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"99 Luftballons" (Script error: No such module "lang"., "99 balloons") is an anti-war protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album. An English-language version titled "99 Red Balloons", with lyrics by Kevin McAlea, was also released on the album 99 Luftballons in 1984 after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German original and contains somewhat different lyrics.[1]

Background and writing

While at a June 1982 concert by the Rolling Stones in West Berlin, Nena's guitarist Carlo Karges noticed that balloons were being released. As he watched them move toward the horizon, he noticed them shifting and changing shapes, where they looked like strange spacecraft (referred to in the German lyrics as a "UFO"). He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.[2]

Etymology

A direct translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons"; however, the song became known as "Ninety-Nine Red Balloons" in English.[3][4] The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first line of lyrics: "red" partially replacing a flourish of the singer before "Luft". Neunundneunzig (99) has one syllable more than "ninety-nine", so the last syllable and "luft" are blended in the English translation and become "red".

Theme and promotional video

The lyrics of the original German version tell a story: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child's balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor. At the end, the singer walks through the devastated ruins and lets loose a balloon, watching it fly away.[5]

The promotional video was shot in a Dutch military training camp, the band performing the song on a stage in front of a backdrop of fires and explosions provided by the Dutch army. Towards the end of the video, the band are seen taking cover and abandoning the stage which was unplanned and genuine since they believed the explosive blasts were getting out of control.[6]

The English version retains the spirit of the original narrative, but many of the lyrics are translated poetically rather than directly translated: red helium balloons are casually released by an anonymous civilian into the sky and are registered as missiles by a faulty early warning system; the balloons are mistaken for military aircraft which results in panic and eventually nuclear war.[5]

English version and other re-recordings

From the outset Nena and other members of the band expressed disapproval for the English version of the song, "99 Red Balloons". In March 1984, the band's keyboardist and song co-writer Uwe Fahrenkrog Petersen said, "We made a mistake there. I think the song loses something in translation and even sounds silly."[7] In another interview that month the band including Nena herself were quoted as being "not completely satisfied" with the English version since it was "too blatant" for a group not wishing to be seen as a protest band.[8] Despite having given in excess of 500 concerts over a period of more than 30 years, Nena has never sung "99 Red Balloons" live, even at her rare concerts in England, always performing the German version instead.[9]Template:Failed verification

There have been two re-recordings of the original German version of the song which have been released by Nena: a modern version in 2002 which was included on Nena feat. Nena (2002)[10] and a retro version in 2009,[11] which included some verses in French.

Live recordings of the song are included on all six of Nena's live albums, dating from 1995 to 2016.[12][13]

Reception

American and Australian audiences preferred the original German version, which became a very successful non-English language song, topping charts in both countries, reaching no. 1 on the Cash Box chart, Kent Music Report, and no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind "Jump" by Van Halen.[14] It was certified Gold by the RIAA.

The later-released English translation, "99 Red Balloons", topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Ireland.

VH1 Classic, an American cable television station, ran a charity event for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006. Viewers who made donations were allowed to choose which music videos the station would play. One viewer donated $35,000 for the right to program an entire hour and requested continuous play of "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EST on 26 March 2006.[15]

In his 2010 book Music: What Happened?, critic and musician Scott Miller declared that the song possesses "one of the best hooks of the eighties" and listed it among his top song picks for 1984. Nonetheless, he cautioned: "It must be admitted that this song suffers from an embarrassingly out-of-place disco funk interlude, and the word kriegsminister."[16]

Chart positions

German version

English version

2002 re-release

Chart (2002) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[56] 17
songid field is MANDATORY FOR GERMAN CHARTS 28
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[57] 82
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[58] 77

Cover versions

7 Seconds, an American hardcore punk band, covered the song on their third album Walk Together, Rock Together in 1985.[59] Angry Salad released a version of the song on their 1998 album Bizarre Gardening Accident. Their version also appears on their 1999 self-titled album.

A cover of the song was recorded by the band Goldfinger in 2000 for the album Stomping Ground and gained popularity after featuring in the film EuroTrip.[60] This version of the song is in English, except for the final verse, which is in German. However, the version featured in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is in full English.

South African band Southern Gypsey Queen released a cover of the song in 2011.[61]

Japanese pop singer Yoko Oginome released a cover of the song for the album Dear Pop Singer released on 20 August 2014.[62]

Parody songwriter Tim Cavanagh recorded a parody of the song, "99 Dead Baboons," which debuted on the Dr. Demento radio show shortly after Nena released the original song; it turned into a popular request on the Funny Five.[63]

Australian singer Kylie Minogue covered the song on 18 July 2015, during her Kylie Summer 2015 Tour at Melt! Festival in Germany.[64]

See also

References

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  2. Rolling Stone, 15 March 1984
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  18. "Script error: No such module "WLink".&titel=Script error: No such module "WLink".&cat=s Austriancharts.at – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
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  49. "Top RPM Singles: Issue 4454." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
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  56. "Script error: No such module "WLink".&titel=Script error: No such module "WLink".&cat=s Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002"] (in Dutch). Ultratip. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
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