Idle Thoughts on International Songs

This is my own private Eurovision, a list of popular songs from (mostly) European countries, performed in an other-than-English language. I make no claim on having deep understanding of most of those countries’ pop scene, nor are the selected songs necessarily the best of, or representative of, their nations.

While we’re on the subject of music, reader Nikcrit recommends his former music biz colleague Ben Ratliff’s “Every Song Ever” and writes: “[the book] is a critic’s guide on how to enjoy pop music in this unprecedented age in which virtually every song of any time is damn-near instantly available at our fingertips; it’s a true ‘poverty of abundance.'”

Now on with this post’s international song selection. Links in song titles:

Bosnia: Bijelo Dugme, “Te noci kad umrem.” The title means “the night I die,” and the song is about different women’s reactions to the news. The guitarist (wearing a white shirt) in this 1987 slow-tempo, fan-participation live performance, Goran Bregović, is now highly respected in Europe as the Balkan folk-pop musician.

Brazil: Roberto Carlos, “A Montanha.” This is the earliest pop song I recall liking, which was in the very early 1970s. Its refrain, obrigado Senhor is a giving of thanks to God for life’s everyday miracles.

France: Les Brigandes, “Antifa.” One of two overtly political songs on this list. It’s no longer possible for the Left to do protest songs. Creativity and righteous rage now belong to nationalists. (English subtitles in the video).

Germany: Rammstein, “Ohne dich.” This song’s official music video is probably the most masculine ever produced. I wasn’t thinking about that video when writing the previous “Freedom” post but they would go together.

Greece: Maria Athanasopoulou, “Golden Dawn Song.” The second overtly political song on this list. Well done musically and inspiring in its visuals and lyrics. This artist knows the score. (English subtitles in the video).

Italy: Florent Pagny, “Caruso.” The singer is a Frenchman, but this operatic ballad is as Italian as it gets.

Latvia: Tumsa, “Lietus Dārzs.”  An upbeat rainy day mediation. With their balance of crisp and melodious phonics and proto-European sounds, Latvian and Lithuanian languages are the most pleasing to the human ear, after French.

Lithuania: Marijonas Mikutavičius, “Trys Milijonai.” A celebration of the country of three million, featuring their basketball team’s highlight reels. The song is so infectious, I’d sing along if I spoke Lithuanian.

Poland: Budka Suflera, “Jolka, Jolka. This band’s dark, sweeping 1982 ballad includes love, loss, youth, booze, road-time, a baby sleeping in the other room, Merkel’s invasion (sort of), and a solar eclipse. “We’ll have the next one, maybe in one hundred years.”

Quebec: Mes Aïeux, “Dégénérations.” The closest you’ll get to 14/88 lyrics without the song being a right wing speech set to music. Judging by its live versions, it appears that the Québécois like getting down to this odd but very danceable tune. (English subtitles in the video).

Romania: Cargo, “Daca ploaia s-ar opri. I don’t know anything about this brooding power ballad or the band, but I really dig the song.

Serbia: Ceca, “Kukavica. In the video, a man who has it all is torn between his perfect family and his raven-haired vamp mistress. The singer Ceca (Svetlana Ražnatović) has had an interesting personal life, including marriage to a well-known Serbo-Croatian war figure Željko “Arkan” Ražnatović.

South Africa/Afrikaans: Bok van Blerk, “De la Rey. An invocation to the great Boer Wars general, now with new urgency. A powerful moment occurs in the video when the downtrodden overcome their fear and stand up. (English subtitles in the video).

Sweden: Mando Diao, “Gloria. This entry breaks my rule on showing solely non-English lyrics. Does the Swedish accent count?  The video is a 60s retro-style intrigue featuring sleepyhead pretty-boys, a hardened detective, and a big-breasted femme fatale with lips made for…

So smokin’ I can’t contain it in a hyperlink:


18 thoughts on “Idle Thoughts on International Songs

  1. A minor correction: Goran Bregović is actually the guitar player wearing the white shirt. Bregović was the band leader throughout its existence, but never the main vocalist.

    The singer is Alen Islamović, who despite his hair metal look could deliver some very good raspy hard rock vocals. Here’s one of his best performances (with Divlje Jagode, a band where he sang before joining Bijelo Dugme):

    [Thanks Vladimir! corrected -PA]

  2. Pingback: Idle Thoughts on International Songs | Reaction Times

  3. Hey PA,

    you really should make a compilation of folk songs accross Europe. It can be a 2 parter:
    1. Old folklore songs passed through time for hundred of years
    2. Folk songs made between WW2 – Fall of Berlin Wall. It would be interesting to see the differences between the countries East and West of the Iron curtain and their expression in art

  4. “[the book] is a critic’s guide on how to enjoy pop music in this unprecedented age in which virtually every song of any time is damn-near instantly available at our fingertips; it’s a true ‘poverty of abundance.’”)

    In the old days of Napster during graduate school I used to trudge up to the Computer Lab in the middle of the night with a stack of zip drives and download for 4-6 hours just to get 50 songs. How things have changed.

  5. “sleepyhead pretty-boys”


    There was a commenter at a friendly site who would go on about how Swedes were the best looking and the best dressed, and everyone knew it and resented them, and somehow that jealousy was behind all the problems of Euro nationalism.

    [maybe it was me at GLP. I was saying things along those lines, how Swedes’ “white guilt” is fueled by their awkward feeling of being so superior in appearance -PA]

    And seeing this video, he may have been right.

    It has good energy, and the lead singer has impressive big raspy voice, very urbane and masculine. You know you can’t fake that.

    [good call on his voice]

    All Swedes speak English apparently, and they are also the best looking, according to themselves.

    [and then there are all those endearing failed colloquialisms. “Gloria, stepped out of the pree-ssson… no longer the wasted disco girl… she will offer you a heart attack… tired of all those lies in your freak show.” I once dated a girl who spoke very little English. There was a snag with the sliding door closing in a van into which we were getting in as passengers, so I yanked on the door to close it and it worked. She exclaims like a cute cartoon character: “you did it!”

    PS: I friggin love that song.]

    That retro feel to that video is kind of a cliche though, at this point. Where is the new stuff.

  6. …would go on about how Swedes were the best looking and the best dressed, and everyone knew it and resented them, and somehow that jealousy was behind all the problems of Euro nationalism.

    Isn’t it more ‘Scandanavia’ in general that is common positive referent? I too think of Swedes, Danes and Norwegians as the idealized template for the Caucasian aesthetic….. all of which falls into my “whites-are-the super-middle-most-norm-of-the-human gamut”-theory of world relations…

    [as I’ve heard it said among Scandinavians, Danes are their mellow stoners, Norwegians are their rednecks, and Swedes are their uptight perfectionists. -PA]

  7. But aren’t the Dutch the tallest and palest of all northern Europeans? Also, I think blondeness is much less prevalent in Denmark than the others.

  8. All Swedes speak English apparently, and they are also the best looking, according to themselves.

    In my taste I find Polish, Urkainian, Baltic Country women even more appealing but they’re not shown in media or TV as much.

  9. I recall hearing that the Dutch are the tallest, on average. The lightest hair and eyes is across the middle latitudes of Sweden and Finland.

    Ukrainian women have a reputation for being goodlooking even by Slavic standards. There is an article by Linh Dinh at Unz called Broken Ukraine.

    There is a Russian community in this suburb, which seems a little odd why they would congregate around here. The teenage girls very much stick out with their tight pants, and not to be too much of a horndog, but there is definitely a slightly different shape to their butts. They are first generation and speak among themselves in their native tongue. A lot of them look somewhat downtrodden; the new economy and all.

  10. But aren’t the Dutch the tallest and palest of all northern Europeans?

    In my layman’s casually categorical way, a la my comment above, I think of the Netherlands fitting beside those descriptions of Scandinavia; aren’t the Netherlands more or less in the same region?

  11. The Dutch inhabit the Netherlands and they Germanic Nords and not generally considered Scandinavian, though they are closely related.

    Scandinavian countries are Sweden Norway Denmark and Iceland. Finland gets lumped in there too but i think among Euros Finland is not considered Scandinavian. In this part of the United States however it is.

    The link regarding fair hair and light eyes in my previous post, is not working. Here it is again.

  12. I think the modern Dutch are a mixture of Franks from the South and Frisians who came from the East after the collapse of Rome. The Jutes passed through as well but ended up in Denmark, while the Angles and Saxons had already come through long ago but continued on to England.

  13. O.T.: Wow, this online piece I read earlier this month turned out to be quite prescient; I have to admit that I laughed at the prospect then.

    PA, re. our talks about the election this year; I just may end up having to eat crow re. my Trump doubts (which nonetheless were the result of pragmatic assessment, not personal preference; in fact, I like him best among GOP candidates)

    Other random assessments about this year’s campaign coverage: Rubio is an empty suit, hard to imagine more vacant political platitudes than his utterances……Kasich has some depth; very moving story re. his family personal tragedy….. Cruz is a maniac and I suspect the causation is something most whites don’t tune into: He’s got what I’lll call “NAM Compensatory Comple”: I know his mainly Spaniard blood is Caucasian but it’s often viewed by others as NAMish, and h e does have some Americana Indian blood as well —– yet he’s WASP-acclimated conservative, so he compensates for, what in his mind, are genetic lackings by overcompensating in his NAM-wrath and deluded sense of moral self-righteousness.
    In his mind such a mission is noble and serves as legitimate rationale for his psychotically bald-faced lying and personal vindictiveness.

  14. From Quebec, Mes Aieux, Degenerations,

    Your great great grandparents
    sure knew how to party

    with your great grandparents
    things were swinging hard in the evening
    and your grandparents saw the birth of rock and roll
    with your parents it was disco

    as for you my freind
    what are you doing with your night
    turn off your tv
    dont stay cooped up all night

    Thankfully some things will neve change
    Line up your nicest clothes
    because tonite we’re goin dancing

    But no place around here.

    Like i said, the community center, the bars, and the high school thing (whatever that would be).

    Old people, bar scenesters, and teenagers. Old people and kids have their place – but what about the adults, where do they go to dance.

    There is something seriously revealing, in how that breaks down like that. For the kids they try to have something at school. It’s all weirded out now, but it is still something. And then after you are 65 and your is dick is limp, you can go party with the bluehairs. But during the rest of your life, you just … what. Do some wage earning, eat shit food, watch gay athletes and farce political commentary on television and public radio.

  15. Ranking of the featured songs by popularity, ie., number of clicks. This does not include Sweden, since WordPress doesn’t show me how many times the embedded video was played. France would have had a stronger showing if not for its late entry.

    1. Germany (runaway winner)
    2. Quebec
    3. South Africa
    4. Greece
    5. Bosnia

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