Foreign-language songs have a hard time making it big in the English-speaking world. There have really only been a few non-English breakout successes in the history of modern music. Very often in the 20th century, however, songs would be translated from their original language to English, and some of these became very successful. You may not even know some of these songs weren’t in English in the first place. Check out these seven songs originally in a different language, and scroll down to the bottom to hear all of the versions together.
“Major Tom (Coming Home)”
Original Version: “Major Tom (völlig losgelöst)” by Peter Schilling
Not to be confused with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Major Tom (Coming Home)” was originally recorded by Peter Schilling in German as“Major Tom (völlig losgelöst).” The song, which was released in 1983, became a hit in Europe. To squeeze more mileage out of it, the song was re-released by Schilling in English as “Major Tom (Coming Home)” later that year. It reached the top of the charts in Canada, as well as making it to number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
Original Version: “Gloria” by Umberto Tozzi
The first version of “Gloria” was an Italian love song performed by Umberto Tozzi and released in 1979. The song was very successful across Europe, so the same year an English version was translated and performed by Jonathan King. This didn’t reach quite the same level of success. Three years later, however, Laura Branigan recorded her own version, changing “Gloria” from a love song to a story about a girl on the run, which turned out to be a massive hit in the United States.
Original Version: “Macarena” by Los Del Rio
This example is a little bit different from the other songs on this list, but still relevant. “Macarena” came out in 1996, and the song became extraordinarily popular. The version that made it to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, however, was specifically “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix),” which replaced the Spanish verses with English ones. You’re likely to hear both interchangeably today, but the English-language version was initially more popular among English speakers.
Original Version: “Comme d’habitude” by Claude François
For fans of ol’ blue eyes, it may come as a shock that “My Way” was originally a French song. Performed and released by Claude François in 1967, Canadian singer and songwriter Paul Anka heard the song during a stay in France and went about rewriting the song for Frank Sinatra. The song is not a direct translation of “Comme d’habitude,” which means “As Usual.” On a somewhat related note, the song “My Way” is famous for leading to multiple fatal fights in the Philippines when someone chose to perform it at karaoke, in what has become known as the “My Way Killings.”
Original Version: “Der Kommissar” by Falco
“Der Kommissar” presents a pretty straightforward example, where the original 1981 German song by Falco was rewritten in English and released a year later by After the Fire. The English version made it to number five in the United States, leading Falco to re-release the original, but that never quite caught on as more than a novelty. Coincidentally, Laura Branigan (of “Gloria” fame) also recorded a song that used the melody of “Der Kommissar” called “Deep in the Dark.”
“It’s Now or Never”
Original Version: “‘O Sole Mio” by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capua
“‘O Sole Mio” is certainly the oldest song on the list, originally written in 1898. The song was written for the Neapolitan language, which is a language closely related to Italian and spoken in Naples, Italy. This song inspired “There’s No Tomorrow,” which was recorded by Tony Martin in 1949. This song then went on to inspire Elvis Presley, who had songwriters rewrite a version for him that ended up being “It’s Now or Never.” It was released in 1960 and topped the charts in the United States. While not a direct translation of the original “‘O Sole Mio,” Elvis’ song is strongly influenced by it.
“Beyond the Sea”
Original Version: “La Mer” by Charles Trenet
Written and performed in French by Charles Trenet, “La Mer” became a classic shortly after its release in 1946 (though there was one earlier version in 1945 performed by Roland Gerbeau). The song, originally about the changing of the sea, became a love song as it was translated into English as “Beyond the Sea.” The most famous version is likely Bobby Darin’s 1959 recording, but it was recorded in English before then, and has been covered a huge number of times since then. In English alone, it has versions by Django Reinhardt, Rod Stewart, Ray Conniff and Barry Manilow. The song was also translated into other languages, including Italian (“Il Mare”), German (“Das Meer”) and Russian (“Волна”).