It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a song that isn't sung in English makes its way into the mainstream music waters in the US and UK. You've got your Macarenas, your Luftballons, your Kommisars and even Amadeus (what is it about songs in German?) that force their way into your ears.
Granted, I don't have a lot of non-English language songs in my collection, but the ones I do have usually get fairly heavy rotation. Here are some of my more favorites:
Waterloo - Abba: Everyone knows the English version of this song, but for some reason, this version has a bit more kick to it. This theory doesn't always apply with Abba, however...their Swedish version of Honey, Honey sounds like they phoned it in...I blame the satin hot pants.
La Mer - Charles Trenet: Most of you will definitely know the English version of this song...Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea. What's interesting is that both songs have quite different meanings. Here's an interesting case...if you don't know French and hear Trenet's version for the first time, you would think that the singer is pining away for his far flung love even more than Bobby does in Beyond the Sea. In reality, Charles isn't pining away for his lost love...he's singing about the sea's ever-changing moods. Go figure.
Foux Du Fafa - Flight of the Conchords: Sometimes the formula for a great song is two Kiwis spouting off random French words:
Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst) - Peter Schilling: Here's one you don't see every day - a sequel for a song by someone else...in another language! Peter apparently decided that David Bowie didn't adequately delve into Major Tom's story when he recorded Space Oddity in 1969. To his credit, Bowie didn't either, considering he recorded two other Major Tom-themed songs: Ashes to Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy. And of course let's not forget Flight of the Conchord's Bowie's in Space:
Ça Plane Pour Moi - Plastic Bertrand: This song is delightfully nonsensical when translated into English, but the light punk motif blended with the Beach Boysian ooo-ee-oooh-oohs just works for me. Elton Motello liked it enough to record an English version that's equally catchy with new lyrics, although slightly different in meaning. Let's see how Wikipedia describes the song:
"Jet Boy, Jet Girl" is a risqué song by Elton Motello about a 15-year-old boy's sexual relationship with an older man, who then rejects him for a girl. With its chorus of "ooh ooh ooh ooh, he gives me head," it has been embraced as something of a gay punk anthem."Yep, your classic "boy meets boy, boy loses boy" story.
By the way, I know this blog posting is German heavy, but if you want to see a German version of cover of this song Ça Plane Pour Moi, check out Benny's video (and some snazzy leather pants!):
Da Da Da - Trio: I know, more German...but I unabashedly love this song. I loved it when it came out, loved it when it was used for a Volkswagen commercial and I'm almost, but not quite embarrassed to admit that I owned the little Casio keyboard predominantly used throughout this song and could play a mean Da Da Da keyboard solo on it in the early 80s (at 1:33 in the below video).
And the obligatory VW video....
Irgendwie Irgendwo Irgendwann - Nena and Kim Wilde: I'd be entirely remiss by excluding Nena from this list. I steadfastly maintain that I'm the only person in the US who has a non-99 Luftballon song of hers in my collection (full disclosure, I have 78 Nena tracks that have nothing to do with balloons, luft, red or otherwise). This song is actually a rerecording of a Nena song from the early 80s, with the edition of some English verses and Kim Wilde.
Here's my theory about this song: Some 'C' level record executive invented a time machine with the intention of going back to my 1982 bedroom to throw two darts on my postered walls, with those darts deciding who in 2008 would record a duet together. That exec's darts landed on my Nena and Kim Wilde posters.
I guess the world is very lucky we didn't end up with a KISS/Duran Duran duet.
Here's the video of that meeting of the musical minds (note that Nena looks even more like Shane from The L World here than normal:
Warning: Steer clear of the updated version of Keep Me Hangin' On also with Nena and Kim Wilde. No one needs to hear Nena sing auf Englisch in anything other than 99 Red Balloons.
Donne Moi Ton Amour - Sylvie Vartan: This is a French cover of the Spencer Davis Group's Gimme Some Lovin'. This version has a strong female on lead, great horns and a driving beat. It's probably even more funky than the original and it comes from an album you can download for free online here called Swinging Mademoiselles.
Schön Schön Schön - Nena: Yeah, more Nena...sorry. I can't resist. This is actually recent Nena music, from last year's Made in Germany album. It's a pretty good album, but what I adore about this song are the influences...or rather the influence. Clearly Nena had Goldfrapp on heavy rotation when she wrote this one.
Ya Soshla S Uma - t.A.t.U: We started with Swedish, so let's end with a track from the world's best Russian faux underage lesbians duo. This is the Russian version of All the Things She Said.
Nothing like a little planted controversy to sell records in two languages!