Usually I’m a language snob with the thought that an artist is best heard in their native language. Can you think back 30 years to how beguiling Nena’s “99 Luftbaloons” sounded the first 200 times you heard it? But suits at CBS decreed that there had to be an English translation of it and since then we’ve had to endure “99 Red Balloons” when exercising at the gym. The extended version of that, adding insult to injury. Kraftwerk? My copy is “Trans-Europa Express,” pilgrim. In their native German, the group attain a placidity not equalled by their English translations. But I can definitely think of one instance where I’d prefer the English language version of a song originally in German.
I was an admirer, more than a fan of the extroverted Nina Hagen for a few years. I’d first heard her on the Dutch CBS compilation “Steppin’ Into The 80s” [memo to self: blog on this fine record!] with the excellent cut “Auf’m Rummel” and immediately became enamored of her hyperkinetic style. Over the initial years, I bought the occasional record, but when they began to see release on CD, I became more focused on her spirited output.
In 1985, I saw the video for her single “Universal Radio;” probably on Night Flight since MTV rarely gave her time time of day. The clip was a live shot of her performing the song at the insanely huge first Rock In Rio concert for an audience of what looked like 100K Brazilians. Word has it she performed there gratis since she approached the promoters wanting to sing on her own. The soundtrack to the live clip was the studio track. I hate that, but there you are. Nevertheless, the song was a corker, with a typically spirited vocal performance from the shy, retiring Ms. Hagen. I bought the 12″ single of the cut but waited on the album, known as “Nina Hagen In Ekstacy” in The States.
<flash forward three years> In 1988 a friend wanted to take a road trip to Tampa to buy some music. We took in Vinyl Fever and lo and behold in the racks, I saw the CD whose cover booklet adorns this posting. I saw that it was the German language version of the album, but that presented no barriers to my enjoyment. I was just glad to finally have and hear the album… until I put on the first track. While the English version was full of the guttural growls and operatic highs that La Hagen is known and loved for, she actually sounded meek and restrained on the German language version of the same track in comparison to the unfettered and full-bodied English version! I was somewhat shocked to hear how the performance in her native language actually stripped the song of its unique power and verve.
The rest of the album sounded fine to me, though I’ve never heard the English language to compare the two fully. But every time I play “Universalles Radio” I’m reminded how much more I enjoy the cut in English instead. Are there any other ESL original language versions that your ears prefer?
– 30 –