Alles Gute: Die Singles 1982-2002 (2003), Nena
Who is Nena? To Americans, she’s a one-hit wonder from the early 80s who sang that "99 Red Balloons" song. To Germans, however, she is a singer who has remained popular since her start in the early 1980s. This double-CD set collects all of her best singles, from early hits like "Nur geträumt," "99 Luftballons," "Leuchtturm," and "? (Fragezeichen)," to later classics like "Wunder gescheh’n" (1989), "Manchmal ist ein Tag ein ganzes Leben" (1992), and "Alles was du willst" (1997). The album spans her entire career; from the very start, when she was in a band called Stripes -- their single "Ecstasy," previously unavailable on CD, is included here -- up until the beginning of the 21st century, with several songs, including the remix of her biggest hit, "99 Luftballons [Neue Version]" (2002). The anti-war anthem of the Cold War era has lost none of its intensity over the past 25 years!
This collection of 38 songs showcases what has made Nena so successful throughout the 80s and 90s in Germany. Her voice works for both romantic ballads and uptempo songs. For more info on Nena, check out her website or her Wikipedia entry (English / German). "Alles Gute" is available through Amazon (U.S.) for a reasonable price.
Back to top
Bohème (2004), Annett Louisan
While she may have the looks of a pop starlet, Annett Louisan is no Britney Spears or Lindsey Lohan. She’s a clever young lady with amazing talent A comparison with Norah Jones would be more on target; as both singers have beautiful voices and sing lush songs that can be listened to over and over again.
On this, her first album, Louisan sings pop songs that have more in common with French chansons and German cabaret tunes than traditional contemporary pop music. The single "Das Spiel" is a playful song that caused a bit of a stir in Germany, as it challenged traditional gender roles and how they play out in the world of relationships. In one of her cabaret-styled tunes, she sings: "Nein, sie wird dir nie gehör’n / doch du streichelst sie so gern / das weiß sie ganz genau / miau" -- although the song is entitled "Die Katze," it could just as well be about a woman.
In 2006, I was fortunate enough to see Annett Louisan in concert in Oldenburg, Germany. Her live performance was enthralling and engaging; even though there were thousands of people there, the atmosphere felt as intimiate as a small club. She’s a lot of Norah Jones mixed with a little Marlene Dietrich. This album is available at Amazon or Amazon.de; the latter site also has many other albums and items available. For more info on the singer, check out her website or Wikipedia (English / German).
Back to top
You Have To Win Zweikampf (2006), Sportfreunde Stiller
Das Lied zur Weltmeisterschaft 2006 -- there were several German rock songs celebrating soccer’s World Cup, which took place in Germany that year. Arguably the best of these was Sportfreunde Stiller’s song "’54, ‘74, ‘90, ‘2006." The years mentioned in the title (and chorus) of the single represent the years when Germany was world champions in soccer... well, okay, so it didn’t quite turn out that way in 2006, although they came much closer than most soccer experts -- or German fans, for that matter -- would have predicted (for more info on that, check out the German film "Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen").
Much of the band’s music is reminiscent of Green Day and Blink-182, and some of the songs of "You Have To Win Zweikampf" could be described as powerpop anthems. The strangely titled album includes several other sports-themed songs like "Unser Freund ist aus Leder, "Die Frisur von Björn Borg," and "Mag Tischtennis?" They also do a cover of the NdW hit "Pogo in Togo" (originally recorded by United Balls).
This album and others by Sportfreunde Stiller are available at Amazon or Amazon.de. More info on the band is available in German or English on Wikipedia, or at the band’s official website.
Back to top
Gänsehaut (1988), Udo Lindenberg
Udo Lindenberg has been on the German music scene since 1969 and has recorded over 40 albums since then. He was one of the earliest successful musicians in Germany to sing his songs in German, rather than English. This album -- one of 16 he released in the 1980s -- showcases the various elements that have made Lindenberg so popular over the years. Some are love songs, others are political; many of them tell a story, and the singer’s sense of humor is evident throughout the album.
Lindenberg is something of a German Bruce Springsteen -- he writes most of his material and sings them in a rough, husky voice. In "Wozu sind Kriege da?" a child expresses his fears about war to the president. The politics in "Wir wollen doch einfach nur zusammen sein (Mädchen aus Ost-Berlin)" are intertwined with romance, as a guy from West Berlin laments not being able to stay the night with his girlfriend in East Berlin. The last song on the album, "98 Luftballons" sung with Nena, takes her biggest hit and transforms it into a witty song about safe sex.
For Lindenberg’s bio, go to his website or Wikipedia (English / German). To buy this album, go to Amazon or Amazon.de.
Back to top
Ein neuer Tag, Juli (2006)
The second CD from the Giessen band, Juli, is full of the same power pop that made their first album, "Es ist Juli" (2004), so successful – and good! What started off as an all-male band named Sunnyglade, who performed songs in English, was joined by the current lead singer, Eva Briegel, when the original lead singer and drummer left the band.
The new album’s first single, "Dieses Leben," is the first track, and it sets the tone for the entire disc, which consists mostly of medium-tempo songs which are mellow and often melancholy. The second single, "Wir beide," has a more driving, up-tempo rock beat than most of the other songs on the album. Pretty much every song is catchy and could be a single; there’s not a bad song to be found here. Briegel has a great voice for both pop and rock songs, and comparisons could be made to Nena, as well as perhaps Sheryl Crow, Heather Nova, and, at quieter moments, to Norah Jones.
Both of Juli’s CDs, "Ein neuer Tag" and "Es ist Juli" (2004), are available at Amazon. Check out the band’s official website or Wikipedia article for more info.
Back to top
Du hast es nur noch nicht probiert! – Live (1988), Schöne, Gerhard
Gerhard Schöne is one of contemporary Germany’s most versatile singers and composers. Growing up in the former German Democratic Republic, Schöne experienced first-hand the limitations placed on artistic freedom under a totalitarian regime, but unlike many East German artists active between 1949 and 1990, he managed to avoid succumbing to bitterness and apathy while at the same time maintaining his integrity. Schöne’s compositions range from songs for children to political ballads and domestic or romantic texts, and the two CDs in this collection contain a representative sampling of Schöne’s work written and performed over a twenty-year period in Germany and abroad. What can one expect from typical lyrics and music by Schöne? In his songs for children, the artist experiments with clever plays on words, while encouraging young people to develop their imagination.
His political ballads focus on the necessary healing process for Germans in the two halves of Germany as they try to form one country. Especially well known for his songs about everyday life, Schöne reminds people to value their relationships with family, friends, and lovers and to question self-imposed boundaries by rebelling against the monotony of modern life. Interested listeners can find the texts to Schöne’s songs and details about his life and art in Gerhard Schöne: Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden. Ansichten, Gespräche, Lieder (Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, 2000) by Danuta Gornändt and Matthias Gornändt. Teachers at all levels can learn effective ways to include Schöne’s songs in German instruction by consulting Trommle mein Herz für das Leben: Gerhard Schönes Lieder für den Deutschunterricht (Goethe Institut, 1996), edited by Christa Merkes-Frei and Ulrike Tietze. It is important to note that Schöne succeeds not only in writing intellectually demanding texts but also in creating memorable melodies. At his concerts, the audience often joins in when he sings a refrain, and it is impossible to listen to these CDs without at least humming along. Critics agree that Schöne writes songs that appeal to listeners of all ages throughout the world.
While various CDs of Gerhard Schöne can be bought at Amazon, this one isn’t currently available. However, other Gerhard Schöne CDs are also available at Amazon.de. For further information on the artist, check out the artist website or Wikipedia; you can also get the lyrics to some of his songs and other information from the initial results from a general Google search on Schöne.
Back to top
Von hier an blind (2005) Wir sind Helden
I first heard Wir Sind Helden when a classmate of mine sent me an .mp3 of "Wenn Es Passiert," track 1 of their 2005 album "Von hier an blind." We were reading Heidegger in at the time and the chorus of this song compulsively repeats the lyrics "Ich will da sein" (which he heard as "Ich will Dasein"). While I was ultimately disappointed with the philosophical reading of their music, I found the song playing over and over in my head and Judith Holofernes’ pleading vocals bringing me back to my computer to download the entire album, which varies in tone from angry to melancholy to mocking. Despite a near constant guitar beat through the entire album, the songs are differentiated by Holofernes’ emotive singing and comprehensible lyrics. The result is what an album ideally is, a collection of unique, eclectic songs that are held together by a common theme, in this case both the theme of a driving guitar line that drags you along like a stubborn dog on a walk and the lyrical stories of love soon to be lost. All in all, Wir Sind Helden represents a strong voice in new German music and a worthy addition to any collection.
"Von Hier an Blind" is available at Amazon, as is their first album, "Die Reklamation" (2003). They have an excellent, interactive band website, and more information can be found at Wikipedia.
Back to top
Forever Young (1984) Alphaville
Alphaville's "Forever Young" album, released in 1984 on WEA, was the band's debut record and their only true pop effort before evolving into more new age-oriented music. It is a fantastic album that propelled the German trio into immediate international stardom and received critical appeal as well.
Most people will recognize the two hits from the album, the title-track "Forever Young" and "Big In Japan." The former is nothing short of anthemic and in many ways a symbol of its time in the excesses and immediate gratification culture of the 80's. At the same time, however, the over-the-top nature of the vocal melody is reminiscent of pop crooners like the late 60's Walker Brothers, who were also stars in Europe. With the atmospheric, plodding tempo of the song, you could even argue it's a look ahead, in some ways, to the orchestral, new age sounds the band would quickly turn toward in later releases.
"Big In Japan," by contrast, is simply a great pop song in the techno vain, with great lyrics and a strong vocal line. The catchy and memorable chorus made this tune the single on the album, but it's not even the best track. "Summer In Berlin," "To Germany With Love" and "Fallen Angel" are each pop gems that at least rival Alphaville's contemporaries at the time. These songs have every bit the vocal prowess of Depeche Mode and at least rival the sophisticated electronics of Heaven 17, with better overall composition and lush orchestration that either band. Too bad these guys didn't stay pop, as maybe we'd have more than just this one jewel of an album.
The "Forever Young" album is available from Amazon, as are numerous other Alphaville CDs. Alphaville’s official website offers more insight, as does the Wikipedia article.
Back to top
Da, da, da, das war die neue deutsche Welle : 20 Hits der NDW, einzigartig auf CD (1989)
There are plenty of samplers out there, new and old, of Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW) music. This one features twenty examples of what made the NDW movement so fun, with great diversity: some of them big hits, other long-forgotten songs. Some of the best-known songs of the German New Wave, such as Joachim Witt’s "Goldener Reiter," Extrabreit’s "Hurra, hurra, die Schule brennt," UKW’s "Sommersprossen," and Fehlfarben’s "(Ein Jahr) Es geht voran," are included in this collection, as well as most of the few hits that met with success in the United States: Trio’s "Da, Da, Da, ich lieb dich nicht, du liebst mich nicht", Falco’s "Der Kommisar (Rap’ That)," and Peter Schilling’s "Major Tom (völlig losgelöst)." The only one song missing (that made it big in the U.S.) is Nena’s "99 Luftballon." Other artists represented on the disc include Hubert Kah, Fräulein Menke, and Ideal. Whether you’re a newcomer to German New Wave music or a long-time fan, this is an excellent collection of NDW songs which you’ll want to listen to over and over.
This sampler CD can be bought at Amazon.de, as can the third volume in the series (for some reason, the second volume isn’t listed on the site). For more info on the German New Wave in English, check out Wikipedia. In German, info on "die Neue Deutsche Welle" is available at Wikipedia article or on this site.
Back to top
Herbert Gröenemeyer, Bleibt Alles Anders (1999)
This is arguably the best CD from the super-talented singer/songwriter/performer/actor to date. As with his previous albums, Gröenemeyer holds nothing back, conveying all the emotion of his songs in a gruff yet simultaneously silky voice. (Think Bruce Springsteen or Bryan Adams singing in German). Even with a voice as versatile his, it’s still a marvel the ease with which he floats effortlessly between musical genres, going from up-tempo rock with accompanying guitar riffs, to the elegantly subdued closing track "Schmetterlinge im Eis" (Butterfly on Ice), that tells the tale of unrequited love. If you don’t speak German, then you will miss out on Gröenemeyer’s penchant for creative, unusual lyrics, but even this will not detract from your listening pleasure. This four-plus star album is available for purchase on Amazon. If you find yourself playing this CD over and over again as I’m sure you will, then check out “Mensch”, Gröenemeyer’s latest offering, recorded after he lost his wife and brother within months of each other to cancer.
Back to top
Grönemeyer, Herbert. Mensch (2002)
Recognized among Grönemeyer's fans as his comeback album, this album reflects events in his private life that he was finally able to put down on paper after the deaths of his brother and his wife within days of each other in 1998. If you're expecting the album to be a dirge, think again. It's a fine mix of guitar rockers and gentle ballads. In the title song, Herbie describes how much he misses his wife, but the rocker "Neuland" concerns a favorite subject of Grönemeyer's - the reunification of Germany and its aftermath. "Lache, Wenn Es Nichts zum Weinen Gibt" (Laugh, If There's Nothing to Cry About) is perhaps the happiest song on the album, which Grönemeyer described as "optimistic" in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung. Grönemeyer compares the writing process for this album with learning to walk again after an accident, a slow, painful process, but one that produced a true work of art and a real joy for his fans. It also produced the only number one hit single of Herbie's lengthy and illustrious career, as well as going eight times platinum with sales of over three million CDs.
Almost unknown outside of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (likely because he only sings in German), Grönemeyer is the first non-English singing musician to appear on MTV's "Unplugged" series (1994). Herbert Grönemeyer is indeed the German equivalent of Bruce Springsteen. He is also a man of the people, and one only has to see him on stage to see how apt the comparison is. I was lucky enough to catch the Stuttgart stop on the "Bleibt Alles Anders" tour and it was a concert experience I will never forget.
Back to top