Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Blondie Goes to Bitburg

When, in 1976, Debbie Harry and Blondie hit New York's CBGB's with their kick-in-the-butt style of rock 'n' roll which combined melody with purpose and was heavily indebted to 50s kitsch and 60s girl groups, they were considered the epitomy of the evolving New York punk scene. Logically, German Schlager producers wasted little time and chose some of the nicest and plainest songstresses around to cover the band's hit singles.

Having presented her scrubbed-clean self and classically-trained voice on several TV talent shows, Austrian-born Elfi Graf (aka Elfriede Sepp) had a smash hit in 1973 with the terribly slushy "Herzen haben keine Fenster" (Hearts Don't Have Windows) which she used to belt out wearing printed floor-length skirts and frilly blouses. And although she bravely continued to record, she never really managed to repeat the success of her first single. So, in 1979, her producer, Peter Orloff, decided that she desperately needed to change her image and tried to reinvent her as some sort of suburban disco queen by letting her record a good, clean and wholesome cover of "Sunday Girl". To little avail; the single never made it into the higher regions of the German charts and was soon forgotten - just like Graf herself, who virtually disappeared for almost fifteen years until she re-emerged in the early 90s, this time doing horrible folk-style Schlager.

Berlin betty Marianne Rosenberg started her career in 1969, aged 14, with a bestselling single called a) Mr. John Lennon, b) Mr. Ringo Starr, c) Mr. Paul McCartney, or d) Mr. George Harrison? (Authentic 8000 € question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? a while ago; the contestant was at quite a loss. Well, the correct answer is c.) She went on to become one of the most successful German singers of the 70s, churning out hit after hit, and must indeed be credited for having irrigated the barren, oompah-ridden wasteland of German Schlager with a healthy helping of Phillysound when she recorded "Er gehört zu mir " (He's Part of Me), the first in a series of contagiously danceable - and painfully melodramatic - singles, in 1975. Which is probably why her producers thought she was predestined to do a cover of Blondie's 1979 chart topper "Heart of Glass". Unfortunately, the record sounds a little thin compared to Mike Chapman's skilfully fattened production, and while her voice certainly has the right timbre, it's just a tad too flimsy to carry the tune. It didn't do any harm to her career, though, which continues to this day. Rosenberg is literally being worshipped, mainly on the gay circuit. She’s still making records (terrible stuff), has her own radio show, occasionally appears on the musical stage and has recently written her memoirs.

Rudolf Rock & die Schocker were (and still are) a revivalist rock 'n' roll band from Hamburg with a varying line-up, mainly consisting of renegade members of other German bands like the Rattles, Atlantis and Randy Pie. They specialize in playing (mostly German-language) covers of R&R classics. Their version of "Denis" is by far the best of the lot, and although Ingeburg Thomsen has a slight problem with the lyrics (she keeps singing "Denise" as if the boy she's got the hots for were a girl) and definitely favors a more hands-on, blue-denim approach to the song, she manages to pull it off in a fairly decent manner.