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|Car Commercial Atrocities: 1996-97 Nissan Primera (Europe)|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Sunday, 21 February 2010 08:12|
When it comes to dorky car commercials, here's one chart-topping winner
When flipping through the car radio a few days ago, I heard the song Moviestar by a Swede named Harpo, and it brought back a strange memory of the first time I heard it many years ago. It was on one of my trips to Europe, most likely to cover the Geneva Auto Show (which is coming next month). I recall burning the midnight oil editing my day's pictures with the TV running in the background, when I caught this commercial for the Nissan Primera, a car related to the Infiniti G20 here in the States. It must have made an indelible impression considering the song has stuck in my head ever since. Like John McCain, I will admit to being a closet ABBA fan (aren't so many of us, admit it!). Born Jan Harpo Torsten Svensson, Harpo recorded the song in 1975, a year after ABBA broke worldwide in the wake of their Eurovision song festival success. Harpo had a degree of success in his native Sweden, on the continent, in the United Kingdom, and in Australia, but, to the best of my recollection, the tune didn't crack the U.S. charts back in the day. Twenty years later, it was used in this commercial for the then all-new Nissan Primera. The look on the guy's face in the commercial is priceless, as are his throwback white-leather loafers from the Seventies.
When I get on YouTube, one thing leads to another, especially when it comes to videos, and I started to dig around. The next video I clicked on was this one, a video tribute to Moviestar, which is in many ways as clever as the Nissan commercial is dorky. The video montage--if that's what it can be called--culls photographs from a variety of sources and perfectly sequences them to the lyrics in the song. I suspect both Steve McQueen and James Dean are spinning around in their graves at 5,000 rpm, about the same speed as the redline of the Primera's four-banger. Again, once you hear the song, it's almost impossible to get it out of your head--just like that insufferable Angie's List commercial for the whistling maid.
Okay, my interest piqued, I had to investigate further and found this Harpo performance, apparently from a Top of the Pops-style TV show from 1976. At the same time I was listening to this video, I checked out Harpo's bio on Wikipedia and learned that he was born on 5 April 1950 in Bandhagen, Stockholm, making him almost 60 years old. He was initially signed to ABBA's label, Polar Music, to record an album of children's music but was dropped by the label in 1974. He then signed with EMI (the Beatles label) and formed a successful and apparently long-running creative partnership with producer Bengt Palmers. After two Swedish top-10 hits, Harpo recorded the song for which he would become most famous/infamous for, Moviestar. And here's where the ABBA connection comes in: One of his backing vocalists was none other than Frieda (Anni-Frid Lyngstad) from ABBA. Moviestar went on to become a monster hit worldwide, reaching number one in Sweden and Germany, number two in Australia, and number 24 in the U.K. (remember, this was the Seventies). A 1977 trip to the United States with his wife and Palmers resulted in the album The Hollywood Tapes, which spawned the single Television. In a footnote to his career, Harpo made news in 1977 when he refused to serve in the Swedish military and, as a result, served a one-month prison sentence.
Fast forward to the present day--well, almost, since in his post-Nissan afterlife, Harpo apparently continues to make the rounds on the Euro concert circuit, as evidenced by this lip-syncing video from 2008. It seems the audience is really into his performance, considering the near-perfect hand clapping in the background. What's really strange (as if this story isn't strange enough already) is that in both this video and the one from 1975-1976 Harpo is barefoot and saunters about the stage with a cane. Further research provided no clue as to why this is so, so I assume it's some sort of Harpo trademark of his stage show. In any event, if Harpo had attained any sustaining popularity in the United States, he'd probably now be playing the supper-club circuit in the Native American-operated casinos here in California.
And finally, there's this home-brewed video from YouTube screen name UltimateCasper, an instrumental version of Moviestar. Judging by the number of positive comments (19) and his five-star YouTube rating, he has a lot of YouTube fans. And it goes to prove that when surfing online, especially on YouTube, you just never know where that next click will lead. I started at a Euro TV commercial from the Nineties... and ended up in someone's home studio. Go figure. Now try to get this blasted tune out of your head. And that's your Swedish pop culture history lesson from the country that brought us Saab, Volvo, and Ikea.
Here are the lyrics to Moviestar, just in case you couldn't follow the bouncing Nissan ball in the first video:
You feel like Steve McQueen