The first instalment of German music and novelties was rather popular. So here’s another one, with a third instalment waiting.
Marianne Rosenberg – Ich bin wie Du (1975).mp3
Much of Eurodisco was made in West Germany, with Giorgio Moroder producing Donna Summer in Munich, and acts like the Silver Convention strutting their shiny trousers there, too. It is fair to say, however, that the German Schlager scene was not a hotbed of disco (or, indeed, anything else but banality). The exception was Marianne Rosenberg, whose sensible secretary’s hairstyle complemented her girl-next-door image. She retained the coiffure and high collar dress during her foray into disco in 1975, the splendid Ich bin wie Du (“I am like you”). The fusion of straight-lacedness and disco queenhood established Marianne as an icon in Germany’s gay scene, a position she continues to occupy today.
Marianne Rosenberg – Mr Paul McCartney (1970).mp3
Die Beat Oma – Ich Bin die Beat Oma (1965).mp3
Before she became a gay icon, a gawkier teenage Marianne Rosenberg appealed to Paul McCartney to reply to her fan letter, because no other girl likes him as much as she does. She resorts to emotional blackmail: John and Ringo and even the odd Rolling Stone would have sent her an autograph by now. But not Paul, oh no. So she has to resort to singing this song to attract his attention. There are, of course, other ways to get Paul’s attention (if not a thumbs up sign). Seven years later, in 1977, German newspapers were agog with the claims of a teenager that Mr Paul McCartney had fathered her during one of the Beatles’ stints in Hamburg. To the shock of nobody, the claims were found to be — gasp — untrue.
Five years before Marianne’s plea to Macca, there was Germany’s insane answer to the wonderful Mrs Miller. Beat Oma (The Beat Granny) based her autobiographical anthem on A Hard Day’s Night, very loosely so, intoning her credentials while aggressively hurtling across vocal keys, hitting none in the process. When she claims that she sings “everybody else against the wall”, the listener virtually feels blindfolded and condemned, hoping only that his superannuated executioner will experience a mishap of the kind depicted in Don Martin’s cartoons in Mad magazine. As the song closes, the drummer puts an end to Beat Oma’s atonal wailings with an assault on the drum kit, perhaps metaphorically beating some sense into the thoroughly charmless Oma (of course, Any Major Dude With Half A Heart disapproves of actual violence against grannies).
Agnetha – Geh’ mit Gott (1972).mp3
Agnetha – Señor Gonzales (1968).mp3
Agnetha – Mein schönster Tag (1968)
Last time we encountered ABBA recording in German. Before she became one of the As in the groups’ acronymised name, Agnetha Fältskog tried to realise the ambition of many Scandinavian singers of the day with a dream of musical success: breaking into the German Schlager scene. Agnetha released a batch of German singles between 1968 and 1972, most of them quite awful even by the low standards of the genre, though a couple were actually quite good. In her endeavours, Agnetha — who already had a career in Sweden but put it on hold while going for stardom in West Germany — was produced by her boyfriend, Dieter Zimmermann. Once Dieter was history, her next boyfriend, Björn, worked out better on the way to stardom.
Geh’ mit Gott was released towards the end of her futile bid at Schlager stardom. It was the German version of Ennio Morricone’s song Here’s To You (sung by Joan Baez) for the 1971 film Sacco e Vanzetti (about two Italian immigrants executed in the US for a crime they possibly didn’t commit).
Four years earlier, Señor Gonzales was Agnetha’s second German single. I see no reason why it shouldn’t have been a Schlager hit. It has the necessary clichéd lyrics and banal melody; it even has the faux-Mexican sound the Schlager-buying public was so fond of (though here Agnetha might have been ahead of her time; the Mexican Schlager wave peaked in 1972 with Rex Gildo’s superb Fiesta Mexicana, which I shall feature soon). The b-side to Señor Gonzales is a rather better affair. Mein schönster Tag is a country ballad which our girl sings rather well; it is a cover version of a country song, but I can’t work out what the original is. Somebody will surely tell me.
Johnny Cash – Wer Kennt den Weg (1966).mp3
In the 1960s it became common for English-speaking artists to make foreign-language recordings of their hit songs. Foremost among the European countries to offer a market for such things was West Germany. In 1966, Johnny Cash recorded I Walk The Line as Wer Kennt den Weg (alas not as Johannes Bargeld). In the early 1950s, Cash had been based as an US soldier in southern Germany. Clearly he did little in that time to benefit from the opportunity to learn German; his accent is quite appalling.
Sandie Shaw – Einmal glücklich sein wie die Andern (1965).mp3
Like her compatriots Petula Clark and, to a lesser extent, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw recorded a lot of her repertoire in German (and in French), including her epic version of Bacharach/David’s Always Something There To Remind Me. Here the title translates as “Just once to be happy like the others”. Recorded in 1965, Sandie sounds like she actually knows what she is singing. She clearly makes an effort (though towards the end the effort apparently becomes a bit too much for her), and her diction is charmingly foreign. That’s all the German public ever asked for; as noted previously, nothing could win the hearts of Germans as much as somebody butchering their languages gently.
The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go (German version) (1964).mp3
The Temptations – Mein Girl (1964).mp3
Berry Gordy could spot a marketing opportunity, and so he had the stars of his Motown roster record their big hits in various European languages, apparently singing from phonetic lyric sheets. Diana Ross makes a game attempt at it; one can understand her implorations not to be left by the addressee of the song. The Temptations take rather more relaxed view of linguistic doctrines, anticipating the German tendency to include English words as part of the conversational language. Germans are quite happy to use the word “girl” instead of Mädchen, or indeed “happy” instead of glücklich, as the Temptations do here (dear Diana is more purist about this: she actually uses the word glücklich, which must be a bit of a tongue breaker for non-German speakers).
Millie – My Boy Lollipop (German) (1964).mp3
And another German version of an English-language hit. Millie (who sounds even more chipmunkish in German) doesn’t make an effort to translate the chief rhyme — sweet as candy/sugar dandy — into German. And how could she? “Du bist so süss wie Süssigkeiten / Du bist mein Zuckerbursche” somehow wouldn’t work well as a line of seduction. So we can forgive that. But why didn’t the songwriters bother to change the line “I love you I love you I love you so” to “Ich lieb’ dich ich lieb’ dich ich lieb’ dich so” ? That’s just lazy.
Franz Beckenbauer – Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen (1966).mp3
Gerd Müller – Dann macht es bumm (1969).mp3
Fans of English football (or soccer, as my American friends would say) are likely to cringe at the memory of their players’ attempts at pop stardom: Kevin Keegan’s 1979 hit single Head Over Heels, or Glenn Hoddle & Chris Waddle with their 1987 #12 hit Diamond Lights, or Paul Gascoigne teaming up with Lindisfarne to belt out The Fog On The Tyne (there’s a Newcastle United thread here). Bad though these might be, English football fans would have no cause to cringe if they knew what their German counterparts have been subjected to, horrors that would make Hoddle & Waddle seem like the Righteous Brothers.
And yet, the two Bayern München legends featured here can be forgiven for their amateur warblings (if not for their club affiliation). Beckenbauer is, in my view, the greatest defensive player of all time. Adept at playing in virtually any position, he was an elegantly authoritative figure on the pitch. Germans, always acutely sensitive to their troubled history, called him “Der Kaiser”, which is preferable to “Der Führer”.
After finishing his playing career (which included a stint with New York Cosmos), Beckenbauer led the West German national team as coach to a World Cup final in 1986 and the world championship in 1990. After abdicating, as it were, he became a functionary for Bayern München, doing all he could to diminish the affection in which German football fans hold their heroes. Today he is a dear friend of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a thoroughly nasty piece of work behind his grinning mask of buffoonery.
If Beckenbauer’s nickname was somewhat misguided, that of his teammate Gerd Müller’s is quite mind-boggling, coming just a quarter of a century after World War 2: “Der Bomber”. The moniker was supposed to testify to Müller’s genuinely breathtaking ability to score goals — he’s by far the best I’ve seen in my lifetime. But it was a misnomer. The nickname suggests that Müller had a mighty shot, firing V2 rockets with accuracy from outside the penalty area. In reality, Müller had no particularly powerful shot. He was, however, compact with a low centre of gravity and an almost unerring positioning instinct. Many of his goals were scored with his backside, or while he was on the ground. His single, Dann macht es bumm (“And then it bangs”), perpetuates the mistaken notion of the blitzkrieging bomber. It also perpetuates the reality that Gerd Müller wasn’t particularly bright. Still, the man is a legend and probably not a friend of the evil Blatter.
Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937).mp3
Vera Lynn has just become the oldest person to have a British #1 album (alas not with her collection of Rammstein covers), but the world’s oldest still active performer is Johannes Heesters. The Dutch-born singer and former actor, whose career was directed almost exclusively at German audiences, is still at it at 105 years of age. As one might expect, he is much loved in Germany.
But he is not very popular in the country of his birth, where he has not been forgiven for continuing his career in Nazi Germany (where all entertainment was subject to Joseph Goebbels’ censorship and even dictate), and especially for performing for SS troops at Dachau. After the war Heesters pleaded that he had no idea about Dachau’s the extent of function. I suspect that he might not be entirely loose with the truth here (not all entertainers are very bright); and even if he knew, how much courage might he have needed to muster to tell the SS to bugger off. At the same time, he did move to Germany in 1935, so fuck him for that.
Still, almost 106 years of age, and still performing. And he has a wife who is 45 years younger than he is — Respect!
Noel Coward – Don’t Let’s Be Beastly To The Germans (1943).mp3
Not a German song, obviously, but a stinging propaganda satire by the legendary English wit at the expense of Germans. Of course he had no intention of pleading for post-war clemency towards Germans; quite the contrary. And yet, to some extent his satirical entreaty would be realised. To be sure, some Germans were treated badly after the war, especially the many women who were raped by occupying soldiers (and not just by the Russians, who clearly did not share the song’s sentiments). But, truth be told, Germans subjected to occupation in the West cannot have too many complaints about the treatment they received.