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

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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, 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! ūüôā

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 has 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 band sang in English. 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 M√ľller-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 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, 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¬†D√ľsseldorf. 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

Gr√∂nemeyer 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, Gr√∂nemeyer 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¬†Gr√∂nemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s¬†√Ė,¬†his seventh studio release. Gr√∂nemeyer 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.¬†Gr√∂nemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings is 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 F√∂r 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 has 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 has had numerous changes in its lineup and hasn’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. is 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. Following is a clip of the fantastic title song of their debut album¬†F√ľr Et H√§tz Un J√§jen D‚Äôr Kopp, which was released in 1992.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Gems of German Rock

This post shines a light on great German rock artists who are largely unknown beyond Germany’s border, mostly because they sing in German.

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.

 

BAP

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

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 M√ľller-Westernhagen

Marius M√ľller-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.

Udo Lindenberg

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.