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

Aw, The ’80s (Part 1: 1980-1984)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

I’ve mentioned my weak spot for ’80s music on a few previous occasions. My taste has since evolved, and I now find myself wondering more often than not how I could have liked certain songs as much as I did back then. Well, obviously, I was a lot younger (though of course, I’m still young at heart!), and that music was all around me. It also triggers memories of school, parties, the first vacations with friends (and without my parents or any adults for that matter), the first hangover…in other words, it really was the soundtrack of growing up – okay, call me a sentimental fool!

This morning, I rode the car with my wife and put on Duran Duran’s Rio album – she loves ’80s, so it was all her fault! 🙂 Anyway, listening to this 1982 record gave me the idea to reflect on music and some related events from that decade. Since it’s a big topic, I figured it would be best to divide my thoughts in two parts. Obviously, it’s still not possible to make this all-inclusive, so I’m going to be arbitrary and selective, focusing on things that are meaningful to me. Here’s part I spanning 1980 to 1984.

Prince_Purple Rain

Some of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the ’80s are Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, the death of disco, new wave, the advent of the CD, hair metal bands and Live Aid. Of course, I could add many other buzz words, e.g., music videos. At the time, we didn’t have cable or satellite television at my house back in Germany, so I missed out on MTV and VH1. In fact, believe or not, it wasn’t until 1993 when I first came to the U.S. that I watched VH1 and kind of got hooked, especially on their Behind The Music documentaries. For some reason, I never warmed to MTV.

1980

Some of the events I’d like to call out are Paul McCartney’s arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession, which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining Wings tour that year (Jan 16); launch of Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour in Los Angeles (Feb 7); release of Back In Black, AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson who had replaced original lead vocalist Bon Scott (Jul 25); death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (Sep 25); and murder of John Lennon who was shot by deranged Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan residence after returning from the recording studio with Yoko Ono (Dec 8).

The biggest hit singles of the year were Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (Pink Floyd), Woman In Love (Barbara Streisand), (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon), Funkytown (Lipps) and Upside Down (Diana Ross). I dug all of these songs at the time. While from today’s perspective my favorite is the Lennon tune, the track I’d like to highlight in a clip is Call Me by Blondie. Co-written by Debbie Harry and producer Giorgio Moroder (remember that guy?), the song was released as a single in February that year and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1980 picture American Gigolo. It became the band’s biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the charts in the U.K. and Canada, and scoring in the top 20 in many other countries.

1981

Notable events include the release of Face Value, the first solo album by Phil Collins – like it or not, the Genesis drummer was just everywhere in the ’80s – with Genesis and solo! (Feb 9); first break-up of Yes (Apr 18) only to reunite less than two years later and release their biggest-selling album 90125; U2’s television debut in the U.S. on the NBC late night program The Tomorrow Show (Jun 4); official launch of MTV in New York (Aug 1); Simon & Garfunkel’s free reunion concert in the Big Apple’s Central Park, drawing more than 500,000 visitors – no disputes over crowd attendance here! (Sep 9 ); and Rod Stewart show at Los Angeles Forum, broadcast live via satellite and watched by an estimated 35 million people worldwide – the first such broadcast since Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special.

The top 5 hit singles of the year were Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Tainted Love (Soft Cell), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Woman (John Lennon) and Stars On 45 Medley (Stars On 45). Again, to me the Lennon tune holds up the best, though I also still like Bette Davis Eyes and have to admit In The Air Tonight is kind of cool. Even though I feel I’ve been over-exposed to Collins, I admit he’s done some good songs. Here’s a clip of Down Under by Men At Work. Co-written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and released in October, the song was the second single from the band’s debut album Business As Usual that appeared the following month. It was cool then, and I still dig this tune.

1982

Perhaps most notably, the year saw the debut of Madonna with Everybody (Oct 2), the lead single from her first eponymous 1983 studio record, as well as the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (Nov 30), which remains the world’s best-selling record to date. Some of the other events include the death of comedian and Blues Brothers vocalist John Belushi (March 5); premiere of Pink Floyd – The Wall, a film adaptation of the band’s 1979 album with the same title, at the Cannes Film Festival in France; and start of CD mass production by Dutch technology company and disc co-inventor Philips in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany (Aug 17).

Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor), Down Under (Men At Work), I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners) and Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) were the biggest hit singles that year. Below is a clip of Come On Eileen, which appeared as a single in June. Co-written by Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, the song was also included on the band’s second studio album Too-Rye-Ay, released the following month. I always found it cool how the catchy tune blended elements of Celtic folk with pop music.

1983

On March 2, CDs started to go on sale in the U.S., following their initial release in Japan the previous October. Some of the year’s other events in music include the debut of Let’s Spend The Night Together in New York, a film documenting the 1981 North American tour of The Rolling Stones (Feb 11); release of U2’s third studio album War, which debuts at no. 1 in the U.K. and features their first international hit single New Year’s Day (Feb 28); release of David Bowie’s commercially most successful studio album Let’s Dance (Apr 14); unveiling of Kiss’s faces without their make-up for the first time on MTV (Sep 18) – yes, I do seem to recall that seeing their actual faces was a pretty big deal at the time!; and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to top the Billboard 200 (Nov 26).

The biggest hit singles of the year: Karma Chameleon (Culture Club); Billie Jean (Michael Jackson); Flashdance…What A Feeling (Irene Cara); Let’s Dance (David Bowie) and Every Breath You Take (The Police). Did I have all these songs? You betcha – in fact, I still do, mostly somewhere on music cassettes! Here’s Billie Jean, written by the King of Pop himself, and released as the second single from the Thriller album in January 1983.

1984

Some of the happenings in the music world that year: Announcement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read of this refusal to play Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood due to its suggestive lyrics (Jan 11), a ban that was put in place by the entire BBC around the same time – in a clear illustration that something forbidden oftentimes tends to make it more attractive, only 10 days later, the tune stood a no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the UK; death of one of the greatest soul artists, Marvin Gaye, who following an argument was killed by his own father with a gun he had given to him as a Christmas present the previous year (Apr 1); release of Prince’s sixth studio album Purple Rain (Jun 25), the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name – one of his most successful records and the third-best-selling soundtrack album of all time, exceeding more than 25 million copies sold worldwide; and the first annual MTV Music Awards held in New York, where Madonna raised some eyebrows with a racy performance of Like A Virgin (Sep 14) – Madonna being controversial?

The biggest hit singles of 1984 were Careless Whisper (George Michael), I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham!), Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) and Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Since I was a good boy and never listened to Relax and Like A Virgin, here’s a clip of Borderline, a song from Madonna’s debut record. On a more serious note, the tune that was written by producer Reggie Lucas still is one of my favorite Madonna songs. It became the album’s fifth and last single released in February 1984, peaking at no. 2 in the U.K. and reaching no. 10 in the U.S., less successful than the scandalous Like A Virgin!

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the period from 1985 to 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Sting

Sting is an artist I’ve admired for a long time, both as a songwriter and a musician. The idea to put together a playlist of some of his songs came to me the other day when I was exchanging emails with a friend who is fond of Sting as well. BTW, he’s also a gifted vocalist and musician who does an outstanding job capturing the voice of Donald Fagen and on top also writes his own music. I’m sure I’ll have to say more about him when the time is right.

Back to Sting whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner – I suppose it’s obvious why he adopted a different stage name! Sting was born on October 2, 1951 in Wallsend, a small town in northeastern England with a history of shipbuilding. This would later inspire The Last Ship, a Broadway show for which Sting wrote the music and the lyrics.

While Sting performed in various jazz bands on the side during his college years and while working as a teacher for a couple of years, his full-time professional music career didn’t start until January 1977, when he got together with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Henry Padovani to form The Police. In August 1977, Padovani was replaced by Andy Summers who initially had joined the band as a second guitarist.

The Police
The Police during a show in The Netherlands in 1983. From left to right: Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers

The Police released their debut album Outlandos d’Amour in November 1978. They had financed the recording with £1,500 borrowed from Copeland’s brother Miles. While initially it performed poorly, the record ended up selling more than a million copies in the U.S. alone. The Police recorded four more albums before they disbanded in 1986. By that time, Sting had already released his first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which had appeared in June 1985.

As of November 2016, 11 additional solo studio records from Sting have appeared, apart from various live and compilation albums. A new record, which is a collaboration with Jamaican artist Orville Richard Burrell (known as Shaggy), is set to come out in April. Combining the solo albums with his Police recordings, Sting has sold over 200 million records, making him one of the most commercially successful music artists. Time for the playlist!

This compilation only focuses on Sting’s solo work. First up: Fortress Around Your Heart. Written by Sting, the tune is from The Dream of the Blue Turtles and became one of the album’s four hit singles. Here’s what appears to be a clip of the official video.

Fragile is one of most powerful Sting tunes Sting I know, in my opinion. It is from his second solo record …Nothing Like the Sun released in October 1987. According to Wikipedia, the song is a tribute to an American civil engineer, who was killed by anti-Communist para-military group the Contras in Nicaragua while working there on a hydroelectric project. Following is a clip of an emotional version Sting performed live on September 11, 2001 in Tuscany, Italy, to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Another Sting gem is the title track from his third studio record Soul Cages, which appeared in January 1991, following the death of his father in the late ’80s. The lyrics of the concept album focus on Sting’s relationship with his dad and how he felt after his old man had passed. Soul Cages also appeared separately as the album’s third single in April 1991.

Ten Summoner’s Tales is perhaps Sting’s Aja album. The relaxed and more upbeat songs stand in stark contrast to the introspective predecessor. To me the highlight of Sting’s fourth solo record from March 1993 is Fields of Gold, a timeless ballad that is just beautiful. Below is a really cool clip. I seem to hear slight deviations here and there from the version that is on the album. There also appears to be slightly more echo. It doesn’t matter, it’s a terrific take captured a beautifully shot video.

Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot became the lead single from Mercury Falling, Sting’s fifth solo record from March 1996. Like most of his tunes, it was entirely written by Sting. The song was about a sick friend with HIV/AIDS. “The first time he went to the hospital I visited him and I was really at a loss to know what to bring him,” Sting told Unmask Us. “I’d just read a book by a Buddhist monk…The premise of the book is that dying is a process that we all need to be training for in that we’re all dying whether we have AIDS or not. I thought that would be a good book to bring him and he loved the book and got a lot of pleasure from it.”

Sting’s sixth solo album Brand New Day from September 1999 became particularly known for its second single Desert Rose, a collaboration with Algerian folk singer Cheb Mami, and the title track, which earned Sting his third Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance. I’m more intrigued by Fill Her Up, a unexpected tune with a country flair, featuring James Taylor on vocals and acoustic guitar.

In September 2003, Sting released Sacred Love, his seventh studio album. At that point, he had largely been gone from my radar screen. On this record Sting demonstrated he is not afraid to experiment and explore new terrain, such as R&B and dance-oriented music, and collaborating with hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige and sitar player Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. While these collaborations demonstrate Sting’s versatility, I prefer This War, which has a nice rock flavor that’s more up my alley.

Starting with 2006’s Songs From The Labyrinth, which features lute music from English Renaissance composer John Dowland, through The Last Ship, the 2013 companion album to his musical with the same name, Sting had lost me completely. I was very encouraged when he released 57th & 9th, his first album in 13 years that is much closer to the Sting I’ve come to like. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised how rock-oriented this record is, which I previously reviewed here. Following is a clip of the opener and lead single I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a rocker with a catchy melody, which is a bit reminiscent of The Police.

Last but not least, here is a clip of Don’t Make Me Wait, the lead single from Sting’s above mentioned upcoming collaboration album with Shaggy, which is titled 44/876. The Caribbean-influenced record shows yet another side of Sting’s versatility. “The most important thing to me in any kind of music is surprise,” Sting told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “And everybody is surprised by this collaboration – by what they’re hearing. We’re surprising.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Unmask Us, Rolling Stone, You Tube