Dolls In Deutschland
Sixties girl-pop in Germany
In the early '60s, Germany was still trying to come to terms with its past. The division of the country into capitalist West and communist East cut deep into the national psyche, and musically, Germany was no less torn. The almighty European beat boom turned German teens off their country's pop fluff, thus setting the battleground for foreign versus domestic. But German record companies refused to hear the call for something more hip, and continued to force-feed schmaltzy, high camp fare to their artists. Girl singers, traditionally consigned to a diet of stolen kisses, salty tears, and song contests, found it particularly difficult to pass through the German music industry's Checkpoint Charlie. Very few were granted access to the catalogue of cool. For the majority, Schlager (hits)—the kind of low-grade pop lite that gave German music a bad name—was their domain, whether they liked it or not.
But Deutschmark-filled pockets eventually changed hard German minds. When a post-war economic miracle gave Germans greater spending power over their neighbors, international travel became de rigueur for the country's newly wealthy residents, and international influence on Germany's pop culture was inevitable. Themes of love and adventure in foreign climes dominated German lyrics, demonstrating the strength of Germans' musical wanderlust. For a country low on national pride, foreign was fab.
Perhaps that's why the distinctly un-Spanish Doris Wegener renamed herself Manuela. The teenager, whose career began at amateur nights in a Berlin bar, went on to become one of Germany's top pop idols. After an unlucky debut flop at age 19, follow-up "Schuld war nur der Bossa Nova"—a cover of Eydie Gorme's "Blame It On The Bossa Nova"—stormed the German charts, selling over 500,000 copies. Between 1963 and 1973, the Berlin-born superstar scored over 24 Top 40 hits, which included "Ich geh' noch zur Schule" (On Top Of Old Smokey), "Schwimmen lernt man im See" (Just So Bobby Can See), and "Monsieur Dupont" (Brit girl Sandie Shaw's final hit).
Though less successful, Marion Litterscheid was distinctly more hip. Born in 1943, the secretarial student's break came in 1964, when she was invited to take part in a Pepsi-sponsored talent contest after being spotted singing at an exhibition in Hanover. A second place running didn't stop Polydor Records from offering her a contract, although the deal was terminated after her two singles (which included a cover of British blonde Twinkle's death disc, "Terry") failed to chart. The newly formed Berlin label Hansa re-launched Marion's career with "Er ist wieder da" (later covered by Little Peggy March as "He's Back Again"), a haunting tune set to her plaintive vocals. It was unusually downbeat for the kind of material performed by German singers of the time, but it struck a chord with record-buying teenagers and became a huge hit for Marion in 1965. By the late '60s, Marion reached her prime—she was the first German act to appear on the music program Beat Club, which until her performance in December 1967 had been strictly foreign artists' turf. And during a trip to Apple Studios in London, Paul McCartney personally expressed his fondness for her song, "Blau Blau Blau" (the flipside of "Er ist wieder da"). Although Marion found it difficult to match the success of "Er ist wieder da," a name change to Marion März in the '70s helped revive her career somewhat. "Once a hit singer, always a hit singer," Marion said. "That's the way it is in Germany."
For acoustic-guitar totting Alexandra, melancholy was her domain. Born Doris Treitz in 1942 in what was then the German town of Heydekrug (currently Silute in Lithuania), she pursued a career in music after the breakdown of her two-year marriage. Unlike most of Germany's female artists, Alexandra wrote a number of her own songs—many together with Austrian star Udo Jürgens and most of them depressive and downbeat. In a sharp break from the norm, Alexandra chose to debut with a full-length rather than the ubiquitous 45. 1968's Premiere mit Alexandra nearly missed, but the decision to release album track "Zigeunerjunge" (Gypsy Man) as a single saved Alexandra from obscurity. "Zigeunerjunge," with its mixture of folk charm and Eastern European influence, found a hugely enthusiastic audience and established Alexandra as a German folk favorite.