Showing Some More Love to Cologne

A collage of images and music from the mighty city in the Rhineland

My recent post about images and music from Germany, the country in which I was born and grew up, was so well received that I decided to do an encore. Instead of covering various places, this time, I’d like to focus on one specific city I briefly mentioned in that post: Cologne, or Köln in German. Or Kölle, as it’s known in the local dialect of Kölsch.

While Cologne isn’t my place of birth (Heidelberg is) and I grew up about 25 miles to the south in the countryside close to Bonn, I’ve come to love this old city. And I always enjoy going back there during visits to Germany.

Cologne is big, at least for German proportions. With approximately 1.1 million people, it’s the country’s fourth largest city after the capital Berlin (3.8 million), Hamburg (1.9 million) and Munich (1.1 million). Cologne is also the most populous city on the river Rhine and in the so-called Rhineland region. Moreover, with more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries, it’s a major cultural center in the region.

Cologne Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cologne, Germany
Cologne with its key landmark the Cologne Cathedral on the left side

There’s lots of history and old architecture in Cologne. The city was founded by the Romans in 50 AD as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. The first urban settlement on the grounds of present day Cologne dates back even further, to 38 BC and a Germanic tribe known as the Ubii. During the Middle Ages, Cologne flourished due to its geographic location on major trade routes. But the city has also experienced its share of hard times. During World War II, it suffered major destruction when much of its millennia-old center was reduced to rubble.

Cologne has many landmarks that have been restored or are in a near-constant state of restoration. Undoubtedly, the most famous is the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), a majestic Gothic church built in various stages between 1248 and 1880 (see in photo above and feature collage imagine on top of the post). While badly damaged by aerial bombs during World War II, remarkably, the cathedral remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. There are also a dozen Romanesque churches in the old town of Cologne, as well as medieval houses and city gates (see photo collage below).

Cologne landmarks (clockwise from upper left corner): St. Aposteln, St. Cäcilien and St. Gereon’s Basilica Romanesque churches; medieval Cologne City Hall; and Hahnentor and Severinstor medieval city gates

When it comes to Cologne, it’s also important not to forget about Kölsch beer. To be clear, Kölsch refers to a style of beer, not a specific brand. Per Wikipedia, Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in Germany: according to the Konvention, it is a pale, highly attenuated, hoppy, bright (i.e. filtered and not cloudy) top-fermenting beer, and must be brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot. Of course! 🙂

There are approximately 25 different brands of Kölsch. The most popular are Reissdorf, Gaffel and my favorite Früh Kölsch. Various of the local breweries have restaurants where Kölsch beer is served super fresh – you simply can’t beat that taste! Typically, these restaurants offer delicious dishes from the region as well – to die for! As I’m writing this, I’m getting hungry and thirsty – dang it! 🙂

Obviously, it’s impossible to capture Cologne’s richness in a few paragraphs. If you’d like to know more about this remarkable city, I’d highly recommend a visit.

From left: Früh Kölsch; brewery restaurant Früh in the heart of the city near the Cologne Cathedral; and a traditional Kölsch server, aka Köbis

Since this blog is focused on music, let’s devote the final portion of this post to local artists. More specifically, I’d like to feature a handful of bands from Cologne with songs that are related to the city.

BAP/Stadt im Niemandsland

Of course, the first band that comes to my mind in the context of Cologne is BAP, a group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which has been around since 1976. Nowadays known as Niedeckens BAP, it’s essentially a project of Niedecken. As my favorite German-singing (or I guess I should say Kölsch-singing) rock band, I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, for example here. One of the group’s songs about Cologne is titled Stadt im Niemandsland (city in no man’s land), a catchy tune with nice harmony guitar action from their 1988 studio album Da Capo.

Bläck Fööss/Dat Wasser vun Kölle

Bläck Fööss are a true Cologne institution. Founded in 1970, the band is best known for music in connection with the Cologne Carnival. The local festive period stretches from November 11 all the way to Ash Wednesday in February, with a temporary suspension between the Advent and Christmas period. The highlight is the last week when festivities culminate in a street carnival with parades and people going out masqueraded. Apart from carnival music, Bläck Fööss also became known for other, oftentimes humorous songs. That was especially the case when their front man was Tommy Engel who deliberately took the group beyond carnival music. One great example is Dat Wasser vun Kölle (the water from Cologne), a track from a 1983 studio album titled Immer Wigger (always pushing forward). Based on what I believe was an advertising slogan for the local water utility, the tune pokes fun at Cologne’s tap water. Here’s a short translated excerpt: Oh dear God, please give us water/Because all of Cologne is thirsty/Oh dear God, please give us water/And help us through our misery… Performed in the style of a gospel song, the tune also illustrates Bläck Fööss’ impressive vocal talents.

Brings/Kölle

Brings are a rock-turned-carnival/party song band, which was formed in 1990. During the first 10 years, they focused on rock music. Following the commercial success of a polka type song titled Superjeilezick, Brings completely changed their style to focus on carnival and other Kölsch party music – and completely lost me in the process. Here’s a great tune from their rock period titled Kölle. It was included on their 1991 debut studio album Zwei Zoote Minsche (two types of people). In a nutshell, it’s about a guy from Cologne who once he arrives at his vacation destination becomes homesick and longs to be back in his hometown. Here’s a translation of the chorus: I want to walk to Cologne/It’s the language I understand/It’s what makes my heart beat/I want to walk.

Zeltinger Band/Müngersdorfer Stadion

Let’s wrap things up with some Kölsch punk. Zeltinger Band are a rock group formed by vocalist Jürgen Zeltinger and other musicians in 1979. They have released more than 20 albums and remain active to this day. While I never followed them, I’ve always liked Müngersdorfer Stadion, their tune about a famous local soccer stadium that is the home base of professional Cologne soccer club 1. FC Köln. The song was included on the band’s first record De Plaat (Im Roxy Und Bunker Live) [The record (live at Roxy and Bunker)]. Is it a stretch to highlight this track, given it’s not directly about Cologne? I think it’s not, given Müngersdorfer Stadion and 1. FC Köln are two local institutions that I would argue are comparable to the cathedral, at least to many folks living in Cologne!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Taking An Imaginary Journey Back to My Original Home

A collage of music and places from Germany

The idea for this post came to me over the weekend when I found myself listening to my long-time favorite German rock band Niedeckens BAP, previously simply known as BAP. Suddenly, I longed to be back in Germany, the country where I was born and lived for the first 27 years of my life. Not for good, but just for a visit, which feels long overdue!

Images of key places started popping up before my eyes: My town of birth Heidelberg (image below), the small village in the countryside close to Bonn where I grew up, the cities of Bonn (second image from right in the lower row of the collage on top of the post) and Cologne (left image in collage), as well as the town of Tübingen (right image in lower row of collage) where I did my graduate studies, to name a few.

Heidelberg

I’ve now lived permanently in the U.S. for close to 25 years, almost as long as I lived in Germany – hard to believe! There’s no question the States have become my home. While over the more recent past I’ve witnessed things I never thought could happen in this country, I’m firmly rooted here.

I never really felt homesick since I left Germany in 1993. After all, I’ve been back many times, once every other year on average, to visit my parents and other family. I also still have friends there from high school and university. Returning to Germany has always been important. But my last visit dates back to the fall of 2019, and it’s currently unclear whether I’ll be able to go back this year. This sucks!

Former house of my parents (left) close to the city of Bonn in the village of Buschhoven (right) where I grew up

So, yes, I miss visiting good ole Germany. My family and friends. The above mentioned places. The food. And, I know it sounds like a cliché, the beer – it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Note I’m not saying it’s the best in the world, though it probably is – sorry, Budweiser or Miller! 🙂

This brings me to German rock and pop music performed in the German language. The above mentioned BAP, a band from Cologne, were the first Deutsch Rock I started to explore more deeply in the early ’80s. I turned to many other German acts thereafter. Fortunately, I still got access to plenty of their music, which is very reassuring! Here’s is a small selection.

Wolf Maahn/Kannst Du Sehen

Let’s kick things off with Kannst Du Sehen (can you see), a groovy tune by Wolf Maahn from his 2010 studio album Vereinigte Staaten (United States). Maahn, who was born in Berlin in 1955 and grew up in Munich, has been a professional music artist since the late ’70s. After recording two English language albums with Food Band, he launched his solo career in 1982, mostly singing in German ever since. Two years later, his great breakthrough album Irgendwo in Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) appeared. Maahn remains active to this day and has released 15 studio albums, as well as various live records and compilations. If you’d like to know more about him, you can check out this previous post.

Spider Murphy Gang/Schickeria

Spider Murphy Gang, formed in Munich in 1977, became known for mostly ’50s rock & roll and other retro style songs performed in Bavarian dialect. I think there’s just something about dialects. They can add a certain charm to a song. Country rocker Schickeria (in crowd) is the opener of Spider Murphy Gang’s third studio album Dolce Vita from 1981, which greatly expanded their popularity in Germany beyond Bavaria. BTW, the band’s name comes from Spider Murphy, the guy playing the tenor saxophone in the Leiber-Stoller classic Jailhouse Rock that first became a hit for Elvis Presley in 1957. After nearly 45 years, Spider Murphy Gang rock on with lead vocalist and bassist Günther Sigl and guitarist Barny Murphy remaining as original members in the current eight-piece line-up. I’ve never been to one of their shows, though I’d love to see them some day. Their music is quite fun!

Marius Müller-Westernhagen/Schweigen Ist Feige

If you count his start as a 14-year-old actor in 1962 before turning to music in the second half of the ’60s, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, or just Westernhagen, has been active for nearly 60 years. After meager beginnings his music career took off in 1978 with his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz (with peppermint I’m your prince). Westernhagen whose catalog includes 19 studio albums, four live records and various compilations is one of Germany’s most successful music artists. Here’s Schweigen Ist Feige (remaining silent is cowardice), a Stonesey rocker from Affentheater (monkey business), Westernhagen’s 14th studio release that appeared in 1994.

Udo Lindenberg/Ich Zieh’ Meinen Hut

Udo Lindenberg, who is turning 75 years later this month, is another German rock and pop institution. Already as a 15-year-old, he performed in bars in the West German town of Düsseldorf, playing the drums. After relocating to the northern city of Hamburg in the late ’60s and stints with folk rock band City Preachers and jazz rock outfit Free Orbit, which he co-founded, Lindenberg launched his solo career in 1971, focused on writing and singing his own songs in German. He has released more than 30 studio and numerous other albums to date. You can read more about him here. Following is Ich Zieh’ Meinen Hut (I tip my hat), the opener of Stark Wie Zwei (strong like two), a triumphant comeback album for Lindenberg from 2008.

Herbert Grönemeyer/Was Soll Das?

Pop music is Herbert Grönemeyer’s second act. The versatile artist, who was born on April 12, 1956 in Göttingen, first came to prominence as an actor. He gained some international attention after his role in the acclaimed 1981 World War II motion picture Das Boot. His eponymous studio debut Grönemeyer from 1979 went unnoticed. Things changed dramatically in 1984 with his fifth studio release 4630 Bochum (name and then-zip code of a West German city). It became Grönemeyer’s first no. 1 record in Germany, a chart position he incredibly has been able to achieve for each of his 10 albums that have since come out! Here’s Was Soll Das? (what’s that supposed to mean), the first track from Grönemeyer’s seventh studio album Ö that appeared in 1988.

Niedeckens BAP/Mittlerweile Josephine

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without Niedeckens BAP. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, the name may sound familiar. The band around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which used to be known as BAP for most of their career, was founded in Cologne in 1976. Not surprisingly, there have been many line-up changes over the decades. For the past six years, the band essentially has been a solo project for Niedecken, the only remaining original member. The other constant is Niedeckens BAP continue to perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. You can read more about the band here. Following is Mittlerweile Josephine (now Josephine) from their most recent studio album Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy) released in September 2020. It was this beautiful ballad Niedecken wrote for his daughter, which triggered this post.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Wolf Maahn/Irgendwo in Deutschland

The other day, I found myself revisiting Wolf Maahn, one of my favorite German rock artists I’ve featured on the blog before. More specifically, I listened again to his third studio album Irgendwo in Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) from 1984. I got it on vinyl at the time and really dug it – turns out I still do!

Before getting to the record that became is national breakthrough, I’d like to provide a bit of background on Maahn, borrowing from a previous post. Wolf Maahn was born in Berlin on March 25, 1955. He grew up in Munich, where he saw The Beatles as an 11-year-old in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, that concert left a lasting impression. “The Beatles were simply untouchable to me,” he told a German newspaper during an interview in 2001.

In 1975, Maahn co-founded Food Band in Cologne, together with his brother Hans Maahn and other musicians. They released their studio debut Foodband in England in 1979. A version of that album for the German market, ingeniously titled Last Year’s Album, appeared the following year. Just like its predecessor, it featured all English music. Food Band released on more album in 1981, Rhythm ‘N’ Juice, another clever title, before they disbanded.

Inner record sleeve of Irgendwo in Deutschland

Following the dissolution of Food Band, Maahn launched his solo career. Former band mate, song co-writer and guitarist Axel Heilhecker joined  Maahn’s backing band Deserteure (deserters). In September 1982, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure released their studio debut Deserteure. The sophomore Bisse Und Küsse (bites and kisses) appeared the following year. Which brings me to Irgendwo in Deutschland.

Let’s kick it off with the opener Rosen im Asphalt (roses in the asphalt). Like most of the album’s tracks, Maahn composed the tune’s music and wrote the lyrics.

Here’s Fieber (fever). The catchy rocker is one of Maahn’s best known song and is the tune, which prompted me to buy the album. Again, he wrote the music and the lyrics.

Another highlight on the record is Der Clown hat den Blues (the clown is feeling blue). The song was co-written by Maahn, Heilhecker and backing vocalist Jane Palmer, with lyrics by Maahn.

The opening riff of Total gut drauf (feeling really great), another song Maahn wrote all by himself, could be from a John Mellencamp tune. I think it’s fair to say the sound of the entire album has an American flair.

The last song I’d like to call out is the title track. And, yes, you guessed it right, it’s yet another tune solely written by Maahn.

Irgendwo in Deutschland was produced by Maahn. In addition to him (lead vocals, guitar), Heilhecker (lead guitar) and Palmer (backing vocals), other musicians included Werner Kopal (bass) and Jürgen Zöller (drums). Kopal and Zöller later joined German rock band BAP. Kopal still is part of the current line-up of that band, now known as Niedeckens BAP.

In 1986, Maahn dissolved Deserteure and has since performed without a standing backing band. To date, he has released 15 studio albums, five live albums and one greatest hits compilation.

Sources: Wikipedia; Wolf Maahn website; YouTube

German Rock Staple Niedeckens BAP Continue to Deliver on New Album Alles Fliesst

Every now and then, I like to feature German language rock and pop music, an acknowledgement of my German roots and the country where I was born and grew up. In this context, the act that always comes to my mind first are Niedeckens BAP. The band’s new studio album Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy), which was released yesterday, September 18, certainly provides a nice occasion to do another post on my favorite German band for now close to 4o years.

Simply known as BAP for most of their career, the band around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. While there have seen many line-up changes, as you’d expect over such a long period, two things have stayed the same: band leader Niedecken who remains their lyricist, lead vocalist and only original member, and the fact they perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne.

Niedeckens BAP at Castle Studios, Schloss Röhrsdorf, Dresden, Germany

Since September 2014, following the departure of two longtime members, the band has performed as Niedeckens BAP. At the time, a seemingly somewhat frustrated Niedecken also declared the group would not longer have a standing line-up. That being said, the core members have remained the same since then: Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Anne de Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Werner Kopal (bass), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums). You can read more about their previous music here.

Alles Fliesst is Niedeckens BAP’s 20th studio album. While overall I think it’s fair to say it doesn’t break much new ground, that’s just fine with me. Sometimes you don’t want things to change that don’t need to change. A few songs had been released as singles leading up to the album. Two of these tracks, Volle Kraft voraus (full steam ahead) and Ruhe vor’m Sturm (calm before the storm), I already covered in previous installments of my Best of What’s New music feature here and here, so I’m going to skip them in this post. Let’s kick things off with the nice rocker Jeisterfahrer (ghost driver). The title is a symbol for populist politicians and demagogues spreading dangerous misinformation and ideas. Sadly, this sounds all too familiar.

One of my early favorites is the lovely ballad Mittlerweile Josephine (now Josephine). It’s named after one of Niedecken’s daughters he apparently used to call Josie when she was a young girl. “Actually, the song is for both of my daughters,” he told news agency Spot on News, as published by German regional paper Stuttgarter Zeitung. “But you have to decide how to name it. My younger one is called Joana-Josephine, and the older one is Isis-Maria. Our guitarist wrote the tune and sent me a demo. It included the name Rosie. As I was listening to it, I thought it could also be called Josie.” Here’s the official video.

Amelie, ab dofür (not quite sure how to translate this) is another nice rocker. The lyrics are about a guy who wants to get to Amelie but is stuck in traffic. More generally, the song deals with everyday stress life can throw at you – not sure it has any deeper meaning, but won’t get sleepless nights over it! Apart from bluesy guitar work, the great music features nice horn accents by Axel Müller (saxophone), Christoph Moschberger (trumpet) and Johannes Goltz (trombone).

Jenau jesaat: Op Odyssee (specifically put, an odyssey) looks back on the band’s 40-year-plus history from humble beginnings in local bars to playing the German Rockpalast music festival in the ’80s that was broadcast throughout Europe and put BAP on the map more broadly. “The song deals with our beginnings when we were surprised that suddenly we were supposed to play outside of Cologne,” Niedecken explained during the above interview…’They don’t speak Kölsch, how is this going to work?’…Specifically put, we didn’t go on tour but on an odyssey to unknown regions.” Things worked out quite well for BAP, though their popularity has largely remained confined to Germany and neighboring countries where folks understand German.

Let’s do one more: Huh die Jläser, huh die Tasse (let’s raise our glasses and cups), a song that had been written last last year, was released in connection with Niedecken’s 69th birthday on March 30. Initially, he had planned to throw a party on a boat to celebrate the happy occasion, but that didn’t happen because of COVID-19. Instead, in a surprising move, Niedeckens BAP put out this track to celebrate first responders and others who have helped keep things going during the pandemic. “Huh die Jläser, huh die Tasse is a happy reggae to express our gratitude to people who provide social services in a broader sense, as professionals or as volunteers, and who oftentimes are underpaid and under-recognized in our society,” Niedecken stated at the time, as reported by the German edition of Rolling Stone. “These are the same people who are now saving our butts.”

According to the band’s website, the first takes for the album were recorded live in studio at a facility close to the Eastern German town of Dresden. The album was completed in Hamburg. Alles Fliesst was co-produced by Rode and de Wolff who also composed most of the music. As always, all lyrics were written by Niedecken.

Alles Fliesst is available in standard CD and vinyl formats. There is also a deluxe edition, which apart from the 14 tracks on the standard version features a studio outtake and live versions of nine tracks that were not included on the band’s last live album Live & Deutlich (live and clear) from November 2018. I previously covered it here.

Apparently, in November 2018, Niedeckens BAP became the band with the most no. 1 hits in the German albums chart with the above noted Live & Deutlich. This broke the previous record that had been held by The Beatles.

Sources: Niedeckens BAP website; Spot On News/Stuttgarter Zeitung; Rolling Stone (German edition); YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I suppose by now folks who frequently check out my blog won’t be surprised that another Friday brings another installment of Best of What’s New. For first-time visitors, the weekly recurring feature highlights new music I dig, which was released over the past two to three months. Since most of my blog focuses on the ’60s and ’70s, I try to include as many young artists in these posts as I can find. In most cases, it ends up being a mix of young and established acts.

This week’s batch includes a nice solo debut by a young female African-American artist you may know as the drummer of a great band from Memphis, as well as songs by my favorite German-singing rock band, one of “Nova Scotia’s busiest singer-songwriters” and somebody you may still remember from the ’80s, though he was performing under a different name back then. Let’s get cooking!

Tikyra Jackson/No More Fear

If you follow my blog, chances are you’ve seen some of my posts about Southern Avenue, a great band from Memphis, Tenn., blending traditional blues and soul with elements of contemporary R&B. Tikyra Jackson is the band’s drummer and backing vocalist. It turns out she’s also a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist who just released her solo debut single No More Fear on August 12. Apparently, the effort was driven by Jackson’s reflections on the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Southern Avenue’s current pause from touring due to COVID-19. “I have a responsibility as a young, African-American and also as a woman to use my voice and platform to amplify the message that we are not going to tolerate inequality,” Jackson told American Songwriter. “I had a moment to breathe and be with myself,” she added. “Before Quarantine, it was just the road. But to be able to take a break and feel my emotions and cry has been a beautiful thing.” No word yet whether Jackon’s ultimate ambitions are an entire album. For now, here’s her funky debut single.

Niedeckens BAP/Volle Kraft voraus

Volle Kraft voraus (full steam ahead) is the fourth and latest upfront single from Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy), the new album by German rock band Niedeckens BAP’s, scheduled for September 18. Since about 1980, the group from Cologne around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, founded in 1976 and for many years simply known as BAP, has been my favorite band singing in German. More specifically, they perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered them here and on various other previous occasions. Released August 13, Volle Kraft voraus was written by the band’s guitarist Ulrich Rode with lyrics by Niedecken. The tune could work as a picker upper that’s badly needed in these corona times, writes Niedecken on the band’s website: “Try to remember what happiness feels like!” No nostalgia but more something like self-therapy.

Guy Paul Thibault/Shipwrecked

According to his website, Guy Paul Thibault is one of Nova Scotia’s busiest singer songwriters. He is loved by audiences for his marathon shows, his stories and his knowledge of the history behind the songs he performs. He performs both his originals and fan favourites from every genre and era…Guy Paul is proud to be able to write, record, mix, master and produce all his music from his hometown of Cole Harbour Nova Scotia. His album “The Road Between” was awarded International Album of the Year 2019 from the International Singer Songwriters Association (ISSA)…Guy Paul has continued his busy pace as a recording songwriter, releasing a continuous stream of singles and new songs in 2020. His most recent one is Shipwrecked, a nice ballad that came out on July 15.

Sananda Maitreya/The MadHouse

When I listened to The MadHouse for the first time earlier today, I immediately thought the voice of Sananda Maitreya sounds very similar to Terence Trent D’Arby whose 1987 debut album Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby was a huge success in Germany and many other countries. That’s because Maitreya and D’Arby are one and the same person! Following his successful debut, D’Arby released three additional records that each performed poorer than their predecessor. By time his fifth album appeared in 2001, he had changed his stage name to Sananda Maitreya, though the record appeared under the name Terence Trent D’Arby/Sananda Maitreya – probably a deliberate transition move. Since 2005, all of his albums have been released under the name Sananda Maitreya. “Terence Trent D’Arby was dead,” Maitreya explained to The New Yorker in June 2013. “He watched his suffering as he died a noble death. After intense pain I meditated for a new spirit, a new will, a new identity.” This new identity continues to this day and his latest single The MadHouse, which came out on July 3. Frankly, D’Arby had completely fallen off my radar screen many moons ago, and I’ve no idea about any of his music he released between his debut and this latest song. But I know one thing: Maitreya’s voice still sounds pretty soulful and that tune’s got a nice funky groove!

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; BAP website; Guy Paul Thibault website; The New Yorker; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Niedeckens BAP/Halv Su Wild

These days, the U.S. is going through so much pain and despair. It truly feels like unprecedented times, at least to me. While it’s important to acknowledge the two epidemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism and hold those who call themselves leaders responsible, I also believe it’s critical never to lose hope. Never to give up.

One of the many beautiful things music can do is to help lift our spirits. Here’s a great picker upper from my favorite German rock band BAP or Niedeckens BAP, as they have been known since September 2014: Halv su wild (things aren’t as bad). The title track from their 16th studio album released in March 2011 has cheered me up more than once when I felt down.

Like all of the band’s lyrics, the words were written by founder Wolfgang Niedecken. The music of this particular tune was composed by him and his main songwriting partner at the time, former lead guitarist Helmut Krumminga.

The above clip is from a concert that was part of a tour to celebrate BAP’s 40th anniversary, which I was fortunate to attend during a visit to Germany in June 2016. The line-up featured Krumminga’s excellent successor Ulrich Rode.

Of course, I realize most readers don’t understand German – not to speak of Kölsch, the regional dialect in which Niedeckens performs the songs, and that is spoken in the area of Cologne. Following is a rough translation. Admittedly, it sounds much better in Kölsch, but I hope you get the point!

Hey what’s going on, don’t tell me you’ve given up.You’re right things are tough, but no matter what happens, the sun is rising, even though the night seems to be endless. Trust in what the new day brings before you’re consumed by self-doubt.

Things aren’t as bad, just wait and you will see. Definitely, things aren’t as bad, it’s gonna work out. Believe me, things aren’t as bad, no matter how much you despair. The world won’t come to an end. Things aren’t as bad.

Hey man, stop now, you will see land again. Don’t have doubts, you know what you can do. Don’t hide behind a wall, no, you have to get out. Sure, it’s a shitty situation, but, hey, shit happens!

Things aren’t as bad, just wait and you will see. Definitely, things aren’t as bad, it’s gonna work out. Believe me things aren’t as bad, no matter how much you despair. The world won’t come to an end. Things aren’t as bad.

The person who manages to take away our joy to live still needs to be born. It’s not a problem…no, it’s really not.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest installment of the recurring feature presents yet another new tune by Robert Allen Zimmerman, who finally revealed there will be a new album with original music, probably providing some relief among die-hard Bob Dylan fans. The piece also includes a new song by a German singer-songwriter who happens to be a yuge Dylan fan and has led my favorite German rock band for more than 40 years. There’s also a melancholic track by Norah Jones. And how about rounding out things with some smoking hot blues by an indigenous artist from Canada? Let’s get to it.

Bob Dylan/False Prophet 

False Prophet, released today, is the third new song by Bob Dylan that appeared in recent weeks. He probably thought three make a charm and also finally confirmed what many fans had hoped for: All these tunes appear on a new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, set to come out on June 19. It’s Dylan’s 39th studio album, per Rolling Stone’s count, and his first release of original music in eight years since Tempest from September 2012. False Prophet, a guitar-driven bluesy tune, definitely speaks to me more than the previously released I Contain Multitudes and the nearly 17-minute Murder Most Foul. In fact, I kinda like it!

Niedeckens BAP/Ruhe vor’m Sturm

BAP or, since September 2014, Niedeckens BAP have been my favorite German rock band for now close to 40 years. I’ve covered this group from Cologne around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken on various past occasions, most recently here. One of their characteristic features is they sing all of their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. Ruhe vor’m Sturm (calm before the storm), the first tune from the band’s next album scheduled for September, has rather dark lyrics, drawing a bridge between Germany’s past Nazi era and the growing influence of right-wing extremist ideology in Germany and other countries. “Everything that has happened in previous years, the populists that step by step are gaining power and those who are still in their starting positions…are developments that can frighten you and make you think, ‘how is it supposed to continue’,” said Niedecken during an interview with German broadcast station SWR1. “I’ve had many sleepless nights. I have now grandchildren…and don’t simply want to say, ‘ do whatever you want’ – I won’t accept that.” Niedecken who writes all of the band’s lyrics has spoken up against racism for many years. The song was deliberately released today, the 75th anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allies and the official end of World War II and one of the darkest chapters in human history.

Norah Jones/Tryin’ to Keep It Together

Every time I listen to Norah Jones, which for some reason I hardly do, I somehow feel at ease. There’s just something about the singer-songwriter’s voice I find incredibly powerful. Tryin’ to Keep It Together is a bonus tune on Jones’ upcoming eighth studio album Pick Me Up Off the Floor, which will appear on June 12. “I didn’t intend on releasing it early, but it kept running through my head,” said Jones in a statement, as reported by Rolling Stone. “It’s very much how I feel in this moment, so it felt appropriate to release it. Maybe it’s how others feel as well.” The song was co-written by Jones and Thomas Bartlett, a.k.a Doveman, who also produced it. Jones released the official video for the tune today. In a tweet she wrote, “The official video for ‘Tryin’ To Keep It Together’ was filmed at home and is out now. Thanks to my quaran-team house-mate, Marcela Avelar, for making this video.”

Crystal Shawanda/Church House Blues

Crystal Shawanda is an indigenous country-turned-blues artist. According to her website, she grew up on Wikwemikong reserve on an island in Ontario, Canada. While her parents exposed her to country music and taught her how to sing and play guitar, her oldest brother introduced her to what became her ultimate passion, the blues. She started her career in country music and her debut album Dawn of a New Day was released in June 2008. But while country music apparently brought her some success, she started feeling like a fish out of water and decided to take off some time. Shawanda returned in September 2014 with her first blues album The Whole World’s Got the Blues. Her new record Church House Blues was released on April 17. According to this review in Glide Magazine, it was produced by Shawanda’s husband and collaborator Dewayne Strobel, who also plays guitar on the record. The review notes influences from Shawanda’s heroes Etta James, Koko Taylor, The Staple Sisters and Janis Joplin. Regardless whether you agree with their take or not, one thing is crystal clear to me: That woman has mighty pipes and great energy. Check out the title track!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; SWR1; Crystal Shawanda website; Glide Magazine; YouTube

Revisiting My Favorite German Rock Band: BAP

If you have followed my blog for some time, you may recall seeing the name BAP. The group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. They entered my radar screen in 1981 after their national breakthrough with their third studio album Für Usszeschnigge! (translation: to cut out). BAP remain my favorite German rock band, which I realized once again the other day when listening to some of their music. This triggered my decision to do another post on them. And it may not by my last!

One of BAP’s defining features is that Niedecken performs their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne. While I think they are on par with many English singing bands, undoubtedly this has largely limited their appeal to Germany, though they have ventured out to neighboring countries and even once to China. BAP have seen many line-up changes over the decades, and Niedecken remains the only original member. Since September 2014 after the departure of two longtime members, Niedecken announced that going forward the band would perform under the name Niedeckens BAP and no longer have a standing line-up.

BAP in 2016
Current members of BAP (from left): Wolfgang Niedecken (guitar, vocals), Werner Kopal (bass), Anne De Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums)

Niedecken has been BAP’s driving creative force. His key influences are Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The  Kinks and The Rolling Stones. Niedecken has a friendly relationship with Springsteen. In fact, I previously read that whenever the Boss performs in Germany and Niedecken is around, he likes to invite him on stage to play a song together – to me this sounds like something Springsteen would do. BAP have released 17 studio albums, eight live recordings and three compilations to date – more than enough fodder for another playlist, so let’s get to it. Unlike the first chronological playlist I published here, this time, I’m going randomly.

Let’s kick it off with a nice blues rocker called Diego Paz Wohr Nüngzehn (Diego Paz was 19). Co-written by then-guitarist Helmut Krumminga and Niedecken, the tune has a cool ZZ Top La Grange vibe. It appeared on BAP’s 15th studio album Radio Pandora from May 2008.

The next song takes us all the way back to 1980 and Affjetaut (defrosted), BAP’s sophomore release. Here’s the opener Ne schöne Jrooß (greetings) co-written by Niedecken and Klaus Heuser, who had joined the band as their lead guitarist prior to the recording sessions and would become Niedecken’s key musical partner until his departure in 1999. While perhaps not surprisingly the sound is a bit dated, I still dig that tune.

In August 1996, BAP released their 10th studio album Amerika (America), one of my favorites. Here’s the great opener Nix Wie Bessher (nothing like it used to be), another Niedecken-Heuser co-write. As you can hear, BAP’s sound had significantly matured by then.

Time Is Cash, Time Is Money, a humorous take on organized vacation travel, appeared on the band’s sixth studio record Ahl Männer, Aalglatt (old slick guys). The song was co-written by Niedecken and producer Reinhold Mack. Mack had produced, co-produced and sound-engineered for Queen, Billy Squier and E.L.O. According to Wikipedia, it was the first time BAP relied on a “professional” producer – I assume by this they mean somebody who had worked with international acts.

Next up: Do Kanns Zaubere (you can do magic), one of my favorite BAP ballads, and yet another co-write by Niedecken and Heuser. The tune is from their fourth studio album Vun Drinne Noh Drusse (from the inside to the outside) released in August 1982.

Over their long history, BAP have released a number of songs addressing social and political issues, including racism/hostility against foreigners and nationalism – sadly topics I never thought would remain as relevant as they are today in the 21st Century. Here’s Denn Mer Sinn Widder Wer (Coz we’re great again – sound fucking familiar?) The track appeared on BAP’s eighth studio album X Für ‘e U (an “x” for a “u”) released in October 1990 in the wake of Germany’s reunification. And, yes, in case you wondered, Niedecken and Heuser teamed up for this tune as well. The clip I found is not an official video but was put together by the guy who uploaded it YouTube.

How ’bout Shoeshine? Ask and you shall receive. This great song, written by Niedecken, is from BAP’s 13th studio album Aff Un Zo (every now and then) from June 2001. It was an important record for the band after the departure of longtime members Heuser and keyboarder Alexander Büchel. The only YouTube clip of the tune I could find is this version from the 2014 unplugged live album Das Märchen Vom Gezogenen SteckerLive (the tale of the pulled plug – live). While it’s a bit different from the studio recording, I think it’s actually pretty cool.

A BAP playlist without a tune from their aforementioned breakthrough album would be incomplete. Since I previously featured what is perhaps their best-known song Verdamp Lang Her (such a long time ago), I’m going with the road tune Frau, Ich Freu Mich (Can’t wait to see you, baby). Given this record appeared in 1981, guess who co-wrote the rocker? Yep, Niedecken and Heuser had done it again!

For the next tune, let’s jump to a track from BAP’s most recent studio release, Lebenslänglich (for a lifetime), which appeared in early 2016: Et Ess Lang Her (long ago). The song was co-written by Niedecken and keyboarder Michael Nass. I dig the beautiful acoustic roots sound, which reminds me a bit of John Mellencamp. Since I couldn’t find a clip of the initial studio recording, here’s a similar version that appeared on a 2017 Niedecken solo compilation album titled Reinrassije Stroossekööter – das Familienalbum (pure breed street dogs – the family album)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Halv Su Wild (not a big deal) another of my favorite BAP albums. It is from their 16th and the last studio record to date released under the name BAP. It also marked the final album with longtime drummer Jürgen Zöller (1987-2014) and Helmut Krumminga, who had been the band’s lead guitarist from 1999 until 2014. Here’s a live version of Et Levve Ess En Autobahn (life is a highway), which apparently was captured during an open-air gig in Germany in 2012. Written by Niedecken, it’s an autobiographic song about the band’s long history.

During an interview with Swiss newspaper Tagblatt, Niedecken confirmed BAP are working on a new studio album that will likely appear sometime this year, followed by a tour in 2021. Mentioning his most recent solo effort Das Familienalbum (the family album), which was recorded in New Orleans and came out in 2017, Niedecken also hinted the band’s next record is going to feature some of the same U.S. horn players. For a long-time BAP fan like myself, this does sound intriguing.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tagblatt; YouTube

Time For Some Additional German Music

This post was inspired by a recent short trip back to Germany, the country in which I was born and lived for the first 26 years of my life. While I didn’t have time to look for new CDs by German music artists, I ended up listening to a playlist of German rock and pop songs while driving on the Autobahn from Frankfurt to the beautiful Rhine city of Bad Honnef near Bonn.

Once again, I was reminded there is some great German music out there, except it’s barely known beyond the country’s borders. To be clear, what I’m talking about is German language music, not German bands singing in English like Scorpions or electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. While I already previously posted about German music artists here and here, I thought this would be a good time for an encore. Since I left Germany more than 25 years ago, I’m not aware of any younger acts, so I’m revisiting artists I’ve known and liked for many years.

I’d like to kick things off with Wolf Maahn, a singer-songwriter, actor and producer. Born on March 25, 1955 in Berlin, Maahn got his initial start in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band, which mixed soul, jazz, pop and rock and sang in English. His German language music debut was the album Deserteure from 1982. In 1985, he gained broad popularity as the first German act performing during Rockpalast Nacht, a recurring live six-hour concert event broadcast throughout Europe. To date, more than 20 studio, live and compilation Maahn albums have appeared. Slow-Mo In New York is his recently released latest single from an upcoming new studio album titled Break Out Of Babylon. ‘Wait a moment,’ you might think, didn’t I just note this post is about German language music? Yep, the lyrics are in German – for the most part. 🙂

Another longtime German music artist is Marius Müller-Westernhagen, also simply known as Westernhagen. The rock musician, who was born on December 6, 1948 in Düsseldorf, started his career as an actor at the age of 14. While he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s, success didn’t come until the release of his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz in 1978. Today, with 19 studio albums and various live and compilation records, Westernhagen is one of the most successful German music artists. Here’s a clip of Mit 18 from his upcoming release titled Das Pfefferminz-Experiment (Woodstock Recordings Vol. 1), scheduled for November 8. Based on what I’ve seen on the web, this appears to be a remake of the above album with new stripped down versions of the tracks. The album was recorded at Dreamland Studio in Woodstock with American musicians. This included multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, who has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon. I have to admit the orginal Mit 18 is one of my favorite Westernhagen tunes, but after having listened to the remake a few times, I find it intriguing.

Udo Lindenberg, born on May 17, 1946 in Gronau, is a rock musician, writer and painter. He entered the music scene as a 15-year-old drummer playing in bars in Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his enponymous solo album appeared. Commerical breakthrough came with the third studio album Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria. While Lindenberg has consistently recorded throughout the decades, success began to vane in the mid ’80s. Since 2008 and his 35th studio album Stark Wie Zwei, Lindenberg has experienced a late career surge. Today, the 73-year-old continues to go strong. His most recent album MTV Unplugged 2: Live vom Atlantik appeared last year. Here is Du Knallst In Mein Leben, which first appeared on Lindenberg’s 1983 studio album Odyssee. In this version, he shares vocals with German indie pop artist Deine Cousine.

Herbert Grönemeyer is one of the most versatile German artists. The musician, producer, vocalist, composer, songwriter and actor was born on April 12, 1956 in Göttingen. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio record Bochum. To date, Grönemeyer has released 15 studio albums, as well as various compilations and live records. With more than 18 million units, he has sold more records than any other music artist in Germany since 1975, according to Wikipedia. While Grönemeyer has written some rock-oriented songs, for the most part, I would characterize his music as straight pop. Here is the ballad Warum from his most recent album Tumult, which came out in November 2018.

If I could only select one German rock band, it would be BAP, a group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which nowadays performs as Niedecken’s BAP. The band has been around with different line-ups since 1976, and I’ve followed them since the early 1980s. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the region of Cologne, the home town of Niedecken who remains the group’s only original member. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are among his key influences. In fact, Niedecken is also friends with the Boss and has performed with him on the same stage. Niedecken’s BAP’s most recent release is a live album, Live & Deutlich, which was released in November 2018. Here’s Nix Wie Bessher, a track that first appeared on BAP’s excellent 10th studio album Amerika from August 1996.

Sources: Wikipedia; Wolf Maahn website; Westernhagen website; Udo Lindenberg website; Herbert Grönemeyer website; BAP website; YouTube

My Playlist: Wolf Maahn

The rock singer-songwriter has been a staple of the German music scene for more than three decades

I said it before and I say it again: Germany has more music artists to offer than the handful who have become popular internationally. While I’m not sure anybody cares, I can be stubborn to make my point, so I’m featuring another terrific singer-songwriter you probably haven’t heard of unless you grew up in Germany: Wolf Maahn. He burst on the music scene there in the mid ’80s with a great rock tune that could have been written by Bruce Springsteen. Similar to BAP, the rock band I explored two weeks ago here, most of Maahn’s sizable catalog is in German. And just like in their case, I’ve no doubt language is a significant factor explaining Maahn’s limited visibility beyond  Germany’s borders.

Wolf Maahn was born in Berlin on March 25, 1955. He grew up in Munich, where he saw The Beatles as an 11-year-old in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, that concert left a lasting impression. “The Beatles were simply untouchable to me,” he told a German newspaper during an interview in 2001. In 1975, Maahn co-founded Food Band in Cologne, together with his brother Hans Maahn and other musicians. They released their studio debut Foodband in England in 1979. A version of that album for the German market, ingeniously titled Last Year’s Album, appeared the following year. Just like its predecessor, it featured all English music. Food Band released on more album in 1981, Rhythm ‘N’ Juice, another clever title, before they disbanded.

Wolf Maahn Rockpalast 1985
Wolf Maahn (l) and Axel Heilhecker at Rockpalast Night in Essen, Germany, March 1985

Following the dissolution of Food Band, Maahn launched his solo career. Former band mate, song co-writer and guitarist Axel Heilhecker joined Maahn’s backing band Deserteure (deserters). In September 1982, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure released their studio debut Deserteure. The sophomore Bisse Und Küsse (bites And kisses) appeared the following year. The band’s national breakthrough Irgendwo In Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) was released in 1984. In 1985, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure became the first German act to perform at Rockpalast Nacht, which was broadcast live in 17 European countries. I previously wrote about the famous music festival here, which between 1977 and 1986 drew artists like Rory Gallagher, ZZ Top, The Police and The Who. BTW, BAP performed there as well.

In 1988 after he had dissolved Deserteure two years earlier, Maahn came out with Third Language, which thus far remains the only English language album of his solo career. He has since released nine additional studio albums, four live records and one compilation. His most recent, the live album Live & Seele (live & soul), appeared in January 2017. Another notable thing about Maahn is his way to play the guitar – left handed with the strings placed in reverse order, i.e., e, b, g, D, A and E. Frankly, being a lefty is hard enough for me to imagine, but having the strings upside down is just impossible – well, evidently not. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with Die Sucht Der Träumer (the addiction of the dreamers). The tune is the opener of Maahn’s second solo album, the above mentioned Bisse Und  Küsse from 1983.

Fieber (fever) is from the breakthrough Irgendwo In Deutschland. The album gained further popularity in the wake of Maahn’s performance at Rockpalast and remained in the German LP charts for nine months. Fieber, the tune with the Springsteen vibe I noted in the introduction, became a major hit.

Another great tune is Ich Wart’ Auf Dich (I’m waiting for you).  Maahn recorded it for Kleine Helden (little heroes), the follow-on to Irgendwo In Deutschland released in 1986. Here is an extended version, or “maxi” as they called it in Germany at the time.

Next up: The title track of the Third Language album from 1988. It has a similar vibe to Ich Wart’ Auf Dich.

In 1991, Wolf Maahn released his seventh solo album Maahnsinn. The title’s similarity to the German word “Wahnsinn” (madness) is probably not a coincidence. Here’s Wenn Der Regen Kommt (when the rain is coming).

In Deinem Bett (in your bed) is a tune from Soul Maahn, Maahn’s 10th studio release from 1999.

In 2004, Wolf Maahn released his 11th studio album, Zauberstrassen (magic streets). Here is the catchy Schatzjäger (treasure hunter).

Kind Der Sterne (child of the stars) was a single from 2007. The song was also included on Maahn’s double live album Direkt Ins Blut 2 (directly into the bloodstream 2) – (Un)plugged, which appeared the same year.

March 2010 saw Maahn’s 12th studio release Vereinigte Staaten (United States). It was the first full album with all new material since Zauberstrassen. Here is the groovy Kannst Du Sehen (can you see) – love that tune!

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Wolf Maahn’s most recent studio release Sensible Daten (sensitive data), which came out in September 2015: Zoll Achtung! (attention customs!), another groovy tune.

After a 40-year-plus career (including Food Band), Wolf Maahn continues to do what a full bread music artist does: Rock on! His tour calendar for the remainder of the year shows a bunch of upcoming gigs in Germany solo and together with a backing band. In addition to being a music artist, the versatile Maahn has also worked as a producer, film score composer and actor over the years. While at age 63 it’s fair to say he’s a mature rocker, I don’t get the impression Maahn is thinking retirement any time soon. After all, compared to Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, he’s still a baby!

Sources: Wikipedia, Wolf Maahn website, YouTube