A Cover from another Mother (tongue) Part 4

Songs translated from German to English

The German language sits at #3 for the most covered song titles and a few of those are Christmas songs. In fact “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” or as we know it in English, “Silent, Holy Night” is the most covered song of all time with 2970 versions. It was written in German by Joseph Mohr in 1818 and the English translation was written by John Freeman Young in 1859. “O Tannenbaum” is based on a traditional German melody and lyrics were written by Ernst Gebhard Anschutz and first recorded in 1915 and there are 775 versions. However, as I said in the first post I typically exclude Christmas songs when discussing and ranking cover songs.

This still leaves plenty of great and memorable songs of German origin to discuss. Now, we all know of The Beatles connection to Germany (more on that later) but I could not find anything of note with German origin. I ran across several famous songs by German performers such as the cover of “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega which was a worldwide smash hit in 1999 but again, not originally a German song. Bert Kaempfert came up several times as both a performer and a composer, I will explore some of those connections. Boney M was a creation of German producer and singer/songwriter Frank Farian but it seems all of their famous songs were originally written and recorded in English. It appears that the band Scorpion songs followed the same pattern.

There is no debating the creation story for this next song, and it’s one of the most recognizable in music history.

Moritat von Mackie Messer” was written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. It was from the play Die Dreigroschenoper from 1928. In English that would be known as The Threepenny Opera. Since the song was first recorded as “Moritat” and released in 1929, it has taken several names. There are currently 630 versions of the song and many of them are instrumentals. The first one with English lyrics were written by Gifford Cochran and Jerrold Krimsky, however that proved unsuccessful and the version we all know now titled “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” was written by the somewhat unorthodox composer Marc Blitzstein.

Most will say the definitive English language version is the one above from the eight person to record the song, the brilliant entertainer, Bobby Darin. His rendition was released on the album That’s All in March of 1959. Darin was not in favour of releasing the song as a single, even though he had been singing it as part of his stage act. However a single was produced in August (1959) and it would reach #1 on Billboard the week ending October 3, 1959 after just seven weeks on the charts. It was #1 for nine non-consecutive weeks and would finish the year as the #2 song. It would also stay in the top 20 until January of 1960. So sometimes the record company is right.

99 Luftballons” is perhaps just as recognizable for both the original in German recorded by Nena and released in January of 1983 and their later released English version. Nena is the lead singer of the band that bears her name. The original hit #1 on at least a dozen charts around the world, and it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were by band member Carlo Karges and the music composed by Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen. The English lyrics were written by Irish multi instrumentalist and composer Kevin McAlea. While the words matched the music it did not always follow the original and the band was not happy about recording it. It seems the American audience did not take to it either as it did not chart and it did not have the same international success of the original. However, like it’s German counterpart it went to #1 in Canada and Australia. While the original didn’t chart in the UK or Ireland, the English version went to #1. All versions combined total 58, this is not a particularly well covered song, but that’s not really that unusual for this type of song.

Bert Kaempfert

I mentioned Bert Kaempfert earlier, he was a German musician, composer and band leader. He was the guy behind a pivotal moment in Rock and Roll History that I will get to in a moment. He was also key in many German/English songs. Among several others he wrote the music for an instrumental titled “Beddy Bye” that was later used in Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”. He also wrote the music for “Moon Over Naples” which became “Spanish Eyes” popularized by Al Martino and recorded by Elvis, Engelbert Humperdinck, Willie Nelson and many other notable artists.

He also wrote the music for “Danke schoen” which he recorded as an instrumental in 1959 then with added vocals in 1963. The lyrics were written by Kurt Schwabach and it was first sung in German by a Croatian named Ivo Robić. The English version was written by Milt Gabler and most will know, first recorded by Wayne Newton. It went to #13 on Billboard and would launch his very successful career as a staple in Las Vegas. The tune was first offered to Bobby Darin but after seeing Newton at the Copacabana he gave him the song. All versions in all languages total 60. I was surprised to learn that the first to cover Newton was Martha Reeves’ and the Vandellas just three months later in September of 1963.

Morgen” will not be known to most, it was a hit song in West Germany but it also reached #13 on Billboard in 1959, the same year as Darin’s “Mack the Knife”. It was written by Peter Moesser and also sung by Ivo Robić and, accompanied by Bert Kaempfert. The English translation was written by Noel Sherman and first recorded as “One More Sunrise” by Leslie Uggams in 1959. Bing Crosby would also record the song.

I mentioned “Wooden Heart“, in my post on Folk Songs. It was originally recorded by Elvis Presley in English and German for the movie G.I. Blues in 1960 and it is from a Traditional German Folk song “Muß i denn, muß i denn zum Städtle hinaus” or shorten to “Muss i denn“. The English version by Joe Dowell hit #1 on Billboard the week of August 26 in 1961 and once again, Kaempfert was part of the writing team for this more “modern” adaptation.

Bert Kaempfert was also the guy to kickstart The Beatles career in Germany. When he saw Tony Sheridan and the then “Beat Brothers” as his backup band, he got them in the studio where they first learn “the ropes” of the music recording business.

Just one last note on Kaempfert, he worked with Milt Gabler again to produce a song for Nat King Cole called “L.O.V. E.”. Cole was the first to record it in German and English.

References: 1, 2, 3

18 thoughts on “A Cover from another Mother (tongue) Part 4

  1. In some songs the german sound works brilliantly. ‘O Tannenbaum’ sounds perfect in german even if you don’t know a word of it. Having said that saying ‘The Threepenny Opera’ rolls off the tongue a lot easier than what looks like a linguistic minefield; ‘Die Dreigroschenoper.’ Ach, nein to trying to say that from my english perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve known about Kaempfert by reading about the Beatles but I didn’t know he did that well. He was important and he didn’t rip the Beatles off…again they had luck because many would have. He signed them over to Brian Epstein not much longer without a fuss when Brian asked.
    Silent Night…I think one of the best written songs in history.

    Liked by 1 person

      • The thing they got so lucky about…nice people. Just think…George Martin, Epstein, and even Bill James…all helped them and other bands…were ripped off left and right. Look at the Stones…lost all of their songs they wrote in the 60s to Klein…

        Liked by 1 person

      • No…Decca hated Klein…he negotiated a lot of money for the Stones…but really HE got a lot of it through paperwork. Andrew Loog Oldham their original manager brought him aboard thinking he could help…Andrew regretted that later.

        Liked by 2 people

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