Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gruppo Sportivo: A Brilliant Mistake

Gruppo Sportivo isn't a world championship soccer team, a line of expensive men's sportswear or an exotic disease. And it's not any run-of-the-mill rock band. It is an energetic and slightly outrageous Dutch sextet that sports an italian name, effects a continental image and serves up wholly original and imaginative pop tunes in english. - Sire Records bio (June 1979)

For a brief moment in the late 1970s, Sire Records embraced a Dutch New Wave band called Gruppo Sportivo and released a record that changed my life, 1979's Mistakes, which also came with a 6-song EP called More Mistakes. Then, the band's statewide presence disappeared like an expired Green Card and they thence became strictly a Continental act, a Dutch treat.

But last night I received my Gruppo Sportivo import CD in the mail from Amazon and now I'm so excited and I just can't hide it. I'm about to lose control and I think I like it. Of course, the band that made the US release Mistakes - which took the best tracks from the group's first two LPs, 1977's 10 Mistakes and 1978's Back to '78, for the US market - continues to have record companies compound mistakes in their back catalog reissues. Mainly sin-of-ommision mistakes. Since the Sire album isn't available on CD, the closest match I could find to most of the tracks appearing in it - and the More Mistakes EP - was 1987's Back To 19 Mistakes compilation. But the song order was so random that I immediately felt like Dr. Frankenstein, compelled to tweak the order as much as possible to make it over into Mistakes image. Do you know how certain album tracks end and lead into the next track perfectly, as if "Intelligent Design" were being applied to music sequencing? So much so that when you hear a particular song, it triggers something in your memory banks to anticipate the opening notes of the song in sequence? Like the second side of the Buzzcocks' A Different Kind of Tension? Like the Beatles' entire Abbey Road? (Or, for an audio-visual analogy, the cue-perfect synchronization of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz?) Well, side two of Mistakes had one such moment and what that aforementioned Intelligent Design engineer joined together, let no man tear asunder! I'm talking about the segue from side 2's opener "Blah Blah Magazines" into "Beep Beep Love." Why anyone would mess with that perfect match is beyond me, but I had to fix it.

Along with "Superstar" - which featured the Lumpy Gravy rendition of Frank Zappa & The Mothers' "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" (and hence had everybody claiming that Gruppo Sportivo lifted the lick from Zappa, though the Mistakes liner notes clearly attribute the riff to Frank) - these are probably the two best known stateside Gruppo tracks. "Blah Blah Magazines" cleverly answers the critics who, because they played danceable pop and featured two girl singers (the Grupettes, Meike Touw and Josee Van Iersel), called the group a cross between "Abba and ah..." (a list that the band sings includes Blondie, Ian Dury, and so on). Or, as the excellent review at Dan Bryk's Vanity Press describes the sound on Mistakes:
The Grupettes' trademark doo-wop harmonies evoke sixties girl groups and Annifrid and Agnetha. the overall sound is somewhere between (UK) Squeeze and the Blockheads with a smidge of the Zombies, the Monkees and the beat gruppes in general. This really ought to be considered a classic...Actually, they are a cross between (in blah-blah magazines) ABBA and
ahhhh.... ABBA!
And maybe even a lick of Dan Hicks, who also featured two great female vocalists, The Hot Licks: Naomi Eisenberg and Mary Ann Price. But Gruppo Sportivo's aural aura is perhaps best summed up by Daniel Silverman, who described it as "retro-kitsch for the intellectual elite," where the glory days of post-war American pop culture represented in Happy Days and Norman Rockwell meet the tongue-in-cheek cheesiness of Roy Lichtenstein, as filtered through Dutch eyes. And sung about in English! It always amazed me that Gruppo Sportivo songwriter Hans Vandenburg's lyrics could comment on American culture so astutely and cleverly without losing anything in translation.

All You Need Is (Beep Beep) Love
But I digress...let me segue back to the second part of the group's aforementioned great Mistakes segue. "Beep Beep Love" is a rollicking tale of alien romance powered by a riff so strong that resistance proves futile (even US radio couldn't resist playing it). She landed on my roof, mad love from Venus / Her ship went out of gas, fast as light, love came between us / Flashing girl, out of space I’ll never turn you off / future love. I remember being in a punk band in college and we actually attempted to cover this song in an effort to become more melodically "New Wave." We didn't have the chops, so our singer-guitarist tried to teach us the similarly-themed "Robot Love" by Scottish punk rockers The Valves (with a chorus of "Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep"), but even those three chords proved too much for us. (Our band was Thee Katatonix - and you thought Gruppo Sportivo was unheard of stateside?)

Anyway, this was the original track sequencing I am attempting to bring back from the dead:

Mistakes LP:
mission a paris/dreamin'/henri/hey girl/i said no/i shot my manager | blah blah magazines/beep beep love/p.s. 78/superman/one way love (from me to you)/bottom of the class/the single

More Mistakes 7" EP:
bernadette/tokyo/disco really made it | girls never know/are you ready?/rubber gun

Alas, my dream mix still lacks the great "Dreamin'" and "Henri" from side 1 of Mistakes, "The Single" from side 2, and "Are You Ready?" and the gay bar scene spoof "Rubber Gun" (Switch on the jukebox and let Louie sing/About his underwear and his rubber loving thing) from More Mistakes. So now it looks like I'll have to get those tracks on yet another import CD compilation, 10 Mistakes/Buddy Odor Is a Gas. Only then will I finally have put back the Mistakes album as I remember it on Sire Records and complete my Humpty Dumpty jigsaw puzzle repair job! Did I mention I'm anal-compulsive? Do I really need to?

Gruppo Lineup (classic edition, circa Mistakes):
  • Hans Vandenburg - vocalist/guitarist/songwriter
  • Peter Calicher - keyboardist
  • Eric Wehrmeyer - bassist
  • Max "Climax" Mollinger - drummer
  • Josee Van Iersel - vocalist
  • Meike Touw - vocalist

  • Gruppo Trivia:
  • "Mission a Paris" starts with the piano intro from B.B. and the Stingers "Nutrocker"
  • Zappa isn't the only Yank rocker referenced in "Superman"; Peter Calicher also channels Del Shannon's "Runaway" in his keyboard solo
  • "I Shot My Manager" cleverly spoofs Eric Clapton
  • Gruppo main man Hans Vandenburg is often listed as Vandefruits in songwriting credits
  • Vandenburg broke up the band in 1979, then reformed it later without the girls
  • Deaf School singer Bette Bright (real name: Anne Martin) sings on half the tracks on the 1980 Gruppo Sportivo album Copy To Copy
  • Vocalist Meike Towe formed her own band and released Tutti Fruitti in 1980
  • Grupette vocalists Josée Van Iersel and Meike Towe reunited in 1982 in the Tweeters, and also later joined the German group Spliff
  • All the members of Gruppo Sportivo were from The Hague, the home of Dutch rock (Golden Earring and Shocking Blue got their start there, and today Kane and Anouk carry on the tradition)
  • Gruppo got their first big break opening on tour for Golden Earring. Earring singer Barry Hay produced Gruppo Sportivo's first single "Out There In The Jungle," which became a small hit.
  • You can still get Gruppo's first two European releases on import CDs that couple them with other albums: 10 Mistakes/Buddy Odor Is a Gas and Back to 78/Copy Copy
  • Gruppo Sportivo is still alive and kicking in 2005. Their latest release is the import CD Topless 16 (2004), which also includes a DVD (but you'll need an all-region DVD player to play it)
  • The Gruppo Sportivo DVD is called Career Moves
  • Gruppo's 2000 single I Don't Think So/Click Here contains the original Atari version of the game Centipede for PC
  • "Beep Beep Love" was covered by Incredible Moses Leroy (Ron Fountenberry) on 2001's Electric Pocket Radio
  • Gruppo's leader Hans Vandenburg has his own Web site (it's mostly in Dutch!)
  • This is The Official Gruppo Sportivo Web Site (also mostly in Dutch)

  • Gruppo Lyrics:
  • Click here for lyrics to all the songs on Back To 78 (Hey Girl/Bernadette/P.S. 78/Tokyo/I Said No!/Real Teeth Are Out/Are You Ready?/The Booby-Trap Boogie/Blah Blah Magzines/One Way Love (From Me To You)/I'm a Rocket/Shave/The PogoNever Stops/Bottom of the Class)
  • Beep Beep Love
  • Disco Really Made It
  • Rock 'n' Roll

  • For more information see:
    Vanity Press: Lasting Forever - this is the best English-language Gruppo Sportivo site I've found on the Internet. Everything you need to know or find is right here, courtesy of fan Dan Bryk , himself a musician.

    See also Holland Rocks (the Encyclopedia of Dutch Rock Music)

    Gruppo Updates (Dec. 2007): Dan Silverman's excellent Gruppo page is back online. Check it out at 10 Mistakes Gruppo Sportivo.


    Blogger Pastor Drew said...

    Hey man our buddie told me that you had a question. Let me know I'm the answer man. Talk to you later.


    4:14 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    thanks and good times! the CD reissues have been excellent... since you cited the valves, i would also add (ex-Squeeze member) harry kakoulli's "i'm on a rocket" from his Oval LP.

    i do hope to update the site at some point... i hand-coded those html files easily 10 years ago.


    7:17 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    a friend sent this link and i'm very grateful for the ability to know so much about this mystery band from my yesterday. First heard these guys (i think) on WKKL - Cape Cod Community College (MASS) during summer of 79 - along with the rest of the greats - B-52s and clash and jam. So, the US import was a treasured part of my collection and my band-mates, other creative friends and I marveled at these whacky europeans. In fact, one former bandmate sent me a CD from my origianl album a couple years ago. Time to pull it out! Thanks!

    3:39 PM  
    Blogger braverwoman said...

    Wow ! I've been trying to find this band and the name of the album with the song "henri" for the last 20+ years. Was beginning to doubt my memory. So glad to stumble across your page - thanks to you I now know where to look and what to ask for. The last piece finally fell into place after many fruitless searches. Gruppo Coolo indeed.

    1:22 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    After 30 years of being re-grovied by the corporate right, I was sitting here watching the tube>stop when for no particular reason, the Sporty - Group flashed into my mind>stop from some obscure crany in my mind comes the undeleted music group from my past.
    It was 1978 in Denver, Colorado. There was lines on the mirror and lines on my face! We listened to Groupo Sportivo, and partied all night long. Harry was a millionare,
    did I mention he was also my landlord back them? (He was also bald). What can I say? Now I have to dig thru all my albums, I need a flash-back music fix!

    10:03 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Impressive wealth of Sportivo info.You might enjoy my youtube vid "Bettie Page Rockin'" which I used the "Superman" intro -riff as a lil tune for Ms. Page to dance to.I kinda paraphrased you in an update on my video notes.You'll see what I mean.


    10:57 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Another mistake: Disco Really Made It is not on More Mistakes. The song listed as such is actually Real Teeth Are Out (from Back To '78).

    The real Disco Really Made It can be found on the CD compilation Married With Singles.

    1:09 PM  
    Blogger Dan Silverman said...

    dan here. Wonderful stuff. My Gruppo site (official, mind you!) is up and running at

    3:10 AM  
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