"Lili Marleen" (also known as "Lili Marlen", "Lilli Marlene", "Lily Marlene", "Lili Marlène" and similar variants) is a German love song which became popular during World War II with soldiers of both sides.
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.
- 1 Creation
- 2 Exposure and reception
- 3 Marlene Dietrich version
- 4 Connie Francis version
- 5 Amanda Lear version
- 6 Other versions
- 7 Other interpretations
- 8 Recordings
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
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 nickname of his friend's girlfriend, Lili, with the first name of another female friend, Marleen, who was a nurse. 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. It was recorded by Lale Andersen for the first time in 1939. In early 1942 she recorded the song in English, the lyrics translated by Norman Baillie-Stewart, a former a British army officer working for the German Auslandssendedienst. Tommie Connor later wrote English lyrics with the title "Lily of the Lamplight" in 1944.
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. Karl-Heinz Reintgen, the German officer in charge of station, began playing the song on the air. 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
|Single by Marlene Dietrich|
|Released||7 September 1945|
|Marlene Dietrich singles chronology|
In 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) initiated the Muzak 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.
In addition to recording these songs for the OSS, Dietrich furthered her help for the war effort by enlisting in the US army. Later discovered to have been a US special service contact, she offered to take the position after she had been attacked because of her German origin. Once on the war-front she performed "Lili Marlene", as well as many other songs, live in Europe for allied troops, often on rickety, makeshift stages.
"Lili Marleen" became a massive success on the war front, specifically on the German language OSS MO radio station Soldatensender, where it became the station's theme song. After the songs welcomed reception by the troops in Europe, the song was re-recorded and released, with the spelling "Lili Marlene" after her name, Marlene. It was recorded with Charles Magnante on the accordion, citing him as the "orchestra director" for both it and the single's B-side, "Symphonie", sung in French. The single was released by Decca Records in 1945 on 10" shellac gramophone record. The original OSS recording of "Lili Marleen" remains unreleased.
After the war, in 1961, she went on to star in the film "Judgment at Nuremberg", chronicling the war trials that took place in Nuremberg after the war. Marlene plays the widow of a German general who was executed after one of the trials for an accused crime. In a scene she walks down a rubbled street, ravaged by allied attacks, with Spencer Tracy's character, a former American judge brought in to act as the Chief Trial Judge of the three-judge panel hearing and deciding upon the main case portrayed in the film. As the two characters approach a bar they hear an outpour of men singing "Lili Marleen" in German from inside. Marlene's character begins to lightly sing along with the song as they pass by, translating a few lyrics for Spencer Tracy's character, referring to the German lyrics as "much darker" than the English.
While touring the world in her over two decade long stint of live one-woman cabaret shows, from 1953-1975, that started with her residency at the Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, led to a performance at the Café de Paris in London, and had two Broadway performances, Dietrich performed "Lili Marlene" with frequency. She performed it at almost every show, the song was part of the usual line-up, usually performed after "Falling in Love Again". She always introduced the song with some variation or another of this quote, from a 1960s concert, somewhere in Europe:
Now, here is a song that is very close to my heart. I sang it during the war. I sang it for three long years, all through Africa, Sicily, Italy, to Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, to England, through France, through Belgium ... [long pause] ... to Germany, and to Czechoslovakia. The soldiers loved it, 'Lili Marlene' .
"Lili Marlene" was performed in Dietrich's television special An Evening with Marlene Dietrich which aired on the BBC in the UK and on CBS in the US in 1973. "Lili Marlene" was featured on four of her six original albums. "Lili Marlene" was also recorded and performed by Dietrich in both the original German version and English adaptation, both versions have appeared on countless compilation albums world-wide, and even been made the title of several compilations. To date, "Lili Marlene", "Falling in Love Again", and "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have" are considered to be the three songs most associated with and performed by Marlene Dietrich.
- 10" single
Original issuing of the song by Decca Records in the US and Brunswick Records in the UK was on 10". Decca re-issued the single on 7" during the 1950s and early 1970s. This is also the version of the single that was reissued by MCA in 1978 and 1980 on 7".
|1.||"Symphonie" (sung in French)||
- 7" Brunswick re-issue
Most likely re-issued in the 1970s, it was originally released in the Netherlands on 7" by Brunswick Records. This version of the single was re-issued again in the UK in 1989, and in 1992 it was issued in Germany, both by MCA, the 1989 re-issue also having been released by Old Gold Records.
|1.||"Falling in Love Again"||3:03|
- 7" EP Philips issue
Released in 1959 by Philips Records in association with Columbia Records on 7" in the Netherlands, it was intended as an abridged extended play version of an internationally released compilation album of the same name, consisting of songs sung in German by Dietrich.
|1.||"Lili Marlene" (sung in German)||2:56|
|2.||"Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen"||Traditional||2:02|
|1.||"Muss I Denn"||2:13|
|2.||"Du Hast Die Seele Mein"||Unknown||2:03|
- 7" Columbia International issue
|1.||"Lili Marlene" (sung in German)||2:56|
|1.||"Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen"||Traditional||2:02|
- 7" EMI Italiana issue
|1.||"Lili Marlen" (sung in German)||2:56|
|1.||"Ich Bin Die Fesche Lola"||
List of personnel for the original 1945 single.
- Marlene Dietrich - vocalist
- Charles Magnante - orchestra director, accordion
- Charles Magnate Orchestral
Connie Francis version
|Single by Connie Francis|
|B-side||"Mond von Mexico"|
|Label||MGM Records (61 053)|
German singles chronology
"Lili Marleen" peaked at number 9 on the German music charts.
Credits adapted from the liner notes of original release.
|1.||"Mond von Mexico"||
- Fini Busch - composer (B)
- Connie Francis - vocalist
- Hans Leip - composer (A)
- Gerhard Mendelsohn - producer
- Werner Scharfenberger - composer (B)
- Norbert Schultze - composer (A)
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.Hank Snow also recorded a version in 1963 on his album "I've Been Everywhere". 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.
The song is sung in a bar in Germany in the film Judgement at Nuremberg. In a scene featuring Marlene Dietrich, who famously recorded the song several times, and Spencer Tracy Dietrich's character explains to Tracy's that the German words are much sadder than the English translations.
In the 1983 film The Right Stuff (film), chronicling the story of the early days of the U.S. space program, in one scene, a group of German rocket scientists working for NASA nostalgically sing the song while gathered around a piano in a bar the night before one of the space flights.
The song appears several times during the World War II-themed 1988-1989 television miniseries War and Remembrance (miniseries). On the Allied side, it is played during a party attended by some of the British and American characters, prompting the cynical British journalist Philip Rule to sarcastically lament that the only memorable song to come out of the war would be "a cheap Hun ballad." On the German side, the SS men riding on the train taking the last Theresienstadt Jews to Auschwitz slowly sing it, sounding weary from the long train trip and at least somewhat drunk.
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).
It is often used as a song on the "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" round One Song to the Tune of Another. Whenever it is used jokes are often made to the German heritage of the song, by making allusions to the Third Reich. (The song "Bermuda Triangle" was sung to the tune of Lili Marlene on one episode of the show.)
- 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").
- Leibovitz, Liel and Miller, Matthew (2008). Lili Marlene: The Soldiers' Song of World War II, p. 16. New York, NY: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06584-8
- Johann Holzem: Lili Marleen und Belgrad 1941. Der lange Weg zum Ruhm, 3. Auflage, 1997, S.9 ff.
- Ernst Probst, Superfrauen 10 – Musik und Tanz, 2008, S. 28.
- Christian Peters / Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Lili Marleen, Ein Schlager macht Geschichte, Bonn 2001.
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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
- ASCAP Title Index (requires entry of title or author, no http for individual songs)
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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 YorkY: 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
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- 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. English version (ebook): Lili Marlene: The Biography of a Song. ISBN 978-8-415-76761-9.
- Schultze, Norbert (1995). Mit dir, Lili Marleen. ISBN 3-254-00206-7.
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