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The Beatles in Germany and in German

The Beatle's First Record Was in German

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Hamburg Blumen

Hamburg, Germany was home to the Beatles at various times between 1960 and 1962.

Hyde Flippo
The Beatles in Hamburg

Die Beatles: Die erste Platte
Most Beatles fans know that the Fab Four polished their craft in Germany in the early 1960s, but did you know that the first commercial recording the Beatles ever released was partly in German? Back in the days when popular music was sold on a thin black vinyl disc called a "record" (eine Platte), the early Beatles played backup for a singer named Tony Sheridan. During a recording session in Hamburg's Friedrich-Ebert-Halle that lasted several days in the summer of 1961, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and drummer Pete Best recorded eight songs with Sheridan. Two of those songs were released as a 7-inch single 45 produced by the German musician Bert Kaempfert for the German Polydor label. The A side was "My Bonnie," the traditional Scottish tune the Beatles often performed for fun in the clubs in Hamburg's Reeperbahn red-light district. The B side was another traditional tune, "When the Saints Go Marching In," shortened on the record label to just "The Saints."

Released in October 1961, the "My Bonnie/The Saints" single made it to fifth place on the German music charts. That Polydor record by "Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers" (later labels had "...and The Beatles") is now considered the first commercial record by the Beatles. It was the first time anyone could buy a record with the sounds of the Beatles. On the version released in Germany, Sheridan sang a few introductory German verses for "My Bonnie." The "Mein Herz ist bei dir nur" lines are followed by the traditional English "My Bonnie lies over the ocean" lyrics. Today anyone with a copy of that original German release—with German lyrics by Charles Pratt—has a valuable collectors item. Several later Polydor releases, with only the English lyrics, are less rare and less valuable, but they also offer the same early Beatles sounds (pre-Ringo Starr).

An LP album released in 1962 with more songs from the Hamburg recording session included two songs by the Beatles alone: "Ain't She Sweet" (vocal by John Lennon) and "Cry for a Shadow" (by Lennon and Harrison). In 1994 a CD version entitled "The Early Beatles Tapes" was released. It is a newer version of the 1962 vinyl LP, which had 14 titles, some added after the first Hamburg recording session.

But other recordings by the Beatles have been more shrouded in mystery for over 30 years. The so-called "lost" EMI tapes turned up in a raid by Dutch and British police in January 2003. By some estimates, the 500 original tapes recovered in Holland (they were stolen in the 1970s) have enough Beatles music and chatter for 17 CDs. However, various bootleg copies of the Beatles' "lost" recordings have circulated for years, so it's not certain how much truly new material the Dutch tapes may contain. But these "Get Back" tapes recorded in London do contain at least one other song recorded by the Beatles auf Deutsch, in German!

Get Back - Geh raus
In 1969, while working on the music for the Beatles "Let It Be" movie, the group recorded an improvised, rather odd version of "Get Back" in German. (Watch for the Let It Be DVD release soon.) In early 1969 the Beatles were on the rocks; the official announcement of the split-up came only a few months later. But the recording sessions show at least some fun amidst the strife and tension. The Beatles must have picked up a little German during all that time in Hamburg, and the German heard in "Geh raus" is a sort of pidgin German that doesn't really follow the rules of standard German or even colloquial German. But Paul McCartney's German pronunciation isn't that bad. Paul seems to have been the linguist in the group, and there's even a smattering of French at the end of "Geh raus." It's an amusing take-off on "Get Back" (itself a satire of British immigration laws) that evokes the Beatles' early Hamburg days. McCartney even throws in a spoken German phrase: "Danke für die Blumen." (Thanks for the flowers.)

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