Le Pop: Is English the only language for rock and roll?

Much discussion in the office this morning about whether anyone could think of a single good pop record sung in a language other than English. Many a snide comment about the Eurovision song contest but few people put their hands up. For years the French have been fretting over their most popular bands abandoning their native language but is the reality that English is the only language for Rock and Roll?

Why is English so successful when it comes to popular music? Some countries are looking at what can be done to encourage artists around the world to sing in their native tongue? The French have a quota system meaning a certain percentage of all music played on the radio has to be sung in French. All a bit formualic or Is this the answer?

Maybe certain languages are better suited to music than others. Is opera always better in Italian?

On a seperate musical note….another talking point…..which single piece of music sums up the Olympic Torch debacle? The Doors Light My Fire, The Spencer Davis Group Keep on Running or Tpau China in Your Hand are just a few suggestions from the production team.

31 Responses to “Le Pop: Is English the only language for rock and roll?”

  1. 1 Ana Milena, Colombia
    April 9, 2008 at 16:42

    Hi, everybody! 🙂
    In my country, there are some Latin American idols of different music genres, including rock. Yet, the most popular artists for this genre are Anglo bands and singers; their style is authentic. Few native singers can achieve that essence…

    I think few artists can reach the same magical ‘something’ from the genre by singing in their mother tongue.

    Wow! Light My Fire would be amazing for the event!

  2. 2 eric swenson
    April 9, 2008 at 16:44

    rock n’ roll? who cares. give me classical music any day. music does not need words and most of the drivel that comes from rock n’ roll is degenerate, degrading, immature and unintelligent. the language does not seem to make any difference. beethoven is surely “rolling over” in his grave.

  3. 3 Brett
    April 9, 2008 at 16:55

    -Pitbull is doing a great job with Latino Rap
    -Goldfinger did an English / German version of 99 Red Balloons which has been used in various soundtracks and is, or was, quite a popular pop-punk-rock song.

    -English is so popular because it is such a widely spoken language.

    -Pop artists are in it for the money. There is little to no money in niche language markets. At least compared to a broad market like English language.

    -Another point, many entertainment companies are US companies, US speaks English.

    I’ll have to think of a soundtrack for the Olympic Torch Debaucle lol… More to come.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  4. 4 bjay
    April 9, 2008 at 17:05

    Is English the only language for rock and roll?

    To Marketing it in a Global Sense, YES- simple as that.
    (did start it with music)
    Changing the frame of mine; the rest is history.

    Bjay connotation with accent.
    Please, no long analytical mambo-jambo

  5. 5 Brett
    April 9, 2008 at 17:11

    Torch Debaucle Soundtrack:

    Rage Against The Machine – Bombtrack or maybe Take The Power Back
    Anti-Flag – Protest Song. But in this case the lyrics:
    looking to stop a rogue regime?
    well the first ones that we must confront is WASHINGTON, DC!

    Are substituted referring to China haha, the rest of the song applies in very strong parallel.

    If I were to take clips of all of the protest and peice them together, those would be a few of the songs I would strongly consider.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  6. 6 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    April 9, 2008 at 17:16

    Hi, there! 🙂

    Well, I consider that classic Rock and Pop music are usually in English… However, in South and Central America we have many famous bands and artists which sing in their native language and are really successful, even in other continents. The problem is that some of them try to copy the style of other Anglo bands or singers, and even lose their own identity singing in a foreign language just to get the same success or be known abroad – forgeting their own language and accent (just listen to Shakira, namely)! That’s a shame, because other successful rock and pop singers have achieved great things singing in their language and even showing something of thier own culture (just one case, Juanes from Colombia).

    I think it’s just a matter of sense of belonging and identity. Well, maybe I’m too radical…

  7. 7 Will Rhodes
    April 9, 2008 at 17:17

    Kraftwork were a German band, no?

    The only thing is – when you have such things as rap music, is that English?

  8. April 9, 2008 at 17:50

    Will and Brett fly the flag for the Germans…sehr gut. Kraftwerk are true musical pioneers and sung in German, English and even French with their track “Tour de France. As for Nena, she released neun und neunzig in English specially for us Brits.

    Oh and Will…doesn’t rap have some of the most creative use of the English language?

  9. 9 George USA
    April 9, 2008 at 17:52

    There are ballads in the romance languages, including French, that are so beautiful they bring tears to your eyes.

    But for Rock and Roll-

    You cannot do Jerry Lee Lewis in romance languages and come out with the same effect.

    English is the language of rock and roll.

    Both UK and USA English work.

  10. April 9, 2008 at 17:54

    Thanks for your comments Eric…not sure about Beethoven but from what I’ve read of Mozart in his day he was often accused of being degenerate, degrading, immature and unintelligent. The Pete Doherty of his time?

  11. 11 Brett
    April 9, 2008 at 18:03


    The only thing is – when you have such things as rap music, is that English?

    It’s um…… Art?

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  12. April 9, 2008 at 20:15

    Hi Jon… There’re some very famous and popular Arab singers (males and females) who sing both pop and rock in Arabic and I have to admit that they’re doing their job pretty successfully. Examples ?! Nancy Ajram (Lebanese female singer), Amr Diyab (Egyptian male singer), Alisa (Lebanese female singer), Marwan Khouri (Lebanese male singer), and many others. And I do believe that the song ‘There’s a hero’ by Maria Carrie would be just perfect for the Olympic event. Anyone agrees ?! :). With my love. Yours forever, Lubna.

  13. 13 George USA
    April 9, 2008 at 22:39

    Will & Brett- “rap music”

    I live in Atlanta Georgia (large black population with many rappers) and offer the definitive word on this matter;

    rap is not music.



    Tienes todo razon,

    los groupos Latinos, tienen various genera muy lindos

    y tan especial al mundo como el rock and roll,

    pero no ganan nada cuando tratan de imitar rock and roll en Ingles.


    No puedo tomar el merenge de Santo Domingo ahora,

    ni en Espanol, ni Ingles,

    ya es basura hoy en dia.

  14. 14 Shakhoor Rehman
    April 9, 2008 at 22:40

    The fact that this question even needs to be asked says a great deal about how little knowledge there is of our multi-cultured planet and how the barriers of ignorance are still large and strongly built. The fact is our planet needs to become multi-lingual to appreciate all cultures. Otherwise the benefits will be lost in translation to a superimposed alien tongue. It’s all about education.

  15. 15 primal convoy in Japan
    April 10, 2008 at 03:43

    Perhaps the other question is that “Is AMERICAN English the only language of popular genres of music?”.

    Many British singers seem to adopt a fake American accent when singling. Personally, I applaud any other forms of music from other countries that use any language. In Japan, “Linda Linda” (which, I assure you is the only English used in the song) by the age-old popular J-punk band, “The Bluehearts” is a GREAT song, even if you cannot understand a word that they say (and to be honest, who CAN understand a the lyrics of many of our own domestic music all the time?).

  16. 16 Ana Milena, Colombia
    April 10, 2008 at 03:47

    @ Eric Swenson
    “Music does not need words and most of the drivel that comes from rock n’ roll is degenerate, degrading, immature and unintelligent.”
    @ George, USA
    “Rap is not music.”

    “Variety is the spice of life”. Perhaps these kinds of music aren’t our favourite ones, but some people love them because they feel identified with them. (I agree, sadly, that it doesn’t reflect the best of our world and society). Well, I might reconsider my definition of “music”… :p

    I agree with you, Shakhoor: having artists sing in their own languages and become popular worldwide is a great way to let others know about other countries. The fact is, would the genre change its essence?

    In my opinion, even though Rock n’ Roll isn’t the same in other languages, it’s enjoyable!!! The same happens with ballads, pop, even rap, etc., etc.
    In my case, I enjoy music in English even more than in Spanish. 🙂

  17. 17 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    April 10, 2008 at 06:28

    What a good Spanish , George! 🙂

    Well, I completely agree with Shakhoor Rehman :). It’s ok to be open-minded and get to know different cultures to ours. Also, learning more than two languages is becoming necessary: This need is also reflected in arts and music. What I would question here is if singers and bands really need to sing in a foreign language all the time, in this case English, and even change their look and style to be English-like or American-like. Obviously if you’re a rocker you need to show you are one, but does it really mean that you need to leave your roots aside? Then where’s your originality, your own identity? For example, look at Shakira… Now she’s Arabian, Colombian, Argentinian, American… Tutti-Frutti! It’s not about nationalism but about sense of belonging…

    RaP is critisized today, in English, Spanish, German, French…. but, as Jon Donnison said with Mozart and today’s rock, maybe in the future people will consider these songs as master pieces. Unfortunately this music does not show the best of society most of the times…

    Lubna, I love your proposal. Mariah’s “Hero” would be a great song for the Olympics, though I wonder is her voice is still powerful enough to sing it. However it’s still much better than merengue… Ha ha!

  18. April 10, 2008 at 08:29

    Hi all,

    As musician myself I find English a more convenient and a more easy language to express words, feeling and emotions. Although I’m from the low lands, The Netherlands, you would think that my own birth language is the more easy one to show expressions in words. But its not.
    For me its all about flow, combining words with instruments, sounds and verbs. You have to distinguish some difference in musicians. Its not always about lyrics. As I see my own voice as an instrument rather more then a spokesmen functionality.
    To have English lyrics Is it really all about money? Not in my mind, to make money with music you have to have great contacts, be commercial and have knowledge how to market. As I like the French speech as much as I do the English speech (and yes rap is English as well, but mostly slang) I could easily listen to a French song as well. But because English is a huge international language the way to market English spoken songs has been more easy for musicians.
    But conclusion is, doesn’t matter if its in English, Dutch , German, Indian or whatever language, Music itself is and stays the most common and biggest international language ever existed.


  19. April 10, 2008 at 12:08

    The question is Lubna, who are the heroes in the torch debacle?! The athletes, the pro Tibet protesters, the pro Chinese counter protesters,the blue suited chinese security guards?

    And I love all that cheesy Lebanese pop…you are right ….fantastic stuff.

  20. 20 Justin from Iowa
    April 10, 2008 at 14:37

    Rammstein rock, they’re german, everything is in german yet they still broke into the US airwaves. I am pretty sure there are some pretty heavy metal bands in the Netherlands and Western Europe who have strong followings and aren’t singing in English.

    Really though, the question isn’t whether English is the best language for rock and roll, but why do more musicians produce their music in English over their native languages. And I think the question answers the question… English bridges the world over, its the most spoken language on the planet. To make $$ as a musician the more people you reach the more likely you are to make it as a musician. So english is logically chosen.

  21. 21 Ros Atkins
    April 10, 2008 at 16:57

    My favourite band at the moment is Phoenix who are French and sing in English and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  22. 22 George USA
    April 10, 2008 at 17:28

    Not for me-

    The word music comes from the Greek mousikê (tekhnê) by way of the Latin musica. It is ultimately derived from mousa, the Greek word for muse

    In the European Middle Ages, musica was part of the mathematical quadrivium – arithmetics, geometry, astronomy and musica. The concept of musica was split into three major kinds by the fifth century philosopher, Boethius: musica universalis, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis.

    Music may be defined according to various criteria including organization, pleasantness, intent, social construction, perceptual processes and engagement, universal aspects or family resemblances, and through contrast or negative definition.


    organized sound
    subjective experience
    social construct
    category of preception
    musical universals
    special definitions:
    1. Clifton’s phenomenological definition
    2. Nattiez’s tripartite definition
    3. Xenakis’s definition

    The bottom line is no one agrees and everyone calls something music if they like it.

  23. 23 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    April 10, 2008 at 20:22

    Hi! 🙂

    Smackie is right: Music is a language itself. But I insist that the language you sing also shows your identity somehow. In my case, I love music in English rather than in Spanish, then I consider it says something about me. It’s much more evident in the case of singers or bands who definitively decide to sing in English or any other language, maybe because of $$$ as Justin says, or whatever.

    I also agree with George when he says not everything we listen to is music… It may be another interesting discussion! 🙂

  24. April 10, 2008 at 21:05

    Wow George, that’s given me something to thing about. I may be gone for some time!

  25. April 10, 2008 at 21:28

    Thanks so much Jon. In my opinion the real heroes in the midst of all this horrific mess are the people who are unable at all to express themselves or to tell the outside world of what they’re going through on daily bases i.e. ordinary people of Tibet and also ordinary people of China. Those people are oppressed, can’t speak out for themselves, and we’re all so eager to hear what they have to say. Those people in my opinion are the real heroes, and the song ‘There’s a hero’ speaks out for them. With my love. Yours forever, Lubna.

  26. 26 George USA
    April 10, 2008 at 22:49

    For me-

    “Whiskey for my men and beer for my horses.”

  27. 27 john in Germany
    April 11, 2008 at 13:45

    We’re gon’e rock around the clock to-night.
    you cant get away from it its Rock-and its English. Not being a linguist i cannot think of that in French, in German Yes, Wir moechten Heute Nacht um den Uhr skirten. Ok lets leave that alone. Rock and pop were born with English from the womb. English is the mother tongue of rock, it is its soul, and its devil as well.

    Its a beutyfull World, why? because some of the most soul tearing-foot stamping music is without words. Santana-Chet Atkins-Les Paul-and so on.
    Dont matter about English-French-German-Spanish——–Bolero yep, and any time, not pop or rock-no, but just as famous, and its got rhythm, and no words.

    Just to close. Cant think of any of Chase and Dave’s music in anything else than English. don’t any one dare to say that’s not English wat they sing!!!!.

    And to close what is rooty-tooty in Japanese?.

    La Gitarre por vavor.

    John in Germany

  28. April 11, 2008 at 15:01

    Sigor Ross and their album takk did quite well in the charts last year.

    My favourite song is hoppipolla which is sung completly in goobledegook! Its a completly made up language.

    As to the olympic torch song prehaps flight of the valkeries… something big and dramatic! 😀

  29. 29 Dennis Young, Jr.
    May 8, 2008 at 23:15

    Rock n Roll can be done in all

  30. 30 Reyn
    June 17, 2008 at 08:34

    One international entity that allows for music listeners to enjoy the most fabricated and polished pop to the most deconstructed and innovative indie rock in their natural toungue is Japan. The music industry of Japan is wonderfully diverse and there is a rich array of artists and genres to choose from, each producing brilliant and affecting music. Of course their are a few clunkers, the usual kitsch groups, and the routine mega popstar successes, but the entertainment of this country is so deep that it offers atleast one source of entertainment for the foreign listener. Japanese is an interesting language in that it has a rhthmic and phonetic flow that complements any musical composition – be cautioned, though that the nasal quality of many acts may be grating on the Westerner’s ear. My suggestion is that you explore the world of modern Japanese music with an open mind and objective soul, you may be able to find some good music not in English.

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