Most intense Björk fans will know all of this information, but it was new to me and I found it pretty interesting. In 1977, at the age of 11, Björk released a self-titled album in Iceland that achieved moderate success. For some reason Allmusic.com gave it a very dismissive review—“Novelty value can only carry an album so far ... [it] will probably not be enough to keep you laughing, or interested for the duration”—but to my ears it holds up quite well. It reminds me a bit of ABBA.
More interestingly, to a surprising degree it puts Bjork’s solo career starting in 1993 into perspective. The first song,“Arabadrengurinn (The Arab Boy),” prominently features the sitar, the four covers on the album are well chosen, and you can draw a straight line from the show-tunes-y “Himnaför” to, say, the bombast of “It’s Oh So Quiet” or the standards on Gling-Gló.
I’m not saying that Björk is a mature work or even that Björk herself had that much to do with what songs were chosen and how they were arranged. What I’m saying is that when you record a really eclectic pop album that ranges all over the map when you’re eleven, it might serve as a clue that your later eclectic pop albums that range all over the map didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Björk has had a musical career all of her life—she never really stopped recording in her teen years—and the only point worth making here is that there is far more continuity from Björk to Debut than discontinuity.
Oh, and the songs are pretty well executed and fun to listen to. So there’s that.
Okay. Chronology. Björk got started as a musician when a teacher of hers submitted a recording in which she sang Tina Charles’s song “I Love to Love” to RÚV, the only radio station in Iceland at the time. She was ten years old.
Here’s Björk’s version:
Tina Charles’ version, for comparison:
Björk Guðmundsdóttir (literally ‘Gudmund’s daughter’) was born on 21st October 1966, in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. From the age of six until she was 14, she attended a local music school, where she studied the classics, and learned to play the flute and the piano. The family home was a hippy commune, with a steam of artists and musicians among the constant human traffic. Björk’s stepfather, Saevar Arnason, was himself a guitarist, and played in a band called Pops, recreating Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and “all that hippy music”. This bohemian atomsphere laid down a firm musical grounding for Björk’s future vocation, and provided a stepping stone to the first, and most remarkable, aspect of her recording career: an eponymously titled solo album, released in Iceland in 1977.
Documentation about this record is scant. Although Björk often alludes to it, precise details are hard to come by. And with the singer on a promotionaly tour of Japan and Australia at the time of writing, I turned to one of the few people with first-hand knowledge of this early release: Hildur Hauksdóttir—Björk’s mum.
“The record came about when Björk was at school,” revealed Hildur, on the phone from Reykjavik. “They used to have an open house every week where the kids had to entertain, read aloud and things like that. Björk sang a song called ‘I Love To Love’. She was born musical. She started to sing very early. She started singing melodies around seven months old.” Björk’s teachers were sufficiently impressed with her redition of Tina Charles’ U.K. No.1 from February 1976, to take the budding starlet along to Iceland’s Radio 1, then the contry’s only national broadcasting organisation, who in turn seemed only too pleased to play the song on air.
“After that she was offered a record deal by a label called Fálkkin,” continues Hildur. “I knew two musicians here, Palmi Gunnarsson, a bass player and singer, and Sigurdur Karlsson a drummer, and they had already recorded some songs with Björk. We worked on the recordat the Hljdrijinn Studios in Reykjavik. Palmi and Siggi brought in some of the best players in Iceland. After that first record with all thouse grown-ups, she only ever worked with oeioke her own age.” Among the other musicians on “Björk” was stepfather Sævar Arnason, and Björgvin Gíslason, one of Iceland’s most acclaimed guitarists. Björk would return the favour several years later when she sang on the track “Afi” on Gíslason’s 1983 LP, “Örugglega”.
The “Björk” album was released in time for Christmas 1977, with a cover designed by Hildur, and photographed at a local Reykjavik studio. In contrast to precocious recordings by singing kids like Lena Zavaroni, the tone of “Björk” mercifully falls short of the little-madam-wearing-mummy’s-make-up image(although who knows what she’s singing about!). Producers Gunnarsson and Karlsson constructed a perfect listenable, mid-70s pop album (albeit one sung by an 11-year old), which mixed a handful of standard Icelandic pop tunes, and a Björk orginal - the instrumental “Jóhannes Kjaval” (a tribute to a celebrated Icelandic painter)—with covers of Melanie’s “Christopher Robin” (with a decent approximation of Mel’s vocal growl), Stevie Wonder’s “Your Kiss Is Sweet”, Edgar Winter’s “Alta Mira” and the Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill” ( translated as “Álfur Út Úr Hól”!). Despite her tender age, Björk managed to press her personality into the grooves, and this, her real debut, is as much her own record as it is her producer’s.
Perhaps succumbing toa little of the mythmaking which is an inevitable side- effect of stardom, Björk has recently maintained that the album went platinum in Iceland, indicating that she became an instant celebrity. Her mum is not so sure. “I have no idea!” replied Hildur, when asked how many copies “Björk” sold. “It’s sold out today, I know that. And they are playing it on the radio now in Iceland! But at the time, she was not exactly what you’d call famous. In Iceland it’s different from elsewhere. It’s such a small place, everybody knows each other already. But the record didn’t separate her from school or anything.” And what became of the Fálkinn label? “They have stopped making their own records. They only sell others’ records now, and bicycles”.
Here are the 10 songs on the album Björk, in the correct track listing order:
1. “Arabadrengurinn (The Arab Boy)”
2. “Búkolla (Your Kiss is Sweet)”
3. “Alta Mira”
4. “Jóhannes Kjarval”
5. “Fúsi Hreindýr”
8. “Álfur Út Úr Hól (The Fool on the Hill)”
10. “Bænin (Christopher Robin)”
Here are the four originals that she covered, for comparison:
Syreeta, “Your Kiss is Sweet” (written by Stevie Wonder)
Edgar Winter, “Alta Mira”
The Beatles, “Fool on the Hill”
Melanie, Christopher Robin