Ever since Mozart made it fashionable to sing German in his opera The Magic Flute, artists all over the world have explored the beauty of the German language. In the following I would like to present some highlights of this tradition. And don't be afraid, I will not post any David Hasselhoff tracks. Though, if you are interested, you can go over to Amazon and listen to a lo-fi 30 second excerpt of him singing "Stille Nacht", the German version of "Silent Night". But honestly, don't do it, for your own sake.
Since I mentioned The Magic Flute already, let us start with one of the stars of American opera, Florence Foster Jenkins, performing the definite version of the aria Der Hölle Rache (MP3). If you like this, you should definitely check out the compilation The Muse Surmounted for more opera greatness.
Next on our tour of is Monty Python's Holzfäller Song (MP3), the German version of the Lumberjack Song, taken from the first German episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. You probably know that most foreign shows on German TV are dubbed by professional voice-over actors, often very badly. However, Monty Python produced this one episode themselves for the German TV station WDR, all other episodes were dubbed.
After freemasons and lumberjacks, the only logical next topic is Wittgenstein, like Mozart an Austrian native. During the first world war he wrote the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which he claimed to have solved all problems of philosophy. Here is the famous second paragraph of the introduction in English translation:
The book deals with the problems of philosophy and shows, as I believe, that the method of formulating these problems rests on the misunderstanding of the logic of our language. Its whole meaning could be summed up somewhat as follows: What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.
That last half sentence just asks to be set to music, and it is strange that it took a whole 46 years until Finnish troubadour M. A. Numminen did just that, accompanied by the Sohon Torwet brass band. You can hear the tune with the original German lyrics "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen" here (MP3). Around the time, Numminen was a student of economics, political science, sociology, philosophy, linguistics, Finno-Ugric languages, folk poetry, Inuit, Bantu, Helsinki slang, and astronomy. However, instead of getting a degree from the university, he got into music and writing. In 1966 at the Jyväskylä Summer Festival he performed a set of songs he had written to texts of a contemporary sex guide (including one called External Female Genitalia Schottische), unfortunately cut short by police intervention. Since then he has been a prolific and well-known musician, singing in Finnish, Swedish, German, English and Esperanto. Apart from songs about sex and philosophy he made children's music, Finnish tango, experimental electronic music, neorustic jazz and disco. You can hear his German version of the Baccara hit "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie" here: Yes Sir, ich kann Boogie (MP3).
Numminen is not only a musician, he also wrote several books, poems, acted in children's films (the picture to the left is him starring as the Giant Rabbit), co-hosted a radio show, and arranged provocative performances around Finland. One of his poems about his hometown of Lempäälä is even featured on the official website of that city. A strange part of the whole Numminen phenomenon is that he is quite popular in Finland, Sweden, and in Germany, but apparently not in many other countries. (His books were translated to Swedish and German, but not to English.) When I once played Numminen's music to an Australian friend of mine, he said that he always thought that Germans and Finns were very strange people. I guess I have to agree.
David Bowie has a nice and cheesy German/English version of his song "Love You Till Tuesday": Lieb mich bis Dienstag (MP3). It is taken from this unofficial bootleg compilation, and the guy I bought the CD from told me that Bowie was not too happy with this recording and tried to get ahold of all copies and destroy them. As you can see, he was not successful.
The last official release of Faith No More, an EP called Songs To Make Love To, features the hilarious German song Schützenfest (MP3). For your information, a Schützenfest is a German traditional celebration during which old men get insanely drunk and are dragged home by their wives the next morning. Oh, officially it is some kind of target shooting competition, but that is only a side show. The lyrics of the Faith No More song don't quite make sense, but one can clearly hear something about Mike Patton making love in a pig trough during which he tries to chase away a dog. Maybe that is the incident which started his metamorphosis into the avant-garde überhipster he is today.
The genre of the German folk song was also popular with the legendary Happy Flowers, the band of Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly-Charred Infant. Here are two tracks taken from their 1992 album Flowers on 45: German Folk Song (live) (MP3) and Rückwärts Essen Jetzt (MP3). The first one has an informative introduction and ends in what they call a free-jazz improvisation, the second one has the text both in German and English. Well, the text is really only that one line, which translates as "Backwards Eating Now".
If there is one band which can turn any song into a Nazi anthem, it is Laibach from Slovenia. In a weird twist of events, they took the thoroughly annoying party anthem Live is Life by the equally annoying Austrian band Opus, translated it into German, gave it the typical Laibach Nazi treatment, and thereby achieved what medieval alchemists always dreamed of: Turning shit into gold. I will spare you the original version, but listen for yourself to Laibach: Leben heisst Leben (MP3).
Since this is a fair and balanced blog, we have to throw in some socialist propaganda after the Slovenian Nazi guys. And who would be better suited to singing German socialist propaganda songs than a couple of Swedes who don't speak German but own an East-German rhyming dictionary? Oh well, that is the official story of IFA Wartburg, and because I want to put the track up here, I won't question it. For now. (Damn, even their website now claims they are German, but I'll just pretend I haven't read it, OK?) The band IFA Wartburg took their name from a brand of cars that were produced in East Germany. Compared to the other brand Trabant, Wartburg was pretty high-end, e.g. it was not built out of cardboard. But I digress: Here is IFA Wartburg's song about East Germany's premier youth organization FDJ (MP3), from their album Im Dienste des Sozialismus (In the Service of Socialism). The acronym FDJ stands for Freie Deutsche Jugend (Free German Youth), and amazingly they still exist. The guy who you can hear in the intro is Walter Ulbricht, former East German head of state, denouncing the monotony of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah music coming from "The West". Here is another track from this amazing CD: Hallo, guter Kommunist (MP3). It is a song about communists, Africa, bongos, mangos, foxtrot, hoola hoola, and twist. Yes, really.