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Curious Germany Vol. 3

February 9th, 2010 7 comments

In the previous instalments of Curious Germany we noted the tendency in the 1960s of artists re-recording their hits in European languages, particularly in German to cater for the mainland continent’s biggest market. Here are a few more German re-recordings, plus a Motown-goes-Schlager track, a most unexpected cover, pre-Schlager stardom Krautrock, a slightly strange Beatles cover, and another singing footballer.

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The Beatles – Komm, gib’ mir Deine Hand.mp3
The Beatles – Sie liebt Dich.mp3

The Fabs recorded their first record in Germany. Backing Tony Sheridan on his Bert Kaempfert-produced LP, they sang on a couple of songs (Ain’t She Sweet and My Bonnie) and recorded a self-penned instrumental, Cry For A Shadow, on which George Harrison got a writing credit alongside John Lennon (it was intended to be a parody of The Shadows). And, of course, in St Pauli the boys really grew up. And yet, they did not seem to have much of a sentimental attachment to the country that gave them their first international break. A mini-tour of three cities — Munich, Essen and Hamburg — in 1966 was the extent of their concerts there (with typical teutonic subtlety, the sponsors, teen mag Bravo, called it a “Blitz” tour). And the Beatles really did not want to record any of their songs in German, or any other language.

The idea to do so originated with the group’s German label, Odeon, whose executives thought that German-language singles would sell even better than the orginals in their country. The Beatles resisted the instruction to record in German, going as far as not turning up to the booked session in the EMI Pathe Marconi studio in Paris in January 1964. A stern George Martin (who himself thought the idea was stupid) had to remindhis truant boys of their professional obligations before they gathered in the studio the following day, January 29. Komm gib mir eine Hand was quickly recorded to the backing track sent from London, but the instrumentation of the German She Loves You had to be re-recorded because the tape with the original track had been lost. It took 14 takes to record the song. Once they were done, with a little time to kill, the Beatles started work on a new song written by Paul called Can’t Buy Me Love.

The lyrics for the two German songs had been written by singer and TV personality Camillo Felgen under the pseudonym J. Nicolas. Two other non-Beatles are credited: one Montogue on Sie liebt Dich, and a H. Hellmer on the German version of I Want To Hold Your Hand. These credits have long puzzled Beatles historian. It appears that both Heinz Hellmer and Jean Montague (incorrectly spelled on the credits) were additional pseudonyms employed by Felgen, I would guess as a tax dodge.

These credits appeared on the German single release and the US album Something New, on which the German songs incongruously turned up. Subsequent releases, such as Beatles Rarities and Past Masters, credit only Lennon-McCartney.
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Cindy & Bert – Der Hund von Baskerville.mp3
We previously encountered husband-and-wife duo Cindy & Bert in the 1973 installment of the nostalgia series Stepping Back, with a typically horrible Schlager. The pair epitomised square. My grandmother thought Cindy & Bert were delightful. They reminded us of the nice young couple who rented the apartment on the top floor of her house and always paid the rent on time. So Oma would have been shocked to discover that Cindy & Bert’s catalogue included a cover version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid (it need no pointing out that my grandmother would not have been a big Sabbath fan even if — especially if — she knew who they were). The cover photo of the 1970 single, which is not bad, is entirely misleading. Did I mention that Cindy & Bert were considered squares?
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Howard Carpendale – Du hast mich.mp3
Daisy Clan – Glory Be.mp3

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 (as I’ve noted before, German audiences really got off on foreign accents; in entertainment, 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, for I always thought he was a bit of a drip. 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. Thanks to my friend Sky, I can’t consider Carpendale as a drip any longer. The dude actually knew how to rock.

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 passes on”). The Daisy Clan apparently were Schlager singer Michael Holm and songwriter Joachim Haider, going by the name of Alfie Khan. Holm had his first chart entry in 1962, but did not really break through until late 1969 with his version of the Sir Douglas Quintett’s Mendocino. It seems that his Schlager success put paid to his career as a psychedelic rock musician; Holm enjoyed a long string of Schlager hits (he featured HERE and HERE). Just to prove that not all Schlagersingers are naff fools with bad hair, Holm also collaborated with the eternally cool Giorgio Moroder in a project named, unappetisingly, Spinach. Holm has even been nominated for Grammys three times as part of the ambient music outfit Cusco.

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Dusty Springfield – Auf Dich nur wart’ immerzu.mp3
Like her contemporaries Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield did a fair number of German recordings. Auf Dich nur wart’ ich ich immerzu (I’m always waiting for you only) was her German version of I Only Want To Be With You, released as a single in July 1964 with a German rendering of Wishin’ And Hopin’ as the b-side. Like most other songs transcribed from English to German, it was not a hit. It was quite usual for the original performer of a French or Italian song to score big successes with their German versions of these — singers such as Mireille Mathieu and Salvatore Adamo made a career of that — but English pop translations rarely impressed the record-buying public. I suspect the reason for that was two-fold. Firstly, pop sounds better in English, its own language; secondly, the German listener could differentiate between a Gilbert Bécaud’s heavy accent interpreting the lyrics and English-language singers not knowing what they were phonetically singing.
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Marvin Gaye – Wie schön das ist.mp3
Marvin Gaye – Sympatica

Motown had their stars record many versions of their songs in Spanish, Italian, French and German. Curious Germany Volume 2 included German covers by the Supremes and by the Temptations. Marvin chipped in with this take on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). The vocals were usually sung from phonetic lyric sheets, and most international stars who recorded in German did not pay meticulous attention to the standards of their pronunciation. I have no idea whether Marvin Gaye was a polyglot or whether he just gave more of a shit, but he did a better job of it than most of his peers. Wie schön das ist was the b-side of a song Gaye recorded exclusively in German, Sympatica, which was written by Schlager composers Jonny Bartels (not to be confused with singer Johnny Bartel) and Kurt Feltz. So here we have one instance of Motown going Schlager, sort of.
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Katja Ebstein – A Hard Day’s Night.mp3
Katja Ebstein had a reputation as one of Germany’s more sophisticated Schlager stars. When she represented West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980, her song was titled Theater. It got nowhere. Ten years earlier the singer born in Poland as Karin Witkiewicz did somewhat better, coming third with the rather good Wunder gibt es immer wieder, and repeating the trick the following year with the ecological number Diese Welt (see, it wasn’t only Marvin Gaye who was concerned). The international exposure helped her maintain an international career, recording in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and even Japanese.

Ebstein’s rather peculiar version of A Hard Day’s Night preceded her breakthrough by a year; she was still something of a leftist activist (she still is; in the 1980s she was arrested for taking part in a blockade of a US nuclear arms depot; in 2003 she demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq). Released in 1969 on the Katja album (the legend Twen on the cover advertises a youth magazine which promoted the LP), the Beatles cover was the set’s only English-language track. In her hands, the hard day was suffered not by her but by a unspecified him, and the whole shebang includes a strong hint of a Harrison-style eastern vibe.  File under “Interesting Beatles Covers”.

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Johnny Cash – Viel zu spät.mp3
Johnny Cash – Wo ist zu Hause, Mama.mp3

Cash’s 1965 German version of I Walk The Line also featured in the second volume of this series. In 1959, Cash recorded two other German versions of his songs, though neither was released until 1978. Viel zu spät (Much too late) is a take on the murder ballad I Got Stripes; Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama (Where is home, mom) is the allemanic version of Five Feet High and Rising. Both, it seems, were intended to be released as a single, but I can find no record of their release. Cash’s relationship with Germany went back to the early 1950s, when he was stationed as a GI in Bavaria (it was a local girl who damaged his hearing when she stick a pencil in his ear). And it was there that Cash started to become serious about music.

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Radi Radenkovic – Bin i Radi bin i König.mp3
Here’s an example of an idiosyncratic accent helping to create celebrity on the football pitch and in the pop charts. Yugoslav Petar “Radi” Radenkovic was the goalkeeper for the München 1860 football team, which won the German championship in 1966 (the last team playing in blue shirts to do so). The goalkeeper was something of a humorous character on the pitch who had the entertaining tendency to run outside his penalty area to dribble around opponents., He was hugely popular. As one does, he recorded a single to celebrate his celebrity. This frankly quite awful ditty fuses Radenkovic’s guttural Serbian accent with the thick Bavarian dialect which has the rest of Germany (or Prussia, as a Bavarian might counter) amused at its sheer yokelness. The song — literally: “Am I Radi am I king” — does little to suggest that Radenkovic’s parents were in fact fairly successful musicians.

More Curious German

Step back to 1973

October 23rd, 2009 7 comments

In 1973 I had my first proper party to celebrate my seventh birthday; after the summer I had a new teacher (for reasons explained in the 1972 review); and the German version of Sesame Street was flighted in most of West Germany as of January 1973. Read more…