A Cover from another Mother (tongue)

Songs translated into English


There are numerous songs that many of us don’t realize came from another language. I have talked about several in the past such as the clip above. I seem to run across them regularly so separate posts seemed in order. Many prominent foreign language singers and songwriters have more or less immediately had their own songs translated into English and then had them recorded. It of course works the other was as well, for example Beyonce recorded some of her own songs in Spanish. And of course there are many bilingual and multilingual singers who record in several languages, Nana Mouskouri always comes to mind. I read the world record belongs to a young woman named Suchetha Sathish from Kannur, India who sang 120 languages in one concert! So, as interesting as these are I will try and will steer clear.

I want to focus on songs that were not necessarily written with the thought of translating them. So, perhaps it was an afterthought or a discovery by someone else. Looking at well known artists like Édith Piaf, she had”Hymne à l’amour” translated and she was the first to record it in English. However many of her songs were not necessarily translated into english for her to sing, though she may have eventually recorded the new versions. As we know, it is her original French language songs that are better known internationally. It’s it a bit of a chicken and age scenario. So I’m a bit on the fence for listing her and artists of that ilk, but as usual I shall muddle through.

There are many songs that were presented to the english market entirely in a foreign language. Both “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto and “Dominique” by Jeannie Decker (The Singing Nun) were #1 Billboard hits in the 1960’s. As you know many Hymns and Carols have been translated from another language, mostly of German and Czech origin. I won’t be including those. Many times it’s just the melody that was taken and completely new words and meaning added. “My Way” that Paul Anka wrote for Frank Sinatra (1968) comes to mind, the lyrics are different but the tune is from “Comme d’habitude” released by Claude François in 1967.

So my target is songs that are for the most part true to the original in words and/or the music. For some of these songs the lyrics did not always make for an easy literal translation and some were changed a little or even a lot because the writer thought the new or different english words just made for a better song. I think we call that poetic license.


When I began to research this topic I ran across some of the more obvious songs that many may know but I also started to see a trend. There were a number of songs that have become very popular in English that originated more from some languages than others.

If you are interested, here is a bit about the measurement of such songs. In the world of cover songs there are two main metrics at play here: 1. Total number of covers in any one language and 2. Total number of performances of a song. What is the difference? In the case of 1. the qualifier is one song and one cover, for 2. It is one song may equal 1,000 people doing that same song. Let me give an example. “The Girl from Ipanema” is one cover of the Brazilian (Portuguese) song ” Garota de Ipanema”. But the ratio of different performances, or versions is one song to 851 versions. Just a couple songs in particular help to put Portuguese songs at #2 (behind English of course) on the all time most performed list, above French, Italian, Spanish and German. However for the total 1. so 1:1 ratio Portuguese songs are 10th on the list.

For this reason it occured to me rather than jumping around according to the song, I might make more sense of it dividing by language. So the data I am using relates to the amount of cover versions of a song that originated in another language. The posts on this topic may not appear in order, so other topics might interceed. However you can “read all about it” in the posts titled A Cover from a different Mother Portuguese, or French, Italian and we’ll see how far I get.

Here is the list in order by original language/and where it sits by number of performances. This is as they appear on Secondhandsongs.com.

  1. English by original languages is about 60%/and about 82% of the performances.
  2. French/3
  3. German/5
  4. Spanish/4
  5. Finnish/8
  6. Swedish/6
  7. Dutch/9
  8. Italian/7
  9. Czech/10
  10. Portuguese/2

I’ll leave you today with this lovely Gaelic song that dates back to the 17th Century.

7 thoughts on “A Cover from another Mother (tongue)

  1. One I didn’t know that was translated from the Italian was ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.’ More than a few translated songs sound awkward with too few or many syllables left out or levered in but this one sounds like it was written in English.
    Lovely song, ‘Dawning Of The Day.’
    Also, some songs just sound better in their own language. F’rinstance this old Grinch far prefers ‘O Tannenbaum’ to ‘O’Christmas Tree.’

    Liked by 1 person

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