Tuesday, April 26, 2011

ROLL OVER, BORIS PICKETT, TELL EDGAR WINTER THE NEWS: IT'S BRITA BORG'S "FRANKENSTEIN ROCK"



If you’re not Swedish or some other variety of European ancestry, chances are you’ve probably never heard of Brita Borg. I’d certainly hadn’t before last week, when fellow Horror Dad Paul Gaita introduced her to me in an e-mail. Borg was a Swedish singer, actress and variety show performer, a fixture in Swedish pop culture on radio, eventually on television and even in a few movies. Her variety show career spanned from 1943 until the early 1970s, but by the end of the 1960s her singing career, a highlight of which was her representation of Sweden in the 1959 Eurovision Song Contest in Cannes, was virtually over. She won another song contest in 1943 which led to her joining a Soldermalm-based variety group called Our Gang (Vårat gäng) and by 1947 her long collaboration with yet another Swedish variety performer and writer Povel Ramel, who had his own radio program on which Borg sang and acted from 1952 to 1962, was under way.

Among her most famous numbers were “Fat Mammy Brown,” in which she portrayed an African-American jazz singer in full blackface and padding, and “Ulliga krulliga gubbar,” a Dixieland parody all about how having a beard represented the ultimate in modern living. In 1962 she reached the peak of her variety show career with “Die Borg,” a tune which playfully parodied a currently popular wave of Swedish singers who made their living by catering to the tastes of German audiences. Borg played out the remainder of her career in musical theater revivals such as Annie Get Your Gun, Fiddler on the Roof and Threepenny Opera and even staged a Vårat gäng comeback in the 1980s, where she dubbed herself, with no lack of irony and good humor, "En något överårig tonårsidol" (" A teen idol somewhat past her prime").

But in 1957 she was just hitting her stride, the Eurovision Song Contest still a couple of years down the road, when she recorded her own modern pop novelty hit "Frankenstein Rock”. This sassy tune, which doesn’t sound like it would be out of place on one of Borg’s radio revues, predates Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” by five years, but is both musically and, as it turns out, lyrically very much of a piece with the later American hit. Essentially a tribute to the stable of Universal monster icons which were popular in Sweden in much the same way they were in the States, Borg’s tune tells the tale of going to see a scary movie with her boyfriend complete with implications as to what might happen if the boyfriend can adequately protect Borg from the on-screen terrors (“I’ll try and be nice/And you can be my knight”). “Frankenstein Rock” is a much more straight-ahead rock and roll number than is Pickett’s, and far less playful with the imagery of the great horror film creations, but it’s still a lot of fun and full of affection for the genre, even if you don’t speak Swedish.

And if you don’t, Jonas Sjogren, a colleague of mine well versed in the Swedish language, as well as the tricky job of translating it, has listened to the Swedish lyrics and provided a nifty guide of what Borg is warbling about in English. So by all means, press play and crank it up, with or without the translation. And thanks, Paul, for sending that e-mail last week and opening up of the world of “Frankenstein Rock” and Brita Borg to these virgin ears.



I know where we should go
If we're gonna go somewhere

Let's go and see a horror film
It'll raise our hair

'Cause I always feel terrified
And strange when

I'm sitting in a theater
And it all begins again

Let's do the Frankenstein Rock
Let's do the Frankenstein Rock

'Cause I'll be freezing and shivering
And trembling out of fright

So for the next few hours
You'll get to hold me tight

Frankenstein is creepy
And has quite a funny gait

And he meets a werewolf
In the vestibule of his estate

They arrange a party
In a creepy château

While Dracula commits
A few crimes below

Let's do the Frankenstein Rock
Let's do the Frankenstein Rock

'Cause I'll be freezing and shivering
And trembling out of fright

So for the next few hours
You'll get to hold me tight

I'm going to take you to
Someplace for us to see

Something really creepy
And scary tonight

I'll try and be nice
And you can be my knight

A strange professor
With a ray machine

That the robot
Has filled with nitroglycerin

They'll destroy the world
Before five o'clock

I get scared and kiss you
When home we walk

Let's do the Frankenstein Rock
Let's do the Frankenstein Rock

'Cause I'll be freezing and shivering
And trembling out of fright

So for the next few hours
You'll get to hold me tight

Let's do the Frankenstein Rock
Let's do the Frankenstein Rock

'Cause I'll be freezing and shivering
And trembling out of fright

So for the next few hours
You'll get to hold me tight

Oh, it's you.

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(The Wikipedia article on Brita Borg was used as a major resource for this post.)

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