The third German-speaking Eurovision country is Switzerland. In fact, it has sent songs in all four of its official languages to the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as some in English. For today’s post, I have chosen a song in German with a bit of English: Swiss Lady by Pepe Lienhard Band, from 1977.
I had hoped to find the official preview of Swiss Lady, but all I have is this audio-only video:
Do you know what the horn at the start of the song is? It’s an alphorn — a long wooden horn used by mountain dwellers in the Swiss, German, Austrian, and French Alps. (You can see an image of it on the album cover in the video.) And it’s the “Swiss Lady” of the song.
German speakers know by the middle of the first verse that the “lady” isn’t an actual woman.
Sie war ziemlich schlank, sie war gertenschlank
Und manchmal nahm er sie aus seinem Schrank . . .
“She was fairly slender, she was willowy/ And sometimes he took her out of his . . . cupboard?” It’s a funny twist! But other Eurovision fans probably needed someone to tell them the punchline. The English title depends so much on the German lyrics that it doesn’t really clarify what the song is about. Apart from this song, even the Swiss themselves don’t call the alphorn a “lady”! After you get the crucial piece of information, however, you can appreciate the song — and its alphorn — a lot more.
When the Pepe Leinhard Band performed on the Eurovision Stage, of course they had an alphorn with them!
Although I had listened to it many times, seeing it “live” helped me to notice more musical details. I appreciated the piccolo flourishes better when the camera focused on the piccolo player. And I “heard” the yodeling in the middle of the song for the first time!
I think Swiss Lady is a great song to represent Switzerland. But although it wants to honor the alphorn, a different instrument in the Pepe Leinhard Band steals the whole show. Wer sie einmal gehört hat, weiß, so wie ein Piccolo klingt so schön — Who hears it once knows how lovely a piccolo sounds!
Lost (and Found) in Translation
There’s a very funny music video of the English translation. I’d like to imagine that the original preview was exactly the same.
The English lyrics stay faithful in some parts and change some others. Here we still have the joke about the “Swiss Lady” not being a literal woman . . . but look how long it takes to reveal the truth:
She was slim and tall, she had slender hips
And sometimes he would take her to his lips
And all of a sudden there was music in the air
He played Rock-‘n-roll, he played Dixieland
They called him the famous one-man mountain band
He said, “Without her, I’d just be a lonely boy
Because she’s my one and only love and joy.
“My little Swiss Lady, she’s a little bit crazy
But when we’re playing our music, it’s like a dream coming true.
My little Swiss Lady, she’s a little bit crazy
But when we’re playing our music, I’d like to be an Alphorn, too . . .”
It’s still a lot of fun in English. And I think the joke is funnier if you wait until the end of the chorus to reveal the real identity of the “lady.” But I wish this version were more faithful in other ways. In particular, I wish it had kept singer’s description of himself as “ein Mann aus den Bergen” (a man from the mountains) — because an alphorn and the Alps do go together.