Mods, Punks and Marxism | Yugoslavia and Socialist Pop

I’m currently in Slovenia and Croatia, finalising the delivery of our new Whisky stills. It’s the 30th anniversary of the Yugoslavian civil war, and the horror of the 90s makes it too easy to forget what a unique country Yugoslavia was.

Although Yugoslavia was part of the Communist world it followed it’s own path, equally hostile to Moscow and Washington. It was the most economically successful and progressive of all the Communist regimes, and was a leading member of the non-aligned movement alongside India.

For over 30 years it was led by Tito who hosted world leaders and film stars and spoke out against the Cold War.

Tito with Sophia Loren

But one of the most striking differences was the attitude towards pop music, and 60s teenage culture. The rest of the Communist World saw pop and rock as capitalist plots to undermine the morale of wholesome Communist adolescents; Eastern European rock bands were mostly dissident affairs, with links to avant garde art and theatre. Yugoslavia was the first Communist country to embrace pop and had the Communist World’s first pop music label – Jugoton.

Jugoton was established in Zabreg in the 1940s as a typical Communist state record label. It’s output was mostly light classical, speeches by the great leader, and occasional folk or ethnographic productions; token recognitions of the diverse parts of the country.

In the 50s they dipped their toe into pop with crooners like Ivo Robic and Đorđe Marjanović.

Everything changed in 1961 when Yugoslavia became the first Communist country to take part in Eurovision. They competed for 30 years, winning it in 1989.

From then on Jugoton switched to releasing pop records, becoming the world’s first Communist pop label.

Eurovision inspired huge numbers of Yugoslavian beat groups, initially modelled on the Shadows, then the Beatles, the Who and the Small Faces. They were allowed to travel abroad, and produced domestic versions of British and US hits. Jugoton branched out into boutiques, while other labels started up in Belgrade, Ljubljana, Sarajevo.

The fashions might not have been as hip as Carnaby Street, but the enthusiasm that Yugoslavs had for pop, particularly the mod-beat group sound, more than made it for it.

The Tito regime banned groups from making albums, and instead they turned out huge numbers of singles, both covers and originals. Communist pop valued brevity and efficiency and hardly any records went on for more than 2’30”. It wasn’t until 1969 that rules were relaxed to allow LPs to be produced.

This one of my favourite singles from the era, a cover version of Sha La La La Lee by the Small Faces, with the lyrics changed to Happy Birthday in Serbo-Croat.

Through the non-aligned movement Yugoslavia had exchange programmes with Universities and youth groups around the world, which made cities like Belgrade much more diverse than other Communist nations. This fed into the music scene with mixed race mod and soul bands like Elipse.

Pink slacks. Groovy.

Yugoslavian pop was popular across the Eastern Bloc, particularly in Poland. Pop music festivals were a big draw and Italian acts would cross over into Yugoslavia to play. Polish and Czech bands who couldn’t record in their own countries came to Zagreb and Belgrade to record.

From the late 60s onwards Yugoslavian labels signed deals with western bands, creating the first Western rock and pop releases in the Communist World.

This Who EP with I Can See For Miles/Pictures of Lily is the earliest example I could find, and typical of the popularity of the Who and the Small Faces. Also I think the earliest example of a Who record with Polydor listed, rather than Track or Reaction. The availability of Western pop and rock tracks changed Yugoslavian pop with bands increasingly switching from covers to their own material.

It wasn’t just pop music where Yugoslavia walked it’s own path. While Communist art was big on square jawed pioneers gazing meaningfully at machine tools and combine harvesters Yugoslavia had it’s own pop art scene. It was also the first non English speaking country to show Monty Python, beating Germany to the honour.

The story doesn’t end there. 

Jugoton and the other Yugoslavian labels continued through the 70s, with different regional scenes developing.  Belgrade party city was big on funk and disco, while rest of Serbia went crazy for super heavy rock.  Bosnia and Macedonia got prog, and Slovenia got terrible Austrian style Schlager-pop.  

Punk and New Wave hit Yugoslavia big, and Yugoslav punk bands were allowed a freedom to gig and record that was unique in Eastern Europe (and many Western countries too).  Tito died in 1980, and the punk/new wave era co-incided with a period of young people thinking about what the country might be like post-Tito.

Yugoslavia was accessible to British holiday makers and during the 60s and 70s it gave many British working class people their first taste of a foreign holiday. At one point Yugotours, the state owned travel operator, was the UKs 4th largest travel agent. British journalists could visit too, and Melody Maker ran a 2 page spread on the Yugolsavian punk scene

The punk aesthetic even reached the official magazine of the Communist Party youth wing; Mlad Borec.   The whole sound seems to owe an artistic debt to the music John Peel was playing on the BBC at the time.    

The alternative comedy show Top Lista Nadrealista (“The Surrealist Hit Parade”) started broadcasting in 1981, which delighted in mocking the toxic ethno-nationalism that flourished after Tito’s death.

There is also quite a big Two-Tone influence on some of the later tracks. I would really like to believe it was because Two-Tone’s ideals clicked with people brought up with the Non-Aligned movement, but really I think because the off beat Ska rhythm sounded familiar to people brought up with oompah beats of Schlager, the awful Mitteleuropean pop music.   

I was tempted to refer to this hybrid genre as Skagar or Shla, but instead I think I will call it Yu-Tone.  Mostly the reggae elements are about as authentic as a Police record, however Malijciki by Idoli uses this off beat ska/oompah rhythm in a critique of Russian militarism to great effect.  

Not many of these bands went on to stardom although Bijelo Dugme were a fixture of Yugoslavian rock for years, and their re-union concert in Belgrade in 2005 was one of the biggest ticketed rock gigs of all time with over 220,000 fans attendending. 

Over the last 20 years lost music scenes have been revived as the internet makes it easier to track down rare music. Hollywood actors tell of their love for Anadolou psych-rock and rappers sample Bollywood funk

The explosion of Yugoslavian beat groups has however gone under the radar. With the breakup of Yugoslavia each new country become obsessed by it’s own cultural and political identity, and creating their own unique history. The achievements of Yugoslavia, whether sporting or cultural were forgotten. Jugoton was renamed Croatia records, and even now re-issues avoid the famous Jugoton logo.

The Mods of the 60s and the Punks of the 70s were the last generation to grow up under the rule of Tito, and produced a remarkable, if eccentric cultural legacy.

I accept that there is something weird about a middle aged, middle class lefty indulging in phoney nostalgia for the days of communism and a country I never visited. But I am a sucker for any lost music from the 60s and 70s no matter how odd the source, and I have no shame for my love of the lost Socialist golden age of mods and punks.

This is 70 minutes tracing the rise of 60s Yugo-pop, predictably biased towards mod and beat groups

And this is an hour of yugo-punk and yu-wave. Track listings for both mixes are below

If you don’t like any of tracks on either mix don’t worry.   Good socialist pop songs were rarely over 2’30’, and most of the punk tunes are less than 2 mins.   Good socialist values.

Post script

At the end of the 70s Belgrade was still hosting students form non-aligned countries, including Libya. This led to Jugoton’s weirdest album, in fact one of the oddest albums I have ever listened to. A pro-Gadaffi Libyan psych-rock record sung in Serbo-Croat in praise of the relationship between the 2 countries.

One for the Libyan Serbo-Croat pysch-rock purists.


Radio Yugoslavia call sign

Đorđe Marjanović – Bang bang

Bijele Strijele – Mrzim Taj Dan 

Zlatni Decaci – Labudovo Jezero

Bijele Strijele – Ja Ljubim Je, Je 

Elipse – Signal Evrovizije 

Samonikli — Watermelon Man

Džentlmeni -Veseli Svet

Alenka Pinterič i Mladi levi – Vse povsod mi je lepo

VIS Exodusi – Tužan Sam Kad Kiša Pada

Roboti – Oh, Jeee… 

Zlatni Decaci – Pamtim Taj Dan

Siluete – Tvoj Rođendan 

Sanjalice – Srećni Zajedno 

Prele i Mira Peić – Daj nam Sunca 

Seka Kojadinovic – Sta ce biti sad 

Korni Grupa – Cigu ligu

Mladi Levi – Deček In Motor

Zlatni Decaci – Samo Ti

ЦРНИ БИСЕРИ – Нисам више тај 

Seka Kojadinović – Niko Te Neće Zavoleti

Kameleoni – Sunny Cry

Trubadurzy  – Dziewczyna i pejzaz

Bis-Bez – Dobro utro ucenicke

Bebel Delfini

BIS-BEZ – Narednikot Pejper

Daliborka Stojsic – San – (Audio 1968) HD

Radio Yugoslavia call sign


Elektricni Orgazam …  Konobar

TV moroni – Pada noć 

Termiti – Vremenska prognoza

Pankrti – Lublana je Bulana 

Problemi – Grad izobilja 

Pekinska Patka – Bolje da nosim kratku kosu –

Pankrti – Za železno zaveso

Defektno Efektni  –  ‘D’

Paraf – Narodna pjesma 

Elektricni orgazam – Ne postojim 

Psihomodo Pop – Nema nje

Termiti – vjeran pas

Sranje – Problemi SRANJE 

Film – Kad Si Mlad 

Bezobranzo Zeleno – Beograd

Idoli – Retko te vidjam sa devojkama

Film – Neprilagodjen  

Idoli – Maljciki

Berlinski Zid – Po Cestah Mesta

Otroci socializma – Vojak 

Bijelo Dugme – Ha, ha , ha 

Haustor –    Moja prva ljubav

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