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11 German Musicians Who Made It Big in America

Germany has given us famous record producers, one-hit wonders, synth-pop and electronic music pioneers, and Grammy Award winners.

Germany has given us famous record producers, one-hit wonders, synth-pop and electronic music pioneers, and Grammy Award winners.

German Musicians Who Made Their Mark on America

Although Germany lives in the long dark shadow of the World Wars, the Western European country is also known for its engineering excellence, soccer, Oktoberfest festivals and beer, schnitzels, pretzels, medieval castles, and the Autobahn where there's no speed limit.

Musically, Germany has gifted the world with a long list of composers that reads like a list of Who's Who of classical music: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Wagner. However, beyond classical composers, Germany has given us famous record producers, one-hit wonders, synth-pop and electronic music pioneers, and Grammy Award winners. How many can you name?

1. Scorpions

Radio stations routinely dust off the Scorpions' 1983 signature song, "Rock You Like a Hurricane" when one of these storms threatens to blow through and wreak havoc on the coast. The high-energy glam metal ditty was originally boosted to #25 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 by MTV back in its heyday.

The German band was formed in 1964 by rhythm guitarist, chief songwriter, and longest-serving original member Rudolf Schenker. Although over the years the Scorpions' sound has included hard rock, heavy metal, and glam metal ballads and singles, the group has been nicknamed "The Heroes of Heavy Metal."

In 1991, the Scorpions also released a globally popular ballad, "Wind of Change." The song became a symbolic anthem of the political changes that swept through Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early '90s as communist governments crumbled and the Berlin Wall fell.

2. Zedd

Russian-German record producer Anton Zaslavski borrows his stage name, "Zedd," from the first letter of his last name. Note that the letter "z" is pronounced zed in non-American English.

Zedd is a classically trained musician from a musical family. Having grown up playing piano and drums, he segued from performing deathcore metal as a teen to producing and writing mainstream hits. Zedd isn't a vocalist himself. Rather, he is known for remixing the successful singles of top artists such as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, the Black Eyed Peas, and Shawn Mendes and for his songwriting and music production collaborations with prominent singers.

His creative efforts have culminated in a Grammy Award as well as a string of worldwide EDM-pop crossover hits. Examples of these collaborations include:

  • "Clarity" (featuring Foxes) (2012)
  • "Stay the Night" (featuring Hayley Williams) (2013)
  • "I Want You to Know" (featuring Selena Gomez) (2015)
  • "Stay" (featuring Alessia Cara) (2017) and
  • "The Middle" (featuring Maren Morris and Grey) (2018)

Some vocalists have begun to push back, accusing Zedd and producers like him of taking advantage of singers' talent by not giving them appropriate credit for their work.

3. Lou Bega

A little bit of Monica in my life
A little bit of Erica by my side
A little bit of Rita is all I need...

Would you be surprised to learn that this 1999 Latin pop hit was made famous by a German guy? No joke. David Lubega, better known by his stage name, "Lou Bega," is a German singer-songwriter who was inspired by a trip to Miami as a teen. He turned the experience into "Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of...)," which topped the global pop charts. In the US, Bega never had another hit to break the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. He thus remains a one-hit wonder.

4. Nena

A total of only 20 or so non-English-language songs have ever made the Top 40 list of the US Billboard Hot 100. The new age song "99 Luftballons" by the German band Nena is one of them.

The 1983 anti-war tune relays the story of 99 balloons that are mistaken for a UFO, eventually resulting in a devastating war with no winner. Accordingly, Nena became a one-hit-wonder in America. An English language translation of the song, "99 Red Balloons," was subsequently released the following year, becoming popular in the UK, Ireland, and Canada, but it didn't chart well in the US. Active from 1982 to '87, the German band enjoyed several other hits in its native country.

5. Alphaville

This German synth-pop group first called itself "Forever Young" but then modified its name to "Alphaville," borrowing the moniker from the award-winning 1965 German film. (The movie was a futuristic sci-fi dystopian flick about a dictatorial computer system taking over society.) Although the band's highest-charting single, "Forever Young" (1984) peaked on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 at only #65, that ditty and several others were hits on the US Billboard Dance chart:

  • "Big in Japan" (1984)
  • "Jet Set" (1985)
  • "Dance with Me" (1986)
  • "Red Rose" (1987)

6. Milli Vanilli

Everything was going gangbusters for the German-French R&B duo Milli Vanilli until the unfortunate truth was exposed. The massively popular artists were lip-synching imposters. Their voices didn't appear on any of the singles that had helped garner them fame and fortune.

German singer Rob Pilatus and French musician Fabrice Morvan were brought together in 1988 as Milli Vanilli by German music producer and songwriter Frank Farian, the same producer behind the 1970s Euro-Caribbean group Boney M. The duo subsequently burst on the international music scene with R&B pop crossover singles including:

  • "Girl You Know It's True" (1988)
  • "Baby Don't Forget My Number" (1988)
  • "Blame It on the Rain" (1989)
  • "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" (1989)
  • "All or Nothing" (1990)

In a success story that was too good to be true, they were awarded a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Unfortunately, the reality was that their music was actually sung by studio performers Charles Shaw, Jodie Rocco, Linda Rocco, John Davis, and Brad Howell. When one of the real singers exposed the truth, the Milli Vanilli singers admitted the fraud, their Grammy was revoked and more than 27 lawsuits were filed against them (e.g., by people who had purchased their music). In 1998, in the midst of an attempted comeback, Rob Pilatus died of an accidental drug overdose.

7. Peter Schilling

Here's another German one-hit wonder, singer Peter Schilling, who is known primarily for the 1983 synth-pop song, "Major Tom (Coming Home)" about an astronaut who breaks off contact with ground control and veers off into outer space. The international smash song retells David Bowie's classic 1969 tune, "Space Oddity."

8. Tangerine Dream

The ambient music of German music group Tangerine Dream has been influential in the development of new age and electronic dance music. Formed in 1970, the avant-garde group was an early adopter of synthesizers and digital technology. Later, the group composed and performed instrumental film soundtracks for a variety of major motion pictures, from forgettable flicks to coming-of-age blockbusters:

  • Sorcerer (1977)
  • Thief (1981)
  • The Keep (1983)
  • Risky Business (1983)
  • Heartbreakers (1984)
  • Firestarter (1984)
  • Flashpoint (1984)
  • Legend (1985)
  • Shy People (1987)
  • Near Dark (1987)

The music collective also composed the soundtrack for the 2013 videogame Grand Theft Auto V. Tangerine Dream's music is almost exclusively instrumental, without vocals and although the group has no charted singles on the Billboard charts it is still considered successful in America due to its groundbreaking influence and soundtrack productivity. That's considered making it big, right?

9. Silver Convention

The German Euro-disco band Silver Convention was launched in 1974 using female session vocalists and the interchangeable group names Silver Bird Convention and Silver Bird. The band won a Grammy Award with its hit single "Fly, Robin, Fly" (1975) which was originally supposed to be "Run, Rabbit, Run."

The hit tune featured only six words repeated throughout: "fly, robin, up, to, the, sky." Imagining this to be a successful songwriting formula, Silver Convention issued a follow-up Billboard Top 10 hit single: "Get Up and Boogie" (1976). This ditty also contains a mere six words: "get, up, and, boogie, that's, right." Several other of the band's releases were hits on the US Billboard Dance charts and feature uncomplicated lyrics (albeit not quite as basic as six words):

  • "Save Me" (1975)
  • "Always Another Girl" (1975)
  • "No, No, Joe" (1976)
  • "Spend the Night with Me" (1978)

As the disco genre faded in popularity, Silver Convention decided to disband in 1979.

10. Enigma

Founded in 1990, the German band Enigma is a new age, worldbeat project that blends artistic, experimental, and ethnic influences from various cultures (e.g., Gregorian chants, Shakuhachi flutes). Primarily the group is known for two singles: "Sadeness (Part I)" (1990), with its Latin and French lyrics, sensual murmuring and chanting monks and the follow-up hit, "Return to Innocence" (1993).

11. Kraftwerk

Pioneers of electronic music, the German band Kraftwerk (literally, "power plant") was first formed in 1970 and is still active. The band embraced electronic instrumentation, including synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders, also incorporating sparse pop melodies. Kraftwerk was a one-hit wonder in the United States with the artistically influential German-language single "Autobaun" (1975) about driving on a motorway. The group was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for their enduring impact on popular music.

© 2021 FlourishAnyway


FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 25, 2021:

Linda, I'm glad you recognized one! That song is a really catchy one! Thank you for reading.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 24, 2021:

This is an interesting and informative article. I didn’t think that I’d know any of the songs, but when I saw the lyrics from Mambo No. 5 I could hear the song in my mind.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 23, 2021:

Heidi - At least you heard of them! I hope Spring is in full force in Chicago and you're enjoying it. I'm loving the daffodils and buds on the trees here in the South but not the early pollen.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 23, 2021:

I had heard of a number of these groups. But, sadly, even with German ancestry, I haven't listened to them much. Oh well. I'll have to pay better attention to these artists. :)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 22, 2021:

Mary - Some are much better than others. I hope you are doing well.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 22, 2021:

Devika - I'm glad you enjoy these so much. Have a wonderful week.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 22, 2021:

Chitrangada - I appreciate your swinging by to read and listen to a few songs. Thank you for taking the time. Have a wonderful week ahead!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 22, 2021:

This is new information for me. I will try to listen to some of these.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 22, 2021:

Wow! FlourishAnyway I am familiar with a few German musicians. Your list is the best I have read here. I like music and your choices are good for me.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 22, 2021:

Thank you for the excellent list of German musicians, who made it big in America. I have heard some of them. Thanks for introducing me to the others.

As always, a wonderful and interesting article. Thank you and good day.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 22, 2021:

Genna - It's good to hear from you again! Thank you for stopping by! I hope you have been well.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 22, 2021:

MG - I appreciate the kind compliment and visit. Hope you are well.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 21, 2021:

Hi Flourish...I've so missed your hubs! Interesting information and background as always, and the music is wonderful. Thank you!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 21, 2021:

Hi, Flourish, your brain is active again and listing out songs. Very refreshing list

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 21, 2021:

Linda - So you plead guilty as well? My husband wondered if Milli Vanilli actually counted because they technically didn't sing, haha. Oh, there's always a comedian or naysayer in every bunch isn't there? Have a wonderful weekend, lovely lady.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 21, 2021:

Bill - Most people don't, I believe. I appreciate the visit and hope you learned something. Have a great weekend!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 20, 2021:

"Too much Beatles and not enough other stuff." That's my story and I'm sticking with it LOL. Honestly, the only one I knew on here was Mambo 5. German? Who knew? (Well, I had heard of Milli Vanilli but never listened to "them.")

What a unique list. What's next?

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 20, 2021:

I’ve heard of two, the Scorions and Milli Vanilli. I didn’t even realize that they were German. The rest I haven’t of which I guess shows my age. I guess I never think of Germany when I think of Music but certainly they seem to have their share of successful artists. Great job.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Adrienne - Thank you for reading. While there certainly isn't the contribution like from Canada, it is interesting to see how German singers have added to our modern musical culture.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Bill - Not aware of the mambo singer or that annoying Luftballoons song or the droll Major Tom song? I'm betting too much Beatles, not enough other stuff. Oh goodness. Have a good weekend!

Adrienne Farricelli on March 20, 2021:

I wasn't aware that so many singers and bands were from Germany. Thanks for sharing this list.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Peggy - I appreciate your stopping by and giving things a listen. Some of these are acquired tastes and others are just plain weird but nevertheless, they became successful in the US, odd or not. Have a wonderful weekend!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Peg - Can you imagine it as "Run, Rabbit, Run?"

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 20, 2021:

I've only heard of two of them. Either I am totally out of touch with modern music, or none of these were huge hits in U.S. music. :( And why I know the Scorpions is beyond me. lol

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 20, 2021:

Fly, Robin, Fly is the only one that I had previously heard out of this list from German bands who made it big in America. I must admit that the last one from Kraftwerk was a toe-tapping tune. Thanks for the education about these bands and the tunes.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on March 20, 2021:

Listening to "Fly Robin Fly" right now. Wow does this one bring back memories! Interesting collection of tunes.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Pamela - Although electronic music and synth-pop may not be my first choices in music, I was intrigued that so many came from Germany. Thanks for stopping by.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Nithya - After reading the perspective of the Milli Vanilli singers, I almost felt sorry for them about being duped by their producer but they were in on the lip-syncing fraud obviously. Thank you for commenting.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 20, 2021:

Poppy - Thanks for your suggestion. Unfortunately, none of their singles made any of the US charts, but they sure did well elsewhere in the world!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

I never thought much about German musicians, so this was interesting.

I always thought that Lou Bega song was fun. I really don't know most of these groups. I don't care for rap either, but thanks for an interesting article, Flourish.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 19, 2021:

A great selection of German musicians who have made their mark in America. I have listened to Lou Bega and Milli Vanilli, both my favorites. You have introduced me to more German musicians; thank you for sharing. Will listen.

Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on March 19, 2021:

Rammstein too! :D