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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Surprising Foreign Language Covers by Original Artists

I've been a fan of foreign-language cover versions of popular songs ever since I was young and I heard Frank Sinatra's English-language cover "My Way." See what I did there! The original was performed in French by Claude Francois and was titled "Comme D'habitude." Its lyrics dealt not with the Chairman of the Board's lack of regrets but rather with the sad life of a man who has a series of one-night stands but is otherwise lonely (or a failing love affair but is still lonely - the French is a little confusing on this point, apparently because of multiple re-writes). Fun Fact: Though this song was translated as "My Way" for Sinatra by Paul Anka, the translation job was originally offered to a young David Bowie who in 1973 partially based "Life on Mars" on its melody.

Anyway, I mostly just want to post links to foreign language covers of pop and a couple indie rock songs covered by the original artists. I don't want to tread through the history of this trend, but suffice it to say record companies from as early as the jazz era were aware of the fact that people in other countries wanted to hear songs in their own languages and thus was born the foreign language cover. Usually an enterprising musician in a particular country would hear a song in the original (often but not necessarily in English) and then cover it in his mother tongue, resulting in radio airplay. This trend was strengthened in the post-War era when national governments (particularly Continental European ones) felt they were being colonized by American popular culture and required that radio stations play a certain percentage of songs in the vernacular of the country. Really smart record companies realized they were losing revenue to competing cover artists - who in some cases completely failed to pay royalties - and convinced musicians to record in other languages particularly in countries where the musician had a strong fan base. Thus, for example, the Beatles' "Sie Liebt Dich" (She Loves You) and "Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand (I Want to Hold Your Hand). The trend was particularly strong in the 1960s among European artists. It was almost a guaranteed thing that French or Italian artists with a popular song would re-record it in the other language. France's Johnny Hallyday owes his entire early career to re-recordings of American pop music. Alright, enough exposition...

Links - in no particular order! (and I don't mean left in German):

David Bowie - Heroes (French)
David Bowie - Heroes (German)
David Bowie - Love You 'Til Tuesday (German)
David Bowie - Space Oddity (Italian)
David Bowie - Seven Years in Tibet (Mandarin) (Don't know the song, but hey, David Bowie singing in Mandarin - also he sings a song "Girls" in Japanese)

Blondie - Sunday Girl (French)
Blondie - Call Me (Spanish)

Toni Basil - Mickey (Spanish)

Bad Religion - Punk Rock Song (German)

They Might Be Giants - Number Three (Greek)

Sheena Easton - Telephone (Spanish)

Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend (Japanese)
- This song is also available in French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish versions but you can do your own damn research on YouTube! Japanese was just the most surprising in my opinion. The most strained versions are the ones in Mandarin and Portuguese. Also, if you think Pop Punk's ex-Princess was the only one in her genre to succomb to this trend, you're wrong.

Timbaland - The Way You Are (French)
- Sadly, Timbaland's part isn't in French, just the hook. Also, a pretty hilarious bad-dub Polish version is out there. Guaranteed that's not Tim.

The Beach Boys - In My Room (German)

The Beach Boys - Kokomo (Spanish)

Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire (Spanish)
Johnny Cash - Walk the Line (German)

Dusty Springfield - I Only Want to Be With You (German)

Dusty Springfield - Wishing and Hoping (German) (Italian)

Leslie Gore - You Don't Own Me (French). Also available in Italian.

Petula Clark - Downtown (Italian) (I kind of prefer this version for some reason) Also, I Will Follow Him in Italian.

The Carpenters - Sing (Japanese)

Michael Jackson - Just Can't Stop Loving You (French). Also, Spanish.

Manowar - Father (Turkish and um... Bulgarian). Not surprising their music is bigger everywhere but the U.S. so this song and others are available in like 12 languages.

Eamon - Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back) (Italian)

Kraftwerk - Pocket Calculator (Italian and French)

Paul Anka - Diana (Italian)

Scorpions - Winds of Change (Russian, natch, but also Spanish - hey why not!)

Bon Jovi - Bed of Roses (Spanish)

Abba - Dancing Queen (Spanish). I won't bother linking to all the ABBA covers, they were masters of this art form, as arguably their entire first album was re-recorded into English from Swedish for mainstream success. They had no problem doing this for Spanish, French, and German versions later. Might I also recommend Fernando in perhaps more appropriate Spanish-language form.

Spice Girls - 2 Become 1 (Spanish). I expected a lot more from them since they were clearly manufactured for maximum international cross-over appeal, but whatever.

America - Sister Golden Hair (Spanish). The video makes it seem fake, but here's proof it's real!

Christina Aguilera - What a Girl Wants (Spanish)

'N Sync - Gone (Spanish)

Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive (Spanish). Again, don't believe me? Here.

Beyonce - If I Were a Boy (Spanish)

The Police - De Do Do Do (Spanish)
Oh, and in Japanese!

Beck - Jackass (Spanish and in a more Mariachi style)

Any interesting versions I'm missing? Allow me to re-iterate the rules here. These are covers in other languages by the original artist, not by cover artists from other countries. This German language cover of The Whisper Song, sadly, does not count, but this official German remix of Akon's Locked Up does.


Dreamer said...

Thank you! This is just what I'd been looking for.

musixamo said...

Cool! I love foreign language cover songs. This list is pretty good. You might add Barry White's "Ella is Todo Para Mi" (His cover of "You are Everything to Me.") Also, David Lee Roth covered his entire album Eat'em and Smile album in Spanish. It's called Sonrisa Salvaje, and its so campy bad its good. has a bunch of other Spanish language cover songs of American pop songs.