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Curious Germany – The Collection

Here is a mix of German curiosities, some chosen because they are very good or interesting (or both), and a couple of football-themed songs at the end, selected because they are entertaining in their musical poverty.

This mix was previously posted in May 2013. Some tracks have featured here before, but the links are long dead. I’ve also cribbed a few notes from those instalments. As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes hausgemachte covers. PW in comments

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1. Die Toten Hosen – Bayern (2000)
The title refer to Germany’s most dominant football club, whom non-fans regard, with no exaggeration, as a cancer in the body of German football. So the alternative rock band Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Trousers) composed a very catchy number explaining how, if they were “super-talented” young footballers, they would never sign a contract with that club because such an act would be thoroughly corrupting. At one point the singer demands to know: “What kind of parents must one have to be so stupid as to sign for that shitty club?”

2. Alexander Wolfrum – Hey Büblein (2006)
When somebody records an acoustic version of “Hey Joe” and renders the title as, roughly translated, Hey Little Boy, it’s worth listening to. The lyrics have nothing to do with the original either: it deals with metaphors involving thin ice, drowning in a lake and a rescue. And in-between a female voice warns that Joe is going to catch a cold.

Wolfrum, known by everybody as Sandy, is a singer-songwriter who performs in the dialect of Franconia  — the region around Nuremberg — and founded a Festival der Liedermacher (or Festival of Songwriters) in Bayreuth, the home town of Richard Wagner.  Check out more by Alexander Wolfrum.

3. David Bowie – Helden (1977)
In his Berlin period Bowie fused the cultures of the Weimar Republic cabarets, Krautrock and Kraftwerk, and the local junkie scene. It’s very nice that David Bowie sought to pay tribute to the city that served as his muse by recording in German, but since he lived and recorded there, one might quibble that he could have taken better care with his pronunciations. As it turns out, he put as much effort in enunciating German words correctly as English football commentators do in pronouncing the names of German (or any non-Latinate) football players.

4. Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville (1970)
Husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert were a Schlager duo that epitomised the idea of the Spiesser (square) in the 1970s. My grandmother thought Cindy & Bert were delightful, so Oma would have been shocked to discover that Cindy & Bert’s catalogue included a cover version of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, with the lyrics taking a Sherlock Holmes theme.  It need no pointing out that my grandmother probably wasn’t a hardcore Sabbath fan.

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5. Howard Carpendale – Du hast mich (1970)
In German Schlager history, Howard Carpendale wrote a particularly successful chapter. Unable to hack it in his home country South Africa as an Elvis impersonator, the former shotput champion moved to Germany, learned to speak the language with just enough of a touch of an accent (German audiences really got off on foreign accents; but only in entertainment and romance, not in shops, pubs or public transport), and became the leading romantic singer of the 1970s and ’80s Schlager scene, selling some 25 million records. None of those 25 million records soiled my collection, I am pleased to say. His first breakthrough came with the standard Schlager “Das Mädchen von Seite 1” (The girl from the front page). The flip side, however, was entire unschlagerish, a rocker called “Du hast mich” (You Have Me), a cover of the song Glory Be by German psychedelic rockers Daisy Clan which sounds like a heavy fuzz-guitared, organ-hammering Santana number.

Glory Be was the b-side of Daisy Clan’s 1970 single “Love Needs Love”, apparently the group’s final English-language single (their final release in 1972 was appropriately titled “Es geht vorrüber”, which could be translated as “It goes by”). The Daisy Clan apparently were Schlager singer Michael Holm and songwriter Joachim Haider, going by the name of Alfie Khan.

6. Udo Jürgens – Peace Now (1970)
The first of a fistful of English-language tracks here is by the late Udo Jürgens, the Austrian-born Swiss national who enjoyed immense success in West Germany, the place of his parents’ birth. Jürgens was as big a star as any on the Schlager scene, though his songs tended to be a notch or five above the usual banalities of the genre. Jürgens also wrote hits for Matt Munro, Sammy Davis Jr and Shirley Bassey.

“Peace Now” was the rocking English-language b-side of a German single titled “Deine Einsamkeit”, released in October 1970. It’s pretty good, in a dated sort of way that draws from rock, funk and gospel. Udo, exhibiting a rather lilting German accent, buys into the Zeitgeist as he sings: “Everybody is talkin’ ’bout peace in the world, but every time I hear a hungry baby cry I ask: Peace, now show me your face.”

7. Heidi Brühl – Berlin (1969)
Schlager singers, as a rule, were not cool. Heidi Brühl was not cool either. She had been a popular child actress, making her screen debut in 1954 as a 12-year-old. As a 17-year-old she became a Schlager singer, selling a million copies of her 1960 hit “Wir wollen niemals auseinandergeh’n”, the runner-up in the Eurovision Song Contest that year. In the late ’60s Heidi, now married to American actor Brett Halsey, wanted to be cool — understandably, since her first hit in three years in 1966 was a cover of “The Ballad of the Green Berets”.

By now living in Rome, she went to London and recorded in English. “Berlin”, released in 1969, has that Swingin’ London sound which might have had a revival in an Austin Powers movie. Brühl’s new sound — think Petula Clark covering Nico — was not well received, and the excellent “Berlin” was relegated to the status of a b-side. In 1970 the singer moved to the USA, thereby putting a slow end to her Schlager career. Brühl died of breast cancer in 1991 at the age of 49.

8. Vicky Leandros Singers – Wo ist er (1971)
Last weekend a whole continent took part in the annual ritual of the Eurovision Song Contest. Here is a singer who won the thing in 1972, for Luxembourg with a song called “Après Toi”. The English version of it, “Come What May”, reached #2 in the UK. But the career of the Greek-born singer was based mainly in West Germany, where her singer father had moved in search of success. Vicky began recording as a teenager in the mid-60s, but broke through when she adopted her dad’s Christian name as her surname.

“Wo ist er” is a German take on George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”; an obvious imitation of the Edwin Hawkins Singers, whose Oh Happy Day arrangement this borrows from (and which inspired Harrison). Vicky’s vocals are quite excellent.

Until recently Leandros participated in Greek politics. Under the magnificent name of Vassiliki von Ruffin (her real first name and the surname from her second marriage) she has served as deputy mayor of Piraeus as a representative of the  Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) .

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9. Barry Ryan – Zeit macht nur vor dem Teufel halt (1971)
Best known for his crazy hit “Eloise”, Barry Ryan had a fairly decent career in West Germany, where he recorded his rather good Sanctus album in 1971. In 1972 he had a top 10 in West Germany hit with the catchy “Zeit macht nur vor dem Teufel halt” (Time stops only before the devil). The melody was written by his brother Paul Ryan, and used for Irish singer Dana’s song “Today”. Barry Ryan even appeared on the only German-language music show ZDF Hitparade with “Zeit macht nur vor dem Teufel halt”, to my knowledge the first time an international rock star appeared on the show.

10. Françoise Hardy – Ich bin nun mal ein Mädchen (1965)
The French superstar had some hits in Germany as well, with covers of French hits as well as German originals with material that took a bit from chanson, a bit from what was called Beat music. As a former student of German, her command of German was excellent, with that lovely French inflection. She also recorded in English and Italian. “Ich bin nun mal ein Mädchen” (I am a girl after all) was a version of her French 1964 hit “Pourtant tu m’aimes”, itself a cover of The Joys’ “I Still Love Him”. It’s a cute song with cute lyrics. The song was a minor hit in 1966.

11. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go (German) (1964)
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. Unlike most others, Diana Ross makes a game attempt at it; one can understand her implorations not to be left by the addressee of the song.

12. Marvin Gaye – Sympatica (1964)
I have no idea whether Marvin Gaye was a polyglot or whether he just gave more of a shit, but, like La Ross, he did a better job of it than most of his peers — and even sang a German original composition. So here we have one instance of Motown going Schlager, sort of.

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13. Johnny Cash – Wer kennt den Weg (1966)
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.

14. Peter, Paul & Mary – Puff (1963)
It must have seemed an excellent idea for Peter, Paul & Mary to record their version of “Puff, The Magic Dragon” in German. The monster in question became a Zauberdrachen, and our biblically-named trio sung it with clear diction. So it is a little unfortunate that they titled the song “Puff” — the colloquial German for the word “brothel”.

15. Hildegard Knef – From Here On It Got Rough (1969)
The actress Hildegard Knef was a remarkable woman. Having made her breakthrough just after World War II with the film classic Die Mörder sind unter uns, she became the first actress in German cinema to do a nude scene in 1950, for which the Spiesser (squares) couldn’t forgive her for a long time. She was so good that Hollywood beckoned, but she turned down Hollywood because she was expected to change her name to Gilda Christian and pretend to be Austrian (she later acted on Broadway as Hildegard Neff). Privately, Knef fought several battles with cancer; when she died in 2002 at 76, it was emphysema that claimed her, not the Big C.

Knef became a singer and frequent songwriter in 1963, though not on the Schlager scene but in the Chanson genre, singing in German and English. “From Here On It Got Rough”, an amusing autobiography with a cute pay-off line, was the English version of her song “Von nun ging’s bergab”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCpU6zw68-8

16. Max Raabe & Palast Orchester – Lady Marmalade (2002)
The career of Max Raabe, a 54-year-old baritone, is predicated on conjuring the chanson of the Weimar Republic, either by covering songs or writing songs in the style of the era. He is brilliant at it, with his clipped diction and straight-faced wit — so much so that one yearns for Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward to join on him on stage. He performed at the wedding of Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese, which must have been quite a scene. Raabe records prolifically; this track comes from the second of a pair of novelty albums on which Raabe covers pop songs, with mixed results.

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17. Kandy – Die Kung-Fu-Leute (1974)
It was quite normal for Schlager acts to record German versions of international hits. I have no information about Kandy, but despite obviously not being German, it was his lot to record the teutonic take on Carl Douglas’ novelty hit “Kung Fu Fighting”. And when Douglas said everybody was kung fu fighting, Kandy meant it was the kung fu people doing the fighting.  It was produced by Michael Kunze, who also gave us the Silver Convention and has since become the German equivalent of Andrew Lloyd-Webber (though possibly with a more attractive persona).

18. Udo Lindenberg – Reeperbahn (1978)
Udo Lindenberg was the posterboy of the anti-establishment in the 1970s and ’80s, with his long hair, his sneering brashness, his supposedly cool one-liners, and presumably his steadfast refusal to hold a note. He gets aggressively out-of-tune on “Reeperbahn”, his cover of The Beatles’ “Penny Lane”, transposed to the street in Hamburg’s red light district where The Beatles spent their formative musical years. In his nostalgic paean, Lindenberg pretends to have grown up in the city in which he lived; he actually grew up in a small town near the Dutch border and moved to Hamburg only in 1968.

19. Klaus Doldinger – Theme of Tatort (1970)
This is the full theme of the German crime TV series Tatort, which has run for 43 years now. I know the theme has been re-recorded twice, in 1978 and 2004. I’m not sure which version this is, but on the original our friend Udo Lindenberg from the previous song played the drums. Composer Klaus Doldinger, a jazz saxophonist, also wrote the theme of the German cinema classic Das Boot, which was directed by Wolfgang Petersen. And Petersen came to national prominence for directing a landmark Tatort episode in 1977, tited “Reifezeugnis” and featuring the teenage Nastassja Kinski in various states of undress.

20. Peter Gabriel – Schock den Affen (1982)
I include this for reader Johnny Diego, who in a comment (you do know that you are welcome to comment, right?) proposes the theory that “there are two languages that lend themselves perfectly to [rock] music. One is, of course, English. The other is German, with its harsh guttural sounds. One can hear some that gutsiness in German bands that will never be heard in, say, French speaking bands.”

This track is from Peter Gabriel’s second effort at re-recording an album in German, new instrumentation and all. The first was the self-titled 1980 album with “Games Without Frontiers”; the second was the self-titled 1982 album with “Shock The Monkey”, the German take of which features here.

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21. Zeltinger Band – Der lachende Vagabund (1980)
The Zeltinger Band was a punk outfit fronted by what may be Germany’s first openly gay singer, whose bruising appearance challenged the stereotype of common imagination (see this video). Their biggest hit was a cover of the Ramones song Rockaway Beach, which was renamed “Müngersdorfer Stadion” — after the public swimming baths, not the football stadium — and advocated the practice of fare dodging on public transport. “Der lachende Vagabund” is a contemptuous version of the 1957 Schlager hit by Fred Bertelmann, which was a cover of the country song Rusty Draper’s 1953 hit “Gambler’s Guitar”. The German version was so popular, it sold more copies in Germany that Draper’s million-seller did in the US. Hear Draper’s song and Bertelmann’s.

22. Agnetha – Señor Gonzales (1968)
Before she became one of the As in ABBA, 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.

“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 superbly tacky “Fiesta Mexicana”.

23. Gerd Müller – Dann macht es bumm (1969)
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 UK #12 hit “Diamond Lights”, or Paul Gascoigne teaming up with Lindisfarne to warble “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.

Two Bayern München legends perpetrated particular crimes against music. I’ll spare you Franz Beckenbauer’s attempts at romancing the Schlager audience, but shall inflict upon you the stylings of his teammate Gerd Müller. His nickname, just a quarter of a century after World War II, was “Der Bomber”, though this was based on a mistaken notion: though the greatest goalscoring machine ever, Müller didn’t have a powerful shot. His single, “Dann macht es bum” (“And then it bangs”), perpetuates the mistaken notion of the blitzkrieging bomber. It also perpetuates the reality that Gerd Müller wasn’t particularly bright

24. Village People & die Deutsche Fussballnationalmannschaft – Far Away In America (1994)
Sticking with the football theme, we close this mix with a most bizarre collaboration: the Village People and the German football squad, recording the official song for the German team’s participation in the 1994 World Cup in the USA. It is as awful yet insidiously catchy as one would expect, continuing a lamentable tradition of the German team recording the most appalling songs their federation could commission, and giving them the worst production possible. There was even an LP, which featured such acts as Udo Lindenberg, The Scorpions and — you guessed it — David Hasselhoff.

The lyrics of “Far Away In America” were possibly not inspired by Goethe or Schiller. “We’re gonna make it, get it up and shake it. You’re gonna fight for the light, baby, come on and know it’s allright,” Klinsmann, Matthäus, Völler and pals croon with the Village People. Bring on those light-demanding Bulgarians, baby! The football-loving German public sent its team on its way to defend the World Cup title by propelling the lead single to the dizzy heights on the hit parade of…#44.

Bonus:  Albert Brooks – The Englishman-German-Jew Blues (1975)
We’re ending this collection with a song that has no real connection with German music, nor much with Germany, but this is so good I want to share it. It’s from Albert Brooks’ concept comedy album A Star Is Bought, on which various music stars appeared as the comedian tries to become a musician. On this track, he riffs with blues legend Albert King, whose career is based on feeling blue”.

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  1. halfhearteddude
    May 23rd, 2013 at 08:10 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. dogbreath
    May 23rd, 2013 at 12:16 | #2

    Thanks for this (I think) – you make it sound so bad it must be good! In any event there are a few tracks I’d like to hear – such as Agnetha, The Supremes, Francoise Hardy – which may turn out to be keepers (unintentional football pun). Cheers!

  3. Birgit
    May 24th, 2013 at 01:09 | #3

    Thanks for music, notes and hausgemachtes cover! The English Knef version was a nice surprise. This mix is a perfect preparation for watching the game. If you can stand singing Gerd Müller you can even stand a Dortmund defeat, which hopefully doesn’t happen. Great bonus song!

  4. sw2boro
    May 26th, 2013 at 11:33 | #4

    My favourite subject, just in time for my trip to Berlin next Sunday! You’re spoiling me, Dude.

    Fans of this stuff should check out the three part compilation series, “The In-Kraut”.

  5. halfhearteddude
    July 11th, 2017 at 18:07 | #5

    Fast-forward to 2017: Editing the text for reposting, I withdrew references to the original reason for posting this mix: the Champions League final between Bayern and Dortmund. Hence the comments above.

  6. JohnnyDiego
    July 11th, 2017 at 18:43 | #6

    Thank, Dude. You know I’ll listen to this with my half-German side.

  7. Hermann
    July 11th, 2017 at 23:17 | #7

    many obscure german stuff you will find at canna.to
    – search in the user uploads for “Canna Cooperation Die Schraegsten Titel”
    they posted about 200 compilations with funny/weird/good stuff containig about half of it in german.
    TY for this and all your other posts.
    Hermann

  8. Brad Harvey
    July 12th, 2017 at 05:53 | #8

    Great new compilation of German songs. Was tempted to go after the previous listed sets but, while they are listed, the links are pretty much all dead. If you could re-activate them, I’d hoist a Krombacher in your honor!

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