One of the best features of Finnish culture is singing together. A typical singing session will contain a lot of international classics from Mrs Robinson to Scarborough fair, but if you want to impress your Finnish friends, here are a few Finnish rock classics (and other ”must know” songs) that you can learn to play on your guitar. I will try to keep this concise, which means that many important figures will be left out, so feel free to suggest them in your comments. Looking at these lyrics also makes me think about how we as Finns see ourselves, so I’ll offer a few suggestions on that as well here and in a related post titled Rock lyrics and changes in Finnish self-image.
Please note that the translations offered here are mine, do not quote them without proper reference to this page as the source!!! Huom: älä käytä käännöksiä ilman viittausta tähän sivustoon.
Saimaa-ilmiö and the big three of Finnish rock classics
Saimaa-ilmiö is the first full-length movie by the later-to-be-legendary directors Mika and Aki Kaurismäki (for more info on Aki Kaurismäki check Aki Kaurismäki to receive Carosse D’Or at Cannes 2016). It follows the tour of three Finnish bands visiting various cities on on the shores of Saimaa in 1981. The bands are Eppu Normaali, Hassisen kone and Juice Leskinen and Slam. All of them are now great classics whose songs are an important part of the collective consciousness for several generations, and present day lyric writers often name Juice Leskinen as their idol. Personally, I remember singing Juice Leskinen’s songs by the campfire at my confirmation camp in the late 80’s and I imagine the tradition still continues. In a recently published ”songs for the summer cottage” book I noticed that a lovely song by Eppu Normaali was added.
One of the classics by Eppu Normaali is Tuhansien murheellisten laulujen maa (The land of thousands of sorrowful songs). (First link for the chords and second for the song on YouTube.) The lyrics are quite awesome in their desperation; the most famous line of the refrain is roughly ”…a land filled with thousands of sorrowful songs, and thousands of lakes to drown in when you feel wronged…” and that pretty much sums it up, although it should be noted that the song is humorously ironic, at least I’ve always thought so. So there is your first classic for the end of the night when people are ready for a huge dose of (self-ironic) pathos.
A slightly (but as you can see, not much :-)) more lighthearted and very beautiful song is Tahroja paperilla (Stains on paper), this was the addition to the recent cottage song book. Because I love the refrain, here’s a sing-along adaptation of it in English:
Just stains on paper
So hold your anger
They won’t change anything worth mentioning
Not the fact that we had our moments
Nor the trips that led to torments
The wind may tickle your back with a cold breath
It pushes you forward so don’t be frightened
Don’t worry about it because we had our moments.
Don’t worry about it because we had our moments.
And then Juice Leskinen (pronounced /juise/, not /dʒuːs/ btw). He has two songs that most Finns know by heart: Viidestoista yö (The night of the fifteenth) and Syksyn sävel (The Fall tune). Apparently a new version of Viidestoista yö and other songs by Juice will be coming out in the fall to commemorate him. This song evokes a lot of memories, and to help you understand its spirit, here’s a sing-along adaption of Syksyn sävel.
The Fall tune
The street fills with steps chiming
Life is dying
Take my hand
Let’s be silent
Ask me in for a morning tea
water a withered tree
It is August
and I am the crop.
I don’t weep for joy
I don’t weep for pain
If I weep, I weep for no clear reason
And I’ll be gone
I loved her immensely
At times, I may love you more
But just for a while
can you please
be her for me.
Take me into your dreams
Though I travel foreign streams
It is October
and it wears on me.
When we are as close as can be
Even Gods believe in me
though I myself often do not.
A few lines from Viidestoista yö
The night of the fifteenth returns again again
And everything but living is futile
It is hard to keep believing in men
When humankind is suicidal
I watch the world together with you and dream the same dream
Like a madman I scream for my love
I curl up against you and if I may I’ll stay for the night
And when the morning comes I wonder where I wake up
Dingo was one of the first bands to evoke massive popularity in the girls-losing-their-minds style in the 1980’s. Perhaps the most likely classic for a singing session is Autiotalo (The deserted house), which starts as follows:
The sun goes down behind your back
It turns your hair to a haze of purple and black
And Eput sing ”Don’t go Njet, njet”
Leave or stay, my heart will go your way
”Eput” is a nickname for the band Eppu Normaali introduced above, i.e. the lyrics allude to a song by another popular band at the time.
She’s the girl in the leather jacket
The same girl has visited a living hell
She’s the girl in the leather jacket
There was a time she had faith in men
And life is from day to day a stranger’s scorn for you as well
Day after day the restless Cinderella walks a martyr’s way
You and I in the stoplights
You and I inside slum sites
You and I in the morning dew
Other ”must know” favourites
Päivänsäde ja menninkäinen (The ray of light and the pixie) is a song composed and written by Rauno Helismaa and famously recorded by Tapio Rautavaara in 1949. Since then, various artists have recorded it, and the love sparking encounter of two creatures destined to remain eternally apart seems to fascinate each new generation.
Romanssi (Romance) is a song sung by actor Leif Wager in the movie Katariina ja Munkkiniemen kreivi (Katariina and the Count of Munkkiniemi) from 1943. It was voted the most beautiful love song ever in 2014, and is often sung together, perhaps also privately :-). It starts with the words Only you I love above all else / You, my heaven upon earth …
Niin kaunis on maa (So beautiful is the world) is a song written by Kari Rydman in 1971 to commemorate the death of his young student who was hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing; on the recording the student’s classmates are singing in the chorus. It also belongs to long-time favourites for singalong sessions.
Finally, Kalliolle kukkulalle (On the rock, on a hill) is a Finnish folk song that was first written down by teacher Väinö Varmanen in 1908 (says Wikipedia). In 1972 the composer Kaj Chydenius wrote a new tune for the traditional words, and this version is also popular; I can’t find the chords though… The folk song is in minor, the Chydenius version in major. Kaj Chydenius has written a whole bunch of amazing songs, and maybe I will return to those later. Most of them require quite a lot of skill from the singer though, and are therefore not necessarily included in a casual group singing session.
First stanza of the folk version of Kalliolle kukkulalle
On the rock, on a hill
I will build my house
Come, come young girl
To share it with me
Continuation in the Chydenius version = a slightly modified version of the second stanza in the folk song
If I can’t have your hand
I will go far, far away
To foreign lands behind the seas
To never see you again
Finnish self-image in the classics
According to a traditional stereotype, Finns are a melancholy but persistent group of people who find it difficult to ask for help, and if given the chance, prefer to remain silent. Or more commonly, remain silent regardless of whether it is suitable or not. Looking at the lyrics of these songs, many of which I love dearly, I have to say that they seem to fit the stereotype exceptionally well from Eppu Normaali’s ”…a land filled with thousands of sorrowful songs, and thousands of lakes to drown in when you feel wronged…” to Juice Leskinen’s ”Take my hand /Let’s be silent”, and the melancholy tone in most of Dingo’s lyrics. It should be noted though, that some of the melancholy content in Juice Leskinen’s or Dingo’s lyrics originates from social critique, which is quite different from personal pessimism. In the case of Eppu Normaali’s lyrics, even if it is granted that many of them are ironic, one can always ask whether evoking a stereotype, even if humorously, results in questioning or reinforcing it. All in all, the stereotype seems fitting with these classics. However, a few recent songs explicitly refer to Finnish rock classics, and they offer an interesting point of comparison to the stereotype. For observations on how the lyric hero has changed in the past 35 years or so, see Rock lyrics and changes in Finnish self-image.