Beloved singer Yiannis Poulopoulos whose melancholy voice marked Greece’s 1960s and 1970s passed away on Sunday night at the age of 79, after facing heart problems in the past few years.
Poulopoulos was discovered by Mikis Theodorakis in 1963 and soon made a great career in the 1960s and the 1970s with many of his songs featuring in popular Greek movies of the era.
The singer retired early, disappointed by the state of Greek music. He refused to make appearances and sing in clubs, but his songs remain staples of Greek popular music.
Yiannis Poulopoulos was born on June 29, 1941 in Kardamili, Messinia, in the area of Mani. His parents, who were of Messinian origin, lived in Athens, in the Metaxourgio neighborhood and then moved to Peristeri. At the age of 5 he was orphaned by his mother and grew up with his father Giorgos and younger brother Vassilis.
Poulopoulos showed a penchant for singing from early on. Urged by his friends, who heard him sing, but also having great faith in his vocal abilities, he went to Columbia Records in 1962, trying to get an audition, but to no avail.
Yet, the young man was very persistent and continued to ask for an audition every day. At the time he was going to trade school studying to become an electrician.So he entered the studio to record his first song, with music and lyrics by Babis Dalianis, entitled “Kormi mou ponemeno” (My aching body).
In 1963 Columbia was holding auditions for young singers, with the committee consisting of greats like Mikis Theodorakis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Vassilis Tsitsanis and Yiannis Papaioannou. Then Giannis Poulopoulos chose to sing two difficult songs: “I Mana you kai I Panagia” (My mother and Panagia) and “Parapono” (Complaint). When he finished, Mikis Theodorakis approached him, saying: “I will make him a singer”, and in the end he was the only one who passed the audition.
Theodorakis gave him three songs to sing in the play by Iakovos Kampanellis ” I Geitonia ton Aggelon” (The neighborhood of angels)”, which that year (1963) was staged at Rex Theater by the Tzeni Karezi – Nikos Kourkoulos troupe. The songs were “Strose to stroma sou gia dyo” (Make your bed for two), “Doxa to Theo” (Glory to God) and “To psomi einai sto trapezi” (The bread is on the table).
The winter of 1963 found Poulopoulos singing at the Ximeromata nightclub in Ano Patisia, together with Kaiti Gray, Yiannis Aggelou on bouzouki and Yiannis Bournelis as MC. He then leaves Columbia, because of Grigoris Bithikotsis, who vetoed the company and the Lambropoulos brothers, that he did not want Poulopoulos on the label. In 1964 he went for his compulsory service in the army and was discharged in 1966.
After his service, the singer started singing in small clubs in Plaka and recording songs. In 1966 he sang in a Mikis Theodorakis concert at the AEK stadium in Nea Philadelphia, together with Grigoris Bithikotsis, Maria Farantouri and Dimitris Mitropanos. In the same year he starts a regular recording career.
Poulopoulos’ songs start featuring in movies, the first being “Oi Stigmatismenoi” (The Stigmatized) (1966), with Giorgos Fountas and Maro Kontou, where he sings with Eleni Kladi “Poly arga” (Very late) and “S’ agape” (I love you).
The collaboration with composer Mimis Plessas was the one that made his career skyrocket, while being a big part of the golden age of Greek popular music, with the songs being an integral part of the best movies of the era.
The first collaboration with Plessas was in the musical “Oi Thalassies oi Hantres” (The blue beads) In 1966.
This was followed by the films “Kati Kourasmena Palikaria” (Some tired lads, 1967), “Mia Kyria sta Bouzoukia” (A lady in the bouzouki clubs, 1968), “O Pseftis” (The liar, 1968), “Gorgones kai Magges” (Mermaids and Guys, 1968), “O Mikros Fygas” (The Little Fugitive, 1968), “I Parisiana” (The Parisian, 1969), “I Oraia tou Kourea” (The Barber’s Beauty, 1969) “I Theia mou I Hipissa” (My aunt the hippie, 1970) and others.
The year that sent Poulopoulos to the top was 1969, when the album “O Dromos” (The street) by Mimis Plessas and the lyrics of Lefteris Papadopoulos was released. Yiannis Poulopoulos sang 10 of the 12 songs, making the album the first gold record in Greek recording history.
Despite the fact that public radio and television ΕΙΡ/EIΡΤ did not play the songs, in the years to come the record became the biggest seller in the history of Greek discography, selling 3,000,000 copies, a record number that to date no other Greek album has even come close.
That was the zenith of Poulopoulos career, allowing him to rest on his laurels for years. Until 1999, when he decided to retire from singing. Despite generous proposals to sing in clubs and record again, the singer declined to accept.
The great singer’s complaint was that record companies had finished and no new talent emerged, while big nightclubs with live music were open on weekends only.