Ask "Mr. Music" March 22, 2010
"Foreign language hit songs in the U.S."
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Ask "Mr. Music" "Jerry Osborne"
March 22, 2010 - "Foreign language hit songs in the U.S."
DEAR JERRY: From a book at the library I made a list of 20 hit songs with foreign language titles, all of which were popular long before I was born.
Since you are probably familiar with them, will you tell me which ones are sung entirely in another language, which ones are either partly foreign, and which are really in English but just have a foreign title?
- Gina Lanza, Milwaukee
Here then is your newly-alphabetized list, with the performers commonly associated with each song, and a comment about the language.
"Al Di La": Emilio Pericoli's Top 10 hit is all Italian; Connie Francis provides one verse in English; and, except for the title, the Ray Charles Singers' version is all English.
"Allez-Vous-En": Kay Starr sings a few lines in French, but most of this tune is in English.
"Chanson D'Amour": By Art & Dotty Todd, mostly in English but with a sprinkling of French here and there.
"Chantez Chantez": Dinah Shore serves up "a little Paris song," but with only a few words in Francais.
"Danke Schoen": Other than the German title, and one "auf wiederseh'n," Wayne Newton's signature song is alle Englisch.
"Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup": Though Nat King Cole opines "wish my French were good enough," he effectively adds several French phrases to what is mostly an English number.
"Dominique": The Singing Nun (Sister Luc Gabriel), from the French-speaking area of Belgium, sings in French from start to finish (but not Finnish). A No. 1 hit in many countries, including the U.S.
"Enamorado": Washingtonian Keith Colley spoke no Spanish, yet learned enough to convincingly sing this Mexican doo-wop classic entirely in Spanish.
"Guantanamera": From the Sandpipers, this beauty is all in Spanish, except for a brief English narrative-translation.
"Innamorata": For both Dean Martin and Jerry Vale, this is just an English tune with an Italian title.
"Je T'Aime & Moi Non Plus": Once Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg turn up the heat, it's probably just as well all the play-by-play is called in French.
"La Bamba": All of the hit versions (Ritchie Valens; Tokens; Trini Lopez; Los Lobos) are completely in Spanish, though the lyrics do often vary. The 1987 Los Lobos effort reached No. 1.
"Mala Femmena": As with her treatment of "Al Di La," Connie Francis provides a token verse in English. The rest is Italian.
"Malaguena": A Spanish classic from Connie Francis, totally en Espanol.
"Mas Que Nada": By Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, this is the only tune on the list in Portuguese, or more specifically it's Brazilian Portuguese. No English heard here.
"Morgen": Sung entirely in German by Yugoslav-born Ivo Robic and the Song Masters. "Morgen" is mornin', our abbreviated a.m. greeting. Interestingly, Robic's follow-up, and only other U.S. hit, "The Happy Muleteer," is in English.
"Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)": Using that title, Domenico Modugno took the tune to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1958, in Italian of course. Dean Martin did nearly as well with Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu), using equal parts English and Italian. In 1960, Bobby Rydell's mostly-English "Volare" (translation: fly) soared into the Top 5.
"Shina No Yoru (China Nights)": Kyu Sakamoto's follow-up to "Sukiyaki," listed first only because they are alphabetical, is all in Japanese. You'd almost think Kyu's singing "she ain't got no yo-yo."
"Sukiyaki": Recorded in Japan, in Japanese, by Kyu Sakamoto, and a No. 1 hit on three continents. Strangely, the song has nothing whatsoever to do with "Sukiyaki." The word is not even used in the lyrics, but the powers that be felt the true title, "Ue O Muite Aruku," would be too difficult for non-Japanese dee jays to pronounce. They picked "Sukiyaki" for its familiarity factor. The tune could just as easily have been titled "Sushi."
"Senza Fine": Another from Dino's old country songbook, though everything but the Italian title is in English.
IZ ZAT SO?
Not only did The Singing Nun and Kyu Sakamoto both have No. 1 foreign language hits in 1963, about five months apart, they both died in 1985, also about five months apart.
The Singing Nun took her own life March 31, 1985, and Kyu Sakamoto died Aug 12, 1985 - one of 520 killed in the deadliest airline crash in history.
About 45 minutes after takeoff in Tokyo, Japan Airlines Flight 123 descended uncontrollably into a ridge near Mount Osutaka.
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