In the fall of 2021, exactly 50 years had passed since the publication of Love Explosion’s Bästa låtar, but the fact does not seem to have caused any large-scale celebration or social media fuss. That’s why it is absolutely necessary to tell the strange story of a band that fell apart after their debut album and have been heralded as one of the most out-of-tune groups in pop history.
What a great name for a band!
Torgny Sjöstedt, a first grader in Swedish high school, stares at the school’s red brick wall and the crocuses and the sky. He and a few others have a band that can barely play and have no name yet, and there is an English-language song written with classmates, teeming with mystical Doors-style images, like “shadows in the corner of your mind", ”mushroom cloud on silver sand", and, well, less mystical, "love is blind, let me move into your mind". It is sung to the tune of a familiar elementary school song – "we are going over the dewy mountains – fallera!" And there will be a gig at the school's fashion show, and the band needs a good name.
Mushroom cloud, atomic bomb. Love. Explosion. This is how Torgny's autobiographical novel from ten years ago begins. Love Explosion. What a great name for a band! Self-confident and explosive. It would have been fit for a slogan of the entire Love Generation, a symbol of the entire hippie revolution, and a program of the entire Sixties: an explosion of love will defeat the Bomb, war, and injustice...
A period for great names was about to begin. After Baby Grandmothers and International Harvester and Sound of Music, there would be Anna Boil Five Eggs I Am the Host in the House, Let the Third Ear Listen & the Third Foot Stomp the Beat, Archimedes' Bathtub, Garden of the Elks, The National Theater, Collect Mama's Manna, Glory Over the Water and the Earth, The Thirty-year War, The Housewife's Breast, Law & Order, Warm the House with Chickens, The Norrbotten Iron, Whip Me Hard, Trees, Grass & Stones, Work & Leisure, The Uppsala Mounds... They were funnier and more colorful and more baroque than the Finnish ones, such as Utopia, Apollo, Mosaic, Wigwam, Help, Cholera, Hunger, Depression, and whatever other diseases there were.
The decade of "Progg" was just about to begin, although the term only came into use when the 1970s were already underway. Progg was not prog. It was of course progressive, but not the same as what was called "prog rock" (in English) or "proge" (in Finnish). It was all that too, but not only and not even mostly that. Progg also included free jazz, blues, heavy, melodic pop, traditional fiddle music, theater music, folk, songs and ballads (vismusik), balalaika music, all sorts of fusions, acoustic agitprop groups and a lot, a whole lot of political rock. It was a wonderful treasure trove full of imaginative and the most diverse music. Good introductions to it are Håkan Lahger's book Proggen, as well as Alf Arvidsson's Musik och politik hör ihop.
Above all, Progg was not reactionary. It wasn’t just a music style but an entire movement, a music movement. Musikrörelsen. It was a meeting ground for the hippie mentality and a left-wing or environmental ethos of diverse shades, it opposed the commercial music industry, advocated all kinds of self-initiated activities, wanted to tear down the wall between the audience and the performers, and favored, but did not require, a political stance. Not only artists but also listeners, fans, and active young people took part in it. A whole bunch of alternative record companies, free festivals, and local volunteer-run Music Forums sprang up all over the country. At the end of the 1970s, the Finnish live music movement took those Forums as a model, all the way to the term "a People's Festival": "We have devoured too much disco tape, the stuff of businessmen. The audience and the musicians have been kept apart long enough."
In Finland, there was not quite a similar phenomenon, although leftist ideas and the hippie spirit flourished over here as well. When Elmu (the Live Music Association in Helsinki) was born in 1978, the Finnish political song movement was already declining, and rock music in particular had never actually blossomed within it. And the other way round too: although rock musicians like Hector, Mikko Alatalo, Harri Saksala, Jussi Raittinen, or Hasse Walli became radicalized and did sympathize with a leftist world-view, political rock in Finland never became such a distinct phenomenon as in Sweden. Over here, Progg’s diversity was best matched by the all-embracing release policy of Love Records.
An early version of Love Explosion participates in the tryouts for a radio competion for best swedish pop group. The band didn't qualify. Seated on the floor: unknown, Torgny Sjöstedt, Henrik Dyrssen (with guitar) and Per Sundberg.
At the turn of the 1960s and the 1970s, when the new Swedish pop music broke through – a music that broke stylistic boundaries and experimented with all kinds of things – it suddenly became important to say something, not necessarily political, but in any case something more serious than ordinary love songs did. Although the first English-language beat music period had already been left behind and some pop and rock music had already been recorded in Swedish, with Progg that became the default lingo. At the age of six, Torgny had learned the basics of rock'n'roll English from Elvis' King Creole: "Därsö mänabudins päsarackänrål..." At the age of eleven, he saw the Beatles live at the Gothenburg Circus. While in high school, he still thought it was impossible for pop music to sound good in Swedish. Then, in the spring of 1968, when he saw the Stockholm-based Sound of Music – known before that as the Gorilla Orchestra, after that as Gunder Hägg, and later still, as Blå Tåget – at the Gothenburg Art Gallery, everything changed. From then on, the lyrics of Love Explosion were written in Swedish, at least mostly.
In the beginning, the mere idea of a rock band had been the most important thing. It was a joke. Hundreds and thousands of teenage ensembles sprang up like that across the globe. Bands were formed because it was cool to be in one. But in a short time, Torgny and his mates learned to play at least well enough to get some gigs.
And they were never booed from the stage, as someone has claimed. But at a few venues, the organizers thought they were a little too weird, or restless, or noisy, so their electricity was turned off, or the disco was started in the middle of the show. There is a photo of this, taken at the student club of the Gothenburg School of Economics, where the fuse has just been unplugged and the band, roaring into a megaphone left behind by a trad jazz group, delivers a ditty about capitalism's corruption and the excellence of cheap Spanish red wine. What a great picture!
The themes of their songs varied hilariously: from the US President's bathtub games to public transport tariffs, to war frenzy, to unemployment, to drugs, to teen sex – 'Richard Nixon,' 'Why must we pay,' 'Yellow Lebanese,' 'Just you,' 'Ljusne,' 'Oh what a war.'
Love Explosion managed to be right where Progg’s history was made. Already in June 1970, they played with Gunder Hägg in an open-air concert on the steps of the Gothenburg Art Museum, at Götaplatsen’s first-ever pop concert, which opened an entire multi-art week. There were other bands at the event, which is sometimes mentioned as one of the candidates for the starting-point of the movement – as an actual movement, that is.
Another starting-point might have been the two free festivals at Stockholm's Gärdet Park in June and August 1970. Many of the performers would later become highly renowned names in the music movement: Gunder Hägg, Träd, Gräs och Stenar, Arbete & Fritid, Turid, Fläsket Brinner... None of them had recorded yet – they all came from the underground.
Love Explosion was one of the few Gärdesfest bands to come from outside Stockholm or Uppsala. Compared to many others, their playing may have been rudimentary, but their energetic attitude and racy lyrics, whether they were about sex or politics – and if the latter, they were anarchistic rather than following any dogma – made them a favorite at the Gärdet's first People's Fest, according to Bengt Eriksson in the book Från Rock-Ragge till Hoola Bandoola. With the Gärdet festivals, they became an outright symbol of the "spela själv" principle of the music movement.
LE members Bo Berndtsson and Mats Brune partying in Landala, Gothenburg in 1968.
Self-motivated creativity, doing your own thing, was an essential idea of the first Gärdesfests. The audience was encouraged to bring along musical instruments or, at least, empty cans and other stuff to clatter. The idea of "spela själv" – play it yourself – started to gather momentum from there on. Some bands distributed flutes and drums to the listeners at their gigs, in the same way as Sperm and Sikiöt did in Finland, or transformed into workshops where their members and non-members played together.
Friends of Love Explosion followed the band to their gigs, and often the line between audience and orchestra was blurred as one or another climbed on stage as a supplement to the band. The band seemed like an undefinably large bunch.
Spela själv! According to the ideals of the music movement, everyone had the right to play music. Members of Nationalteatern learned to handle their instruments on the way to the studio. Like the Fugs' key figures, Gunder Hägg’s members were anything but musicians – they were poets and writers, you can hear the drummer’s inexperience on their debut album, and the trombone player proved to be totally non-musical. It was, in the words of drummer Leif Nylén, "something between a happening, a work of pop art, and an underground band." Other examples of cheerful, rough amateurism included the groups Gudibrallan, Jemerton Jönssons, and, of course, the mysterious Philemon Arthur & The Dung, a DIY duo whose true identities have been a well-kept secret to this day. When PA & The Dung, with the aid of journalists sympathizing with or operating in the music movement, were awarded Newcomer of the Year at the 1972 Grammis Gala, the event shocked the traditional music industry to the point of putting the entire award institution, already criticized for its commercialism, at rest for sixteen years.
At the second Gärdesfest in August 1970, Love Explosion were recorded for the first time – to their misfortune, it might be said. The entire event was audiotaped by the Silence label. This time the festival was much bigger than before, and the program was an hour behind schedule. The band has far too much spare time and someone's got good Turkish hash and the sky is blue and a yellow sun is shining and the grass-covered small hills are soft to sit on and get high, Torgny describes in his novel Vi hade rätt hela tiden ('We were right all the time'). Time passes.
When they finally get on stage, it’s much bigger than last time, it’s big as a lake, and there, on the other shore, Torgny's fellow players appear as distant characters, you can hear their sound faintly from somewhere far away. He feels like a soldier in a TV series, with comrades falling like hay around him. The mic has a sharp edge. He has to make every effort to get his mouth open, and when he does, he begins, with hands firmly against his body, to croak full blast an unemployed youngster's bitter protest against those two villains, the big capitalist Wallenberg and his henchman Wickman, the Social Democrat Minister of Industry, and at the same time Stefan Sundström is struggling to find the correct notes on a borrowed guitar that for some reason is tuned a half-step higher or lower than normal... The end result? It was published on the live album Festen på Gärdet in 1971 and earned Love Explosion a lifelong reputation for unmusicality on a mastodontic scale. They have received, somewhat unjustifiably, an honorable mention for being "one of the most out-of-tune bands in the history of popular music." But luckily they got another chance.
Madeleine Vincent screened pictures at Love Explosion gigs and also took the cover photo of the album "Bästa låtar". Here depicted in the year of the album release.
What a great album title!
MNW, originally the Music Network and later Musiknätet Waxholm, the music movement's leading record label, was established in 1969 on the isle of Vaxholm in the Stockholm archipelago. The label's first artists were Gunder Hägg, whose founding member Tore Berger in effect saved the whole enterprise from bankruptcy with his inheritance, right at the starting blocks. The Gunderhäggians realized that there was a demand for political bands just then, in the early 1970s, and after a few other groups, Berger also invited Love Explosion to make an album. Dennis Huntington was the lead vocalist and harmonica player, Torgny sang and played guitar, violin, and piano, Stefan was on lead guitar, Gunnar Danielsson on rhythm guitar and Henrik Dyrssen on bass, Mats Brune sang and played the piano, drums, and guitar, and on one track, Mikael Jörgenfeldt sang lead.
Anders Larsson, the label's main engineer, considered this as the most bizarre session of his entire career. No one could play, he remembers, and the lyrics were, of course, as progressive as possible. He is not alone in his opinion. Some others also regard the Love Explosion album as childish and intentionally inept. However, it is an undeniable cult classic, a collector's item, and also greatly loved by many. In his in-depth Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music, Tobias Petterson mentions the band repeatedly as a reference point, for better or worse, mostly better, presumably, because he mentions them somewhere else as one of his favorites.
Bästa låtar was released in October or November 1971. Based on the album, all the talk about the group's world-class unmusicality is obvious hyperbolism. The musicians were young and inexperienced, sure, and their songs were simple, and one can't claim that the album displays great musical virtuosity, but it is charming and fresh, full of youthful hubris, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and a burning passion for self-expression, the same way as punk – much later – didn't just mean a certain type of musical expression but freedom for everyone to do their own thing, even if they did not know yet how to do it properly. "Everyone learns to play and everyone has the right to play even if he doesn’t," that’s how it used to be said, right? Leif Nylén of Gunder Hägg later recalled that Bästa låtar sounded like the musicians had just invented rock and roll on their own. And, it might be added, as if they had only now realized that they could make music by themselves. No studio musician plays on the album – you have Love Explosion and Love Explosion only, Torgny emphasizes, and that’s how it is. Spela själv! And in order to allow the listeners also to participate, the chord progression of each song is presented on the back cover.
And the title is Bästa låtar! What a great name! On the one hand, it's hilariously arrogant – the best songs from absolute beginners in their twenties – but on the other hand, it’s to the point: of course they’ve chosen their best for the album, because you play with what you've got.
Love Explosion sounds quite different from the leading Progg bands of the early 1970s. They have not been infected by arty avantgarde or jazz like Träd, Gräs och Stenar or Gunder Hägg, nor do they perform political theater-hootenanny in the style of NJA-Gruppen. They have been listening to the Stones, Doors, Love, Velvet Underground, Canned Heat and International Harvester, but also to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Simon & Garfunkel, as well as Swedish troubadours, or vissångare, like Olle Adolphson and Dan Andersson, the poet of Värmland's Finn Forests. The band have a gift for catchy melodies. Their simple, unpolished sound is reminiscent of Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers. But being a rock band, as they basically are, Love Explosion do not present a lot of uptempo rock on their album. There are only two tracks featuring drums, and many songs have quite a plain instrumentation, usually an acoustic one. Most of the songs are medium-tempo or downright slow. Sometimes the performances sound like drunken campfire songs, and on many tracks you can hear the wailing of a broken violin that Torgny bought from a trift shop and has just recently begun to torture. The prevalent stylistic atmosphere might be described as Dylanesque folk-rock. There are also surprisingly strong connections to traditional folk music, country and western, Swedish schlagers, and the domestic visa, or song tradition, which in Sweden might come with genes. Also included is a violin polska – if M. A. Numminen were a fiddle, he could be sounding like this.
More than half of the songs are socio-political statements. They describe human destinies in capitalism's cold grip or the tearing down of old neighbourhoods out of the way of big-money housing, The whole spectrum of the songs at least proves that the music movement was not thematically monotonous, as Mia Gerdin correctly points out in the book 99 progglåtar.
Dennis Huntington at Experimentgymnasiet, Göteborg, 1970.
Bästa låtar opens with a disarming noise choir, reinforced with a crowd of hangers-on, who comment on the mandatory fares in Gothenburg's public transport: "Why must we pay?" The entertaining holler is reminiscent of the Fugs’ Ten Commandments, but the inspiration for the catchy waltz melody comes more likely from radio concerts of old-time dance music. Stellan Fällan has a somewhat similar background: accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, this story of an alcoholic worker aimed for the same heartbreaking quality as Rosen, an all-round hit song by electrician Arne Qvick.
When a friend of mine first heard the name Love Explosion, he wondered whether it referred to porn. I said no, but the song Bara du ('Just you') does describe – in an exhilaratingly innocent and unambiguous way – a hasty copulation in the phone booth of a popular barroom. It is based remotely on En glad calypso om våren by vissångare Olle Adolphson. According to one recollection, Love Explosion's song became so popular in Gothenburg that every teenager sipping mellanöl, the mid-strength beer, knew it inside out. It didn't matter that the actual bar did not have any phone booth.
The band's best-known and most popular song is the great Stockholm City, originally Ljusne, which appeared on the Gärdet collection, but now, here on Bästa låtar, it is less cacophonous, just like the whole album. Reminiscent of Detroit City, it was first written in English as Good Times in Salt Lake City, intended as a pastiche or travesty of Tony Joe White. The protagonist has to say goodbye to his home village – originally to the entire state of Georgia – in order to search for a job in Stockholm. The Georgian farm is replaced by Ljusne, a small locality on the Norrland coast with a name that trips off the tongue a bit like "Georgia". Troubadour Jan Hammarlund, the legendary psych band Träd, Gräs och Stenar, and Gregory Allan Fitzpatrick, who in the 1960s spent some years in Finland, have all covered the song, but their versions lack Torgny’s violin solos that fearlessly search their course, as well as the fervent communal singing, and lots more.
Hundar får ju springa fria – inspired by Dylan's If Dogs Run Free – tries to encourage an academic scholar, who has buried himself in his work, to live and let go, at least a little: "Dogs are allowed to run free, so why not you?" Torgny had originally written the lyrics for his father as a compassionate accompaniment to a Christmas present, but when sung, the slow minor melody sounded like an accusation. When he revealed in a live radio interview who the song was about, a stormy feedback session awaited him at home – carried out by his mother, not his father, though.
Even bigger problems were caused by Djävulens patrask ('The Devil's mob'), which was played during the same broadcast on November 22, 1971. Dennis had written the song to the tune of Dylan’s Desolation Row. It was a dystopian indictment concerning a street-wandering Satan, whose gang included witches chasing truth-tellers, politicians gabbling empty words, police that protected capitalism, and norm-abiding citizens who dreaded any change. It was a powerful depiction of an alley of desolation, just like the original. Many unsuspecting radio owners, who turned their receivers on in good time before the next weather report, were taken back by hearing someone sing about speed-shooting slum youth, slander the government and Prime Minister Palme, and compare the Parliament House to a shithouse.
What an unfortunate incident! Four shocked listeners complained about it to the Radio Board that oversaw the program content. In the opinion of the Board's majority, the song did not meet the minimum aesthetic standards for good entertainment defined by the Broadcasting Agreement, and therefore its performance was unacceptable. Those in the minority stated that although the performance was undeniably of poor quality, it was still quite fit for entertainment. In any case, Djävulens patrask was placed under a playing restriction. On top of that, it turned out that no permission had been sought or obtained to translate the Dylan song. The first edition of the album was pulled from the market and the song was quickly re-recorded with a new melody. Perhaps the most curious detail in the colorful history of Djävulens patrask are the notes on Bästa låtar's back cover. The band supplied the song with a user warning, worrying they might be assumed to regard drug-use as some form of anti-capitalism. This notion they vehemently rejected: "If you want to change society, you must not escape it into drugs, romantic ruralism, religious mysticism, etc. What is needed is political attitude and political work."
It had taken almost a year to complete the album, and during that time they had become closely associated with a revolutionary group of Maoists. Drugs certainly did not fit into that political agenda.
Students entering Burgårdens gymnasium, Gothenburg, 1968.
From Mao to Stalin
In Sweden, as in other Western countries, the ideas of Mao Zedong began to fascinate the radicalizing youth in the 1960s. For many, the socialist China appeared as an active anti-colonial and anti-imperialist force, more creative, bolder, and more revolutionary than the puffy and bureaucratic Soviet Union, the "social-imperialist" superpower that subjugated its satellite states, promoted a peaceful coexistence between social systems, and in the early 1970s became an even worse enemy for China than the U.S. The Chinese support for Vietnam increased the attractiveness of Maoism, and China sympathizers took the lead in the Vietnam solidarity movement, that is, the "FNL groups" which served as an elementary school for the Swedish New Left.
In the 1960s, the traditional Swedish Communist Party began to move away from Moscow and Stalinism and in 1967 became the left-wing socialist VPK (Vänsterpartiet Kommunisterna). A Maoist fraction, who resigned from this band of apostates, formed a new organization, together with pro-Chinese FNL activists, which was called, somewhat clumsily, "Kommunistiska Förbundet Marxist-Leninisterna" (The Communist League Marxist-Leninists). Thus began the multi-stage fragmentation of the Swedish far-left into ever smaller groups.
In 1970, a Gothenburg-led opposition in turn seceded from the KFML, regarding the union's Stockholm leadership as academic right-wing revisionists who were alienated from the struggling and striking working masses and lacking a true revolutionary spirit. The separatists decided, less imaginatively, to use the name KFML(r). "R" meant "revolutionaries", and in everyday speech they were referred to as the "R's."
Both Maoist groups had a relatively small membership and their success in state elections was negligible. The West Coast group tended to emphasize their proletarian and hard-boiled identity, and one indication of their tougher line was open worship of Stalin. Appreciation of the infamous Soviet dictator was certainly an integral part of Maoism, but among the R's, Stalinism rose to prominence. In 1973, their election poster "Class Against Class" depicted a grown-up Emil of Lönneberga armed with an assault rifle. In addition to the most radical workers, the strict "class line" of the R's won a lot of supporters from schoolkids, students, and intellectuals. The Finnish "Taistoists" of the 1970s (the left-wing of the local CP) might find much familiar in the Maoists' style, but in many cases the extremities may surprise them as well.
Both the KFML(r) and its archenemy, the KFML, which in 1973 adopted the name of the former Communist Party (SKP), were active in the field of culture. They set up their own record labels and music/cultural associations, gaining through them a foothold in the music movement. The general ethos of the movement was, of course, left-wing – maybe "red-green" in modern terms – and at some point it was even discussed whether the movement should regard instrumental music as "progressive" at all. But this leftism was remarkably diverse, and the movement wanted no parties to tell it what to do.
The new SKP in particular, however, considered the music movement to be one of those mass movements it simply had to infiltrate, just like trade unions, the Vietnam groups, the women’s movement and the environmental movement. There were heated debates in papers, both in the organizations' own publications and the movement's own Musikens Makt, about what kind of political dimensions music had and should or should not have. Individual bands also got their share. The SKP-oriented Clarté magazine criticized Blå Tåget's clumsy playing as showing "contempt for the people", Leif Nylen recalls. The popular Nationalteatern had several R-members or supporters, but their own dogs bit them as well, or, more precisely, combed through their lyrics in search of ideological errors, as Alf Arvidsson describes in his book.
Agit prop performance. Gothenburg in the early nineteen seventies.
The Enemy's Music
At the time that rock music rose into a dominant position in the music movement, the entire genre came under intense ideological controversy. While transgressing from an anti-Soviet stance to outright nationalism, the SKP raised the slogan of "People's Music," enthused about folk culture in the manner of China and Albania, and condemned Bruce Springsteen and other imperialist rock stars to the lowest depths as corrupters of the young. Among the Finnish far left, similar views were sometimes expressed, but the Maoists' categorical stance was in a class of its own. They declared rock "the enemy's music," from which the proto-punk band Fiendens Musik later found a great name for themselves.
Some of the R's, too, regarded rock as the Enemy's music. It represented American power aspirations, it separated different generations, it was orgiastic and escapist, and, by its sheer loudness, blocked communication between performers and audiences. There were other comrades, however, who thought that it aptly reflected the sensibility among the youth and was a great way to reach out to working-class youth.
The bitter division between the two Maoist fractions also contributed to disunity within the music movement. Gothenburg and Stockholm were the two centers of the movement, and the West Coast music activists regarded all Stockholmers, and in particular the SAM distribution organization, as "Chinese", or, at the very least, pothead hippies. The opposite camp, on the other hand, assumed all the Gothenburgers to support the R's as one. The 1970s/1980s quibble between Helsinki and Tampere was light stuff compared to this. Stockholm had the Parliament and the Royal Court and an army of civil servants, while Gothenburg was a maritime and industrial city, and, in the days of the R's, the people there liked to regard themselves as more proletarian than the capital's inhabitants. They even thought their own rock music was harder and bluesier compared to the more experimental, improvised, jazz-influenced, obscure, or freaky music of the Stockholmers. The rift led the Gothenburgers eventually to set up their own record company and distribution organization, which centered on political rock, but by that time Love Explosion were no more.
While the band was recording their album in Vaxholm, Tore Berger, who acted as their fatherly and encouraging producer, invited the musicians to his villa. Torgny and his friends once had played Gunder Hägg’s debut album over and over again, but now the young Götelanders have become so politically alert and sharp that the Stockholm-based art group's intellectual satire is far too petty-bourgeois for them. Weren't Gunder Hägg actually avoiding political statements? That’s not true, Berger denies, listen to this and that from our new album. All right, they comment, this one does indeed ironize the romantic ruralism that Träd, Gräs och Stenar and some others glorify and which from a revolutionary point of view is plain escapism, so that one's quite OK (and, to themselves, they admit the song is critical in a much clearer way than any of their own), but in his novel Torgny summarizes their general mood like this:
"However, we are not satisfied with Gunder Hägg's political profile. Most of our friends in Gothenburg sympathize with the R's, and their political stance is uncompromising in a way that Tore's band are not." This is how they mused, these lads raised in an experimental school, most of them coming from middle-class homes, many of them the sons of professors or lesser academics. From their point of view, Tore's band were, strictly speaking, enemies of the Swedish working class.
One weekend the members of Love Explosion took the ferry to Fredrikshavn to write new songs. Left to right: Torgny Sjöstedt, Gunnar Danielsson, Mats Brune, Stefan Sundström, Dennis Huntington and in the shadow Mikael Jörgenfeldt.
A Revolutionaries' Band
Torgny Sjöstedt, like many others, had landed in the R-camp via the FNL groups. As the Maoists split, the FNL groups were also divided into opposite sides of the battlefront, and the study circle he attended happened to be run by the R's. That's probably what happened to the bandmates, too. First they were young lads, interested in the politics of the R's, and they happened to have a band of their own, and one fine day that band had become a band of the R's. The story is almost taken from a novel, and actually it is from a novel, but Torgny asserts that there is nothing invented in his Vi hade rätt hela tiden. He looks at the past in a refreshingly calm manner, without romanticization and glorification but also without sackcloth and ashes.
Love Explosion and a number of other bands performed and rehearsed at the Hagahuset Concert Hall. One day a representative from the communist students' league (Marxists-Leninists) arrived, who had been tasked with raising the ideological awareness of the musicians by gathering them in Marxist study groups. The revolutionary labour movement, that is, the R's, was certainly pleased to see that so many of Hagahuset's bands had progressive tendencies, but unfortunately their lyrics were ideologically still very fickle. "A communist leadership is needed here for the music to become absolutely progressive."
All right then, Dennis admitted, the band really should study the role of culture in the class struggle, so they could adopt a clearer political attitude. Soon after, Love Explosion and a few other bands interested in communism gathered in a study circle. There were En Suck Av Lättnad from the Sandarna district, an acoustic trio called Nynningen, who later went electric and made a breakthrough with their rocking arrangements of Mayakovsky poems, and the grandiously named Stalinorgeln. The "Stalin's Organ" later transformed into a political heavy-metal group called Motvind. The study circle immersed themselves in the writings of Mao, Engels, Brecht, and some Soviet cultural theoretician, perhaps Lunacharski. One of the leaders was the guitarist of the agit-group Knutna Nävar. Among the most chilling numbers in the repertoire of the "Clenched Fists" was Sången om Stalin, an anthem for the great dictator.
Love Explosion were soon ready to draw up their first musico-political manifesto. According to class analysis, the bourgeoisie, the workers, the petite bourgeoisie, and the lumpenproletariat all had their own music. Classical music and opera were part of the bourgeois culture. What about the workers? Well, they did listen to the Svensktoppen hit parade, but the real purpose of schlagers was just to dumb down the working class, so this genre also belonged to the bourgeois camp. Authentic working class music was represented by Knutna Nävar from the home camp of the R's. The Beatles, a favorite of the band's teen years, were – after some reflection – placed in the petty-bourgeois department, as were Gunder Hägg/Blå Tåget, an important pioneer group, but today, as mentioned, irreversibly the enemies of the Swedish working class. The music of the lumpenproletariat is left undescribed in Torgny's novel.
Another manifesto was also written. According to this, Johnny Cash was better than the Stones because it was sometimes hard to make sense of Mick Jagger’s pronunciation. For the revolutionaries, it was essential that the message was understood. Love Explosion's old anarchistic songs, especially anything that could be interpreted as sympathetic to drugs, were dropped from the band’s repertoire. Their new songs were written collectively, with the texts combed through in the study circle and the action program of the communist youth league (Marxist-Leninists) as an ideological basis. They wrote songs about the Vietnam War, about World War III, and about various socio-political policy issues, such as Lite borta ska man vara ('One should stay a bit stoned'), which explained to young people, as according to the book, that drugs formed a part of capitalist oppression and schools were bourgeois brainwashing facilities.
Henrik Dyrssen and Stefan Sundström of Love Explosion taking the boat for an island festival outside Västerås. 1970. (Photo: M. Vincent)
Why Couldn't You Play Accordions?
With politicization, the gradual downfall of Love Explosion also began.
First, Gunnar assured Torgny that the two of them were just wasting their time playing in the band. After all, revolutionaries had to use their resources properly, otherwise they were counter-revolutionary. As musicians, they were nothing special and could do much else for communism, while the others were not mature enough for political work and, moreover, smoked too much pot. Gunnar and Torgny could stop playing and become Love Explosion's political commissars.
The commissars' task, just like in the Red Army or the People's Liberation Army, was to teach and ideologically guide the rest of the gang. They participated in songwriting and implemented personnel changes. They were dissatisfied with Mats' drumming, and he had to stick to the piano. Then their old schoolmate Henrik was sacked. The reason was said to be excessive dope use. This hobby was of course common to all band members, but the youth league (Marxist-Leninists) did not accept drug use and even sent their commissar over to interrogate the musicians. New guys were recruited for drums and bass, and finally the band's name was changed. They became Rödrockarna, or the Red Jackets – or the Red Rockers.
Love Explosion, or maybe Rödrockarna already, presented their new repertoire in an audition held in front of the Propaganda Division of the R's, plus an audience of three hundred other revolutionaries, all gathered on the top floor of the Marx–Engels House that was controlled by the KFML(r). It went well, and the brother of party chairman liked it. However, there was still room for improvement, the big man's brother said. Why couldn't you start playing accordions? The workers would like that. Yeah, and why not put on blue shirts and red scarves like the 1930s propaganda groups? If you are to represent the communist movement, then you have to create a disciplined impression. The band felt so confused they could not even come up with an answer.
In his blog, author Kalle Lind once marveled at the time when leftism was fashionable and many of the country’s coolest rock bands were leftist and the Communists had every chance to gain more supporters through rock – and in this situation they chose to invest all their chips in folk fiddling. He was speaking of the SKP's Maoists, but the same "beautiful anti-populism" applied also to the Stalinist accordion lover at the Marx–Engels House.
Rödrockarna did not acquire red scarfs or accordions. The band only managed to play a few gigs before the youth league (Marxist-Leninists) decided to disband them. It happened maybe only within a year of Bästa låtar's release. The line of reasoning, described by Torgny, seems curious: "The justification was that the youth association of the R's had far too many bands." One was enough. "We got sacked, that's how nicely it went," Mats says, and "most of us left Stalinism at that." In the history of rock and roll, there are many stories about the disintegration of bands but hardly any quite like this.
Knutna Nävar and Röda Ropet, two other R-bands, recorded some of Love Explosion's posthumous songs. One of them, Spring, Lasse, spring ('Run, Lasse, run'), pointed out that alcoholism is due to the worker's oppressed and alienated position. The original song was a loose shuffle, but in Torgny's ears, Röda Ropet's treatment of it sounded like a battle march from the Spanish Civil War. The song was included on the album R-arnas största hits, a greatest hits compilation of the R's.
Reunion at the Gorhenburg Art Museum 2009. Left to right: Dennis Huntington, Henrik Dyrssen, Mikael Jörgenfeldt and Torgny Sjöstedt (Photo: Haina Berndtsson)
After the End
The Stalinist KFML(r) was further divided in the mid-1970s, and a few years later, both the parent party VPK and the Maoist SKP also fragmented again. The R's became the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (revolutionaries), moving soon away from Maoism and declaring China a capitalist country. Even today, the party still aims for the proletariat's revolutionary dictatorship. The SKP members' faith also began to falter with the death of Mao, the complete change in Chinese policy, and Pol Pot, and in the 1980s the party abandoned communism entirely. It became the moderately leftist Solidarity Party that withered away in the 1990s. The music movement waned in the late 1970s. Political fervour and the cultural differences between cities were not the only reasons. In his book, Håkan Lahger lists some other suggestions: records and record sales became more important than live performances, the musical scale of the movement narrowed and the supply became one-sided, the festivals grew too big, and professionalism was difficult to combine with the initial idealism. And when the movement could have found new strength through punk/New Wave, that was at first fended off as commercial and/or reactionary, Alf Arvidsson adds.
Dennis and Henrik formed a rock-blues band called Lag & Ordning (Law And Order), a fine name also, but their 1975 album, 51, Moderately Beat, went unreleased and only saw daylight years later as a self-publication. It is worth hearing, though, not least for the fact that it includes covers from Chuck Berry and Reverend Gary Davis, sung in Swedish and with self-penned political lyrics. In the book 99 proggplattor Bengt Eriksson describes their music as "Gothenburg punk-blues." While Lag & Ordning's album was still waiting on the shelf, Dennis put together the Huntington Band, whose first and only LP was released in 1977.
Torgny found the joy of playing anew in a folk music ensemble, and in the 1980s he and a bunch of old mates put together a kind of dansband called Togges Gossar. “It was fun to play evergreens and watch the crowd dance,” Mats says. Love Explosion played a couple of gigs in 1979, but an actual comeback took place only at the end of the 1990s, and at the 30th anniversary of Bästa låtar, they released a CD called April 2001. In addition to old but hitherto unreleased songs, there were also new, equally sharp social commentaries. But, of course, it sounded different from Bästa låtar, not least because of their improved musical skills. In 2006, their demo collection Skrea Strand came out. As Bästa låtar has not been released on CD and the vinyl edition is unavailable for almost any price, so the full LP is available for download on Love Explosion's homepage, together with the band's lyrics archive, pictures and more.
Over the past ten years, Torgny has performed and recorded with his own Togges Band, and he occasionally performs with two other Progg veterans. Tore Berger and Torkel Rasmusson were key figures in Gunder Hägg/Blå Tåget and thus, in the eyes of the ancient Love Explosion, were the enemies of the Swedish labor movement. So many things have changed in half a century.
The Love Explosion website is loveexplosion.com. The main sources of this article were Alf Arvidsson's book Musik och politik hör ihop (2008), Håkan Lahger's Proggen – Musikrörelsens uppgång och fall (1999) and Torgny Sjöstedt's Vi hade rätt hela tiden (2011). Thanks to Torgny and Mats for help.