, and the song’s use on television commercial campaigns has been commonplace. Perhaps the best known came in 1997 via the song’s use in an American advertising campaign for Volkswagen cars. The runaway popularity of the commercial led to a renewed interest in the song ‘Da Da Da’, and the group Trio. The album ‘Da Da Da’ was released in the U.S. to satisfy consumer appetites for the song, though I’m not sure how sales compared with the number of new Volkswagens shifted by dealerships.

The three members of Trio, have all gone on to productive solo careers, and have demonstrated that their individual musical talents extend well beyond the deliberately limited scope of expression offered via the Trio vehicle. Guitarist Gert ‘Kralle’ Krawinkel had already had expansive experience with bands prior to Trio, and subsequently he concentrated on running his own recording studio in his adopted home of Seville, Spain. He released a self titled album in 1993, but in recent years has withdrawn from music, and shifted focus to equine matters. Drummer Peter Behrens, was likewise a bit of a music journeyman prior to Trio, but following his departure from the group, he spent some time dedicated to social worker activities. He recorded some not so successful solo work, and tried his hand again at acting in the late 80s, but following some difficult times, Behrens has in recent years returned to the drum kit, with local German bands. Vocalist and occasional keyboardist, Stephan Remmler, maintained the strongest ties to music, and released several albums in the decade following the dissolution of Trio, with his work taking on an increasing rock music flavour over the years. Following a ten year hiatus, Remmler returned to music in 2006, with the release of his album ‘1,2,3,4’.

For a much more comprehensive history of Trio, particularly the years leading up to their formation, the following site is definitely worth closer inspection - it’s one of the more comprehensive fan sites out there (for any artist). Though the text is mostly German language, the band history is reproduced in English, for the linguistically challenged amongst us.

No comments: