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The History of German Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (1/28/13)


Historically, Germany's musical output has been noted for classical geniuses like Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as well as contemporary electronic music innovators such as Kraftwerk. Mozart came from Austria, which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire, but is credited as a developer of German opera. Other historic composers from Germany include Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. These composers have had an everlasting influence on German musicians. Other traditions that shaped the heritage of popular German music were Bavarian folk, polka and waltzes. One of the musical instruments that originated in Germany was the clarinet, invented by Johann Christoph Denner in the late 17th century.

By the 1920s Germany was influenced by American jazz, particularly big band swing music. Cabaret nightclub music echoed roaring twenties youth culture. Top cabaret artists of the period included Marlene Dietrich and Margo Lion. The Nazi regime that gained power in the decade that followed restricted such youthful music that expressed sexual liberation, which was considered a result of American influence. An important technological development from Germany leading up to World War II that later influenced the recording industry on a global scale was the introduction of magnetic tape by BASF. The first tape recorder was called the Magnetophon, unveiled in 1935 at the Radio Exhibition in Berlin. Hitler used the medium to distribute his propaganda since reel to reel tapes had much longer playing time than 78 rpm records.

After the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945 and the country was divided, pop music from West Germany developed into several genres while East Germany had less impact on the international music scene. In the 1950s while American kids danced to rock and roll, German schlager artists covered popular American hits in a sweeter melodic style. Some of the Germany's popular schlager acts of the period included Lale Anderson, Ivo Robic and Morgot Eskens. This musical style continued to be popular through the sixties with artists such as Cornelia Froboess, Peter Alexander and Roy Black.

Starting in 1959 a German magazine called Der Musikmarkt began publishing charts of the nation's most popular recordings. Eventually the magazine selected Media Control GfK International as its source form music charts. The very first number one song on the German chart in 1959 was "Die Gitarre Und Das Meer" by Freddie Quinn, who had another chart topper later in the year called "Unter Fremden Sternen." Quinn continued to have hits in the sixties. The first American artist to top the German charts was Bryan Hyland with "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" in 1960. Several American acts recorded their hits in German throughout the sixties, such as Petula Clark, Connie Francis and Johnny Tillotson. The Singing Nun from nearby Belgium had a worldwide hit in 1963 called "Dominique" that was sung in French, but she also recorded a German version.

As the Beatles from England became internationally popular in 1964, they recorded a few of their hits in German and were listed on the Swan label as Die Beatles. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" became "Komm Gib Mir Diene Hand" while "She Loves You" translated into "She Lieb Dich." The songs were translated by German television host and musician Camillo Felgen (billed as Jean Nicolas), who trained the Beatles to sing the songs in German. The songs were release on opposite sides of the same 45 rpm single but had minimal impact on charts around the world, except in Germany where it hit number one. From that point on songs by the Beatles sung in English did well on the German charts, which began to frequently reflect the hits of the US and UK.

In the late sixties and early seventies American psychedelic rock began to infiltrate Germany, influencing a new electronic sound known as krautrock, which also drew from classical music. Early artists who experimented with this sound included Embryo, Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Kraftwerk. Elements of this sound later helped inspire new age music. The German pop music of the seventies continued to feature a mix of hits sung in German and English. Some of the artists with German titles included Bernd Cluver, Michael Holm, Jurgen Drews, Vader Abraham and Peter Maffay. Disco act Boney M from West Germany became one of the nation's biggest selling artists of the decade. Silver Convention from Munich helped usher in the disco era with their hits "Fly, Robin, Fly" and "Get Up and Boogie."

The global influence of Kraftwerk was profound. Some music historians argue that no other artist had a bigger impact on the development of electronic dance music. The title track from their album Autobahn was a hit in 1974, accelerating the direction of mainly electronic-based instruments in pop music. Their use of the Minimoog synthesizer gave them a fresh futuristic sound and became the seminal starting point of what came to be known as techno music. Most of the music was electronic, including percussion, but they did still incorporate the flute. Subsequent hits moved more toward pure techno pop such as "Trans-Europe Express," "Computer Love," "The Model" and "Tour de France." These hits helped pave the way for house and trip hop.

The success of Kraftwerk not only opened up a new powerful dance genre, it gave attention to the nation as the a hotbed for innovative talent. Germany's version of electronic new wave music was called "Neue Deutsche Well." In the eighties Falco from Austria scored big hits sung in German such as "Der Kommissar" and "Rock Me Amadeus" then Nena had a double sided worldwide hit, "99 Luftballoons," in which the A-side was sung in German and the B-side was sung in English as "99 Red Balloons." The song had mind-opening lyrics that painted the picture of a nuclear war aftermath. Another enormously successful act from Germany in the eighties then nineties was the hard rock band The Scorpions. Their big hits included "Rock You Like a Hurricane," "No One Like You" and "Wind of Change."

The nineties was a decade in which electronic pop and dance music around the world was noticeably influenced by German artists such as LaBouche, Haddaway, Snap, Real McCoy and Culture Beat and industrial bands Die Krupps and KMFDM, who all had huge club hits. The biggest hits of this scene that impacted the world included "Be My Lover" and "Sweet Dreams" by LaBouche and "What Is Love" by Haddaway. Paul Van Dyk also became big with his mix of house and trance music. His popularity grew in the 2000s as he emerged as a leading producer of electronic dance music and an outspoken advocate for peace and helping economically disadvantaged people. The instrumental new age band Mannheim Steamroller is from America but gets its name from a German musical expression. In 2011 Germany ranked number 3 in music sales around the world, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

See also:

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