With over 100 million albums sold worldwide, it can safely be said that Scorpions (there’s no ‘The’; it’s just ‘Scorpions’) are the most successful hard rock/metal band to have ever originated from Continental Europe. Why is this geographic distinction important? That the Scorps hail from Germany is interesting because English is NOT the native language spoken in that country. Critical to the band’s massive international success is the fact that all of their lyrics are sung in English. The only other non-anglophone group to have had that kind of global impact has to be Abba (360m sold), whose records are also sung in English. Would either band have had such massive international success if they delivered their lyrics in their native languages? Doubtful. Let’s face it: English is the globally accepted language of Rock and Roll.
Scorpions learned the language or Rock early on; not just English but all of the useful signifiers and tropes of Western Hard Rock: cars, girls & R’n’R, along with a healthy dose of hippy-esque existential poetry for good measure. There were a few clunkers in the early-early days, with some lyrics obviously translated from the German and coming out more than a little wonky in English:
‘Test the mend, devil melt / Bloody money when it’s lent / Scum repair everywhere / They want money, oh’
Overall though, Scorpions had a pretty firm handle on English right out of the gate, which allowed the band to find early success outside of Germany (in Japan!), rub shoulders with UK greats like UFO, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest in Europe and the UK toward the end of the 70s, and then to break through commercially word-wide in the 80s. Their international success, as well as Metal’s resurgence with the NWOBHM in 79/80, opened the doors for bands from many other countries on the Continent and in Japan, including some that had been releasing records for years in their native languages. These younger European bands were watching the NWOBHM explode in the UK, and saw Great Britain as their target to expand their audience and made the necessary linguistic adjustments.
Spain’s Baron Rojo (‘Red Baron’ in English) had established themselves in their homeland with a Gold certification for their debut album ‘Larga vida al Rock and Roll’ (‘Long Live Rock and Roll’) before setting their sights on the UK. The Baron was apparently well-connected in Britain; second effort ‘Volumen Brutal’ was recorded at Ian Gillan’s Kingsway Studios in late 1981, and Gillan member Colin Townes contributed keyboards to the record. Vocals were recorded in both Spanish and English, and BR had some notable help in dealing with the language barrier; Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson is credited in the sleeves notes as having assisted with their English lyrics.
Baron Rojo’s UK connections created a sufficient buzz to land the band on the cover of Kerrang! magazine and garner them a slot on the 1981 Reading Festival, where they played 4th from the top on Night One under Budgie, Trust, and Praying Mantis. A NWOBHM-ish single, ‘Stand Up’ (the English version of album track ‘Resistere’) was released to the UK market. By all accounts, Baron Rojo sat poised on the brink of breakout success at the end of 1982… However, BR’s 3rd record, ‘Metalmorfosis’, while again recorded at Kingsway, featured Spanish lyrics. In fact, Baron Rojo would never revisit English again, and, predictably, would sink into obscurity immediately thereafter.
Did someone mention Trust? This French band’s potent NWOBHM-ready mix of Punk and Hard Rock had gotten their debut album noticed outside of France, French lyrics and all. An English language version of 2nd album ‘Repression’ was cut. But Trust’s volatile socio-political message (justice for the oppressed) hit hard enough to get several of their songs banned in France; such was the importance of Trust’s staunchly political lyrics that a genuine UK Punk Rocker was sought to interpret their lyrics for Anglo ears: Jimmy Pursey of Sham ’69. No stranger to political controversy, the Sham attracted a large skinhead following. Their concerts were plagued by violence, and the band stopped performing live after a 1979 concert at the Rainbow was broken up by white power skinheads fighting and rushing the stage.
Pursey translated ‘Repression’s lyrics, including ‘Antisocial’, which Anthrax covered to much acclaim years later utilizing Pursey’s lyrics. Ironically, the standout track from ‘Répression’ is ‘Le Mitard’, which was the only song not translated for the English version. It’s likely that Pursey found the song untranslatable, as it’s subject matter is uniquely French; some of the lyrics were taken from the memoirs of Jacques Mesrine, a career criminal who was controversially killed by French police in 1979. Trust’s next two albums, ‘Marche ou Creve’, and a self-titled 4th album, were both released in English language versions (‘Savage’ and ‘Man’s Trap’, respectively), but failed to catch fire outside of France; fifth and final album ‘Rock and Roll’ was sung mostly in French and released in Canada and France only.
Japan’s Loudness broke the language barrier in 1983, when they left their homeland for the first time to tour the US and Europe without ever having released an album outside of Japan. To prime foreign audiences for the tour, their single ‘Road Racer’ was released in those territories with English lyrics. The following year, the band once again headed to Europe, this time to record their 4th studio album, ‘Disillusion’, in 2 languages. Both versions of ‘Disillusion’ became the first Loudness album(s) released outside of Japan. Ironically, it was the version sung in the band’s native tongue that sold the most in the UK & Europe, and is considered by many to be the band’s best album.
In truth, the first three Loudness albums were sung in a style known as ‘Japanglish’; an mix of Japanese and English commonly used in Japanese entertainment and advertising, consisting mainly of Japanese interspersed with key English words and phrases. All song titles (and most choruses) were in in English, but verses were sung in Japanglish. After ‘Disillusion’, the next three Loudness records would be released as English-only throughout the world… Although, in an ironic twist, after the US success of their ‘Thunder in the East’ album, a backlash at home saw homegrown fans upset over the band’s apparent abandonment of Japan, and a Japanese-language version of seventh LP ‘Hurricane Eyes’ was hastily assembled and released there to appease an angry Japanese fan base.
But the most fascinating language barrier story brings us back to Germany and those Teutonic terrors, Accept. Accept followed the template set by Scorpions, with all of their lyrics sung in English. The band’s early material is rife with awkward, poorly translated lines and phrases that hinted at a willingness to provoke the listener with vulgarity/profanity… ‘Take Him In My Heart’, from the band’s 1979 debut tells the story of a beautiful young girl who decides it’s time to lose her virginity:
“One morning she was feeling bad and didn’t go to school She went to town to find a man who fucks her very cool”
Another track from the album, ‘Glad to be Alone’, starts off with the line ‘I don’t like your fucked up bunch’. Is this clumsy translation or something more? Then there’s Accept’s third album ‘Breaker’, and the infamous ‘Son of a Bitch’:
“Son of a bitch/Kiss my ass/Son of a bitch Son of a bitch/You asshole/Son of a bitch Cock suckin’ motherfucker I was right – take this”
It’s pretty clear that there was something more to Accept’s blunt use of profanity than sloppy translation. The language here is blatant and the message is clear: Fuck You! Here was a band unafraid to use vulgar/provocative language to communicate their ideas.
Enter Gaby Hauke. Hauke, a self-described ‘journalist and poet’, became the band’s manager after the release of ‘Breaker’. While they readied material for their 4th album ‘Restless and Wild’, the band worked with outside writers to polish up their English lyrics. Robert A. Smith-Diesel contributed to five of the album’s ten songs, and Hauke, credited under the pseudonym ‘Deaffy’, contributed two complete poems, which became ‘Neon Nights’ and ‘Princess of the Dawn’. Hauke’s poetry worked well as lyrics, adding a depth and fluency missing from Accept’s first three records. With Accept’s next album, Hauke would become the band’s sole lyricist, and come to embrace the bluntly sexual elements of the band’s vision… with controversial results.
‘Balls to the Wall’ was the band’s breakthrough, and the only Accept album to be certified Gold in the US. Metal’s early-80s resurgence was a factor, as was MTv’s exposure of the album’s title track. But a significant factor in the album’s success, and its’ notoriety 35 years later, was the record’s flirtation with homoerotic imagery in the artwork and lyrics. A minor controversy erupted in the pages of many Metal mags and in the minds of headbangers across the globe… “Is Accept Gay?” To be sure, there was a lot here to potentially cause folks to at wonder whether BttW was a ‘pro-Gay’ record, and by extension, if Accept were Gay themselves.
First and foremost, let’s remember that Gaby Hauke was responsible for 100% of the lyrics on BttW. This alone explains a lot. When lyrics such as ‘Feel the power of lust as these guys passing by’ are delivered by a male, one might make some reasonable assumptions about the song’s message. When one considers that these lyrics were written by a woman, suddenly they make a very different kind of sense. The song ‘London Leatherboys’ added to this with ‘Got some kind of feeling/Looking in his eyes/I feel the power surge to a head’, and of course with it’s title. It would have been easy to change a few pronouns or alter the gender of the narrative voice in Hauke’s lyrics; clearly there was a conscious decision not to. Accept had to realize this would cause some controversy. Controversy is not always a bad thing… Hauke & Accept embraced the dynamic and ran with it.
Other elements were tied in, such as the title track: the phrase ‘balls to the wall’ originated as an aviation term, and has evolved to mean ‘all-out’ or ‘to the limit’; in the context of the song it means ‘you must fight oppression with everything you’ve got’. This fit the loose political theme of the album; that the phrase contained the word ‘balls’ worked well with the daring presentation, and so the phrase also became the album’s title. The cover art seals the deal, with fashion photographer Dieter Eikelpoth’s b&w cover photo of a decidedly male …um, area, clad in bondage gear and clutching a ball in his hand… It’s a very provocative package. The’ cover idea’ is credited to Deaffy, indicating that ‘management’ was behind the entire scheme. A band pic was also included featuring the band shirtless (except for Udo), and Wolf Hoffmann and Stefan Kaufmann with arms intertwined.
What’s fascinating about the use of Hauke’s lyrics is that, for a time, while working to deliver their lyrics in another language, Accept also ended up delivering some of them in another gender. There are some raunchy hetero-derived lyrics on BttW, like ‘Why don’t you screw the girls that’s next to you’ from ‘Losers and Winners’, but nobody noticed; it was material perceived as ‘pro-Gay’ that got all the attention. Again: It was 1983. This was a bold stance; one that could have backfired badly. Instead, it helped give Accept (‘accept’ what, by the way?) their well-deserved breakthrough. Hauke also wrote the words for Accept’s next five albums, but on ‘Balls to the Wall’, Accept and their manager/lyricist fucked with our heads, pushed the envelope, and made us think. All of that, delivered in a language we can all understand: Metal.
-‘Gold’ in Spain = 20,000 copies sold
-Producer Max Normal reportedly had a major role in shaping the lyrics for both the ‘Thunder in the East’ and ‘Lightning Strikes’ albums.
-Just what does ‘M.Z.A.’ stand for? A highlight of Loudness’ biggest hit ‘Crazy Nights’ is the band chanting these letters, begging the question— W.T.F.? Here’s the official explanation:
“Actually it does not have any meaning. When we were doing pre-production for the Thunder in the East album, I did not have any lyrics for Crazy Night then, so I sung total nonsense as a guide vocal for the demo recording. I sung “M.Z.A.” by accident and the producer Max Norman liked the line, even though that did not have any meaning. We were trying to create some cool line but we could not beat “MZA.” Max ended up deciding to use ”M.Z.A.” for the real take.” -Minoru Niihara
-The album’s title track contains the familiar lines “Happiness he cannot feel/And love to him is so unreal”… Hmm… feels vaguely familiar…)
-‘Son of a Bitch’ was altered for the UK market; the title and chorus were changed to ‘Born to be Whipped’, and the more graphic lines quoted here were translated into yet another language: nonsense.
-Hauke and Accept guitarist Wolf Hoffman married at some point in the 80s.