Enjoying Bad Music with the Rockin' Son of Dschinghis Khan

So the other day, while cleaning the house, I had this urge to listen to bad German pop music. Yes, that's right. Bad German pop music. If you thought the music of the '80s was bad in the United States, you ain't heard nothing yet. Few things surpass the unintended hilarity of German popular songs of the 1980s, the so-called "Neue Deutsche Welle" (New German Wave). Unfortunately, at the time, I wasn't alone in the house. My partner was home, and if there's one thing he lacks appreciation for, it's bad music. "If it's bad," he asks - not unreasonably, I must admit - "then why do you want to listen to it?" How to explain?

Well, I like bad music.

Yes, I have a thing for overly sincere and utterly saccharine, unintentionally funny songs like those of my youth here in the States. Whether it's the Cutting Crew mourning that "(I Just) Died in your arms tonight" (why the parenthesis?), Corey Hart proclaiming that he will "Never Surrender," or a-ha hoping, against all the rules of grammar, that you'll "Take on me," there's something about it that entertains me. (There are also some genuinely good songs from that time period, like Frankie Goes To Hollywood's masturbation anthem "Relax," but those aren't the point here.) Granted, I have to be in the mood for it; if I'm hoping to hear Tom Waits or R.L. Burnside, the Flashdance soundtrack will not exactly make me happy. But there are times when I'm really in the mood to listen to what I can only say is bad music.

"Hey," I said to him, "Mind if I listen to some music while we clean?"

"Sure, go ahead," he said.

Since I feel that trust is important in a relationship and I also feel that popping in German pop music without warning might just be a breach of that trust, I thought I should ask. "Even if it's bad music?"

"What do you mean by 'bad music'?"

"Well, um, how about my German stuff?"

I must've softened him up by talking, a day or two earlier, about how I really missed my friends in Berlin. "Sure," he said, in what can only qualify as an unmistakable demonstration of his willingness to suffer for true love.

You see, neither Duran Duran nor Mister Mister can hold a candle to German pop music in terms of lyrics and musical lack-of-genius. Perhaps the best example, if you're trying to understand what I'm talking about here, is one of my personal favorites, a group named Dschinghis Khan.

Picture of the rock group Dschinghis Khan - not a link
And you thought Madonna and Pat Benatar dressed badly in the '80s? The lads and lasses of Dschinghis Khan.

In case you're wondering, "Dschinghis Khan" is German for Genghis Khan, and naming your musical group after a medieval Mongolian warlord promises something, but I'm not quite sure what. They're a little like a lovechild of Abba and the Village People (the Village People's outfits worn with Abba's sincerity), but there's really nothing in the history of English-language pop music to compare to their monumental lyrics. They sing songs about ancient history ("Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu, where the secrets are at home"), anthems to various cities (Rome ("Romulus and Remus the two brothers, raised among the wolves like no others") and Moscow ("Moscow, Moscow, throw the glasses at the wall and good fortune to us all, ah ha ha ha ha, HA!")) and contemporary explorers ("Thor, Thor He-ey-yerdahl…"), and one doozy from the perspective of Genghis Khan's son, who, and I quote, "wants to drum and sing-oh, just like his idol Ringo" because he's "a rocker and a roller [he's] a rockin' man," which of course causes dramatic family conflict since his father wants him to be the leader of the Mongols and not the drummer for a boy band. An even more dramatic drum-solo follows, by which the rockin' son of Genghis Khan hopes to convince his father that rockin' and rollin' is a noble profession. It says quite a bit about the band that said drum solo appears to consist wholly of someone having pushed a rhythm button on the synthesizer. Apparently synthesizers were still pretty impressive in the thirteenth century, though, because the song ends with Genghis's heartwarming assertion that "You're a rocker, you're a roller, you're a rocking man, and you are my favourite son." Awwww.

Admittedly, not all German pop music is quite at that level. And certainly not all of it takes itself as seriously as does Dschinghis Khan. Occasionally, there are even songs of true quality. But overall, well, you get the idea. They like to drum and sing-oh, and it ain't always pretty.

But when I get in the mood, that's what I want to hear. Because it's utterly silly, and probably more importantly, it reminds me of my wonderful and utterly silly friends in Berlin who introduced me to this stuff in the first place. Unlike the English-language songs of the '80s, my liking for this stuff doesn't stem from a nostalgia for a time before I had developed a critical, discerning taste for music, before I liked that music in an ironic way. When I first heard the German music, it was already ironic - nobody took it seriously, but it was campy and everyone liked it and could sing along with all the words. And so it's a different kind of nostalgia, but what it boils down to is I still enjoy the music, and sometimes I just have to throw it on the stereo and sing along. And it is to my partner's everlasting credit that he can sit through some of this and even smile. But it's also a good thing he's learned to deal with it. Because some things will never change.

And because I'm the rockin' son of Dschinghis Khan. Hoo. Ha. Hoo ha hoo!

 

"Moscow" by Dschinghis Khan

The German version of this was released in 1979, the English version in 1980. I'm not sure what kind of drugs they were on to assume that the language was the only barrier to making even an apolitical celebration of Moscow a hit in Ronald Reagan's USA, but here it is...

Moscow
Queen of the russian land
Built like a rock to stand
Proud and divine
Moscow
Your golden towers glow
Even through ice and snow
sparkling they shine

And every night night night there is music
Oh every night night night there is love
And every night night night there is laughter
Here's to you brother, hey, brother, ho!
Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Moscow, Moscow, throw your glasses at the wall
And good fortune to us all,
A ha ha ha ha - ha!
Moscow, Moscow, join us for a kazadchok
We'll go dancing round the clock
A ha ha ha ha - hey!

Moscow Moscow drinking vodka all night long
Keeps you happy, makes you strong,
A ha ha ha ha - ha!
Moscow Moscow come and have a drink and then
you will never leave again, a ha ha ha ha ha!

Moscow
City of mystery
So full of history
Noble and old
Mo-Mo-Mo-Mo-Mo-Mo-Mo-Moscow
There is a burning fire
That never will expire
Deep in your soul

And every night night night [etc...]
Here's to you sister, hey, sister, ho
Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Moscow, Moscow, throw your glasses [etc...]
Moscow, Moscow, join us for a kazadchok [etc...]
Moscow, la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la
oh ho ho ho ho ho - hey!
Moscow, la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la
a ha ha ha ha!

Moscow, Moscow, throw your glasses [etc...]
Moscow, Moscow, join us for a kazadchok [etc...]
Oooooooo, ooooooooo, ooooooo, ooooooo....

Moscow! Moscow!

[The following sung by a very deep voiced male choir]
Moscow Moscow take Natasha in your hand
You'll be dazzled by her charms
oh ho ho ho ho ho!

Moscow Moscow she will make you understand
Russia is a wondrous land
ah ha ha ha ha!
[end of male choir singing]

[this line whispered by female voices:] Moscow! Moscow!

And every night night night there is music
Oh every night night night there is love
And every night night night there is laughter
Here's to you, brother, hey, brother, ho!
Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Moscow, Moscow, throw your glasses at the wall
And good fortune to us all,
A ha ha ha ha - ha!
Moscow, Moscow, join us for a kazadchok
We'll go dancing round the clock
A ha ha ha ha - hey!

Moscow moscow drinking vodka all night long
Keeps you happy, makes you strong,
A ha ha ha ha - ha!
Moscow moscow come and have a drink and then
you will never leave again, a ha ha ha ha ha - HEY!

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April 3, 2002

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