I should really hold my Gruppo Sportivo discovery story for “Mistakes,” a similarly titled album that was released with some different songs two years after this one. But the albums are similar, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.
I had a friend named Jerry, who lived in the same building as some other friends I was spending a lot of time with in those days, which would be around the fall of 1981. (Did we work together on the newspaper? Memory fades, though I was done with The Daily Orange by that point.) That was the fall I recently wrote about when things were starting to come back together. Jerry was a fun guy with an interest in music, a good stereo and fabulously expensive flat panel speakers, and he’d often host get-togethers at his place. (It was Jerry who hosted our first and only viewing of the Dave Clark Five’s “Having A Wild Weekend.”) He was from somewhere around DC, and had a car. One time he was planning to drive down home for a long weekend and asked if I’d like a ride down, which gave me a chance to visit friends I had living in the area. (And to take my drunken embarrassment show on the road!)
Now that I think about it, that was a fairly fateful weekend. For one thing, it was when my friend Lisa, who was going to Georgetown at the time, taught me how to use the Metro system, a lesson that served me well for decades. (I know, it’s not that hard, but I came from a land of buses and coins — the Metro had farecards when it started, decades before NYC got them.)
It was also the weekend when I found some classic records for my collection, including the weird Eric Burden album “Eric Is Here,” billed as the Animals but really just this side of show tunes. Don’t take that to mean I didn’t love it at the time – I did. I remember finding a Salvador Dali exhibition catalog that I still have somewhere in a used bookstore. So weird what will stay with us all these years.
Jerry did the driving, and Jerry’s car had a tapedeck. Someday, I would also have a car with a tapedeck, but to me, in 1981, this was a huge innovation. We could listen to music of our own choosing on the journey. And the music of Jerry’s choosing was an obscure Dutch band that he was certain I would love. The band was Gruppo Sportivo, and he was correct.
The album he had on tape was “Mistakes,” which is just a little bit different from this one. How he discovered this band, I have no idea — they were obscure, but then again, I have run across their records. “10 Mistakes” came out in 1977, released in Europe and the UK. “Mistakes,” which Discogs treats as a compilation, was released on Sire in the US and Canada in 1979. Wikipedia says they got some airplay for “Dreamin’” and “Beep Beep Love,” but if I’d ever heard these tracks on the radio I would have straight-up died from shock.
The music was so pop it hurt, but it was also a parody of pop — and a clever parody. In a number of songs, the band (which is really principally the work of Hans Vandenburg, credited as Jan Van de Fruits) shows an ability to creditably quote and mimic a number of styles in service to their own songs. I was immediately smitten, and borrowed Jerry’s records to make cassette copies, which would do until I could find my own. I had some success — I have many copies of “Mistakes,” which I’ll discuss when we get to that, and their third album, “Copy Copy,” but never found vinyl of their fourth, “Pop Goes The Brain!” and only recently acquired their fifth, “Design Moderne.”
I even found a button that simply said “Gruppo Sportivo,” which I wore along with several others — band buttons were highly required in the early ’80s. I remember this one in particular confusing a friend’s mother, who thought it meant that I belonged to some sort of sporting group.
So, if you like peppy retro synthpop that borrows heavily from classic American pop without really sounding anything like it, this is your stuff. You wouldn’t ordinarily think of this as road trip music, but hearing them on that one trip to DC hooked me for life.