The story behind the song | Music | DW | 02.11.2013
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


The story behind the song

Some song lyrics you just never forget - whether it's pop, rock, rap or blues. Behind some of the best-loves lined are some compelling stories about the musicians who wrote them.

When the song "Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht" (Marble, Rock and Iron Breaks) - performed by a young Berliner named Drafi Deutscher - stormed the German charts in 1965, language wardens were ready to scold. As catchy as the line was, it was grammatically incorrect. The verb in singular should have been in the plural: "break" rather than "breaks." But then the rest of the line wouldn't have worked, and wouldn't have rhymed either. In German, it goes: "Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht, aber unsere Liebe nicht" (Marble, rock and iron breaks, but our loves does not).

Yet Deutscher's fans weren't interested in grammar, and the song stayed at the top of the charts for weeks. Not everyone had the chance to hear it, though. Listeners of public station Bavarian Broadcasting refused to play it due to its improper verb form.

A wolf in sheep's clothing

Frank Zappa rightly noted that hardly every German radio DJ or producer paid attention to the contents of English lyrics.

"Hey there, people, I'm Bobby Brown / They say I'm the cutest boy in town" are the lyrics that start off his 1979 song "Bobby Brown" - whose protagonist who turns out to be more a wolf in sheep's clothing. While the song's rhythm is pleasing to the ear, the text is more than just a little bawdy, and leading man Bobby turns out to a sex-crazed maniac who lets it all hang out in the ditty.

Frank Zappa always loved to shock Copyright: AP-Photo/ESH

Frank Zappa always loved to shock

Frank Zappa enjoyed shocking middle-class America and contradicting widely held ideas about sex. Yet German radio stations played the song around the clock - that is, up until Zappa was a guest on the Bavarian radio show "Pop after 8," moderated by Thomas Gottschalk (who has since become a top TV host).

Gottschalk innocently played a German version of "Bobby Brown" that Zappa had brought along with him. It hadn't even played for 20 seconds when the record was ripped off the turntable. Zappa was pleased; and the famously pale Gottschalk likely turned an even lighter shade of white.

Queen of the disco

Sweden's legendary export Abba, on the other hand, garnered official blessings with one of their biggest hits in 1976. The band's four musicians were inspired by their country's young King Carl XVI, who wanted to marry German Silvia Sommerlath.

"Dancing Queen" is Abba's version of how the bride and groom met - in a disco.

Bride Silvia Sommerlath and groom King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden Copyright: AFP/Getty Images

Bride Silvia Sommerlath and groom King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden

The royal couple liked the song. On the eve of the wedding, Abba performed "Dancing Queen" for the first time on national television - during a gala to honor the king and his bride-to-be. The tune is sometimes even hailed as one of the best pop songs of all time. In the US, "Dancing Queen" soared to the top of the charts - the only Abba song to do so.

A tragic note

"Killing me softly / Killing me softly with his song" is among the unforgettable lines that have written and rewritten pop music history. Soul diva Robert Flack's 1973 rendition of the song - written by Norman Gibel and Charles Fox, originally performed by Lori Lieberman - remains hard to beat. The song took on a more tragic air after the suicide of Flack's friend and musical collaborator Donny Hathaway in 1979.

Following his death, Flack chose not to sing it during live performances - despite the wishes of her fans.

But Flack wasn't the only one to make the song a hit. Perry Como would later cover it, changing the "his" to a "her." The transformation continued in 1996 with The Fugees' rap version conquering charts around the world.

Give her a ring

New York's Hotel Pennsylvania was always drawn people Copyright: imago/Geisser

New York's Hotel Pennsylvania has always drawn people in

The Glenn Miller Orchestra offered a lighter take on things with their song "PEnnsylvania 6-5000," whose title derives from a then-current way of listing telephone numbers.

"Here's what I do with my money / I call 6-5000" - that was the number of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, where Glenn Miller and the boys in his band played. It was also where band member Carl Sigman fell head over heels for one of the hotel's employees and wrote her a musical declaration of love.

The name of the lucky person remains a mystery, but the telephone number lives on in a modern form: +1 212 736-5000.

Summer hit takes a dive

That success can wash out as soon as it washes in is something German pop group Juli had to learn the hard way. After a long climb to the top, the band's "Perfekte Welle" (Perfect Wave) became the summer hit of 2004.

That's until a massive tsunami raged out from the Indian Ocean and onto land, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Out of respect, nearly all broadcasters crossed the song out of their playlists.

Farewell to good taste

When it comes to other nautical themes, German star Udo Lindenberg sang "Alles klar auf der Andrea Doria" (Everything's All Right on the Andrea Doria). The song makes an appeal for good taste - which the artist felt was doomed, much like an Italian passenger ship called "Andrea Doria" that sank en route to New York in 1956.

The old Hamburg club Onkel Pö, which closed in 1985 Copyright: picture-alliance / Jazz Archive

The old Hamburg club Onkel Pö, which closed in 1985

The song was simultaneously a tribute to Onkel Pö, Lindenberg's favorite club in Hamburg, whose collapse the artist may have anticipated. He sings, "Jetzt kommt noch einer rüber / aus der Dröhn-Diskothek / und ich glaub, dass unser Dampfer bald untergeht" (Now another one's coming over / from the boom-boom discotheque / and I think our steamship is about to sink).

But in the song, at least, everything is fine for one more night. Onkel Pö closed its doors for the last time in 1985.

These and other stories about some of the most famous song lyrics in music history stem from the German-language book, "Alles klar auf der Andrea Doria" by Günther Fischer and Manfred Prescher.

DW recommends