German singer Dominique remains an odd footnote in Schlager history as an ill-fated attempt by the industry to keep up with the times. However, her protest songs lacked a certain authenticity and after a clutch of singles and an LP, she disappeared from the music scene as quickly as she had arrived.
She was born Dominique Elchlepp and hailed from Munich, in southern Germany. Her break into music came when the industry realised it needed an urgent update.
By the mid-1960s, the German music market was losing ground – and sales – to an ever-increasing amount of hipper foreign acts, especially amongst the younger listeners. The business had already suffered major losses when the beat wave from the UK and US swept over the country. And now in England and America, a new generation of more authentic serious singer-songwriters had emerged. German music, meanwhile, had a reputation for being conservative, old-fashioned and irrelevant.
Part of the problem was that most of the German music business was dominated by a small group of middle-aged writers and producers, often referred to in the press as the ‘Schlager-cartel’, who would carefully avoid letting any newcomers carve themselves a slice of the cake.
In 1965, producer Gerhard Mendelsohn, who had successfully launched the careers of two German-answers-to-Elvis a decade earlier, Peter Kraus and Ted Herold, now had the idea of developing a Teutonic counterpart to protest singers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Step forward Dominique, a 20-year-old music student, who was chosen to fill the part. By her own admission, she had very little interest in politics, which rather served to undermine her standing. However, she did possess an emphatic, almost callous, singing voice that was well suited to the ‘angry young woman’ part she was cast in.
A German translation of Donovan’s anti-war song Universal soldier, now dubbed Der ewige Soldat, was issued as her first single. Polydor’s press office described Dominique’s music ambitiously as “having socio-critical meaning and addressing problems that everybody should think about” and how “courageous Polydor is to have girl sing the first hard German protest song”. Odd words coming from Polydor, home to some of the most conservative Schlager acts such as Roy Black and Freddy Quinn at the time and whose new-found “courage” was probably fuelled by economics.
But the record-buying public was less convinced by the manufactured protest singer and preferred the original, though it still remains Dominique’s best-known song.
Dominique’s next 45, an original composition called Ist das die Welt, die wir ‘mal erben sollen, issued in 1966, about the generational conflict in Germany, also flopped.
An arms race-themed protest song, Starfighter-Ballade (...und was wird morgen sein?), became her third release. On the flip was Der Brief von drüben, one of the first songs that dealt with the post-war division of Germany into East and West.
That year Dominique also released an LP, Krieg im Frieden, that contained her three singles, some pleasant but predictable German cover versions – Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the wind, Joan Baez’s Farewell Angelina, Peter, Paul & Mary’s Cruel war and Pete Seeger’s Where have all the flowers gone? – and a handful of original material. Among the new songs was the uptempo beat number Das Schlüsselkind, arguably one of her best tracks.
However, despite a promotional tie-in with left-wing magazine Der Stern and some live performances at peace rallies, Dominique’s record sank like a lead balloon.
By now it must have dawned on her producer that the authenticity of a protest singer was harder to imitate than he might have thought. There was nothing wrong was Dominique’s vocals, but some of her lyrics were embarrassingly cliché and came across as contrived.
The whole idea of establishing Dominique as a would-be revolutionary was abandoned.
In 1967 Polydor issued her first post-album single, a lovelorn ballad called Ich hab’ in der Liebe kein Glück. Arguably the stronger track, Und wieder steht der Sonntag vor der Tür, ended up on the B-side.
A year later Dominique recorded what would be her last single, Tausend Straßen. The track was a German version of One more mountain, a song that had previously been recorded by both Vikki Carr and Little Eva. The B-side, Du lachst mich aus, a wistful ballad, showed a gentler side of Dominique and remains one of her finest moments.
Sadly, these last two singles received hardly any promotion and Dominique was dropped by Polydor shortly afterwards and never made another record.
In recent years, Dominique’s recordings have experienced a renaissance amongst record collectors, as they represent one of the few moments in time when German music tried to hitch itself to a current trend, however naive it might have come across.
With thanks to Jens Keller for contributing this profile.