The Complete and Definitive Guide to the Very Best Czech Music of All Time
PraguePig.com loves you so much, he’s made you a compilation of his favourite Czech songs:
“V siti” by Voxel (2012)
Voxel is the stage name of Vaclav Lebeda, an unsuccessful contestant on Cesko Slovenska Superstar, the Czech/Slovak version of Pop Idol, who’s gone on to a successful pop career. The “V siti” single features lyrics by wordy singer-songwriter Ondrej “Xindl X” Ladek, a star in his own right.
“13” by Kazety (2009)
Kazety (“Cassettes”) are a Prague-based synth trio whose barnstorming remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 theme appears on their self-titled debut album. PraguePig.com hasn’t heard much from them since then.
“Shadows” by Southpaw (2006)
A vehicle for singer-songwriter Gregory Finn (real name Jiri Burian), Southpaw were a poppy, dance-influenced alternative rock band. PraguePig.com found a lot of their stuff a bit medium, to be honest, but this album track from the double LP Heart Disk is a real gem.
“Summer Wine” by Moimir Papalescu & The Nihilists (2006)
Prague band Moimir Papalescu & The Nihilists seemed destined for big things back when electroclash and silly pseudonyms were all the rage. After releasing two albums, however, the band split into rival factions, band leader Papalescu (real name Miroslav Papez) going on to work on various electronica projects and the rest of the band, including lead singer La Petite Sonja (Sonja Krohn), forming the rockier Kill the Dandies! This Lee Hazlewood cover is taken from their second album, Lewis Neptune.
“1+1” by Ready Kirken (2006)
Radio-friendly Pardubice pop-rockers Ready Kirken are one of the most popular Czech bands and the irresistibly catchy “1+1” one of their best-loved songs. As anyone who’s looked for a flat in Prague can probably guess, the lyrics are about escaping to a place of your own. (In real estate ads, a “1+1” is an apartment with one room and a separate kitchen.)
“Inside of Me” by Dirty Airlines (2005)
Influenced by The Jesus and Mary Chain, grunge, shoegaze, and noisy-but-tuneful alt-rock in general, Prague’s Dirty Airlines have a great sound and a great name but haven’t had much in the way of success. The magnificent “Inside of Me” single is from their first and apparently only album, No Time for Revolution. (Fans of Czech bands that sound a bit like The Jesus and Mary Chain will also enjoy The Finally.)
“Sunshine” by The Prostitutes (2005)
Fronted by Geordie expat Adrian T. Bell, The Prostitutes produce angst-ridden post-punk of the sort beloved of raincoat-wearing students worldwide. Imagine Joy Division fronted by Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. “Sunshine” is from The Prossies’ debut EP and later resurfaced on their 2006 debut album, Get Me Out of Here. PraguePig.com Tip: If you’re trying to Google them, don’t do it at work.
“Azataki” by 100°C (2004)
Hailing from the genteel west Bohemian spa town of Marianske Lazne, 100°C play energetic “trash pop” with a reggae flavour–proof that anyone can sound Jamaican if they smoke enough dope. “Azataki” is taken from the band’s debut album Evergreen.
“Cut Up” by November 2nd (2002)
Playing adult-oriented rock that would fit into a BBC Radio 2 playlist, Hranice, Olomouc Region band November 2nd wouldn’t normally be PraguePig.com’s cup of tea but “Cut Up” is just a great track. Frontwoman/flame-haired temptress Alexandra Langosova helps sweeten the deal too. “Cut Up” appears on their debut album Midnight Desert.
“Promeny” by Cechomor (2001)
Originally known as I. Ceskomoravska nezavisla hudebni spolecnost (or as my friend Vlad used to call them, C&M Music Factory), Cechomor play updated versions of old Czech folk songs. The Prague band are probably best known for their collaborations with Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman: the 2001 album Promeny, from which this epic title track is taken, and the 2002 film Rok d’abla–one of those movies that sounds terrible on paper but is actually really good. myCzechRepublic has an English translation and discussion of the song’s lyrics.
“Stejne jako ja” by Chinaski (1997)
Fronted by moustachioed musician/actor Michal Malatny (real name Michal Novotny) and named after Charles Bukowski’s literary alter ego, Chinaski remain one of the Czech Republic’s most popular bands thanks to their catchy, radio-friendly pop-rock. “Stejne jako ja” (“Same as Me”) appears on the Prague band’s third album, Dlouhej kour (“Long Smoke”).
“Paris” by Colorfactory (1996)
I remember first hearing Colorfactory in late 1996, not long after I moved to Prague. I was lying in bed with headphones on, listening to Radio 1, and their fragile indie psychedelia sounded just perfect. Initially formed in California then revived in Prague with a largely Anglo-Czech line-up, Colorfactory rode the go-kart to fame when several songs from their self-titled debut album were featured on the soundtrack to the film Septej. Colorfactory made one more album, 1999’s disappointing Second Infinity, which downplayed songwriter Mike Freeman’s poppy gems in favour of bland chill-out zone noodling.
“Nejlip jim bylo” by Mnaga a Zdorp (1995)
Formed in the sleepy south Moravian town of Valasske Mezirici in the 1980s and led by Petr Fiala, a songwriter with a history of clinical depression, Mnaga a Zdorp are one of the Czech music scene’s more unlikely success stories. The band’s melodic, bittersweet, semi-acoustic alt-rock struck a chord after the Velvet Revolution, however, and remains popular today. A Moravian colleague once told me that their name means “Shit & Runny Shit” in the local dialect but I’m not sure if that’s true. Nejlip jim bylo appears on M&Z’s fifth album, Ryzi zlato.
“Hospody hospody a restaurace” by Brutus (1994)
The title of this song (“Pubs, Pubs and Restaurants”) gives you a good idea of what to expect from Brutus, a uniquely Czech phenomenon. Formed in Rakovnik, central Bohemia at the height of the 1960s “bigbit” scene, the boozy pub-rockers are still drawing big (and surprisingly young) crowds to their shows 50 years and 47 band members later. (Gnome-like keyboard player Alexander “Sasa” Pleska is the band’s longest-serving and most visible member but even he’s only been around since 1974.) If you like beer, rock songs, and rock songs about beer, Brutus is the band for you.
“Amerika” by Lucie (1994)
The nearest Czech equivalent to an REM or U2, Prague band Lucie were wildly popular but well regarded right up until their 2004 split. If you’ve spent too much time in Czech pubs, there’s a good chance this song was playing on the jukebox when they asked you to leave. Amerika appears on their third album, Cerny kocky, mokry zaby (“Black Cats, Wet Frogs”). (“Ohen”, from their self-titled 1990 debut album is another PraguePig.com fave.) The band’s original line-up (David Koller, Robert Kodym, Petr “P.B.CH.” Chovanec, Michal Dvorak) reformed in 2012.
“Voice of Rain” by The Bunch of No-Hopers (1994)
Blessed with possibly the indie-est band name of all time, Prague’s Bunch of No Hopers were part of a wave of British-influenced early-‘90s indie guitar bands led by The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. The Bunch released one album, ID, from which this track is taken. I’ve never heard Voice of Rain played at an indie disco but it’s not hard to imagine delirious dancefloors if it were.
“Sametova” by Zluty pes (1994)
Veteran Prague band Zluty pes (“Yellow Dog”) play a Czech version of Southern-fried rock. (Mercifully, it’s a lot less painful than it sounds.) My friend Mike describes “Sametova” as a Czech version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which might be damning the song with faint praise but gives you a fair idea of its lyrical content–an impressionistic, bittersweet look back at life for a young rocker in pre-1989 Czechoslovakia.
Zluty pes frontman Ondrej Hejma has had a colourful life, working as an Associated Press reporter in Prague before the revolution and as a judge on reality show Cesko-Slovenska Superstar since. If that’s not irony enough for you, the archives of the StB, Czechoslovakia’s Communist-era secret police, list him as an agent, under the codename Rony.
“Beatles” by Karel Gott (1980)
There are more famous Karel Gott songs, and many that show off Mistr Karel’s once-mighty voice to better effect but none are quite as catchy as this 1980 ode to the Fab Four. The music for “Beatles” was written by the late Karel Svoboda, who also composed the similarly magnificent Lady Carneval for the iconic crooner. Somewhat bizarrely, Svoboda also wrote incidental music for the animated series Vicky the Viking.
“Dej mi vic sve lasky” by Olympic (1968)
Known as the “Czech Beatles”, Olympic were the stars of the 1960s bigbit scene. “Dej mi vic sve lasky” (“Give Me More of Your Love”) is one of the band’s earliest and catchiest singles. (“Zelva” (“Turtle”) is another one that you hear on oldies radio all the time.) Since then, the band have reinvented themselves, Spinal Tap-style, as a heavy rock outfit. Lead singer Petr Janda’s daughter, Marta Jandova, is a star in her own right, fronting the German-based band Die Happy.
“Modlitba pro Martu” by Marta Kubisova (1968)
Originally written for the musical comedy TV show “Pisen pro Rudolfa III”, this haunting ballad became an anthem of resistance to the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and for the dissident movement in general.
Kubisova rose to fame as a member of the Golden Kids, a talented Czech trio that was beginning to have some success outside Czechoslovakia when the Prague Spring began. (Fellow Golden Kids Helena Vondrackova and Vaclav Neckar would both go on to have successful solo careers.)
Kubisova would pay a big price for her defiance. Following the return to hardline Communist rule known as “Normalizace” (“Normalization”), she was falsely accused of posing for pornographic photos by the Communist regime and banned from performing in public for almost 20 years. “Modlitba pro Martu” was also banned.
1989’s anti-government protests saw Kubisova emerge from enforced obscurity to perform “Modlitba” alongside Vaclav Havel and other dissident leaders at a demonstration on Wenceslas Square. The song was also played at Havel’s funeral in 2011. Since 1989, Kubisova has performed and recorded again regularly and also presents “Chcete me?” (“Do You Want Me?”), a TV show that finds homes for abandoned dogs.