Scorpions the Audience for Popular Music Frequently Essay

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The audience for popular music frequently assumes that the songs heard on the radio or downloaded from iTunes are predominantly a form of personal expression on the part of the artist, and that song lyrics may express the most raw form of autobiography (such as the recent Grammy-winning success of "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse, who turns up in tabloids to demonstrate that she practices what she preaches) but they do not express any political or historical content. But the example of the Scorpions -- who come from Germany but work within a largely American-derived idiom of heavy metal power ballads -- proves that the lyrical content of popular song can also provide a sort of historical documentation. I would argue that by comparing two of the Scorpion's most successful songs to date -- "Still Loving You" from their 1984 album Love at First Sting, and "Wind of Change" from their 1990 album Crazy World -- can offer us a view of popular song lyrics that actually acknowledges a deeper engagement with contemporary culture, while at the same time managing to preserve their status as songs within the tradition of first-person autobiographical expression found in so many love ballads or anthems of personal rebellion or liberation. "Still Loving You" is a conventional love ballad, which dramatizes a situation described by Rudolf Schencker -- the Scorpions' founder and co-author with the band's vocalist Klaus Meine of the song -- as "the story of a love affair" in which the singer is trying to reconnect with his estranged lover. Whereas "Wind of Change" offers the remarkable example of a rock song which takes as its explicit subject the massive historical importance of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, the year before the song's initial album release. But I think a closer examination of the two songs may prove that they are more similar than one might otherwise suspect.

"Still Loving You" does not follow the most conventional template for a popular song: it hardly matches the "verse chorus verse" structure with an interposed vocal or musical bridge that characterizes so many pop hits of the past half-century from the Beatles' "I wanna hold your hand" to Train's "Hey Soul Sister." The Scorpions, rather than varying their musical structure with an interpolated bridge, follow a repetitive template of the same musical verse sequence repeated over and over: unusually the song even seems to pause for moments of silence after the end of one of these sequences, and finds its musical variation in the increasingly florid overlay of guitar riffs that layer themselves over Meine's impassioned vocalization. This is a perfectly valid structure for a rock song -- "Welcome to Paradise" by Green Day or "Miss World" by Hole also lack a vocal bridge -- but it is also a song structure that harkens back to a songwriting model that predates rock and roll. Given the Scorpions' German origins, we might even liken it to the structure of the famous "Moritat" from Brecht and Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper of 1928, which would later become a pop jazz hit in 1950s America when translated as "Mack the Knife." The 1928 song follows a precisely similar musical structure to "Mack the Knife," with a simple verse repeated over and over, but finding its variation either in the singer's own improvised changes to the melody or with the introduction of more complicated and overwhelming accompaniment of new instruments in the track's background. What makes "Still Loving You" different from an earlier style of balladeering is the intensity of Meine's performance, which matches the dogged determination expressed in the lyrics from the songs opening:

Time, it needs time

To win back your love again

I'll win your love, I'll win your love

Love, only love

Can bring back your love someday

I'll win your love, I'll win your love (Scorpions, 1984)

The first-person lyrics express a fierce determination to win back the love of this estranged partner. By the end of the song, the speaker's single-minded intensity has not altered in the least, but the song has introduced the notion of empathy and the admission of wrongdoing:

If we'd go again

All the way from the start

I would try to change

The things that killed our love

Yes, I've hurt your pride, and I know

What you've been through

You should give me a chance

This can't be the end

I'm still loving you

I'm still loving you, I need your love

I'm still loving you (Scorpions 1984)

But the overall effect in the song is one of stasis with mounting intensity. The lyrics proclaim "I'm still loving you," while the music announces that Meine is also, in fact, still singing the same verse from the beginning of the song, he's just doing it louder, to compensate for the overwhelming and rococo guitar riffs that enter the song and build consistently over its long six-minute length. The experience is ultimately structured as an erotic one: the repetition of verses mimics the repetitive motions of sexual intercourse, almost as though the song itself is meant to stand in for the thing that the singer misses most about his relationship. The traditional comparison made by music historians between the sentiments and methods of rock music and the earlier avant-garde approach to musical expression of sexuality in Ravel's "Bolero" seems particularly appropriate when analyzing "Still Loving You." It seems to be a song about sex, and it moves musically like a sexual encounter that gradually increases in intensity but without particular variation until an explosive, and conclusive, finale. Schencker's claim in his interview with Dan MacIntosh that, after the song reached Number 1 in the French music charts in 1984, the Scorpions would be credited with a 1985 "baby boom" in France seems to indicate that there's a reason why this song is twice as long as the average pop song, but with half the structural variation.

At first glance nothing could seem to be more different than the Scorpions' most successful song, 1990's "Wind of Change." Seizing on a world-historical opportunity worthy of Hegel, here Meine (writing without Schencker) takes as his explicit subject the collapse of the Soviet Union and in particular of its puppet state under Erich Honecker in East Germany. Rather than write from the perspective of a German, or an East German, Schencker makes the rare and unusual leap to speaking from the perspective of a Russian:

I follow the Moskva

Down to Gorky Park

Listening to the wind of change

An August summer night

Soldiers passing by Listening to the wind of change (Scorpions, 1990)

"Moskva" is, of course, the way that Moscow is pronounced in Russian, and Gorky Park is a central feature of Moscow's urban landscape, second in familiarity only to the Kremlin. But by the second verse, Meine has seized upon the emotional content that would connect German and Russian alike in a sense of wonder at the swiftness of historical events unfolding, managing to overcome the historic hostility between the two nationalities and any resentment of the long partition of Germany by Soviet control of the eastern part of the country:

The world is closing in Did you ever think

That we could be so close, like brothers

The future's in the air

I can feel it everywhere

Blowing with the wind of change (Scorpions, 1990)

The closeness that the singer seeks with his love in "Still Loving You" is here the unexpected feeling of being "so close, like brothers" between Soviet and German citizen, and to some extent the erotic reunification of the first song is now enlarged into a metaphor for German reunifcation. But the sense of being a casual bystander is enforced by the most unusual musical element of the song, which is Meine's…[continue]

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