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Step back to 1971

August 14th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

When in the introduction for the 1970 instalment I said that I had become interested in music that year, by 1971 I was showing the first signs of the devotion to popular music which today finds expression on this blog. I attribute that to three events. Firstly, I began to catch a greater number of music programmes on TV, especially the ZDF Hitparade (about which more later) and Disco, presented by the rather absurd Illja Richter and featuring German and international acts. Secondly, for my fifth birthday in April I was presented with a portable record player (the type where the lid doubles as a speaker). Thirdly, I bought my first record. As always, inclusion of a song here does not imply my endorsement (especially not with all that Schlager dross in this lot; trust me, things will get better after 1977).

* * *

Michael Holm – Wie der Sonnenschein.mp3
Los Diablos – Un rayo de sol.mp3

michael_holmFor more than three decades, disjointed snatches of songs from my childhood had embedded themselves so firmly in my ear that three decades later I would still spontaneously bring to mind these phrases without knowing the rest of the song or who sang it. One of these three remains undiscovered; one I found three years ago; the other I stumbled upon quite by coincidence. For years the phrase “Sha la la la, oh-oh-oh” drove me mad. It never occurred to me to google it though. To cut a dull story short, when I discovered and acquired Wie der Sonnenschein, I found that I could recall most of the lyrics, even though I hadn”t heard it in nearly 40 years. But there must have been a non-German version I knew as well. I wouldn”t know whether or not that version was in English ““ foreign languages were all the same gibberish to me “” but I don”t think it was the Spanish version of the song by Los Diablos, which I”ll post anyway. Music, eh? The stuff of endless mystery.


Dawn – Knock Three Times.mp3
dawnI have faint memories of seeing Tony Orlando singing this on TV. I must have liked the song and then forgotten about it. Some 20 years ago I heard it again, and it created the good vibe of evoking the atmosphere of our living room, the semolina porridge my mother used to cook, and the youngest of my three older sisters whose bedroom was plastered with posters from the German teen magazine Bravo. The power of exciting such memories make a song great, even if it”s rubbish ““ the command to beam the listener back to a particular time, opening that compartment of the memory in which we have stored the ephemeral remnants of an emotion, a taste, a smell, even a colour. So to me, Knock Three Times and many other showpieces in the horror cabinet of West Germany”s charts in the early 1970s are items of beauty. On the other hand, some latter brilliant works of musical art summon the pain of a lost love or a death, rendering it unlistenable to me.


Chris Roberts – Ich bin verliebt in die Liebe.mp3
chris_robertsI have noted previously the strange custom whereby German singers would adopt English-sounding names. So it was with Munich-born Christian Klusacek, whose choice of name condemned a British music journalist to a lifetime of sharing Google hits with a funny-haired exponent of the Schlager. Roberts had a knack for catchy melodies “” banal and poorly produced as this song is, you can see why people liked it “” but his success rested more on him being a bit of a teen idol of song and film, as hinted at by his hair (how did the people of the 1970s manage to get their hair styled like that?). Roberts was the handsome, cleancut sunny boy whom nice girls could fall for and Moms would like as a son-in-law (Dad would insist that he”d cut his bloody hair, of course). Apparently he continues performing at 65, and the hair is still more or less the same.


Wolfgang РAbraham (Das Lied vom Tr̦dler).mp3
wolfgangIf this had been an English song performed with a more sophisticated arrangement by some folk-pop star ““ Donovan, perhaps, or Barry McGuire ““ Abraham would be a well-regarded song of the genre. In its only form, however, it is a Schlager. I remember enjoying the song when it was a hit, but my older brother tells me that I was quite obsessed with it, singing it until the whole family was sick of it (or perhaps only he was; who can trust a brother”s testimony). Clearly I had a penchant for folk-pop then already.

Written by the Austrian singer himself, it was Wolfgang Hofer”s only big hit. And perhaps that is not surprising, considering the titles of some of his other songs, such as Wer hat meinen Kopf gesehen (Who has seen my head), Ade blöder Winter (Goodbye, stupid wnter), Rüdiger das Nachtgespenst (Rüdiger, the Ghost), Bum Bum (Boom Boom), Schlaba-di-bab-di-ba (er”¦), or the immortal Oobe-Doobe-Sha-La-La-Choo-Choo-Girl. Hofer proceeded to be a prolific songwriter for and with others.

Danyel G̩rard РButterfly (German).mp3
butterflyOh man, I wanted to grow to become Danyel Gérard. No doubt, the dude never had trouble getting laid (not that this was of concern to me at the age of five). With his guitar, floppy hat, beard and ready smile, he combined cool and charm in a way that united youngsters and their mothers. My judgment of the song is obviously clouded by nostalgia, but it”s easy to see how it became a massive hit. And in Germany it was a hit for more than half a year, spending 15 weeks at #1. I think my passion for the ZDF Hitparade was cemented by his appearances (then in black hat, now in white ““ the man was a veritable chameleon).

The Hitparade was an innovative show in its day, in set design (all modern chrome, big pictures of that week”s performers on the walls, singers roaming about, unusual camera angles) and in the format, which allowed viewers to vote which artist would appear again the next month. The singers, only German Schlager was allowed, would routinely be presented by one or more star-struck fan with flowers in mid-performance, during which the artist”s postal address would be shown on screen; sometimes their actual home address, which must be a stalker”s wet dream. The whole shebang was presented by the fast-talking Dieter Thomas Heck, who clearly enjoyed his job. Bad as the music usually was, the Hitparade had a great energy. Watch Danyel Gérard performing Butterfly on the Hitparade, departing from script by going over to the cheap seats, to the delighted astonishment of Heck who then gets into the Butterfly groove.


Roy Black & Anita РSch̦n ist es auf der Welt zu sein.mp3
In 1995 the British journalist Giles Smith published a very funny book on his relationship with records, titled Lost In Music (Picador) “” and the German reader would do well to try and find Sky Nonhoff”s equally entertaining Kleine Philosphie der Passionen: Schallplatten (dtv, 2000). Discussing the subject of first singles bought, Smith wrote: “I feel sorry for anyone whose first single genuinely was She Loves You or Elvis singing Heartbreak Hotel or I Wish It Would Rain by the Temptations or any other astonishing one-off pop moment, people who really were in the right place at the right time with their pulse beating at the right pace. Because we”ll all nod slowly and heavily with approval when they tell us and say things like, “˜Oh, really? Fan-tastic!” But who”s going to believe them?” Smith claims his first record was Rosetta by George Fame & Alan Price. Fan-tastic!

I never made lofty claims about my first record. For years I claimed it was something by the Bay City Rollers. Of course I knew that even that hardly brag-worthy purchase wasn”t my first. I had bought a bunch of Schlager singles by the likes of Vicky Leandros, Mireille Mathieu, Freddy Breck and “” have mercy on my soul “” even one by the monstrous Heino (though I do remember that my grandmother egged me on to pick Blau blüht der Enzian; she was living her fandom through me at times). But I was suppressing the uncool memories of that, spending no thought on which Schlager hit actually was my first single. Then, one day while perusing the German charts of 1971, it came back to me.

roy_blackThe first record I ever bought, at the local Karstadt on a shopping trip with my grandmother. I”d like to lie and claim that I bought something like Stevie Wonder”s If You Really Love Me that fine day in late 1971. But I didn”t. I bought this. No wonder I supressed the memory of that for most if my adult life. The second single, bought not long after, was French songbird Mireille Mathieu”s sentimental Akropolis Adieu. Which is marginally better than the first effort, a true horror duet between the by then fading heart-throb Roy Black (not his real name and now sadly dead) and the goldilocked child Anita, rambling on about how great it is to be alive, as echoed for reason of rhyme by a bee in conversation with a porcupine. Mothers will have thought the exercise cute, and I suppose Roy and Anita spoke to me on an existential level (or, perhaps, I just liked the bloody song). What I cannot understand is why I didn”t buy Butterfly. Perhaps TV clips such this one persuaded me that Roy and Anita were the more sensible choice

José Feliciano – Che Sarà.mp3
felicianoThe great thing about German radio was that it crossed not only the barriers of genres, but also of language. Of course, most of the playlisted music would be in German and English “” and often the same song in its English original and German cover version ““ but every so often there would feature a song in Italian, French or Spanish. The linguistic tolerance found expression in José Feliciano”s hit Che Sarà, which he first performed at the San Remo song festival in Italy (known there as Il Festival della canzone italiana), where it placed second. Here we have a Puerto Rican singer who recorded in English and occasionally Spanish having a hit in Germany with an Italian-language song. His only German Top10 hit, it”s an earworm-inducing number. Oh, and Che Sarà was beaten in San Remo by Nada and Nicola Di Bari”s Il cuore è uno zingaro, which will not feature in this series.

Daliah Lavi – Willst Du mit mir geh”n.mp3
daliah_laviIn the comments to the 1970 instalment, AREL of the fine Best of Both Worlds blog suggested that Willst Du mit mir geh”n is superior to the other Lavi song I posted, Wann kommst Du. I”m sticking by the latter, but her second big hit of 1971 ““ the first was a German cover of Melanie”s Look What They”ve Done To My Song ““ occupies a lofty position on my rather abbreviated hitparade of great Schlager songs. The question of the song title translates toughly as “Do you want to go steady?” The original, by South African singer John Kongos, was called Won”t You Join Me. Kongos went on to have two UK hits with Tokoloshe Man and He”s Gonna Step on You Again. Both were covered by the Happy Mondays who had  a UK hit with the latter, retitled Step On, in 1990, whereby Kongos represents an amusing link between Britpop and early “70s German Schlager.


Pop Tops – Mamy Blue.mp3
Ricky Shayne – Mamy Blue.mp3

pop_topsThe Pop Tops were a Spain-based outfit led by French guitarist Ray Gomez and African-American singer Phil Trim. Their version of Mamy Blue (for which they dropped on “˜m”) became one of the big hits in Germany in late ’71 and early ’72. They were not the first to record it though. It seems that the French writer Hubert Giraud gave it to Italian teenager Ivana Spagna. From there, Joel Dayde had a hit with it in France, and one Nicolette in Italy. Then Trim got hold of it, dropped an “˜m”, devised English lyrics, gave it a bit of the gospel-pop spin the Pop Tops had specialised in, and ““ hey presto ““ mammoth hit in the German-speaking region. Our man Gomez proceeded to collaborate with the likes of John Lennon, Bill Bruford, Stanley Clark, George Duke, Chaka Khan and Tori Amos. For your fix of early “70s tight pants and afros, watch the video.

ricky_shayneThe German cover was sung by Ricky Shayne, a truly international figure: born in Cairo, his father was a Lebanese oil businessman of a somewhat shady reputation, his artist mother was French-Egyptian. He grew up in Cairo and Beirut, before starting his career in France (sharing an agent with, obviously, Salvatore Dali), but had his first success after moving to Italy before he proceeded to become something of an idol in West Germany. When his career nosedived soon after Mamy Blue, he briefly emigrated to the US, trying for a musical career there, apparently without becoming a megastar. Today, at 65, he runs a kiosk in Düsseldorf (often frequented by fans on Schlager pilgrimage), still writing music and nurturing dreams of a comeback.

To his credit, he didn”t ape the English-language version of Mamy Blue. Shayne was a dark, handsome pretty-boy whom I didn”t like much ““ perhaps my first case of active antipathy towards a singer ““ even though he had my youngest sister”s stamp of approval by virtue of featuring grinningly on her extravagant wall of posters from Bravo. Maybe I just didn”t like his smirk, or perhaps I could not reconcile his boyish good looks with the gruff voice that accompanied them, judging him therefore a fake without articulating as much. I give him that much though, his version of Mamy Blue isn”t bad at all.


Ulli Martin – Ich träume mit offenen Augen von Dir.mp3
ulli_martinI am a martyr for this blog. In preparation for this post, I played this song, and now the chorus is a constant earworm. And it is not a most welcome earworm: the song is insidious in its simplicitly (up the scale and down again and up and down), the arrangement is pedestrian and the delivery is ingratiating. It”s the sort of sentimental ballad which Germans call a Schnulze, a term which ought to join Zeitgeist and Weltanschauung in the English dictionary. And yet it”s so catchy that it lodges itself in my brain. The song didn”t even make sense to me when I was watching it on the Hitparade (probably this clip) as a child: how can he dream of her with open eyes. “Newsflash, Ulli,” I might have wanted to say, “in order to dream you have to be asleep, and in order to be asleep, your eyes must be closed.” Idiot.


Aretha Franklin – Spanish Harlem.mp3
arethaMy first soul song. I don”t know why Spanish Harlem, a cover of Ben E King”s song, was a big hit for Aretha in West Germany, and not her other songs. Perhaps it had to do with the German partiality for the exotic. If you needed a hit, simply conjure in your song the imagery of Mexico, Italy or Greece “” or indeed Spain “” and, hey caramba, big hit. So I guess that the average German record consumer had no inkling that Spanish Harlem was not actually in Spain but in New York, perhaps imagining some Afro-coiffured Spanish rose doing whatever Afro-coiffured Spanish roses do in Spain. Or perhaps it was the “la-la-la lalala lalala-la” line that the Germans couldn”t resist singing along to, which would explain why two years earlier Steam had a big hit, and why Michael Holm”s chorus of Sha-la-la-la-la Oh-oh-oh was stuck in my head for almost four decades, or why Gilbert O”Sullivan hit paydirt with Wack-a-Doo Wack-a-Day.

More Stepping Back

  1. August 14th, 2009 at 18:29 | #1

    What, Feliz Navidad never made the German Top10???
    It’s another …. interesting (to qoute Alfred Biolek) … selection… Thanks for Mamy Blue, had been looking for it ever since you set me on the trip down memory lane :)
    Che Sarà used to be one of my mum’s favourites (actually all things & songs Feliciano)… I seem to vaguely remember a (half) German version? Or am I so old that memory plays tricks on me?
    Buuterfly, my Butterfly.. oh sweet youth :)
    I could have lived without the reminder of DTH tho, never liked the man. I was more Disco with Ilja…„Licht aus – Womm! Spot an – Jaaaa!!!!!
    Butterfly, butterfly… toll, jetzt hast du wieder was los getreten.. at least I’m not singing with Roy & Anita..
    bring back Katja Ebstein :)

  2. Mac Rebennac
    August 14th, 2009 at 19:04 | #2

    some further Infos about Roy Black’s Anita:

    and at this point you stand just before Ricky Shaynes Kiosk:
    51°13’39.02” N 6°48’43.13” E
    ( just Copy and Paste it into the Searchfield of Google Earth

  3. August 15th, 2009 at 21:46 | #3

    Ooh, this brings back memories…

    My favorites in that days were “Hab’ ich dir heute schon gesagt (dass ich dich liebe)” by Chris Roberts and “Ein Festival der Liebe” by Juergen Marcus.

    (I can’t believe I wrote this. What a confession!)

  4. Walter
    August 16th, 2009 at 00:43 | #4

    It may come as a surprise to you, but ‘Un Rayo De Sol’ has a French original by …Sheila, without the sha-la-la’s, but the oh -oh-oh’s intact.

    Even ‘Butterfly’ has a little prehistory, it used to be a flop called ‘Helas Trois Fois Helas’ ’till Danyel rewrote it 3 years later. I’ll sent you the goods.

    My first 45 was ‘Poppa Joe’ by The Sweet, one could do worse I suppose :-)

    Great reading (as always), I recognized all these songs except for Daliah and Ulli. Thanks.

  5. August 16th, 2009 at 01:36 | #5

    oh, I can’t wait, Walter. Poppa Joe (and Jurgen Markus) will make an appearance in 1972 .

    ARNEL, for this instalment, I was torn between which Chris Roberts song to post. Ich bin verliebt… won out by a whisker. Still, that HAIR!

  6. August 18th, 2009 at 17:52 | #6

    of ricky shayne: his peak in italy was “uno dei mods” (one of the mods), a song about the mod scene. obviously on the cover of the 45 he stands dressed like a rocker… check

    in 1970 he came out with “ramadan”, following to the hippie fashion. he has tried to jump on every train to become a star…

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