The Translation of Songs

Sometimes resulting from the decision of record producers, and at other times being part of the artistic expansion of singers and composers, as of the middle of the past century translation has entered the musical realm. In fact, through translation, songs were created that, at times, gained greater popularity than their originals.

“My Way,” written by Paul Anka, is probably one of the most recognized songs across the world—in addition to being one of the most covered songs ever written. Few people know that the original melody was actually composed in French by Claude François and that Anka is only the author of the English lyrics, which are completely different from the original. Regardless, later came the Italian version as well as a Spanish one. The first recording of “A mi manera” (Spanish for “My Way”) was recorded by Estela Raval in 1970. Her interpretation was and still is well-known throughout all of Latin America. Indeed, this same singer, along with the band “Los Cinco Latinos,” recorded a version of “Only You” by The Platters in Spanish, titled “Sólo tú,” which also turned out to be a great success.

The translation of songs has also reached rock and roll. Los Teen Tops, a Mexican band leaded by singer Enrique Guzmán, had the guts to record Spanish adaptations of American rock and roll classics from the 1960s. The most well-known are “Rock de la Cárcel” (“Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley) and “La Plaga” (“Good Golly Miss Molly” by Little Richard), although they recorded songs by many artists, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Neil Sedaka, and Chuck Berry.

It is worth mentioning that translations have not always been from English to Spanish, but sometimes the reverse. The Beatles themselves in 1962 recorded an English version of the song “Bésame mucho,” originally written by Consuelito Velázquez, a Mexican composer. Interestingly, Paul McCartney pronounces, with English phonetics, the words of the song’s title in Spanish. It is likely that, had they been translated, they wouldn’t have coincided with the rhythm of the music.

In addition to these examples, there are also cases in which the original artists themselves have decided to record their songs in several languages. Such is the case with Charles Aznavour, who has recorded most of his music, originally in French, into English, Spanish, German, and Italian. We can therefore enjoy songs such as “She” and “Que C’est Triste Venice” in some of these languages. Abba, the Swedish group, has also recorded a complete album in Spanish. Although this practice has fallen out of popularity, even contemporary rock bands, such as Bon Jovi, have covered their songs in Spanish to open up to other markets and please their Spanish-speaking fans. Indeed, it is the same case with Shakira and her songs in English.

As we can see, translation—which at times has been more of a transcreation due to its free nature—has been applied not only to literary works, but also to musical works. This is probably the case because it is always interesting for the public to hear their favorite artists in their own language.

What other translated songs do you know?