As the argument rumbles on as to whether Belgrade’s thriving music and party scene really is the new Berlin, The Calvert Journal invites you to take a trip back to discover the music of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. For your listening pleasure, we have selected just a few of the greatest hits from the Yugoslav pop and rock music scene, which is noted for being well developed and far more open to western influences than the other socialist states of eastern Europe. From flower power to rock-erotica and the circus, there’s something for everyone in this Yugoslav soundtrack.
Đorđe Marjanović, Whistle at 8 o’clock (Zvižduk u 8)
Often referred to as Yugoslavia’s first megastar, Đorđe Marjanović shot to nationwide fame in the 1950s and also achieved considerable stardom in the Soviet Union, continuing to perform to packed audiences well into the 1980s. Renowned for his theatrical style — he was reportedly the first ever Yugoslav pop star to take off his jacket and throw it into the audience, an undeniably baller move — Marjanović is regarded as a pioneer of the Yugoslav rock scene. Known as Đokisti, Marjanović’s fans were known for their dedication — the singer’s cult of personality has even been compared to that of President Josip Broz Tito. Such was the fans’ adoration for Marjanović that they famously walked out of the 1961 Golden Microphone competition when Marjanović was not chosen as winner, forcing the television broadcast to stop and later gathering in a 7,000-strong street protest outside Belgrade’s Trade Union Hall.
Grupa 220, Smile (Osmijeh)
Long hair, colourful shirts and original sounds — Grupa 220 were Yugoslavia’s answer to the psychedelia taking the world by storm in the 1960s. Formed in Zagreb in 1966, Grupa 220 ushered in the urban new wave and quickly acquired something of a cult status in the city, overwhelming the local dance halls as young people flocked to see them. No ticket? No problem. As Yugoslavia’s leading representatives of the flower power generation, Grupa 220 instead asked fans to pay a visit to a local florist en route to their concerts (show your flower at the door). Progressive not only in their approach to ticketing, Grupa 220 is also usually credited with releasing the first Yugoslav LP consisting of only original material: think Allman Brothers meets Deep Purple meets California meets Croatia.
Denis & Denis, Programme on your computer (Program tvog kompjutera)
Electropop duo Denis & Denis burst out of their improv studio onto Yugoslav radio in 1982, having been signed by leading record label Jugoton. Hailing from Rijeka, Denis & Denis’ first configuration — Davor Tolja and Marina Perazić — were Yugoslavia’s original synthpop stars. Taking inspiration from the likes of Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and Yazoo, the group were ahead of their time in both style and substance — who had a computer at home in 1984? Having broken up in the late 1980s, Denis & Denis left fans devastated until the good news came in 2012 that the duo would be getting back together … minus half of the band. Denis & Denis’ newest iteration saw Tolja team up with singer Ruby Montanari Knez, and in 2013 they released the appropriately titled album Restart.
Daniel, Julie (Đuli)
Đuli, Džuli or Julie? However you write it, Croatian-Montenegrin singer Daniel’s 1983 hit is a triumph in pop-yodelling fusion, helicopter piloting and advanced seaside choreography. Here, Daniel — real name Milan Popović — recounts a summer romance with an exotic woman from lands afar, all the while showing off the Montenegrin coastline and offering a masterclass in piece-to-camera singing. This catchy (if at times shrill) track saw Daniel claim fourth place for Yugoslavia at the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest in Munich, and later became a hit across Europe. Look out for a compelling dance segment that features the underrated combination of an accordion solo and black thigh-high boots.
Novi Fosili, My Saša (E, moj Saša)
Novi Fosili, or the New Fossils in English, are sometimes described as the “Croatian Abba”. When you listen to their bright pop sound, it’s easy to see why. Formed in Zagreb in 1969, Novi Fosili were a firm favourite for young and old alike across the former Yugoslavia. Another band to take advantage of the opportunity that Eurovision provided for contact with the Western European music industry and markets, Novi Fosili represented Yugoslavia at the 1987 contest in Brussels, obtaining a respectable fourth place with their song Ja sam za ples (I wanna dance). Do you have a Sasha in your life whose day would be brightened by an 80s Yugoslav pop hit dedicated to them? It might just be their lucky day.
Josipa Lisac, Today I’m crazy (Danas sam luda)
Zagreb-born Josipa Lisac is nothing less than a pop-rock legend. The singer has enjoyed a career spanning more than five decades and is still very much in business. Never one for understatement, Lisac has a huge voice and is equally known as the queen of theatrical performances and unique fashion sense. Jump into an adventure in song, style and drama with her 1987 hit Danas sam luda (Today I’m crazy), then let yourself be swept away on a wave of extravagant eyeshadow, inspiring headdresses and powerful vocals as you enjoy Lisac through the ages.
Zdravko Čolić, You’re in my blood (Ti si mi u krvi)
Here’s one for all the lovers out there. Did you ever wonder what would happen if you crossed Tom Jones with a touch of Balkan style? We are pleased to answer this longing and wondering today in the form of Bosnian-born Serbian pop singer Zdravko Čolić. Having already been a part of hugely popular groups Ambasadori and Korni Grupa, Čolić really hit the big time when he launched his solo career in the mid-1970s. You guessed it — he too tried his luck at Eurovision. Alas, Čolić placed poorly, but this did not stop him from becoming a huge star across Yugoslavia. Apparently girls had a tendency to be overcome with hysteria upon hearing him sing — will this iconic power ballad have the same effect on you?
Jadranka Stojaković, Why are you not here (Što te nema)
Hailing from Sarajevo, Jadranka Stojaković is celebrated not only for her unique voice and songwriting, but also for her skills on the guitar and traditional Bosnian saz. Stojaković, who lived in Japan for over a decade, created music for TV and video games (Vandal Hearts, anyone?) and often worked with sevdalinki — traditional folk songs from Bosnia. This track represents Stojaković’s interpretation of and homage to sevdalinka, whose name derives from the Turkish word sevdah and means an amorous kind of longing. Stojaković passed away in 2016, having returned to Bosnia from Japan.
Laboratorija zvuka, While you still have time (Dok vam je još vreme)
The clue is more or less in the name: Laboratorija Zvuka (Sound Laboratory) were trailblazers in eccentric style. Formed in Novi Sad, the group was active on the alternative rock scene from 1978 — 1996 and known for being experimental both in sound and staging — it turns out that rock and the circus are a match made in heaven. Warning: also pioneers in the use of erotic lyrics, Laboratorija Zvuka are NSFW (if your boss happens to speak Serbian, that is).
Bijelo Dugme, St. George’s Day (Đurđevdan)
If you’ve only heard of one Yugoslav group, it’s likely to be Bijelo Dugme (White Button). Widely regarded as the most popular Yugoslav band ever, the group was a symbol of freedom, passion and attitude. Đurđevdan (St George’s Day) is based on the traditional Romani folk song Ederlezi, which is something of a national hymn of the Romani people. The story goes that the song commemorates a train journey during the Second World War to the Jasenovac concentration camp on St George’s Day, during which a prisoner defiantly began to sing: “Spring lands on my shoulders, lily of the valley greens, to everyone except me – It’s Djurdjevdan!” The song, loved for its bittersweet melancholy, was commonly heard at weddings, parties and, of course, on Đurđevdan itself. Since being covered by Serbian turbo-folk singer Ceca, the widow of paramilitary commander and notorious war criminal Željko “Arkan” Ražnatović, the song has become an even more poignant (and contentious) symbol of conflict.
Miki Jevremović, Goodbye California (Zbogom, Kalifornijo)
During the 1950s and 60s, Yugoslav record labels — particularly Jugoton — had local stars re-record American hits in their own language, such as California Dreamin’ (1965) by The Mamas & the Papas. You can hear more Yugoslav spins on classic tracks here, including a version of Ain’t no sunshine by Josipa Lisac.