#300: Vienna Calling by Falco
Johann “Hans” Hölzel was born in 1957 in Vienna, Austria. He was raised by his mother. Showing musical genius at a young age, his mother bought him a baby grand piano at the age of four. He was conscripted for military service in the mid-70’s. In the late ’70’s he experimented with performance art, striptease, music and political satire. He performed under a number of pseudonyms, one which was John DiFalco. His military service influenced his choice to keep his hair short, making him stand out from the shabbier underground musicians in the Vienna music scene. In the late ’70s’, he was a member of Dradhiwaberl, a shock rock band. He signed as a solo artists with a recording company in 1981 after his independent release of “Ganz Wein” in 1981.
In 1981 he released a single titled “Der Kommisar“. The single was an instant hit across Europe and climbed the charts in different nations in 1981, 1982 and 1983.
“Der Kommisar” was covered by the British band, After The Fire, who released an English-language version of the song. It climbed to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 and #2 in South Africa.
In the winter of 1985-86, Falco scored a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Rock Me Amadeus”. The single was cowritten by Falco with the Dutch production team Rob and Ferdi Bolland. The tune went to #1 in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was ranked #28 on the Year-End Top 100 for 1986 on Billboard.
In June 1986, Falco had another hit titled “Vienna Calling”.
“Vienna Calling” was cowritten by Falco with Rob and Ferdi Bolland. Rob and Ferdi Bolland are brothers who were born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Having moved to the Netherlands, they recorded hit singles beginning in 1972 folk tune “Wait for the Sun”. When, in 1976, their success started to wane, they turned towards a more electronic sound, an early example of which can be heard in “Spaceman”, a 1978 hit in the Netherlands. They shortened their name to Bolland and established their name internationally with the release of the 1981 concept album The Domino Theory. The edgy, tuneful album is a critical look at war and US intervention in foreign conflicts from the viewpoint of the foot soldier. It contains the single “In The Army Now”, which reached number-one in Norway and held the top spot for six consecutive weeks. In South Africa, the single peaked at number 9 in May 1982. UK band Status Quo did a cover of the song and took it to #2 in the UK in 1986.
“Vienna Calling” was a song mostly in standard German, with a few lines in English. The lyrics tell of Stella sitting in Rio and lying down in Tokyo. Someone named “Sugar Chris” is missing someone’s “leg” and “face.” The lyrics depict “ladies” and knowing Vienna knowing the narrator “inside and out.” As well there are red alarms, and “suddenly Maria is named Marilyn and Eva is named Yvonne. A young Bogart hangs on her lips, sweetie, and says “come on.” These may be “dancers,” as the lyrics mention at one point. But, are the names being changed because these women might get in trouble with the police? Red alarms and all? And in the wee small hours of the morning, 4:45 a.m. to be precise, it seems a “new position is being rehearsed.” And what position might that be at 4:45 a.m.? The narrator of the song asks “what do little girls play with today?” And these little girls seem to be jet setters who one day are in Rio, the next in Tokyo, the next in Tucson, Arizona, and the next in Toronto. These ladies are ladies of the night.
“Vienna Calling” climbed to #1 in Montreal, #3 in Vancouver (BC), #6 in San Diego, #8 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, #9 in Los Angeles and Seattle, and #10 in Toronto and Milwaukee. The single peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA, #2 in Poland, #4 in Austria and West Germany, #6 in Ireland, #7 in Switzerland, #10 in New Zealand and the UK, #11 in Sweden, and #13 in Belgium.
At the end of 1985, Falco released a song titled “Jeanny”. It was controversial as the subject was the musings of a stalker and his relationship with a woman named Jeanny. The song climbed to #1 in Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. It also climbed to #5 in Japan.
In 1986, Falco scored two more Top Ten hits in Europe: “The Sound Of Musik” (Austria and Germany) and “Coming Home (Jeanny Part 2)” (Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Norway). In 1987 he had Top Ten hits in Austria with “Body To Body” and “Weiner Blut”. That year Falco embarked on a world tour that concluded in Japan. In his personal life, Falco was addicted to both alcohol and cocaine. This created difficulties in his creative work and in his relationships. In 1992, Falco scored a #3 hit in Austria with “Titanic”. He returned to the Top Ten in the Austrian singles chart in 1996 with “Mutter der Mann mid dem Koks ist da” and “Naked”.
Falco was inspired by David Bowie and trusted that acting in rock videos was an important aspect of artistic expression of the song.
In total, Falco released seven studio albums before his death in 1998 when his Mitsubishi Pajero SUV collided with a bus in the Dominican Republic. He was 40 years old. After his death three posthumous studio albums were released. The first included the single, “Out Of The Dark”, which climbed to #2 in Austria and Germany, and #3 in Switzerland.
In Vienna, the restaurant Marchfelderhof keeps a permanent reserved table for Falco.
June 4, 2021
“Falco interview,” American Bandstand, ABC, 1986.
“Maria Shriver interviews Falco,” CBS Morning News, 1986.
“Falco (Musician) bio,” Wikipedia.org.
“Top Thirty Hot Hits,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, April 10, 1986.
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