Most people who are not from Germany probably name the Scorpions first when asked about German rock music. Some heavy metal fans may also note Accept. But there is a lot more to German rock music, especially once you start including artists who sing in German. While their popularity is largely confined to Germany, many of these artists match international standards. Following are four I like in particular.
If I had to name my favorite German-singing rock band, it would be BAP. This band around singer-songwriter, Wolfgang Niedecken, was founded in 1976 in the area of Cologne, West Germany. They sing most of their songs in Koelsch, the traditional dialect from that region. This largely explains why for the first few years BAP was mostly a regional act.
BAP’s driving force is Niedecken who after 40 years is the only remaining original member. He is a huge fan of Bob Dylan, which is particularly obvious in some of the band’s early work. Wat Ess? (What’s the Matter?) from BAP’s second album Affjetaut (Defrosted) essentially is a Koelsch version of Ballad of a Thin Man. Niedecken also created a Koelsch version of Like a Rolling Stone, which appears on BAP’s fourth studio album. The band’s other influences include The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Bruce Springsteen. In fact, Niedecken is friends with the Boss and during concerts in Germany has been invited by Springsteen to join him on stage to play a song together.
BAP’s national breakthrough happened in 1981 when they released their third studio album, fuer usszeschnigge (to cut out). The single Verdamp lang her (It’s been a long time) received a lot of radio play and really put the band on the map. That’s when I started listening to them as well. I haven’t stopped since!
To date BAP has released 17 studio albums, six live albums and three compilation albums. Unfortunately, almost none of the band’s impressive catalogue is available in the U.S. stores of iTunes or other providers. The only album you can get in the iTunes U.S. store is the 2008 release Radio Pandora, which includes a plugged and an unplugged version. While it’s a pretty good album, I think it does not capture the band’s best music. Here is a link to a clip of Verdamp lang her. This happens to be from a concert in the German town of Neu-Ulm in June this year, which I had a chance to visit. For more, see my previous post.
Wolf Maahn started his music career in the mid-seventies, around the same time Wolfgang Niedecken did. He was a co-founder of the Food Band, which released two albums in English between 1979 and 1981. His German debut was Deserteure (deserters) from 1982. It pretty much set the tone for Maahn’s style, which is reminiscent of American rock music a la Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
While Deserteure received positive reviews, it really was Irgendwo in Deutschland, Maahn’s third studio album from 1984 that brought him national popularity. The single Fieber (fever) is a fantastic rock song that could have become an international hit, had it not been for its German lyrics that limited its appeal beyond Germany. In 1988, Maahn released another English-language album, Third Language, his fifth studio recording. I don’t believe it did much to broaden his international success. All albums that followed were in German.
Last year, Maahn released his most recent studio album, Sensible Daten (sensitive data), his 14th studio album. His catalogue also includes four live albums and one best-of compilation. Unlike BAP, a decent amount of Maahn’s music is available in iTunes’ U.S. store, including the three most recent studio albums and the first two studio records, in addition to two of his live albums. Of these albums, I recommend Lieder vom Rand der Galaxis (Songs from the edge of the galaxy), a live acoustic solo album. It features some of my favorite songs, including Irgendwo in Deutschland (Somewhere in Germany), Ich Wart Auf Dich (I’m Waiting For You) and Der Clown Hat Den Blues (The Clown Is Feeling Blue). A pretty good clip of the last song is here. It must have been recorded during a concert in the 80s.
Marius Müller-Westernhagen is another long-time German rocker who started out in the mid-70s. However it wasn’t until his fourth studio album, 1978’s Mit Pfefferminz bin ich dein Prinz (With peppermint I am your prince), before he adopted his signature blues rock style, which sometimes resembles The Rolling Stones.
While the album wasn’t a flop, it only established its commercial success over time. Today, it has cult status among Westernhagen fans. Tunes like the title song, Mit 18 (At age 18) and Johnny W remain crowd pleasers during Westernhagen’s shows to this day. In addition to these songs, other great Westernhagen tunes include Lass Uns Leben (Let Us Live), Sexy, Schweigen Ist Feige (Not Speaking Up is Being Coward) and Freiheit (Freedom).
Excluding his first three records, Westernhagen has released 16 studio albums to date. The most recent one, Alphatier (Alpha Male), is from 2014. Westernhagen’s catalogue also includes five live albums, including the just released MTV Unplugged, and two compilation albums. Most of his music is available in the iTunes U.S. store.
In addition to being one of Germany’s most successful music artist, Westernhagen is also an actor. His acting career, which he already started as a 14-year-old in 1962, includes appearances in 30 films, mostly for TV. Since 1987 he has entirely focused on music.
A live clip of Westernhagen’s signature song, Mit Pfefferminz bin ich dein Prinz, is here.
This short list would not be complete without Udo Lindenberg who at age 70 is the oldest artist of the pack. In addition to being a musician, he is also a writer and a painter. Lindenberg was one of the first German artists to write lyrics in German and as such is considered to be one of the pioneers of Deutschrock.
Lindenberg started his music career as a drummer. After drifting for various years, he joined Die City Preachers, Germany’s first folk rock band in 1968. In 1969, he co-founded the jazz rock formation Free Orbit, which released an English album in 1970, his first studio recording. Lindenberg also became known as a session musician. Among others, he played on the debut album of Passport, the band of German jazz saxophonist, Klaus Doldinger.
Lindenberg’s eponymous debut album, which still was all English, appeared in 1971. His first German release, Daumen in Wind (Thumbs in the Wind) was released a year later. Lindenberg’s commercial breakthrough came with the 1973 release of Alles klar auf der Andrea Doria (All is well on the Andrea Doria). Since then he has released more than 30 additional studio albums, as well as various compilations and live albums.
The quality of Lindenberg’s prolific recordings has varied over the decades. In general, my favorite albums are his releases from the 70s, as well as the two most recent studio albums, Stark Wie Zwei (As Strong As Two) and Staerker Als Die Zeit (Stronger Than Time). Released in 2008, Stark Wie Zwei was a triumphant comeback for Lindenberg, reaching triple platinum certification in Germany. Staerker Als Die Zeit, which was released earlier this year and stylistically sounds like a continuation to the 2008 release, has also been selling well.
The iTunes U.S. store includes some of Lindenberg’s enormous catalogue. The album I would recommend the most is Livehaftig. This live double album from 1979 (the release year is wrongly indicated as 1976) captures the highlights of Lindenberg’s 70s rock albums.
Here is a clip of a live performance of Mein Ding (My Thing), one of the songs from Lindenberg’s 2008 comeback album.