Greece produces more culture than it can consume. Perhaps that’s why it often prefers to consume more accessible products, those made by small people for even smaller ones. However, at some point, inspiration emerged from this modern Greek culture for a work that would shock the forefront of art in Western culture. Aphrodite’s Child had a unique opportunity to unfold their musical talent in a musical monument and fortunately they succeeded, even if what they did was so great that it had to “kill” their own union.
“6 6 6” is one of the few albums that is still referred to today as one of the most underrated in relation to its actual value in the music history of the 20th century. It was a daring plan, so daring that initially the creators themselves could not dare it and then the producers could not release it. Perhaps we still live in an era where the audience, the general public of listeners, is trying to understand it. However, it definitely deserves encouragement from anyone who has had the chance to be initiated into this explosive musical mysticism, and this is the purpose of this article-tribute.
The historical and artistic context
Following the end of World War II, the explosive growth that ensued led to a burst of creativity and innovation in many fields. The sudden rise in living standards in the developed world provided the basis for the rapid development of the arts and sciences, mainly after the mid-1950s, with the greatest growth being observed in the “golden” decade of the 1960s.
In this decade, a genre of music appears that combines folk and art music in a stunning way. Borrowing elements from classical music, which had obviously “borrowed” from previous folk music over the centuries, it combines them with the melodiousness of song and the experimentation already expressed in other arts, where new forms made their appearance. A genre that, due to the general prosperity of the era, including economic prosperity, had a unique luxury, to a considerable extent, not to give a literal dime to commercial demands. Records lasted as long as the piece went on, with the only restriction being that the creation had to fit on a double album, while radio had to adapt to the artists and not the other way around.
This genre, which was called “progressive” or progressive rock, painted on sound, allowing the flourishing of creativity of remarkable minds that were in the right era to seize this great opportunity. The cradle was, of course, England, where bands literally appeared on every corner and innovative record labels supported incredible projects, which today one would think were doomed to fail.
At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, under the great influence of the peace-loving movement of the children of war (silent generation) but also of the baby boomers who had now begun to mature, psychedelic music was dominating. Its elements were obviously traveling around the world, carrying along the corresponding inspiration.
Obviously in this article, we cannot delve into the evolution of rock during the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, but we need to mention these elements simply to provide the artistic context of the era we are referring to. It is the era in which ideas of absolute freedom, not in the narrow sense of individual freedom, but of general social liberation, touch and shape entire generations. The way and effectiveness of expression is something that is discussed, with Godard’s slogan “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola” probably summarizing that crazy period better.
During those years in post-civil war Greece, a group of young people, literally children, around 25 years old, formed a band that eventually consisted of four members, and its name was Aphrodite’s Child. Those kids started writing progressive music long before they became Hollywood stars (see Vangelis) or kings of kitsch (see Demis Roussos). Psychedelia is one of the main characteristics of their sound and the boundaries of their inspiration quickly surpassed the interest of retrograde, conservative, and almost fundamentalist Greece.
To be more precise, two of the main contributors who later went on to have successful solo careers were already known to the Greek audience before the creation of Aphrodite’s Child. Vangelis Papathanassiou, from Agria of Volos, played keyboards for Formynx, while Demis Roussos, from Alexandria of Egypt, was a member of Idols and later We Five.
In 1967, Roussos and Papathanassiou added drummer Loukas Sideras to their lineup, who had already had some success in Athens’ artistic scene, and together they invited a promising 20-year-old guitarist, Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris, to join them and form a quartet that would mark a moment in the country’s music history. The gathering of these four musicians created Aphrodite’s Child.
Aphrodite’s Child did not record any of their albums in Greece. Specifically, the first two were recorded in Paris and London, respectively, while the third and final, which is the subject of this tribute, was also recorded in Paris. Their first album, with a strong psychedelic flavor and titled “End of the World”, was released in February 1968, while the second album, titled “It’s Five O’Clock”, was released in December 1969.
These first two albums were not just random music collections. They could easily compete with the best music that was coming out at the time. They even defined melodic music with the characteristic Mediterranean elements that later made Papathanassiou and Roussos internationally famous (and wealthy). From all those songs, perhaps Rain and Tears, from “End of the World”, stands out as one of the characteristic examples of progressive music that used classical music samples as they were. Papathanassiou took Pachelbel’s Canon, glued the rhythm of the drums, and unleashed the melody of Roussos’ voice.
However, if only those albums existed, today we would be proud of a Greek band that, like others at that time, broke free from the narrow clarinet confines of dictatorial Greece and gave an original sound internationally. Those two albums, although highly commercial, as they sold “Greek sun and summer” to a Europe that perfectly matched “the blue of the sky” and “the country of Democracy” with what the new generations envisioned, today they would only be known as something that once sold. This commercial success also created the biggest problems within the band regarding the great project of “666”. It is characteristic of the pressure that exists in inspiration, in a world where everything, even art, is made to be sold.
Fortunately, thanks primarily to Papathanasiou, who deserves the credit for taking this big risk, the dizziness of commercial success did not hinder the creation of a huge artistic project, which is included among the albums that shaped progressive rock, standing next to legendary works of Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and others, almost exclusively coming from the British scene.
The “666” project
The “6 6 6” project was based on the work of director Kostas Ferris, in which he presented the content of the “Revelation of John” in a modern pop style. The story goes like this: a theater troupe presents the revelation in a circus show. The narration involves all the familiar performers of a circus, acrobats, dancers, elephants, tigers, and horses. Critics find a direct reference to the Beatles’ album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which was released in May 1967. What needs to be said at this point is that in the artistic orgasm of that era, using a concept that someone else has “introduced,” even stealing elements verbatim, to do something new, was not only not considered plagiarism but was almost the rule. In this way, with the peculiar “sharing” of ideas among artists, one could constantly take a step in a direction, presenting something original without the need to “tell it all from the beginning.” Just as motifs and concepts of classical music were utilized, contemporary ideas of the time could be utilized as well.
Ferries imagined the revelation to happen outside the circus area, but in a way that the audience would believe that what happens in the surrounding space is part of the spectacle. Thus, the spectacle becomes a set of elements that compose the revelation itself, with God ultimately being the creator. However, the narrative, which is not “prepared” for this turn, is diverted and itself, more than the audience, recognizes that what is happening is not in accordance with the program of the performance. At the end of the work, the tent that separates the interior of the circus from the surrounding space disappears, with the two spectacles merging.
Although the written work that forms the concept of the album appears as a “book” in terminology, its creator, Kostas Ferris, preferred to call it a “Rock Oratorio.” At the same time, Mikis Theodorakis had already started composing “folk oratorios,” with the characteristic example being “Axion Esti.”
The recording began at Europa Sonor studios in Paris at the end of 1970 and lasted about 3 months. This process was quite painful for the band, which had already essentially split up due to the different musical perspectives of each member, as previously mentioned. At the same time, the success of the band, which was permanently based in Paris, did not leave much room for experimentation, with the companies supporting its ventures seeking new commercial successes rather than new great music. This approach seemed to find everyone in agreement except for Papathanassiou, who, however, wanted more than anything to create something new, having grown tired of the psychedelic pop of previous years. If one adds to all this the presence of Papathanassiou’s companions, Roussos and Sideras, in Paris, it is clear that the conditions for collaboration were not the best.
However, Papathanasiou wasn’t accidental in never considering attempting the innovative endeavor with other contributors. The artistic chemistry of the group was evident in all rehearsals and recordings. Journalistic records of the time state that although the musicians essentially “didn’t speak” to each other, having also stopped any common appearance in live shows, when they played together they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. As soon as the music ended, everything returned to the previous state.
Two individuals who contributed to the production were Giorgio Gomelsky and Gerard Fallec. The multi-talented Gomelsky was in Paris at the time for the recordings of Gong and Magma, but was enthusiastic about the “6 6 6” project and wanted to help in any way he could, even though he ultimately considered his contribution to be not significant enough to be promoted to the title of “producer”. Fallec was the essential coordinator of the project, although his name was not included in the original release of the album.
As for the other contributors who participated in the project, we should mention the musicians Haris Halkitis and Michel Ripoche, John Forst who appears in the narration, the painter Giannis Tsarouchis, and of course Eirini Papa who stars in one of the album’s most iconic pieces, which also became a scandal and obstacle for its release and acceptance.
The Odyssey: From Recording to Release
The difficult conditions for the recording of the album were followed by a much longer Odyssey concerning its release. Even if everything was ready, with a budget of 90,000 dollars already spent on the project, it did not immediately reach the shelves of record stores and subsequently to the wider audience.
When the album was ready, the production company, Mercury Records, refused to release it, mainly due to the summary of the track “Infinite,” which was “the stone of scandal” for many troubles and mishaps that followed. The piece, which is essentially a recitation by Eirini Pappa accompanied by drums played by Papathanasiou, originally lasted 39 minutes (!), while its content was particularly provocative for religious sentiment. Despite the fact that the piece became much shorter in order to be included in a more “commercial” version of the album, the fact of the religious challenge did not allow for its release. In fact, this piece was the occasion for Eirini Pappa’s excommunication from the Church of Greece.
The insurmountable obstacles to the release of the album led its creators to actively seek a solution to the deadlock that was obstructing their artistic expression. One year after its completion, in the summer of 1971, the band organized a party at the Europa Sonor studios in Paris to mark one year of the album’s non-release. Salvador Dali was the guest of honor at that party and he requested to listen to the entire album in absolute silence, reportedly sitting in a luxurious armchair.
According to Kostas Ferris himself, when Dali heard the album, he was more than enthusiastic. The surrealist painter likened the music to the great unfinished architectural work of the Sagrada Familia, while for the lyrics, he said they reminded him of Durer, the painter of the Apocalypse. Thus, Dali himself decided to lead a project for the release of the album, with the organization of a pioneering event in Barcelona that would make history. From that day on, a frequent collaboration began between Ferris and Dali, who usually met in the latter’s room at the Georges V hotel near the Champs-Élysées.
Several interesting unpublished stories have emerged from these meetings. For example, Ferries reported that when he asked Dali where the money for this event would come from, Dali laughed, took a canvas, two leaves from his salad, glued them together, and said, “You see this? It’s now worth 200,000 dollars.”
This collaboration came to an end when a “friend” of Ferris, referred to as a Greek intellectual from Rome, decided to “play it smart” with Dali by telling him to “give regards to Mrs. Eluard”, as at the time Paul Eluard’s ex-wife, Gala, was Dali’s partner. This was something that angered Dali, who did not want to see any of his project collaborators in front of him again.
However, perhaps few things were lost from this inglorious end of their artistic collaboration and perhaps the most significant remained on paper, perhaps because it was at least difficult to realize, especially during the years of the Spanish dictatorship. Dali’s plan for the grand event in Barcelona, as he wrote it in a fantastic script, was as follows:
“1. A military law will be declared in Barcelona on Sunday. No one will be allowed to move on the streets. No cameras or television. Only a young couple of shepherds will have the privilege of watching the event. So, they can then describe it on television, orally.
2. Giant loudspeakers will be placed on the streets, playing all day long the “666” of Vangelis, Ferres, and Aphrodite’s Child. No live performances.
3. Soldiers dressed in Nazi uniforms will parade with military step on the streets of Barcelona, arresting whoever violates the law.
4. Hundreds of swans will be allowed to roam in front of the Sagrada Familia, with sticks of dynamite in their bellies, which will explode in slow motion with special effects. (Real, live swans, who will have to undergo surgery to place the dynamite in their bellies)
5. Giant Navy planes will fly over Barcelona all day, causing a terrifying noise.
6. At exactly 12 noon, all these planes will begin to bomb the Sagrada Familia, demolishing all its pieces.
7. Instead of bombs, they will drop elephants, hippos, whales, and archbishops holding umbrellas.
When asked whether he meant real archbishops or dolls dressed as archbishops, Dali answered “No, when I say archbishops, I mean real, living archbishops. It’s time to get rid of the church!”
As many can understand, this event never took place, but fortunately, after many continuous pressures, the album was finally released in June 1972. Critics received it positively, but it did not cause the sensation that one would expect given the great history that had been created through its non-publication for about 2 years.
The album that was released, with a red cover with a verse from Revelation written on it, stated the following inside, mocking psychedelic music: “This work was recorded under the influence of SAHLEP” (the word for salep in Arabic).
The album starts with a crowd chanting the slogan “We’ve got the system to fuck the system”, which in itself is paradoxical. It is inspired by Abbie Hoffmann’s manifesto titled “Fuck the System”. The drums build up to lead to a voice introducing the first melodic piece of the album.
The piece refers to the fall of the Great Babylon and the fall of its rulers. It includes the shouts of the crowd in the background and a few brass instruments that signify the sound of revelation. In this particular piece, Papathanasiou was on the drums and not Loukas Sideras. At the end, it features the first hearing of Argyris Koulouris’ characteristic guitar sound.
3. Loud, loud, loud
Under the sounds of Papathanasiou’s piano, a child recites what is going to happen in the circus performance, with a choir repeating the words “loud, loud, loud, loud” foreshadowing that everything will happen with particular noise.
4. The Four Horsemen
Perhaps the most iconic piece of the album, where the extent of Demis Roussos’ voice is heard for the first time, especially in the slow intro. The lyrics refer to the 4 horsemen who appear in the Apocalypse. A lamb opens the seals successively so that the horsemen can be revealed. After their revelation, there is a guitar solo by Koulouris, which has taken its place in the pantheon of progressive rock and is accompanied by Roussos’ vocals with the sounds “fa fa fa fa fa fa ra ra ra ra”.
5. The Lamb
A piece that serves as a musical bridge from the first to the second section of the opening of the seals of the apocalypse. It consists of fast, rhythmic music, accompanied by choral vocals and a keyboard solo by Papathanasiou. The music, although it has sounds that one encounters in the progressive rock of the era, due to its major scale and fast rhythm, reminds more of Mediterranean landscapes, dances from the Greek tradition.
6. The Seventh Seal
The song refers to the opening of the next three seals of the Apocalypse. The souls, the witnesses, the black sun, the red moon, the shaking earth and finally the opening of the seventh seal which brings silence to the heavens. The narration takes place over an exotic sound reminiscent of musical scales from the East.
7. Aegian Sea
The piece of the Aegian Sea has a long, slow introduction that resembles the vastness of the typical Greek blue landscape, followed by a solo by Koulouris alternating with Papathanassiou’s typical new age sound. In the second half, another guitar solo by Koulouris follows the narration that has exactly the same lyrics as the previous piece.
8. Seven Bowls
The piece refers to the seven bowls that pour out divine wrath on the entire Earth, which are held by seven angels. After an agonizing rhythm of percussion, a subdued choir, the same as the children’s voices heard earlier, describes the events.
9. The Weakening Beast
The content of the seven bowls unleashes the beast, which is musically embodied by seemingly arrhythmic sounds of percussion instruments that, with the absence of an aesthetic coordinate, outline its external characteristics. The boom at the end of the piece signifies a movement, the threatening movement of the beast.
At the rhythm of the beast’s stride, Demis Roussos offers a highly Byzantine vocal spectacle, mourning for the fate of humanity, while in an amanes style, Vangelis Papathanassiou accompanies and responds with his vocals.
11. The Marching Beast
The marching of the beast comes straight from Greek tradition. In a rhythm reminiscent of characteristic dances of mainland Greece, the beast, at a time when the dictatorship of the colonels went hand in hand with the dictatorship of the clarinets, could symbolize in the most direct way the tragedy of religious revelation with products of a corresponding society.
12. The Battle of the Locusts
The piece has no lyrics, only the announcement of its title. In a hard rock guitar solo, the battle of the locusts is “painted,” with Sideras’ drums following Kouloris’ guitar and Papathanasiou’s bass.
13. Do it
The title is a reference to Jerry Rubin’s book “Do It!” (the leader of the Yippies movement at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago) and the music is a continuation of the previous track, with a rhythm that gradually accelerates.
The great tribulation of revelation does not have a musical beginning and a lesser scale. Instead, the saxophone that shouts the cheerfulness of an era represents the lamentation of religious eschatology.
15. The Beast
The piece is a reference to the form of the beast. The rhythm is typical of the pop psychedelia that the band had developed in previous works. However, the most important element is some elements that were retained in the recording. The fact that the musicians had very bad relationships with each other had led to them not speaking directly at all and only communicating through separate microphones they had for recording needs. Thus, two “slogans” of Papathanassiou were retained, saying “let’s go” when the solo part starts along with the vocals of the three (Papathanassiou, Roussos, Sideras) and the slogan for the closing: “telionoume edo pera, etsi?” (“we finish here, right?”).
The piece is a short recitation by Giannis Tsarouchis, who, as Karagiozis, speaks to the monster, the “cursed snake,” which, in the form of an exorcism, speaks directly to Satan to conclude the first part of the album with a grammatical paradox.
17. Seven Trumpets
The second part starts with the presenter of the circus reciting the seven trumpets of Revelation and introducing the new music, which marks the transition to the new scene where the external phenomena are revealed to the circus audience.
The title refers to the Altamont festival in California, which aimed to become the West Coast’s Woodstock, but instead of going down in history as a musical meeting, it remained as a memory of violence. Thus, the psychedelic music that symbolizes the violence of the battle with the monster introduces the events of the final battle of Revelation. The lyrics resemble a journalist’s report, like those reported from Altamont.
19. The Wedding of the Lamb
The Wedding of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation symbolizes the Second Coming, and the music that depicts it has a festive rhythm that brings to mind similar Balkan music, accompanied by long vocalizations with voices reminiscent of those of angels.
20. The Capture of the Beast
The Second Coming is followed by the capture of the beast. The sequence of events from the Wedding of the Lamb is announced in the piece. The rhythm of the percussion is accompanied by the sound of the beast’s chains as it tries to break free, remaining steady, in the same “festive” motif.
21. 00 (Infinite)
Irene Pappa delivers a monumental monologue over the sounds of Vangelis Papanastasiou’s drums. The lyrics from the Revelation “He who was, is, and is to come” are slightly paraphrased in English to resemble words that also refer to orgasm, which Irene Pappa repeats with the necessary anxiety reminiscent of the sexual act. The piece was considered blasphemous because while the original phrase in Revelation is attributed to the Good, in this particular narrative, it seems to be spoken by Evil, who, through its Super-Ego, makes love to itself in its last performance.
22. Hic And Nunc
The piece refers to the realization that all the events presented are essentially the reality in which the viewers live. However, the tragic events of the Apocalypse have passed and relief and pleasure come with the end of the drama.
23. All the Seats Were Occupied
The piece is a summary of the entire album, with excerpts from all the songs interwoven, reminiscent of the events experienced under a different prism by unsuspecting spectators who asked for this spectacular encore.
“Break” is the closing of the curtain, sung by Loukas Sideras and accompanied by unintelligible vocals by Vangelis Papathanasiou. The lyrics are a message from the performers directly to the listener, thanking them for attending the musical performance!
Child of Aphrodite and all the gods of a civilization
“6 6 6”, which became the swan song of the Aphrodite’s Child band, is undoubtedly a work that is the result of chance and musical ambition of some people whose artistic deviation fortunately fit, albeit temporarily, within the infinity of spacetime, in a finite-dimensional music studio, in order to be recorded in the works of the human species, as a result of centuries of civilization and as an artistic signature of a specific moment.