Kim Larsen (1945-2018)

By Peter Elsnab, journalist and Jesper Nykjær Knudsen, music editor og journalist, 2006

Street songs

When you hear Værsgo, you can have no doubt as to why Kim Larsen is often called “Denmark’s national minstrel”. The then 28-year-old singer took a break from Gasolin’ to take on the role of Copenhagen street singer and storyteller with an album which sounds like it has been recorded by a camp fire - like a cosy jam session where someone has just happened to conceal a tape recorder in a guitar case. 

Songs from the close milieu 

Værsgo came out at a chaotic time coloured by the oil crisis, the battle of the sexes and the Vietnam war, a time when the art world was abuzz with clumsy slogans and elevated political agendas. Kim Larsen chose to reject this and gaze out on the world from the close milieu of Copenhagen’s Christianshavn district, where he managed to express something universal, drawing inspiration from the quarter’s diversity and wealth of offbeat characters. 

Kim Larsen wanted to strike a blow for solidarity and the community spirit, achieving this aim through simple songs using uncomplicated, straightforward language. “Nanna with the red mouth/and long black nails/ she’s a drinker and a bit silly/so she’s happy/It’s so sad, so sad, they say,” is the text of “Nanna” (“Nanna”) - a song which knocks the era’s fixation with efficiency and regimentation mantras. 

Revolt and tradition 

But Værsgo is also a youth record. The songs express a need for revolt and a belief in a better world, that is a part of being young as well as at the same time brimming over with curiosity for life and love. Take for example the number “Maria” (“Maria”) with lines such as “Love at first glance/a little bag of candies/a film we never got to see/as we lay there on the floor.” But Værsgo also looks back. Kim Larsen is inspired here by Denmark’s folk music tradition - from ballads all the way through folk music to folk high school songs. In a similar way later generations of musicians have sought inspiration in Kim Larsen. This was obvious in 2005 when the whole of Værsgo was re-recorded under the title Vaersgo 2 by many younger artists including Nephew, Ataf and Tue West. 

Cover for Værsgo, 1973. Drawing by Peder Bundgaardd ©Sony Music
Popular Music

Did you know?

Source: Kim Larsens homepage

The Reimars Kælder tavern in Rømersgade in Copenhagen, just after the recording of Værsgo, was visited by Kim Larsen, who came to celebrate the completion of his new record with a cold beer. In the basement he listened to the local piano boxer Magnus, who played the song "Once upon a time I was a prodigy". Larsen was happy with the song and would have liked it on Værsgo, which, as you know, did not come. Twenty-eight years later, he finally found room for the song on the album Songs of Forgotten.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Music, 2006

Værsgo was released in 1973, a cold and confused time, with an oil crisis, unemployment, landslide elections and EU issues and when concepts such as community spirit and solidarity were under pressure. However, the album held the flag high by paying tribute to these particular popular qualities. Behind the music, there was a sense of a strong fellowship between Kim Larsen and his musical friends, who jammed and had fun recording the album. The listener became part of this fellowship, as Værsgo invited absolutely everyone who would listen right into living rooms where Larsen and the boys, as it were, picked up their guitars and gave us a couple of songs, including ‘Joanna’, ‘Blaffersan’ and 15 other small gems. The album reeked of solidarity with Larsen’s own milieu in Christianshavn (and its – in more than one sense of the word – off-beat existence) and the urbane, popular tradition he was influenced by.

Værsgo drew a line back to 1960s troubadours such as Cæsar, Per Dich and Povl Dissing, and at the same time referenced names such as Jan Toftlund and Lasse Helner. In 2005, a new generation of singers paid tribute to the album with the anthology ‘Værsgo 2’, which contained re-recordings of all the songs. The informal and underplayed character of the songs brought them into everyday life to such a degree that after the final number ‘Christianshavns Kanal’, you can hear Larsen say to the technician on the other side of the glass: “A couple of misses there... – oh yeah, there might be – but you can’t hear them”. And he was right: You could not – and still cannot – hear them. The songs on Værsgo are thus eternal and enduring. You can still feel their vitality each time you allow Larsen to invite you in.

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