Green is Good!

Last Fall while tooling around the alleys of old town Stockholm, I stopped in to a tiny record store to see about relieving myself of my per diem. After witnessing me stock up on Algarnas Tradgard reissues and Frida from Abba’s solo record (featuring the definitive version of “Life on Mars”), the store’s owner suggested a CD collection by an obscure Swedish duo called Charlie and Esdor that they’d recently released. Checking out the attractive cover photo, I thought, what the hell, what’s a few Kronor more for some shirtless hippies laying it down for the people? Anyway, I’m glad I did and here’s why.

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Half-Swede Edmund “Charlie” Franzén and Norwegian Esdor Jensen emerged from a confusing mishmash of Scandinavian beat groups like The Brew and the DeCoys in the mid ‘60s. Due to a common interest in Indian music and the fact that Charlie had a sitar, the two began jamming together, mostly on Beatles and Hendrix numbers. By 1970 they had their shit together enough to perform as Charlie’s Elektric Band at a big festival in Stockholm where they’d relocated, along with counterculture faves Träd, Gräs, och Stenar. Soon afterwards the pair entered the studio, recording a single for the emerging MNW label that kicks off this CD. Both sides are grooving compositions, featuring acoustic guitar, sitar, drums, and bass. The a-side, “Dä klagar mina grannar” (“That’s When My Neighbors Complain”) sorta borrows jazzy chords from “Spooky” but piles on top of it some great electric geetar-style sitar pickin,’ as well as some somewhat unmelodic Swedish vocals, almost Damo Suzuki-like in their delivery. After blowing minds for standard pop song length, the whole things phases out into a staticky mess at 3:15. The flip is in a similar vein, with the jazziness dumped for straight up nouveau-Indian bliss, West Coast style. When selected from the jukebox at the local head-attended café, these incredible euro-garage ragas impressed the city’s freaky cognoscenti to no end, but unfortunately made little splash outside the city walls.

Soon back in the studio to record a full lengther, Charlie and Esdor enlisted the help of axeman Lasse Summanen whose “heavy Clapton-inspired lead guitar” effectively filled out the duo’s already tight groove. Half was to be sung in Swedish, the other in English, in an attempt to garner interest abroad. Inexplicably MNW decided to condense the eight-song album into an ep, and then subsequently erased the master tapes. The four songs that survived the massacre are included here, all song in Swedish, and demonstrating quite definitively that Charlie and Esdor were on to something very heavy and uniquely northern European, with no shortage of commune-style confusion, cool bluesy fuzz leads, and dueling guitar and sitar. Fantastic stuff.

Simultaneously the pair used some spare time in the studio to “improvise” as the back line for Bo Anders Larsson and his band Scorpion. The results were so impressive that MNW issued the jams as the group’s second 45. It’s easy to see why. The two numbers represent a full on, balls out, early hard rock explosion. Coming off like a challenged May Blitz, the band plows through a little something they called “Fuck the Cops’ (renamed “Wolf’s Mouth Song” for release), backed up by a raunchy version of the Stones’ “It’s All Over Now” (represented here by an unreleased vocal-less version dug up from the vaults). The epiphany of these fellas absolutely killing it in a country better known for it’s moose population and knitted hats, clearly demonstrates two important things; One, that these Swedish aberrants were somehow telepathically communicating with red album-era Grand Funk Railroad, and two, that those poor saps who fall prey to the endless repackaging of horrid sounding MC5 live shows and third rate East Coast Hammond hucksters would be wise to haul that reissued rubbish over to Amoeba and trade it in pronto for some booty of the Swedish variety.

If the preceding gushing wasn’t convincing enough, also included here is “Grönt är skönt (“Green is Good),” a political slag at the “authorities” who were threatening to chop down a grove of 18th century elms that the Stockholm hippies used to congregate under. Consisting of blaring harp and blues-based madness ala early Captain Beefheart, with shouted unison vocals, it just doesn’t get any better than this. The CD rounds out with a live 1970 recording of the David Crosby-ish “How Does it Feel to be Without Friends,” recorded at the Moderna Museet, and an early live version of “Dagen är over” from the International Troubadour Festival of 1970. Unfortunately, that’s about all the good news there is to report on the Charlie and Esdor story. Due to an uncooperative label, the band was all but dissolved the end of 1971. Charlie continued playing music with rockers Stämbandet and folkies Trollspel, while Esdor ended up working for a puppet show called Blomkraft (Flower Power) and busking at the subway just a few steps from the record store where I picked this mother up. Apparently the pair played together this year for the first time in three decades, along with other old time countrymen the Mecki Mark Men and November.