If The Beatles’ emergence in the Western world in 1963 and ’64 seemed revolutionary, imagine its effect on Eastern and Central European countries under Communist rule. Beatles music, officially speaking, was forbidden in the Soviet Union and presumably in bordering Communist-led territories such as Czechoslovakia. The music nonetheless made it through the Iron Curtain, smuggled in from the West and shared peer-to-peer (this phenomenon is not unique to the digital age, folks) or distributed via the black market.
Through whatever mysterious means that carried it to the ears of youths in the Eastern Bloc, the music of The Beatles captivated them just as it had their Western counterparts. Slovakia, whose history was long intertwined with that of Czechoslovakia’s, was located in Central Europe but came under Communist rule along with its easterly Czech neighbor in 1948. In Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, Communist-regime-raised teenagers who were either privileged or lucky enough to get their hands on electric guitars did what youths elsewhere on the globe were doing in the 1960s: starting rock ‘n’ roll bands.
Seventeen-year-old Dežo Ursiny was the last to join local Bratislava band The Beatmen, replacing a guitarist who left the group due to educational demands. Ursiny would later become one of Slovakia’s most admired and successful musicians, composers and screenwriter-directors, but in 1965 he was the bespectacled, diminutive lead singer of the wildly popular Beatmen, playing rhythm guitar and harmonica in what appeared an attempt to emulate John Lennon, whose stage-left position he occupied in the sole existing film clip of the energetic quartet in performance.
For a look at that clip (a truly compelling and unintentionally humorous cultural artifact), as well as audio of The Beatmen singing “She Loves You” in Slovakian (and you know that can’t be bad . . . ), click here to see a longer post featuring more about The Beatles’ echoing impact in the Eastern Bloc. For a representative sampling of the half-dozen or so English-language songs recorded by The Beatmen, here’s “Safely Arrived.” Czech it out.