I once remarked that if the Germans had won World War II, everything in Western pop music would have sounded like Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” For that alone, the Allied effort should be judged worthwhile.
Mozart was hot in the mid 80s, thanks largely to the film biography Amadeus, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1985. A year later, Falco, inspired by the film, recorded “Rock Me Amadeus,” which became a worldwide #1 hit, topping out in America 26 years ago spring.
According to the song’s Wikipedia entry, there were 10 different edits of the song at its release, and another seven remixes and live versions have come out in the years since. The version known as the American radio edit is unspeakably awful from the first stupid and ugly seconds, through its “baby baby do it to me rock me” bridge, to its tacked-on, echo-ridden cold ending. But in 1986, the novelty value of rapping was high, and rapping in German had an inexplicable appeal.
I was program director of a top-40 station that spring, but our music came from a programming service and we had to take whatever they sent us. History does not record exactly what I said the first time “Rock Me Amadeus” roared over the monitor speakers in my office, but I can make a pretty good guess. It sounded laughably bad to me—an early example of the ugliness-is-beauty aesthetic our culture would eventually embrace—but there was no stopping it as it roared up the charts to #1.
Falco’s profile in Europe was already pretty high before “Rock Me Amadeus.” In 1982, the Austrian had done a German-language version of “Der Kommissar” that went to #1 in several European countries. (Rewritten with lyrics in English, it would become an American hit for a British band called After the Fire in 1983.) After “Rock Me Amadeus,” Falco scored another American hit in 1986 when “Vienna Calling” squeaked into the Billboard top 20, although our service didn’t play it. No great loss, in my opinion. Falco himself lasted another dozen years. In 1998, he died in a traffic accident just a couple of weeks short of his 41st birthday.