99 Luftballons

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"99 Luftballons" /
"99 Red Balloons"
Single by Nena
from the album Nena and 99 Luftballons
Released 1983 (West Germany)
1984 (United Kingdom)
Format CD single
Recorded 1982
Genre Neue Deutsche Welle
Length 3:53
Label CBS Schallplatten
Writer(s) Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen (music)
Carlo Karges (German lyrics)
Kevin McAlea (English lyrics)
Certification
Nena singles chronology
"Nur geträumt"
(1982)
"99 Luftballons"
(1983)
"Leuchtturm"
(1983)
Music sample

"99 Luftballons" (German Neunundneunzig Luftballons, "99 balloons") is an anti-nuclear protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album. An English version titled "99 Red Balloons", written by Kevin McAlea, was also released after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German and contains a somewhat different set of lyrics.[1]

Background and writing[edit]

While at a June 1982 concert by the Rolling Stones in West Berlin, Nena's guitarist Carlo Karges noticed that balloons were being released. As he watched them move toward the horizon, he noticed them shifting and changing shapes, where they looked like strange spacecraft (referred to in the German lyrics as a "UFO"). He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.[2]

Etymology[edit]

The translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons"; however, "Ninety-Nine Balloons" is more accurate.[3][4] A Luftballon is a colourful toy balloon, rather than a balloon for transport or research. The name is derived from Luft, German for "air", but the meaning of Luft as a noun does not qualify the type of balloon; however, as an adjective meaning "aerial" resulting in an understanding of "airborne balloons." The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first lines of lyrics, with "red" replacing "Luft"; the only difference is that neunundneunzig (99) has one syllable more than "ninety-nine".

Plot[edit]

The lyrics of the original German version tell a story: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child's balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders, and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor.[5]

The English version retains the spirit of the original narrative, but many of the lyrics are translated poetically rather than the direct narration of the original: a bag's worth of red helium balloons are casually released by an anonymous civilian into the sky and are registered as missiles by a faulty early warning system, these balloons are mistaken for an attack which results in panic, and eventually nuclear wars.[5]

Re-recordings and cover versions[edit]

There have been two re-recordings of the song released by Nena: a modern version in 2002 which was included on Nena feat. Nena (2002)[6] and a retro-sounding one in 2009,[7] the latter of which includes some verses recorded in French. 7 Seconds, an American hardcore punk band, covered the song on their third album Walk Together, Rock Together in 1985.[8] Angry Salad released a version of the song on their 1998 album Bizarre Gardening Accident. Their version also appears on their 1999 self-titled album. A cover of the song was recorded by the band Goldfinger in 2000 for the album Stomping Ground, and gained popularity after featuring in the film EuroTrip.[9]

South African band Southern Gypsey Queen released a cover of the song in 2011.[10]

Japanese pop singer Yoko Oginome released a cover of the song for the album Dear Pop Singer released on 20 August 2014.[11]

Parody songwriter Tim Cavanagh recorded a parody of the song, "99 Dead Baboons," which debuted on the Dr Demento radio show shortly after Nena released the original song, and turned into a popular request on the Funny Five. [12]

Reception[edit]

American and Australian audiences preferred the original German version, which became one of the most successful non-English songs in US history[citation needed] when it topped the Cash Box Top 100 chart and reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind "Jump" by Van Halen.[13] It was certified Gold by the RIAA.

The later-released English translation, "99 Red Balloons", topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Ireland.

VH1 Classic, an American cable television station, ran a charity event for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006. Viewers who made donations were allowed to choose which music videos the station would play. One viewer donated $35,000 for the right to program an entire hour and requested continuous play of Nena's "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00pm EST on 26 March 2006.[14]

Chart positions[edit]

German version[edit]

English version[edit]

2002 re-release[edit]

Chart (2002) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[57] 17
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[58] 82
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[59] 77
Order of precedence
Preceded by
"Jump" by Van Halen
Canadian CHUM number-one single
24 March 1984 – 31 March 1984 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins
US Cash Box number-one single
10 March 1984 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Preceded by
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Japanese Oricon International Chart number-one single
16 April 1984 – 23 April 1984 (2 weeks)
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
2 April 1984 – 30 April 1984 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Eat It" by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Irish Singles Chart number-one single
26 February 1984 – 18 March 1984 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hello" by Lionel Richie
Preceded by
"Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
UK Singles Chart number-one single
3 March 1984 – 17 March 1984 (3 weeks)
Preceded by
"Red Red Wine" by UB40
Canadian RPM number-one single
3 March 1984 – 10 March 1984 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Jump" by Van Halen
Preceded by
"Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)" by Peter Schilling
Austrian number-one single
15 April 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Gel', du magst mi" by Ludwig Hirsch
German number-one single
28 March 1983 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo
Swiss number-one single
20 April 1983 – 27 April 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"L'Italiano" by Toto Cutugno
Preceded by
"Poi E" by Patea Maori Club
New Zealand number-one single
15 April 1984 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Reggae Night" by Jimmy Cliff
Preceded by
"Radio Ga Ga" by Queen
Swedish number-one single
3 April 1984 – 1 May 1984 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Street Dance" by Break Machine
Preceded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo
Belgian Ultratop 50 Flanders number-one single
16 April 1983 – 30 April 1983 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Let's Dance" by David Bowie
Preceded by
"Fame" by Irene Cara
Belgian VRT Top 30 Flanders number-one single
9 April 1983 – 30 April 1983 (4 weeks)
Preceded by
"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson
Eurochart Hot 100 number-one single
2 April 1983 – 30 April 1983 (5 weeks)
Preceded by
"Pa" by Doe Maar
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
26 March 1983 – 16 April 1983 (4 weeks)
Single Top 100 number-one single
26 March 1983 – 16 April 1983 (4 weeks)

In popular culture[edit]

The song was used in the soundtrack of various TV series episodes, movies and videos games. The TV episodes are from such US series as My Name Is Earl,[60] Gilmore Girls,[60] Scrubs,[60] The Simpsons[61] and Girls.[60] It also appeared in the Argentinean TV series Guapas.[60] The movies include Grosse Pointe Blank,[60] Boogie Nights,[60] The Wedding Singer,[60] My Best Friend's Girl,[60] Not Another Teen Movie,[62] Watchmen,[62] EuroTrip,[62] Mr. Nobody,[60] Filth[60] and Hell.[60] The video games include Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec,[62] Donkey Konga,[63] Just Dance 2014[64] and Lazy Jones.[65]

See also[edit]

  • Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet early-warning system operator who in 1983 disregarded a false nuclear attack alarm (from shining clouds, rather than balloons) and may have prevented a nuclear war.
  • List of anti-war songs

References[edit]

  1. ^ "99 Red Balloons – interview with the writer, Kevin McAlea". Eighty-eightynine. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  2. ^ Rolling Stone, 15 March 1984
  3. ^ "The New English-German Dictionary: "Luftballon"". Retrieved 2 June 2007. balloon -- der Luftballon [dead link]
  4. ^ "The New English-German Dictionary: "Balloon"". Retrieved 2 June 2007. balloon -- der Ballon, balloon -- der Luftballon [dead link]
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  9. ^ Phares, Heather. "Original Soundtrack – Eurotrip". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "Southern Gypsey Queen – "99 Red Balloons"". Rolling Stone South Africa. 15 November 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "Yoko Oginome Official Website > Discography > Album". Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
  12. ^ "99 Dead Baboons on the Mad Music Archive". 
  13. ^ "March 3, 1984 – The Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. 3 March 1984. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  14. ^ "VH1 Classic to Air the Classic 80s Music Video '99 Luftballons' for an Entire Hour on Sunday, 26 March". VH1 Classic. PR Newswire. 22 March 2006. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
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