Formed in The Hague as Sweet OK Sister in 1968, the group moved from pop music to progressive rock when singer/songwriter Rob Douw left the group. They shortened the name to Supersister and quickly moved on to music that better reflected their influences—Frank Zappa, The Soft Machine, and Caravan, to name a few. Robert Jan Stips’ keyboards are dominant in most of the music, drawing this listener to compare the group to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
The rollicking pace of “A Girl Named You” does sound a bit like “Eruption,” the lead track from ELP’s Tarkus. But Tarkus and the album from which this single comes, To the Highest Bidder, were released in the same year, so it would take a more devoted fan of progressive rock than I to decide if the similarity is coincidental or if one group copied from the other.
Yes, that is an Armadillotank. The Seventies were a strange and wond’rous time. I used to listen to Tarkus on headphones when I was seven, and let the images of hippified Godzilla monsters run through my brain. And I wasn’t even stoned. But I digress.
The elegant design of Supersister’s single and album covers certainly set them apart from their progressive peers.
And “A Girl Named You” definitely has a jazzier feel than “Eruption,” owing in no small part to Sacha Van Geest’s flute. And it makes for an interesting single, considering the album version was over ten minutes long. I think they did an admirable job of distilling the song to its essence; see if you agree.
The single version of “No Tree Will Grow” couldn’t be found online, unfortunately, but the album version is definitely worth a listen. The low brooding, keyboards at the beginning give way to a plaintive piano and a voice singing about the dangers of isolating yourself from the people in your life:
start boasting your friends away
you think that is life ‘your way’
though you know
no tree will grow on too high a mountain.
The song consistently builds in intensity until the last minute, when the rhythm section explodes in a breakneck tempo that acts as a wonderful foil to the still brooding keyboards. Oddly, it sounds a bit to me like “Wicked Little Town” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Maybe John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask were fans of Supersister. Or maybe songs about isolation and loneliness just inspire similar chords.
I’ll leave with you Superstarshine Vol. 3‘s “The Spiral Staircase,” a song that one Youtuber called the strangest song he’d ever heard. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a good example of how progressive rockers took their love of things Tolkienesque (or C.S. Lewisesque) to strange places.