By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Though you'll probably never hear titles like "We're a Scandinavian Band," "Sweet Home Nawasaka" or "The Haarlem Shuffle," more than a handful of cunning linguists have slipped through the predominantly English Only world of Top 40 hits. Here are a few. 1956: An octet of French vocalists scat-sing George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland." Truly a case where "huit is enough!"
1958: Sure, "Volare" makes a one-hit wonder out of Domenico Modugno in this country, but in his native Italy, the lusty ragazzo inspires Madonna-level outrage. His 1966 single "Nuda" has the clergy condemning him, Italian radio and television banning his song and the police actually confiscating the record from shops. It takes the courts to decide that lyrics like "I would like to hold you nude in my arms" are not immoral. Lucky the Beatles didn't sing "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" in Italian!
1959: The recent film La Bamba took many liberties in retelling Ritchie Valens' life story. Valens first heard the traditional Spanish tune "La Bamba" at a family gathering and not in a Tijuana brothel.
1959: Ivo Rubic becomes the first German pop star to warble in his native tongue on the U.S. Top 40. Americans mistake his only hit, "Morgen," to be a love song sung to another man. "Morgen" means "morning," you dolts!
1960: The hinterland's invasion of America continues when Austrian nurse Lolita sings the breathy "Sailor" in German, reaching No. 5. Across the chilly waters of the Baltic and North seas, Lolita pleads for her sailing fool to return to the harbor of her heart, preferably with a case of duty-free vodka.
1960: Connie Francis, looking to build an adult audience base for her mournful teen whining, puts "Gelosia (Jealous of You)" on the flip of her "Everybody's Somebody's Fool." When the B-side zooms to No. 19, Connie releases a slew of albums in Italian, German, Spanish and Yiddish. 1962: "Al Di La" takes Emilio Pericoli all the way to No. 6. He croons this Italian lounge-lizard classic in the unforgettable Suzanne Pleshette/Troy Donahue flick Rome Adventure. Look, they don't call it trivia for nothing.
1963: Kyu Sakamoto's "Ue O Muite Aruko" is the only Japanese-sung song ever to enter the U.S. Hot 100. It goes to No. 1, but not before the name gets changed to something Americans can pronounce--Sukiyaki." Considering Kyu never had another hit, maybe they should've named it "sayonara." 1963: The Singing Nun's "Dominique" prevents another seemingly foreign-language record, "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, from entering the No. 1 slot. After Sister Luc-Gabrielle leaves the convent, she records a pro-birth-control anthem "Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill." No doubt she ignored orders by the Vatican to change the lyrics to "Glory Be to God for the Rhythm Method."
1968: Spain's answer to Sandler and Young, Rene and Rene croon "Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero (The More I Love You)." It's the duo's only hit, as they split up acrimoniously after a disagreement over who should get top billing.
1971: Santana's only Top 40 hit sung entirely in Spanish is "Oye Como Va." Unfortunately, lead singer/keyboardist Greg Rolie is versed enough in English to convince the band's other guitarist, Neal Schon, to leave the Latin combo and form the horrid corporate-rock band Journey. No m s! No m s!
1973: If James Earl Jones ever recorded a dance hit, it might sound something like the irresistible "Soul Makossa." Sung, or, should we say, barked in dark, rich African tones by Manu Dibango, it is later appropriated by Michael Jackson for "Wanna Be Startin' Something." Dibango is given no royalties, yet another example of the white man ripping off the black man's music.
1973: The Dutch focus their sights on the hard-rock marketplace and ship over . . . Focus!! This quartet brings yodeling into pop/rock vernacular for the first and last time with its rollicking instrumental "Hocus Pocus." It gets a staggering amount of airplay, mostly because silly AM deejays love saying, "And now, 'Hocus Pocus' by Focus!!" Go figure!
1974: Sweden's Blue Swede reaches No. 1 with its insane, "Oooga shaka ooga ooga"-riddled version of B.J. Thomas' "Hooked on a Feeling." To the best of our knowledge, the only thing "oooga shaka ooga ooga" translates into is "God, you Yanks'll buy anything."
1974: Spain's Mocedades reaches No. 9 with the folky "Eres Tu (Touch the Wind)" and is gone faster you can say "Chico Esquela."
1975: The Godfather crooner Al Martino unleashes "Volare" and "To the Door of the Sun (Alle Porte del Sole)" on an unsuspecting Top 40. Amazingly, with the disco era now in full swing, both chart respectably. That latter bit of schmaltz rises as high as No. 17 on the charts, which would explain the horse's head in Casey Kasem's bed.
1975: The German Invasion (remember them? see 1959) sends for reinforcements. If Germans were as slow invading Poland as they were conquering the American charts, Hitler might never have become a household name! The robotic synthesizer duo Kraftwerk drives its ode to the Berlin motorway all the way to No. 25, ripping off "Barbara Ann" in the process. Who could forget "Bahn, bahn bahn, on the Autobahn!" They could've had more hits, but nothing scares off Americans like guys named Klaus wearing lipstick. 1983: Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)" is released in both English and German. In any language, it's still a blatant rip-off of "Space Oddity," made worse by the fact that Major Tom already had a sequel in 1980--David Bowie's own "Ashes to Ashes." Schilling, in his defense, claims he stole nothing from the Thin White Duke but "the title and the figure of Major Tom." Earth to Schilling! Earth to Schilling!
1984: Americans send the German-sung version of "99 Luftballons" all the way to No. 2. Any more hits for Nena? Nein!