Invasion of the The Melody Snatchers

As introduction to this special multi-cultural socio-legal episode of Sunday music blogging, the YouTube intro composed by "dionnewarpig" should do nicely:

Here is a 1969/70 video of Cindy & Bert doing "Der Hun [sic!!] Von Baskerville"- a brilliant cover of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" apparently with lyrics relating Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hounds of Baskerville. Features a bored looking Cindy and Bert, some bored looking German mod dancers and an extremeley bored looking pekingese.

I would add only that dionnewarpig is obviously not skilled at detecting excitement in Germans (which can sometimes require careful observation). Without further throat-clearing, roll the clip [h/t JR]:

This video raises another interesting question: did Black Sabbath actually get paid for the use of the melody from 'Paranoia' used in this song? If you listen to German Schlager from the 1960s to 1980s, you constantly encounter songs in which the German song's melody and rhythm are exactly the same as some English or American pop hit on the order of Do You Know the Way to San Jose? or Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head. However, the lyrics are generally completely different in German — that is, there's been no attempt to translate the English-language original. Generally, there's no acknowledgement on the record packaging that the melody and rhythm aren't original (although that may be because I am buying ultra-cheap compilations from the grocery store).

This makes me wonder whether German record companies were routinely stealing melodies and rhythms from English and American pop music, sticking new lyrics on them, and reaping fat profits. The German record companies probably thought to themselves: "The sort of Germans who listen to this music are unlikely to care where these somehow-familiar melodies originated. And the likelihood that the Western pop stars and record companies who own the copyright to these melodies and lyrics are going to realize what we've done is probably minimal. How much time does Glen Campbell spend listening to German mass-market Schlager?"

Now, perhaps all of this was done completely legally, either on a song-by-song basis or by some large-scale licensing deal. But if it wasn't, then there might be some lucrative lawsuits out there waiting to be filed. As George Harrison and Rod Stewart found out the hard way, riffs and melodies are copyrightable intellectual property… 

5 thoughts on “Invasion of the The Melody Snatchers

  1. I cannot imagine this was done illegally. In the 60s, record companies still routinely tried to produce German versions of international hits, preferrably with the original artists. If I am not totally mistaken my older sister even had recordings of Beatles songs in German, done by the Beatles themselves … ah, not mistaken, just found it on the net: The Beatles did two songs in German, “Sie liebt Dich” und “Komm gib mir Deine Hand”.

    See also here:
    Why did the Beatles, however reluctantly, agree to record in German? Today such an idea seems laughable, but in the 1960s many American and British recording artists, including Connie Francis and Johnny Cash, made German versions of their hits for the European market. The German division of EMI/Electrola felt that the only way the Beatles could sell records in the German market was if they made German versions of their songs.

    So I could imagine they did German cover versions when they couldn’t get the original artists to record in German.

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  2. At that time (70s), it was often more favorable to market a successful pop song (in particular from a US or UK singer quite unknown in Germany) in a German version by a well-known German Schlagersänger.
    “Ein Bett im Kornfeld”, “Wann wirds mal wieder richtig Sommer”, and “Am Tag als Conny Kramer starb” are some very successful examples.

    de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coverversion gives more examples (but the article is of middling quality)

    The whole shebang was arranged, of course. I assume that international record companies checked the portfolio of their German subsidiary to find an adequate singer.

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  3. This brings to mind, too, the German Monty Python shows. Except for the Philosoper’s soccer match, they are not often seen outside the compilation DVDs.
    I can’t think that Python humor translates well.

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  4. Surprisingly Monty Python humor works very well in german. I never fully understood why most english humor doesn’t survive the translation while Monty Python is still funny as hell in german but that’s how it is.

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