For most of my life, my knowledge of Croatian music was limited to the old-school folk songs tamburica bands would crank out at local cultural events. (While my dad spoke the language fluently, he didn’t listen to the music very often, opting for early Hank Williams instead.) Imagine, then, my surprise at discovering Zagreb’s own Parni Valjak while searching for Smithereens videos on YouTube one night. The band has remained popular in Croatia for more than 40 years, recording as recently as 2013. Happily for me, the band trades in the power pop that inexplicably flies under the radar in the United States.
Take 1979’s “Hrast,” with its sparkling guitars and appealingly rough-hewn harmonies. Some believe that this song inspired Nirvana’s “About A Girl,” since Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic spent a fair amount of time in Croatia during Parni Valjak’s heyday. While I’m sure Novoselic knows the band’s music, I’m not willing to make that deductive leap. I suspect a Shocking Blue influence for both bands, since Nirvana covered the Dutch group’s “Love Buzz” and I hear a fair bit of “Venus” in “Hrast”‘s chorus. (One thing’s for sure: If we start getting into the provenance of “Venus,” we will be here all day.) At any rate, I like to think that somewhere my late dad is heartened that I’m listening to Croatian music on my own time. Enjoy “Hrast”: