Helen Shapiro was Britain’s most successful singer of the early 1960s, before being made obsolete by the beat boom. She also scored two small German hits and recorded a string of releases in German.
Helen Shapiro was born in London on 28 September 1946. After landing a contract with the EMI Columbia label at the age of just 14, she became one of the UK’s biggest stars of the early 1960s. In 1961, she scored the first of a string of big hits with Don’t treat me like a child.
Her second British chart topper, Walkin’ back to happiness – which has since become her signature tune in the UK – was issued as a single in Germany at the beginning of 1962. Though it just made the top 30, it remained in the German charts for three months.
Its relative success inspired German Columbia to request that Helen record translations of her British hits for the German market. First up was the excellent Tell me what he said. Issued as Frag’ mich nicht warum, the song entered the charts in June 1962, making number 31 and sticking in the German charts for four months.
It was followed by Den Ton kenn ich schon, a version of Let’s talk about love, but the song wasn’t as strong as either of its predecessors and was ignored by the German public.
I cried myself to sleep last night became Schlafen kann ich nie for Helen’s next release, with Glaube mir Johnny on the B-side. (The latter was recorded during the same session as Ich war der Star heute Nacht – a reworking of fan favourite Queen for tonight – which, inexplicably, remained unreleased in the Columbia vaults for many years.)
After these couple of flops, German songwriters Kurt Hertha and Heinz Gietz were drafted in to come up with a song that would appeal to German record buyers. The result was the perky Immer die Boys. Though it fitted Helen’s style, by the time it was issued in late 1964, it sounded distinctly dated. This wasn’t a new problem for Helen – though no one questioned her ability to sing, she’d been struggling to retain her fan base in the face of the beat boom. Indeed, she hadn’t enjoyed a top ten hit in her homeland for over two years by this point.
Her first German release of 1965, Sag, dass es schön ist, was another original German composition and her strongest single for some time.
However, when it also failed, Helen waited a year before attempting another German-language release. Ich such mir meinen Bräutigam alleine aus was a cover of an East German song originally recorded by Karin Prohaska. It was a bright and breezy number which might reasonably have been expected to fare well in West Germany too. Sadly, it didn’t. The B-side was a translation of Helen’s own classy composition Wait a little longer, which became Der Weg zu deinem Herzen.
The Schlager-esque Das ist nicht die feine englische Art became her next, and final, German-language release, in 1970.
At home, she turned to stage work and to jazz, for which she earned enormous respect. She also appeared in TV soap opera Albion market in the mid-1980s before turning to gospel music. Though Jewish, Helen now devotes her energies to performing outreach work for a ministry that believes Jesus to be the messiah. Interestingly, her conversion came about after returning from a trip performing in Germany.
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