| "The krauts ain't following ya too good on 'Lili Marlene'|
tonight, Joe. Think somethin' happened to their tenor?"
Cartoon by Bill Mauldin
But the history of this tune called "Lili Marleen" runs much deeper than that. The lyrics originally were written during World War One by a German soldier. But by 1939 it had been made into a song and was recorded by a German pop singer named Lale Anderson.
It was a hit and was broadcast over Radio Belgade for the benefit of German soldiers. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels got sick of it and, like the Nazi he was, ordered the station to stop playing the record.. But apparently there were so many requests for it from Axis troops all over Europe, Herr Goebbels relented, and Radio Belgrade began using it as its sign-off song every night.
But it's not just the Germans who loved it. It quickly became popular with British soldiers fighting in North Africa . Versions came out in different languages , English, French, Italian, Spanish, probably others.
The lyrics speak of a young soldier on sentry duty, pining for his faraway sweetheart, Lili Marleen. That's a feeling that cuts across all cultures, even on battlefields.
Here's some versions of the song. First here's Lale Anderson, singing it in 1939
Here's German New Wave queen Nina Hagen dueting with Greek singer Nana Mouskouri.
And here's one from the early '90s from an Estonian band called Vennaskond.
And here's a version by Polish rocker Kazik Staszewski
And yes, it has been done in English. (Thanks, Randy!) Here's Marlene Dietrich
(This post was updated 12-5-16 to replace a video that had vanished and to add Zuch Kazik's and Marlene Dietrich's versions. Then it was updated 6-18-20 to replace a bunch of vanished videos.)
For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook