Rada rada radadadada, rada rada radadadada … – As connoisseurs of German “Schlager” music of course will know, this is not some Dadaist poem, but the refrain of the evergreen German hit song: “Im Wagen vor mir” (which, literally translated, means: In the car in front of me). Those who would not refer to themselves as connoisseurs of German Schlager should be aware: It is a highly polarizing genre. If you have never heard it, it might be a treat - or a severe shock …
However, Schlager can be generally described as a style of popular music that is a catchy instrumental accompaniment to vocal pieces of pop music with happy-go-lucky, repetitive, and often sentimental lyrics. The genre emerged after the Second World War and is a bizarrely enduring phenomenon: The most-downloaded German album of all time was Schlager music – Helene Fischer’s “Farbenspiel” (Color play) was released in 2013 and stayed in the charts for four years.
The Schlager “Im Wagen vor mir” was recorded back in 1977 by a certain guy called Henry Valentino – in a duet with a certain girl named Uschi. For me personally, this track is my first musical memory, for two reasons: on the one hand it was the first song in which a car – to be specific: a Citroën 2CV with a young lady at the wheel – played a significant part. And on the other hand it was a song that I only ever heard in a car – to be specific: from the back seat of our family's station wagon.
The latter not entirely voluntarily (the experience was probably when I decided that I do not intend to join the “Schlager is a treat” fraction). However, when we headed south on vacation my father was always the one firmly in charge, not just of the steering wheel but also of the cassette deck. While my two sisters and I didn't exactly keep statistics on the matter back then, we heard the duet between Henry and Uschi so often that it still triggers a lot of shared memories.
I used to wonder, who is this guy with the distinctive gravelly voice? Why is he so keen to know about the girl “with the soft hair” and why does he keep asking “where she's going and what she's thinking about right now”? 35 years later, a quick search on Google provides the answer to the first of these questions at least: Henry Valentino's real name is Hans Blum; he's now over 90 and lives with his wife (Ingetraud, not Uschi!) near the German city of Cologne. “Im Wagen vor mir” was his biggest hit single as a singer and remained in the German charts for an impressive 33 weeks.