Germans Who Rock In German

Germany may be much better known internationally for engineering and beer than music, but there is much more to the latter than the Scorpions

In some ways, this post is a bit of a remake of my previous thoughts on German rock music. Obviously, what I said last October remains true today. Other than the Scorpions, one of my favorite bands, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and perhaps heavy metal formation Accept, there aren’t any other German rock music artists I can think of, who have a significant following beyond German-speaking countries.

Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons is the fact that many German rock bands are singing in German. Some go further and sing in dialects spoken in their native regions. This may make it tough even for other Germans to understand their lyrics – not exactly a recipe for international fame!

Following is a song selection from German-singing rock bands, including some of my favorite acts from the Deutsch Rock genre. The caveat is most of these artists are “old guys,” who do not well represent what’s in the German charts these days, which I honestly don’t even know. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Wolfgang Niedeckens BAP

Niedeckens BAP, formerly known simply as BAP, probably remains my favorite German rock band. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the town of Cologne, Niedecken’s home town. A huge fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (and friends with the Boss!), Niedecken is the mastermind of the band, which was founded in 1976. During its 40-plus-year history, BAP have seen various changes in its lineup. Niedecken remains the only original member. Here’s a clip of Halv Su Wild, the title song from BAP’s 17th studio album released in 2011.

Wolf Maahn

This singer-songwriter, actor and producer initially started his music career in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band. Mixing soul, jazz, pop and rock, this group sang in English. Wolf Maahn’s “German language music career” kicked off in the early ’80s with the studio album Deserteure. He gained broad national popularity in the mid ’80s, starting with the 1984 record Irgendwo in Deutschland. The studio album included Fieber, one of his best known songs. Here’s a clip

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Westernhagen started his professional career as a 14-year-old actor in 1962, before he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s. He continued acting and music, though his early recording efforts were largely unsuccessful. That changed in 1978, when Marius Müller-Westernhagen released his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz. The record’s title song remains one of his best known tunes. His latest, 19th studio album Alphatier appeared in 2014. Westernhagen continues to be one of Germany’s most popular music artists. Here’s a clip of a killer live version of Pfefferminz.

Udo Lindenberg

In addition to being a rock musician, Udo Lindenberg also is a writer and painter, making him one of the most versatile German music artists. He first hit the music scene in the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old and played as a drummer in bars in the German town of 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. It would take another two years before Lindenberg achieved commercial breakthrough success with Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria, his third solo album. He continues to record and perform to this day, still going strong at age 71. In 2008, Lindenberg had a major comeback with Stark Wie Zwei, his 35th studio release. Here’s a great clip of a live performance of Mein Ding, one of the tunes from his comeback release.

Herbert Grönemeyer

Grönemeyer is another long-time German multi-talent, who in addition to being a singer-songwriter is also a producer and actor. While some of his music is rock-oriented, overall, I would describe his style as pop. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Herbert Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio album Bochum. One of my favorite Grönemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s Ö, his seventh studio release. Grönemeyer has since recorded seven additional studio records, the latest being Dauernd Jetzt, which appeared in Nov 2014. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Vollmond. Grönemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings are another act from Cologne, singing their songs in the local dialect. They started out as a great rock band in the early ’90s before they drastically changed their style to pop/”Schlager” in the early 2000s. This change, which I find quite unfortunate from a music perspective, brought the band new popularity. They’ve since become a mainstay during the Cologne Carnival, a longtime tradition of the city that culminates with a week-long street festival where people go out masqueraded. Here’s a clip of Nix För Lau from the band’s second studio album Kasalla, which appeared in 1992.

Tocotronic

Founded in 1993, Tocotronic is an indie rock band from the northern German town of Hamburg. Admittedly, I know very little about their music, but there is one tune I’ve liked from the first moment I heard it. It’s called Gegen Den Strich and was included on the band’s seventh studio album, Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (2005). Tocotronic have since released four additional studio records, the most recent of which (Tocotronic, aka Rotes Album) appeared in 2015. Here’s a clip of Gegen Den Strich. The sound reminds me a bit of The Church and their great 1988 album Starfish.

Spider Murphy Gang

Named after the gangster Spider Murphy in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, this band from the Bavarian town of Munich became known with classic rock & roll style songs performed in their native Bavarian dialect. The Spider Murphy Gang started out in 1977, covering top 40 rock & roll tunes from Presley, Chuck Berry and other classic rock & roll performers. In 1980, they recorded their German debut album Rock’n’Roll Schuah. The follow-up Dolce Vita brought them national acclaim, fueled by the tune Skandal Im Sperrbezirk, which became a staple of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave). While the Spider Murphy Gang have had numerous changes in their lineup and haven’t recorded any new music since 2002, they continue to perform and are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Here’s a clip of an extended live performance of Schickeria, a tune from Dolce Vita.

Revolverheld

This rock band was founded in Hamburg in 2002. Initially, they were known as Manga  before they changed their name to Tsunamikiller in the autumn of 2004. Following the devastating tsunami in Thailand in December that year, the band changed its name to Revolverheld. Like Tocotronic, I’m not well familiar with their music. The tune I’d like to highlight is Freunde Bleiben from their eponymous debut album in 2005. Here’s a clip.

L.S.E.

Named after the first letters of each member’s last name, Rolf Lammers, Arno Steffen and Tommy Engel, L.S.E. are yet another band from Cologne, which was founded in 1992. Like BAP and Brings, they sing in the local dialect. During their active period between 1992 and 1996, the band recorded three studio albums. While they haven’t made any new music since 1996, L.S.E. haven’t officially dissolved and still perform occasionally. One of my favorite tunes by this versatile band is the title song of their debut album Für Et Hätz Un Jäjen D’r Kopp, which was released in 1992. Here’s a great live version together with German comedienne, TV actress and frankly multi-talent  Carolin Kebekus, captured in September 2014.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

In Memoriam of Chuck Berry

When I listened to Johnny B. Goode for the first time, I instantly realized Chuck Berry sounded differently than any other guitarist I had ever heard.

When I saw a push message in my smartphone yesterday about the death of Chuck Berry, I was in disbelief at first. Sure, I knew the man had turned 90 last October, so he wasn’t exactly a teenager any longer. But I also recalled Berry had used that happy occasion to announce his first new record in 38 years slated for release sometime this year. I suspect it will become a big seller, which would be a cruel irony that happened to many other music artists after they passed away.

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. To begin with, there was simply no guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” Berry’s style may sound crude at times, but try playing his licks, and you quickly realize it’s much more sophisticated than you might think – I found out myself! Admittedly, I was always much more an acoustic guy, and the electric guitar certainly did not come naturally to me.

In addition to being an innovative guitarist who created his own signature sound, Berry was an incredible showman. Perhaps the move for which he is best remembered is the “duckwalk” he popularized in the 1950’s – a whooping 30 years before another walk made music history: Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in 1983. While the origins of the duckwalk reportedly go back to 1930’s performance by T-Bone Walker, one of Berry’s influences, it was Berry who put the move on the map and who is typically credited as its inventor.

And then there are of course all the iconic classic rock & roll tunes Berry wrote: Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, School Day, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Carol, Little Queenie – and the list goes on! Remarkably, none of these amazing songs topped the mainstream U.S. charts. Sweet Little Sixteen came closest, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958; it did hit no. 1 on the R&B Best Sellers chart the same year. Berry’s only no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was My Ding-a-Ling in 1972. While I read he always stood by the tune, I think it’s fair to say an important reason why the song became so successful was the ill-fated refusal from many radio stations to play it because of its lyrics.

Many of Berry’s tunes were covered by other artists. In fact, the very first single from The Rolling Stones in 1963, Come On, is a Berry tune he had first released in 1961. The Beatles were also big fans of Berry and did excellent covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music – in fact, I have to say I prefer the latter to the original version! Yet another great example of a Berry cover is the Yardbirds’ Too Much Monkey Business on their 1964 debut live album Five Live Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on lead guitar – nothing “slowhand” about this absolute killer version!

Reportedly, Berry was not an easy person to deal with offstage. He had certain rules that could not be broken. He always demanded payment in advance of any performance and a specific guitar amplifier. He also insisted on a limousine for his shows, which he would drive himself. Instead of relying on a standing set of touring musicians, he asked concert promoters to hire local backup bands for him. Together with not providing set lists in advance of gigs, it’s not surprising this sometimes impacted the quality of his live shows. But I also read other accounts suggesting Berry was a very kind-hearted man who was simply reluctant to trust people he didn’t know well, since he felt life had betrayed him in the past.

Not surprisingly, when an influential artist like Chuck Berry passes away, social media lights up with present or past sentiments expressed by other great rock guitarists. I’d like to share some of them. For Rolling Stone’s December 2010 feature 100 Greatest Artists, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry wrote, “I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top – and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair in the back of my neck: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else.”

For a rock music fan, it’s easy to understand Perry’s reaction. Released in July 1959, Berry’s third studio album included some of his greatest gems, such as Carol, Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven – all on one album and all written by him!

Bruce Springsteen, who set the stage on fire playing Johnny B. Goode with Berry and the E Street Band during a 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s museum, tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Keith Richards wrote on Facebook, “One of my big lights has gone out.” The post was accompanied by a photo showing Richards standing on stage next to Berry with the following caption: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does…It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” More specifically, that moment came for Richards when as a teenager he saw Berry perform Sweet Little Sixteen at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was captured in the film documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, as he told Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the most beautiful take came from the E Street Band’s Little Steven on the Facebook page of his excellent radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage: 

“Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.

– Little Steven, March 18 2017”

I have nothing to add, except offering a clip of Berry’s amazing performance of Too Much Monkey Business, which features a very cool solo by Keith Richards, of course played Chuck Berry style! It’s taken from Taylor Hackford’s 1987 music documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, shot to celebrate Berry’s 60’s birthday. In addition to Richards, other artists performing with Berry included Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon and Joey Spampinato.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

The Boss Rocks MetLife

Bruce Springsteen delivered four hours of non-stop rock & roll to an ecstatic New Jersey audience.

Yesterday (Aug 30) finally was the night I had been waiting for all summer long: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were playing MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ – the third performance of their three-show run at the venue as part of 2016 River Tour.

From the first song, New York City Serenade, to the final tune, Jersey Girl, The Boss gave it his all, delivering four hours and one minute of non-stop rock & roll – I did not stop the time but actually read that on Springsteen’s official web site. The duration of the concert meant Bruce broke his own record from the previous week in the same venue yet another time!

In many regards, it was as if time would have stopped since 1988/1989 when I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt, Germany in a comparable size stadium. He had not lost any of his intensity in almost 30 years, and you could be forgiven for not noticing he is now well into his 60s! The Boss also clearly seemed to be energized to play in front of a home crowd that knew all of his songs by heart.

The setlist included 34 songs and drew heavily from Bruce’s first two albums from 1973 and Born in the U.S.A., the 1984 album that became his most commercially successful record and one of the best-selling albums ever with more than 30 million copies sold.

Songs from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. included Blinded By The Light, Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street, It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City and what I thought was one of the highlights of the show – a particularly spirited version of Spirit in the Night. From The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle Bruce played the strong show opener, New York City Serenade, as well as 4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Incident of 57th Street and Rosalita, which remains a big crowd-pleaser.

I’m Going Down, Darlington County, Working on the Highway, Downbound Train, I’m on Fire and Glory Days were songs from the Born in the U.S.A. album, as was Dancing in the Dark – another highlight of the show. During the performance of the song, Bruce invited various people from the audience on stage to, well, dance with him! I thought it was telling that Bruce did not play the title song of the album. I once read he had gotten tired of the song and how many people completely misunderstood or ignored the lyrics.

There were only two songs from The River album, Hungry Heart and Out in the Street, which I felt was remarkable for a tour billed The River Tour. That being said, I had read that Bruce had started to deviate from the original tour concept to play all or most of the album’s songs. Still, I wish he at least would have performed the title song, which remains one of my favorite Springsteen tunes.

Other songs that stood out to me were Born to Run and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. During the latter, historic footage was shown on the large stage video screens of the amazing Clarence Clemons, The E Street Band’s former saxophonist who sadly passed in June 2011.

Just as he did back in 1988/89, Springsteen also played terrific cover versions of various great songs, which most notably included Twist & Shout, Shout and Summertime Blues.

This blog post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the amazing E Street Band. Steven Van Zandt (guitar, background vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, background vocals), Patti Scialfa (acoustic guitar, background vocals), Max Weinberg (drums), Garry Tallent (bass, background vocals) and Roy Bittan (keyboards) all did an outstanding job to back up the Boss.

Among the additional musicians, Jake Clemons, the nephew of Clarence Clemons, must be mentioned. He literally had big shoes to fill playing Clarence’s saxophone parts and did so beautifully. I’m sure his uncle would have been proud of him!

The Springsteen concert was my last (commercial) summer concert. It was a great way to end my series of summer shows this year. Just like the previous Springsteen concert in Germany in the late 80s, I have no doubt this show will stay in my memory.

Note: The video clips were added to the post on April 11, 2020. All of the footage is from Springsteen’s three-show run at MetLife in August 2016, mostly from the August 30 gig I attended.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; YouTube

What I’ve been listening to: The River

I’ve been looking forward all summer long to seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium as part of The River 2016 tour. So it’s perhaps not very surprising that I’ve been listening to The River, Bruce’s 1980 album the tour celebrates.

I suppose like many people who grew up in the 80s and listening to music from that time, Born in the U.S.A. brought the Boss on my radar screen. When that album was released in 1984, I think the only other Bruce Springsteen song I knew at the time was The River, an instant favorite.

When Bruce came out with the Live/1975-1985 compilation and I noticed it included a significant amount of material from Born in the U.S.A. and the song The River, I decided to put it on my Christmas wish list for 1986. Santa was kind, and as I started listening to the 3-CD set, I quickly realized there was much more to Springsteen than Born in the U.S.A, Cover Me, I’m on Fire and Bobby Jean.

Among others, I discovered Hungry Heart, which I think is safe to assume is the best known song from the album, apart from the title track. Additionally, I started appreciating other Springsteen classics, such as Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Thunder Road. I also had no idea that songs like Spirit in the Night, Because the Night and Fire – which I had known because of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Patti Smith and The Pointer Sisters, respectively – had all been written or co-written by the Boss!

So while Born in the U.S.A. and Live/1975-1985 introduced me to Bruce Springsteen, made me buy some of his other albums he released thereafter and see an unforgettable Springsteen show in Frankfurt, Germany in the late 1980s, it didn’t lead to more exploration of The River album. Given the upcoming concert, which is going to be my second Springsteen show, I wanted to change that – which finally brings me to the album.

The River is Springsteen’s fifth studio album. Initially, it was supposed to be a single album called The Ties That Bind. But Bruce had written more material than would fit on one record – at last at the time – so it ended up being two records called The River – his only double studio album to date.

According to Bruce’s official web site, The River is “split evenly between huge house-party numbers (and a wealth of live staples) and darker, real-word tales.” It was reflective of Bruce being “out to explore the emerging dualities of his music.” During an interview referenced in a 2004 Springsteen biography by Dave Marsh, Bruce explained, “Rock and roll has always been this joy, this certain happiness that is in its way the most beautiful thing in life. But rock is also about hardness and coldness and being alone … I finally got to the place where I realized life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you’ve got to live with them.”

Two songs from The River illustrate the above: In Cadillac Ranch, Bruce sings,

Cadillac, Cadillac

Long and dark, shiny and black

Open up your engines let ‘em roar

Tearing up the highway like a big dinosaur

Contrast that with Point Blank:

You grew up where young girls they grow up fast

You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked

but what they asked baby wasn’t right

you didn’t have to live that life,

I was gonna be your Romeo you were gonna be my Juliet

These days you don’t wait on Romeo’s

you wait on that welfare check

and on all the pretty things you can’t ever have

and on all the promises

The album generated three U.S. singles – Hungry Heart, Fade Away and I Wanna Marry You – and four additional singles that were released in the UK only: Sherry Darling, The River/Independence Day, Cadillac Ranch and Point Blank. Hungry Heart became Bruce’s first top ten single on the U.S. pop singles chart, climbing up to number five.

The River has become one of Springsteen’s best-selling albums after Born in the U.S.A. and Born to Run. It has been certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

In addition to the title song and Hungry Heart, my favorite tunes from the album include The Ties That Bind, Independence Day, Out in the Street, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, Ramrod and The Price You Pay.

Four members of the current E Street Band were on the original recording of The River: Roy Bittan (piano, synthesizer, accordion), Garry Tallent (bass), Steven Van Zandt (rhythm guitar, lead guitar, background vocals) and Max Weinberg (drums). Perhaps the one missing member I’m going to miss the most is Clarence Clemmons, the band’s amazing saxophonist who passed away in 2011. Intriguingly, his nephew Jake Clemons took over “The Big Man’s” part in 2012 – big shoes to fill, literally!

I can’t wait to see these guys and Bruce bring The River to life and play many other great Springsteen songs next Tuesday at MetLife Stadium. Are the going to match the record four hours they rocked there Thursday night? Okay, I don’t want to get too greedy here – anything more than 2.5 hours is pretty remarkable these days, especially for an artist of Bruce’s caliber!