Good luck finding your own copy.
Cassettes may well be the new vinyl. As thrift stores begin to mark up records to the point where that ubiquitous copy of America’s Greatest Hits could set you back $9.99 (sealed, though!), such price-gouging highlights that most disposable of formats, which is so unlikely to experience rising prices: the pre-recorded audio cassette. Which means that the flimsy medium may be your best entertainment value, and one that is most likely to offer you surprises. The unattributed instrumental collection Relaxation Organ Music Vol. 3 is one of those surprises, a delirious easy listening window into the early ‘80s.
The so-cheesy-it’s-cool thumbs up label design for Super seems to line up with the listings for an Egyptian label that mostly traded in bootlegs that covered everyone from pop schlockmeister James Last to Barbara Streisand and the Police (check out the graphics on this 1983 punk comp). Given the format and unofficial nature of these endeavors, you might expect lousy sound, but Relaxation Organ Music Vol. 3 sounds great, a perfect test subject for the barely-used Sansui deck I picked up for $10 the same day.
The catch—for some readers, at least—is that the rich, floor-shaking timbres thrillingly captured on this fragile piece of plastic delivers a deliciously cheesy, over-the-top Hammond organ music of the kind that nobody would expect was still being produced in the ‘80s. Ignore that title; this is not relaxing music. The album consists of 11 medleys that largely mix German schlager and Europop. Most titles won’t mean anything to the typical American consumer. On the medley “Pistolero/Super Trouper/My Old Piano/Feels Like I’m in Love,” only the 1980 Abba hit, which lent its name to a pair of stoner comedies, will ring a bell. This unusual combination of songs helps identify the artist; for that distinctive string, the top hit is German musician Klaus Wunderlich, known fondly as “Mr. Hammond.” Wunderlich, who died in 1997, sold over 20 million albums worldwide and is the subject of not one but two recent documentaries.
The mystery solved, is the object somehow less intriguing? Perhaps. But near the end of this thrift-store program comes Mr. Hammond’s pièce de ré·sis·tance: “Celebration/All Around the World/Ich Steig Aus.” Yes, it’s the Kool and the Gang song, and it’s the Electric Light Orchestra song too, and Wunderlich’s innate musical gifts revel in all the dated glory of that storied era. On the first segment of this magnificent medley, Wunderlich takes the rhythm guitar that launched a thousand cruise ships and the punk episode of “CHiPs” and adds sassifying frills, which goes double for lead guitar fills that he leans into with an irresistible high-pitched enthusiasm.
You may be as tired of “Celebration” as you are of such other maximum-saturation pop culture landmarks as “The Macarena,” but distilled to its essence, the easy rhythms and harmonies resonate even more in this shamelessly cornball pop that suggests what it might have been like to attend a hockey game in 1981. And that’s not all; this ersatz light funk leads into a track from the long-maligned roller-disco flop Xanadu, which sends Wunderlich fully into the cheese. Medley closer “Ich Steig Aus” doesn’t resonate for American audiences, and it’s lack of familiarity and more subdued tempo finally gives the listener a moment to relax.
This mostly unrelaxing music raises a number of questions: How did a Middle Eastern bootleg label latch on to this? How did this Egyptian tape of German schlager end up in a thrift store in Prince Georges County, Maryland? Where are the other two volumes? There’s good news if you want more. The track listing matches up with Wunderlich’s 1981 album Pop-Orgel-Hitparty 1—and there’s a second volume of that, which includes a version of Joe Dolce’s 1981 novelty hit “Shaddap You Face.” Relaxation Organ Music Vol. 3 cost less than a dollar, but being that the only references you’ll find to it online come from this author, good luck finding your own copy. Nevertheless, the Wunderlich album that it bootlegs is widely available for a bargain bin price – in Europe, and the bargain bins of record stores in once immigrant-heavy neighborhoods.