Almost everybody knows that the Beatles cut German-language versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand” and “Sie Liebt Dich” were recorded on the same day in January 1964, while the band was in Paris. At the time, record labels believed that German listeners would resist English-language recordings, so EMI hired a producer from Radio Luxembourg to translate the songs to German, and the Beatles learned them phonetically.
In my music stash, I have an album that is tagged Motown in a Foreign Language, although there’s no official Motown release by that name. A CD called Motown Around the World was released in 1987, collecting versions of various Motown hits in French, German, Spanish, and Italian. My guess is that Berry Gordy believed, like the suits at EMI, that listeners in Europe would be more likely to buy Motown product if it were in their native languages. Like the Beatles, the Motown artists cut translated lyrics over the original instrumental tracks, which didn’t always result in a perfect match. And for what it’s worth, Stevie Wonder’s Italian is apparently perfect, but the average Italian would have trouble understanding Diana Ross. (The mighty power of Levi Stubbs is obvious in any language.) Motown was recording foreign-language versions of hits as late as 1981, when Smokey Robinson cut a Spanish version of “Being With You.”
Also recording in foreign languages were Petula Clark, who cut “Downtown” in French, Italian, and German, and Little Peggy March, who recorded “I Will Follow Him” in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, and Japanese, although both “Downtown” and “I Will Follow Him” retain their English titles. One of the unlikeliest instances came in 1971 when Chicago cut versions of “Questions 67 and 68” and “Lowdown” in Japanese. They were released as singles over there, and the band performed them on tours of Japan in 1972, 1995, and 2008.
If you know any other foreign-language versions of hit songs by their original performers, tell the whole class in the comments.
Linkage: We dig one-hit wonders around here, and so does One Poor Correspondent. Davewillieradio has news that Larry Lujack is returning to radio—maybe even to a station near you. Addicted to Vinyl remembers the early days of music video on TV. And at Popdose, Jason attacks the chart from this week in 1978. Also please notice that I have moved the blogroll, which used to appear on the right-hand side of this page, to its own separate page, also called “Linkage.” Find the tab for it at the top of this page.