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Day 9: Falco – “3” (1985)
Genre: Pop / Rap / Rock / New Wave
Falco is mainly remembered as an 80s one-hit-wonder in big parts of the world, but within Germany and Austria he has established himself as one of our biggest pop stars before his untimely death in 1998 – and then as our most beloved 80s memory afterwards. I’m going to take a look at his 1985 album today, including his big US hit Rock Me Amadeus.
The album goes straight for the hit, opening with Rock me Amadeus. The synths are rough and recognizable before giving way to Falco’s signature style of rapping. That is, a style of talk-singing that has to be considered rap by technical definition, but is quite different from what most people nowadays would consider rap – Falco roots his rapping style directly in lyrical performance. The song doesn’t really require more introduction, it’s a classic that holds up well today, even if it may seem a bit odd and even random.
A harmonica rips you out of it for America. Stylistically the song is very close to Rock me Amadeus, but features a chorus that, while easy to sing along to, doesn’t have the dynamic nature of the opening track, feeling more like a weak, stereotypical attempt at what would be best described as Volks-country.
Don’t worry, it gets better – if you’re willing to embrace one of the campest albums ever released by a supposedly straight man. Tango the night is stupid, unadultered fun with excellent delivery, especially in the verses, and a memorable arrangement. At just about 2 and a half minutes, it’s hard to get sick of just how stupidly fun it is.
Munich Girls is the first song on the album that goes out of its way to build up to a strong payoff, swaying you along in the bi-vocal nature of the chorus. Falco has always been someone to sing along to – his songs are intended for just that. But he does it well, take just about any song from this album and they could be a potential fan favorite – or guilty pleasure.
The next song is one of my all-time favorite pop songs because it tackles unusual issues successfully. Jeanny caused controversy upon its release because it was possible to interpret it as being about the abduction and possibly rape and/or murder of a teenage girl from the perspective of a stalker. I prefer to see the song as one of the first and most powerful character studies in a mainstream pop song. It explores the mind of an obsessed, very, very fucked up man whose actions may or may not be happening entirely inside his head. The composition and arrangement of Jeanny perfectly mirror the psychotic, confused mind of the narrator, giving it a unity of form and content that few pieces of art reach. Going from a recurring piano lullaby theme over spoken word passages to an 80s power ballad chorus, it’s a marvel to listen to, yet disturbing at the same time. When I lose faith in humanity, I just have to remember that this song was a #1 hit in Germany and Austria. Critics accuse the song of glorifying rape. It doesn’t. The song portrays the actions of the character from his perspective without judging one way or another. Equating actions shown with glorifying those actions intellectually sets us back to the middle ages, especially when the song never goes into detail about what happens to the girl. Rape or murder are never established in the lyrics, hinted at, if anything. I don’t know Falco as a person and haven’t even read a full interview with him, so I’m not going to morally judge him based on a song written entirely in character. Jeanny is a deeply disturbing song that, if nothing else, is an interesting experience to listen to.
The album doesn’t stay serious for long, as Vienna calling is right back to unapologetic 80s kitsch. It intentionally cuts off the darker Jeanny and delivers another classic hit. I do particularly like the bridge before the final chorus for being all over the place. It’s another one of those songs you may not particularly like – you may even hate the melody – but you will find the chorus and beat stuck in your head. And isn’t that the defining factor of a good pop song?
One last journey into instant hit territory is Männer des Westens, that manages to deliver social criticism along with a Falco-typical sing-along chorus and hypnotic beat. You could criticise it as sounding too much like the rest of the album, but it has Falco’s unique touch to it while resting on 80s pop foundations and as such I quite enjoy it.
I can’ help but think of Akina Nakamori when I hear the intro to Nothing sweeter than Arabia. It sounds a lot like one of her late 80s singles, but I just can’t wrap my head around which one! When I hear the intro I can just see her dance in front of my eyes. That’s really all I have to say about this song, it reminds me of a better one. It’s messy, with a muddy production and weak melody – there’s a catchy background synth melody, but that’s about it.
Unfortunately at this point, the album doesn’t really recover. Macho macho focuses a more prominent guitar and a more relaxed atmosphere, but ultimately seems to be rather aimless, just trotting along. Even Falco’s delivery is less defined and all over the place. And It’s all over now, Baby Blue is the always anticipated melancholic album closer. It’s essentially a jazz-soul track, a genre combination that doesn’t seem to suit Falco’s vocals or writing style. He sounds like he’s trying to imitate others rather than do his own thing – and it shows in the quality. Not an atrocious ballad, just a bit out of place and underwhelming.
Falco is about as 80s as it gets, if you can’t get into that, his music isn’t for you. But if you’re willing to absorb and embrace the goofy, camp nature of his music and the sheer amount of personality he injects into his songs, 3 is wonderful to listen to, even with a few underwhelming tracks. Rock Me Amadeus and Jeanny are fondly remembered as some definitive 80s hits, so at least those deserve some notice.