Bands in translation

Speaking of translations — after Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision contest in 1967 with Puppet on a String, she went on to record it in God knows how many languages. Actually, French, Italian, German and Spanish, if Wikipedia is to be trusted. The number ended up covered in 30 languages, including Chinese and Tamil.

Two years early, France Gall (representing Luxembourg) triumphed at the Eurovision with another doll song, Poupée de cire, poupée de son (Wax Doll, Rag Doll). Underneath the annoying baby-pop surface, it was probably a pretty sophisticated ditty, as you would expect from a creation of Serge Gainsbourg. It wasn’t quite right for the 16-year-old singer, however, even though France Gall was not some provincial ingénue.

(I can’t stand those Gainsbourg songs, frankly, except Laisse tomber les filles, especially the cover by Les Tueurs de la lune du miel, the Belgian band mentioned in this post.)

Poupée de cire ended up recorded in every marketable dialect imaginable and then some, with Gall herself performing in four languages, including Japanese. In the late 1960s, with an abrupt change in the musical tastes at home, she started singing in German and charted well in those parts of Europe. It is said she sang with a strong French accent, but the songs – it’s only my impression, of course – had enough of that inimitable Schlager schmaltziness to qualify as German pop. My ears withered with embarrassment when I heard her first German hit, Zwei Apfelsinen im Haar.

Obviously, it’s a cover of A Banda, the classic song by Chico Buarque de Hollanda, the great Brazilian songwriter. (Granted, he wasn’t yet recognized as a great in 1966 but his family name already commanded respect in certain circles: in the 1930s, his father Sergio had published The Roots of Brazil, a monumental study of Brazil’s culture and history.) The Portuguese lyrics got erased and replaced with an unrelated German text, of which the less the better. The song became a Schlager. One good thing came of it though, the DDR version: “Two pinapples per year and, if you’re lucky, a banana.”

On the other hand, when Gall covered another piece from Brazil in 1973, in French, she did justice to the original. More later.

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