If you doubt the genius-in-hindsight qualities of easy-listening late 60s and 70s pop, check out Mary Roos’s breakthrough German hit from 1970, “Arizona Man.” Penned by Giorgio Moroder, “Arizona Man” juxtaposes Roos’s clear, tasteful vocals with a nutzoid, staccato keyboard part that could have easily appeared ten years later on a Devo record. It blows my mind that something so flat-out weird (to modern ears, at least) pervaded such ostensibly square music, and that pop stars from around the world repeatedly incorporated such weirdness. Icons of squareness Bread did it; so did Italian pop star Dora Moroni in my favorite over-the-top square-synth track of all time, “Ora.” The synths can be enough to rescue the best of the genre from the depths of kitsch, but sometimes the music was just so damned square that there’s no helping it.
Of all the tracks on Amour Toujours, only “Quand On Fait La Musique,” a skewed, pseudo-cover of Nilsson’s “Coconut,” really attains the demented heights of “Arizona Man.” The rest, pulled from the two French language albums that Roos released, is mostly content to hit the standard Jet Set Musique notes, which is to say, it’s mostly pure kitsch. Gotz Alsmann famously called Roos the “German Dionne Warwick,” but I don’t get the sense that she had anything like Warwick’s Soulful or From Within up her sleeve. Those albums, cut with Memphis studio musicians, reveal deep, heartfelt soul as another way out of kitsch, and they certainly go a long way towards painting Warwick’s David and Bacharach collaborations in a new light.
Fortunately, kitsch in itself can make for great time-capsule listening. These tracks are all wonderfully produced, with the requisite lush strings, soaring vocals, playful horn lines, and not-quite-funky beats. Roos apparently didn’t speak French and learned to sing these tracks phonetically, and this assumed disjunction suits her relaxed, unforced vocal style. Unlike Mireille Mathieu, Roos rarely goes all-out, which makes the moments where she does, like on “Dans le Jardin,” that much more stirring. Though the collection lacks the ostentatious quirks that really make modern ears perk, it succeeds simply through pure quality.