Through the course of music history, not many foreign-language songs have reached No. 1 here in America. In fact, from the inception of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in August 1958 through today, out of the 1,061 songs that have reached No. 1, only six (6) songs in a foreign language have reached the top of the U.S. singles chart: “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare),” Domenico Modugno (Italian; 1958); “Sukiyaki,” Kyu Sakamoto (Japanese; 1963); “Dominique,” The Singing Nun (French; 1963); “Rock Me Amadeus,” Falco (English / German, 1986); “La Bamba,” Los Lobos (Spanish; 1987); and, currently the seventh-biggest song of all-time on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (whether you like it or not), “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” by Los del Río (English / Spanish, 1996 for 14 weeks).
From that handful of No. 1 foreign-language hits on the Hot 100, on this date (3.29) in 1986, Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” started its three-week stay at No. 1. The late, great Vienna, Austria-born singer / songwriter / rapper had charted on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, when his 1981 original version of “Der Kommissar” (a No. 5 Hot 100 hit for British group After The Fire in 1983) peaked at No. 10.
But, despite the global success of “Der Kommissar” (it was Italy’s No. 1 song for all of 1982), and the release of several other singles between 1981 and 1984, Falco did not have any luck on the American singles chart.
Well, that all changed when, in June 1985, Falco released his tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – “Rock Me Amadeus” – inspired by the Academy Award-winning film from the year before, AMADEUS.
“Rock Me Amadeus” was originally recorded in Falco’s native German language. A number of English / German language versions were recorded, with my favorite versions being the four-minute “Canadian Edit” and the eight-minute “Saleri Mix,” found on the original American version of the album, FALCO 3, which gave you a history lesson-of-sorts on all things Amadeus:
1756: Salzburg, January 27, Wolfgang Amadeus is born.
1761: At the age of 5 Amadeus begins composing.
1773: He writes his first piano concerto.
1782: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart marries Constanze Weber.
1784: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart becomes a Freemason.
1791: Mozart composes The Magic Flute.
On December 5 of that same year, Mozart dies.
1985: Austrian rock singer Falco records “Rock Me Amadeus”
The music video for “Rock Me Amadeus” featured the all-German version of the song, and the video blended mid-1980s style with 18th Century style. (I’m almost sure that Mozart did not ride an 80s motorcycle. But, it did look like Falco and Co. were having a fun time!)
“Rock Me Amadeus” was a massive global hit in both 1985 and 1986, reaching No. 1 in Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the U.K., No. 2 in Belgium, Canada, Holland, Italy and Switzerland, No. 6 in Norway and No. 15 in Australia.
Sadly, Falco is oft-labeled as a one-hit wonder here in America, led by folks like VH1, where Falco and “Rock Me Amadeus” appeared on their early 00s bullshit list of “VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders.” I’ve actually brought this very subject up in one of my first blog posts in 2016. I get it. Radio stations want you to conform to remembering just the one big hit, even if they had more than one. They don’t want you to remember that Falco actually did reach the Top 20 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 one more time, when the cool “Vienna Calling” peaked at No. 18 in June 1986. So, technically, here in America, Falco was a TWO-HIT wonder.
After “Vienna Calling” reached the Top 10 in at least seven countries around the globe, Falco’s global music career held on for a couple more years, with “Jeanny” (the third single from FALCO 3), reaching No. 1 in at least five countries. In 1987, Falco even teamed up with actress Brigitte Nielsen for a No. 1 song in New Zealand – “Body Next To Body.”
Between 1988 and 1998, Falco continued to chart songs in some European countries, but in his home country of Austria, he was music royalty. And, I think, in a way, he still is. Just 13 days before he turned 41, Falco, on a trip in the Dominican Republic, died when his car collided with a bus. It was revealed he was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine at the time. When my late, great friend and world traveler, Adam Towne (who also passed away far too early; from cancer), visited Vienna back in 2009, he photographed Falco’s grave (located in Vienna’s Central Cemetery) for me, knowing I wouldn’t think of it as morbid, but that I would appreciate the sentiment. I still do.
One of my favorite versions of “Rock Me Amadeus” is the symphonic version from the album and DVD appropriately-titled, SYMPHONIC. It was recorded live in 1994 with the Wiener Neustadt orchestra, and was released nearly 10 years to the day after his death, and of course, it went to straight to No. 1 in Austria.
Maybe some folks reading this thought of “Rock Me Amadeus” (and maybe even Falco himself) as a novelty, but I think “Rock Me Amadeus” was not only a pretty cool music history lesson set to a drum-machine beat, but it was just a downright fun song.
I know at the time of his death, he was planning a comeback, but at the very least, his legacy lives on, and despite what some folks (like VH1) say, I’ll never think of Falco as a one-hit wonder, mainly because, well, he wasn’t. And, like in the English translation of “Rock Me Amadeus,” Falco “was a superstar, he was dynamite and whatever he did seemed to be alright…”