As Demis Roussos died earlier this week, I cast my mind back to his early success as part of pop-psych-prog-rock band Aphrodite’s Child and listen again to their first album, 1968’s ‘End of the World.’
Vangelis Papathanassiou, Demis Roussos, Lucas Sideras – late 60s
I first heard Rain and Tears on a 1968 chart countdown on Radio 1 in the late 80s. Once the Top 15 had aired, if there was time, listeners got to hear entries from lower down the chart. This was often the most interesting part of the programme as it was a chance to catch new, perhaps less commercial material. ‘Rain and Tears’ reached only number 29 in the UK but still, a significant achievement for an unknown, non UK/US group.
Rain and Tears takes the very familiar chord progressions of ‘Pachabel’s Canon in D Major’ and adds an instantly memorable melody within a musical style somewhere between the Bee Gees and the Moody Blues (think Majority One, perhaps).
The band name Aphrodite’s Child was new to me but I soon recognised the vocalist as unmistakably that of Demis Roussos. Still the song’s quasi-psychedelic style steeped in tragic poeticism is far removed from the overtly romantic /pan-European personality cult Roussos of 70’s MOR success.
Aphrodite’s Child magnum opus appears to be their last album, 1972’s 666, although in what sense this is the monster of myth, I have no idea as I began as I usually do in the 60s and the band’s first album.
End of the World
This is an unusual one to be sure, cast very much in the mould of full-blown 60s experimentalism with Rain and Tears being the most conventional offering though title track and solid follow-up single ‘End of the World’ follow not far behind.
Elsewhere the album veers from the wild rock of ‘You Always Stand in My Way’ to the soulful, pounding, Timebox-like ‘Don’t Try to Catch a River’. ‘The Grass Is No Green’ aims to intrigue with its alternating frantic/wearied passages, Byzantine echoes, lone animal sounds and an impressively wailing vocal.
Mellotron features prominently on Greek fable ‘The Shepherd and the Moon’ though Vangelis Papathanassiou was reputedly not fond of the instrument. Final track, ‘Day of the Fool’ is like an outtake from a rock opera, a highly theatrical descent into madness – this band always showed a predilection for the apocalyptic. Only on obligatory portrait-of-an-outsider ‘Mr Thomas’ do they sound uncharacteristically tentative.
Procol Harum are never too far away and there are nods to early Genesis. All the tracks are written by Boris Bergman and Vangelis (Pachabel apart). Throughout Demis Roussos shows that he can do frazzled and frenzied every bit as much as he can gentle and lyrical vocals.
I was surprised to find that I’d listened to End of the World only once since I bought the album maybe four or five years ago. Although I appreciated its ambitions, I can’t quite have been taken with it enough to listen for a second time. Hearing it again today, I’m not sure why as it’s really rather an enjoyable trip.
And it’s how I’d like to remember Demis Roussos.
Artemios “Demis” Ventouris-Roussos – 15th June 1946 – 25th January 2015