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Posted on10 November 2017

Translation into – Songs with Lyrics or Influence from other Languages

Songs, Translations, Atlas Translations, London, St Albans, Clare Suttie


This week we’re looking at songs which are famous over here in the UK, which contain lyrics of influence from other languages.

Les Cactus – The Last Shadow Puppets (original by Jacques Dutronc) – French

British indie group The Last Shadow Puppets covered a number of songs by artists such as Leonard Cohen and The Fall for their The Dream Synopsis EP. One of the songs they recorded was ‘Les Cactus’, originally performed by French rock star Jacques Dutronc in 1967. The track is sung by Arctic Monkeys front-man Alex Turner entirely in French, with catchy lyrics and guitars. It’s not the only TLSP track to feature French either – ‘Bad Habits’, from second album Everything You’ve Come To Expect, also features some French lyrics.

Vamos – Pixies – Spanish

American alternative rock legends Pixies’ frontman Black Francis spent six months in Puerto Rico as part of his university education, and the experience influenced his lyrics greatly. ‘Vamos’, from their 1989 debut album Surfer Rosa, is an example of a song sung mostly in Spanish. As well as the informal Spanish lyrics, it also features an epic two-minute long guitar solo from guitarist Joey Santiago. The album, which also features lyrical influence from Francis’ time in Puerto Rico in tracks such as ‘Where Is my Mind’, had a large influence on alt-rock artists such as Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Christine and the Queens – Tilted – French

Pop singer Heloise Letissier, better known as her stage name Christine and the Queens, managed to become one of the few successful French exports to the UK with her 2016 single ‘Tilted’. The song is mostly in English, but it does include a French verse. She also recorded an earlier French version, called ‘Christine’, but when translated there are some differences between the lyrics of the French version and the English one.

Across The Universe – The Beatles – Sanskrit

In the mid-to-late 1960’s, the legendary Liverpool band The Beatles started taking a lot of influence from India and Indian culture. George Harrison met Indian musician Ravi Shankar in 1966, and the pair began a friendship, with Shankar’s usage of the sitar, a classical Indian instrument similar to a guitar, influencing the Beatles’ music on albums such as Revolver, The Beatles and Abbey Road. They were also greatly influenced by Indian yoga guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They spent a period of time at the Maharishi’s rural ashram in northern India, and wrote over thirty songs during their time there.

While ‘Across the Universe’, recorded in 1968 and released as part of their 1970 Let It Be album was not written during the retreat, it has obvious influences from Indian music. Similarly to a number of Beatles songs, the use of the sitar is clear. John Lennon also repeats the phrase ‘Jai guru deva om’, a Sanskrit phrase which can be translated as ‘Hail to the divine guru’. Sitars and Indian music heavily influenced western culture throughout the late Sixties, due to the popularity of the Hippie movement.

The Clash – Should I Stay or Should I Go – Spanish

One of punk rock band The Clash’s most catchy and instantly recognisable songs, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ was sung by Mick Jones soon before he left the group. It features backing vocals in Spanish, which are the Ecuadorian Spanish translations of each line Jones sings, beginning near the midpoint of the song and continuing until the end. Eventually, it became the band’s only UK number one single, ten years after it was originally released.

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