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99 Red Balloons - interview with the writer, Kevin McAlea


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99 Luftballoons (99 Red Balloons) was originally released in German (1983) and re-released in English (1984). Kevin McAlea, creator of the English lyrics for 99 Red Balloons discusses the conversion of the song from German to English.

How did you get involved in writing the English version?
I played with a band who did a lot of concerts in Germany (Barclay James Harvest). Their manager gave me a tape with the German song on it and asked me if I could come up with a lyric. Nena had already tried themselves - they all speak pretty good English... friends tried.. a University professor tried... they couldn't come up with anything that sounded good.

How did you manage to succeed where others had stumbled?
I took the tape and first thing I did was record my own backtrack. I asked a German speaking friend what the general gist was and wrote the English version. I didn't really pay much attention to the meaning of the song as it had to sound good as a lyric in its own right. I think the mistake in the previous attempts was in trying to adhere to the original meaning. I was more interested in the sound the lyrics were making than anything else.

What did Nena think?
I sent it to the band and they were so pleased with it they immediately recorded it and released it. This was to cause a legal problem between publishers as Nena's manager assumed that they owned the copyright. Legally I did and I had assigned it to a publisher...fairly normal practice. Anyway it all worked out in the end.

You may be interested to know that I really did write the lyric on the back of an old envelope! It was the first thing to hand.

What did you think of Goldfinger's version?
I think Goldfinger's version was OK. But Nena's was still the best.

Special thanks to Kevin McAlea for providing this insight to eighty-eightynine. Currently he is playing in the band, Celtic Orbis. Check it out at www.celticorbis.co.uk

Footnote: At eighty-eightynine, we agree with Kevin that the original was the best. Interestingly, we still get the occasional cranky emails from Goldfinger fans who think that Goldfinger originally recorded the song and Nena did a cover version - and that we are 'idiots' for not acknowledging them as the true creators of the track. You can see both sets of lyrics here.

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