Written as a poem in 1915, during World War I, it was published under the title "Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht" (German for "The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch") in 1937 and was first recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939 under the title "Das Mädchen unter der Laterne" ("The Girl under the Lantern").
Following the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, Radio Belgrade became Soldatensender Belgrad and played the song frequently to entertain the German armed forces within its reach. It became popular throughout Europe and the Mediterranean among both Axis and Allied troops.
The words were written in 1915 during World War I by Hans Leip (1893–1983), a school teacher from Hamburg who had been conscripted into the Imperial German Army. Leip reportedly combined the names of his girlfriend and another female friend. The poem was later published as "Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht" ("The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch") in 1937, now with the two last (of five) verses added. It was set to music by Norbert Schultze in 1938. Tommie Connor later wrote English lyrics. It was recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939.
Exposure and reception
After the occupation of Belgrade in 1941, Radio Belgrade became the German forces' radio station under the name of Soldatensender Belgrad (Soldiers' Radio Belgrade), with transmissions heard throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.
While on leave in Vienna, a lieutenant working at the station was asked to collect some records for broadcast. Amongst the pile of second-hand records from the Reich radio station was the little known two-year-old song "Lili Marleen" sung by Lale Andersen, which up till then had barely sold around 700 copies. For lack of other recordings, Radio Belgrade played the song frequently.
At one point the Nazi government's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, ordered broadcasting of the song to stop. Radio Belgrade received many letters from Axis soldiers all over Europe asking them to play "Lili Marleen" again. Goebbels reluctantly changed his mind, and from then on the tune was used to sign-off the broadcast at 9:55 PM.
Its popularity quickly grew. Soldiers stationed around the Mediterranean, including both German Afrika Korps and British Eighth Army troops, regularly tuned in to hear it. In fact it was published in South Africa, in a wartime leaflet, with an anonymous English translation of the text, as "Lili Marleen: The Theme Song of the Eighth Army and the 6th Armoured Division". Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika Korps, admired the song and asked Radio Belgrade to incorporate it into their broadcasts, which they did.
Lale Andersen was awarded a gold disc for over one million sales of "Lili Marleen" [HMV - EG 6993]. It is thought that she was awarded her copy after hostilities ended. HMV's copy was discarded during renovations to their flagship store on Oxford Street, London, in the 1960s where, hitherto, it had been on display. The disc was recovered and is now in a private collection.
Many Allied soldiers made a point of listening to it at the end of the day. For example, in his memoir Eastern Approaches, Fitzroy Maclean describes the song's effect in the spring of 1942 during the Western Desert Campaign: "Husky, sensuous, nostalgic, sugar-sweet, her voice seemed to reach out to you, as she lingered over the catchy tune, the sickly sentimental words. Belgrade... The continent of Europe seemed a long way away. I wondered when I would see it again and what it would be like by the time we got there."  The next year, parachuted into the Yugoslav guerrilla war, Maclean wrote: "Sometimes at night, before going to sleep, we would turn on our receiving set and listen to Radio Belgrade. For months now, the flower of the Afrika Korps had been languishing behind the barbed wire of Allied prison camps. But still, punctually at ten o'clock, came Lale Andersen singing their special song, with the same unvarying, heart-rending sweetness that we knew so well from the desert. [...] Belgrade was still remote. But, now that we ourselves were in Yugoslavia, it had acquired a new significance for us. It had become our ultimate goal, which Lili Marlene and her nostalgic little tune seemed somehow to symbolise. 'When we get to Belgrade...' we would say. And then we would switch off the wireless a little guiltily, for the Partisans, we knew, were shocked at the strange pleasure we got from listening to the singing of the German woman who was queening it in their capital." In the autumn of 1944, the liberation of Belgrade seemed not far away. "Then, at ten o'clock, loud and clear, Radio Belgrade; Lili Marlene, sweet, insidious, melancholy. 'Not much longer now,' we would say, as we switched it off. It was a stock joke but one that at last began to look like coming true." As the Red Army was advancing on Belgrade, he reflected again on the song. "At Valjevo, as at so many other places, in the desert, in Bosnia, in Italy, Dalmatia, and Serbia, we would tune our wireless sets in the evening to Radio Belgrade, and night after night, always at the same time, would come, throbbing lingeringly over the ether, the cheap, sugary and almost painfully nostalgic melody, the sex-laden, intimate, heart-rending accents of Lili Marlene. 'Not gone yet,' we would say to each other. 'I wonder if we'll find her when we get there.' Then one evening at the accustomed time there was silence. 'Gone away,' we said."
Allied soldiers in Italy later adapted the tune to their own lyrics, creating the D-Day Dodgers song. A cartoon by Bill Mauldin in the American army newspaper Stars and Stripes shows two soldiers in a foxhole, one playing a harmonica, while the other comments, "The krauts ain't following ya too good on 'Lili Marlene' tonight, Joe. Think somethin' happened to their tenor?"
Marlene Dietrich version
In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Musac Project, musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene Dietrich, the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use, recorded a number of songs in German for the project, including Lili Marleen.
Connie Francis version
|Single by Connie Francis|
|B-side||"Mond von Mexico"|
|Label||MGM Records (61 053)|
German singles chronology
Lili Marleen was released by American entertainer Connie Francis in 1962 as her seventh German single and peaked at No. 9 in the German charts. Francis also recorded the song in Italian and French.
Amanda Lear version
|Single by Amanda Lear|
|from the album Never Trust a Pretty Face|
|B-side||"Dreamer (South Pacific)"|
|Amanda Lear singles chronology|
French singer and euro disco queen Amanda Lear recorded a German-English language version of the song for her 1979 album Never Trust a Pretty Face. French editions of the album included a German-French version of the track. "Lili Marleen" was released as a promotional single only in Argentina, although earlier it became the B-side of the single "Gold". The singer performed the song in the 1978 film Zio Adolfo in arte Führer.
- 7" Promotional Single (1979)
- A. "Lili Marleen"
- B. "Dreamer (South Pacific)"
While the Italian version, translated by lyricist Nino Rastelli and recorded in 1942 by Lina Termini, was probably the first to be released, the earliest English language recording of the song was probably Anne Shelton's, but a number of cover versions followed. A version called "The D-Day Dodgers" was sung by the Canadian Army remaining in Italy once the Normandy invasion had begun in 1944. A recording was made by Perry Como on 27 June 1944 and issued by RCA Victor Records as a 78rpm record (catalog number 20-1592-A) with the flip side "First Class Private Mary Brown". This recording was later re-issued as catalog number 20-2824-A with flip side "I Love You Truly". The song reached chart position #13 on the United States charts. The song was recorded during the musicians' strike and consequently has a backing chorus instead of an orchestral backup. A version with French words by Henri Lemarchand was recorded by Suzy Solidor in 1941.
Other artists who recorded the song included Hildegarde (on Decca), Martha Tilton (on Coral), and Vaughn Monroe (on V-Disc). Al Martino revived the song for Capitol Records in 1968. Another version was recorded in the 1960s by Hank Locklin. Another French singer, Patricia Kaas used "Lili Marlene" as an intro for her song "D'Allemagne" and sang the entire song during concerts in the 1990s. Matia Bazar (Italy) recorded an uptempo beat song called "Lili Marleen" on her 1982 album Berlino, Parigi, Londra. The song is a "spoken words" early 1980s dance track. Spanish group Olé Olé, led by Marta Sánchez, released an electro-pop version of the song in 1985. It became one of the best-selling singles in Spain of the 1980s, and paved way for the singer to have a successful career. The song was eventually included in the also best-selling album 'Bailando Sin Salir de Casa' in 1986. German blackmetal band Eisregen recorded a version of "Lili Marlene" on their album Hexenhaus. The German Gothic metal/Industrial metal band Atrocity released the song in both languages (English & German) on Gemini: on the blue edition was the German version, and on the red edition was the English version. Kid Creole and the Coconuts included an uptempo, disco-influenced version of "Lili Marlene", with German lyrics sung by Coconut Adriana Kaegi, on their 1980 debut LP release Off the Coast of Me. Carly Simon recorded the song as the third track on her 1997 Arista CD Film Noir. It has also been translated into Hawaiian by Kiope Raymond, and recorded by Raymond and Pearl Rose on Rose's 2000 album Homecoming. Most recently it was recorded by Neil Hannon of the Irish pop group The Divine Comedy as a B-side to the 2006 single "A Lady Of A Certain Age". A slow-tempo instrumental version can be found on the compilation LP, Vienna: City of Dreams, by the Austrian zither master Anton Karas. "Lili Marlene" has been adopted as the regimental slow march by the Special Air Service, Special Air Service Regiment and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
Estonian punk rock band Vennaskond released an Estonian version of the song on their album Usk. Lootus. Armastus. in 1993. Another Estonian group, Swing Swindlers, recorded a melancholy swinging version in 2007 (both in German and Estonian) and featured the song in their film Berlin 1945: Musik Unter Bomben with vocals by Mart Sander, Kelli Uustani, Nele-Liis Vaiksoo and Pirjo Levandi.
The 2009 film, Bad Day to Go Fishing, directed by Alvaro Brechner, showed an uncontrollable titan of impressive dimensions (Jouko Ahola) who could only be appeased by the melody of "Lili Marlene".
British singer-songwriter Katy Carr featured this song in English on her album Coquette (2009).
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- Part 2, ch 3 "Outward Bound"
- Part III, ch 3 Orientation
- Ch 12 Ratweek
- Part 3, ch 13 "Grand Finale" in Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean, 1949
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- Andersen, Lale (1981). Leben mit einem Lied. Munich ISBN 3-423-01003-7
- Leibovitz, Liel and Miller, Matthew (2008). Lili Marlene: The Soldiers' Song of World War II. New York, NY: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06584-8
- Peters, Christian, Lili Marleen. Ein Schlager macht Geschichte, Aust.-Kat. Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn 2001
- Protte, Katja, Mythos „Lili Marleen“ – Ein Lied im Zeitalter der Weltkriege, in: Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Jg. 63 (2004), Heft 2, S. 355-400
- Rose, Rosa Sala (2008/2010). Lili Marleen – Canción de amor y muerte/Geschichte eines Liedes von der Liebe und vom Tod ISBN 978-3-423-24801-3
- Schultze, Norbert (1995). Mit dir, Lili Marleen. ISBN 3-254-00206-7
- Wilson, Patrick Maitland (2002). Where the Nazis Came. ISBN 1-904244-23-8
- Lili Marleen an allen Fronten ("Lili Marleen on all fronts"). Hambergen, Germany: Bear Family Records, 2006. 7 CDs with 180-page booklet, ISBN 3-89916-154-8 (includes nearly 200 versions of "Lili Marleen").