Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo) To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
15 messages

Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)

02 Aug 01 - 08:03 AM (#519582)
Subject: Schoener Gigolo (Just a gigolo)
From: Wolfgang

Actually, this is not really a lyrics add thread for the song itself is very far from any folk. But if you have read the 'translations mutilating songs' thread you know my motives for this thread. I want to show you in one example how a translation can completely disfigure a song and take its heart out. My example will be 'Schöner Gigolo', well known to most of you as 'Just a gigolo'. In case you don't remember, here is a well known English version:

(as sung by Louis Prima)

Just a gigolo, everywhere I go
people know the part I'm playing
Paid for every dance, selling each romance
every night some heart betraying
There will come a day youth will pass away
then what will they say about me
When the end comes I know, they'll say just a gigolo
as life goes on without me.

'Cause I ain't got nobody
nobody nobody cares for me
I'm so sad and lonely
sad and lonely sad and lonely
Won't some sweet mama
come and take a chance with me
cause I ain't so bad

Get along with me babe,
been singin' love songs
All of the time
Even only be, honey only, only be
Bop bozadee bozadee bop zitty bop

I ain't got nobody 'cept love songs in love
Hummala bebhuhla zeebuhla boobuhla
hummala bebhuhla zeebuhla bop

I ain't got nobody,
nobody, nobody cares for me
Nobody, nobody
I'm so sad and lonely,
sad and lonely,
sad and lonely,
Won't some sweet mama
come and take a chance with me
cause I ain't so bad

Get along with me babe,
been singin love songs
All of the time
Even only be, honey only, only be

It is a completely apolitical song, not dangerous to anybody, it just swings along and has not real merit in my eyes. Nice but instantly forgettable. Can you imagine that the earlier German version has been forbidden by the Nazis for political reasons? It has been with good reasons (from their point of view) but it was a completely different song in style and focus though both tune and title and part of the story told is identical.

It is a song from the Berlin cabarets of the 1920s. Let me take you to a tour through the culture in which this was a dangerous antimilitary song before I give you the German lyrics and the translation.

The years of the (second) German Empire before the loss of the Great war in 1918 were years in which the society was completely 'militarised'. Soldiers (especially officers) had a high social status (today they are far behind priests, professors and doctors and just a bit better than politicians in social status surveys) and were at times nearly 'above the law'. You'd seen uniforms worn by soldiers even out of duty (hardly seen today). Germans were 'proud to be a soldier'.

Then came the war and a big disillusionment with everything military for a sizable part of the population. Germany which had more than half a million soldiers before the war was now only allowed to have 100,000 soldiers by the Versailles treaty. Numerous officers were without job, disillusioned, revengeful and poor. And the antimilitary part of the population was full of spite for the jobless officers.

The gigolo (we only hear in this word 'paid dancer' and nothing else) in the German story is a jobless lieutenant of the imperial army and the narrator of the story is only full of mock compassion and venom. He rubs in salt in the wounds by comparing the status before the war with what is left now. He says 'don't think back at the times' and then enumerates exactly everything which has made these times wonderful for the lieutenant. The lieutenant was not a normal lieutenant, by the way, he was a hussar from the Emperor's horseback guard. That was the equivalent (in status) to today's sports champions. He could have had nearly every girl he fancied and now he has to wait for elderly ladies paying him for a dance. What a descent.

When you hear the story you can really hear the clerk at the labour exchange ask the officer "what have you learned?", the lieutenant responding "imperial officer", then the clerk "I see, nothing of any real value, but if you can dance, I might have a job for you". And then the former officer dances for money at the same places where he has danced once with the beautiful young ladies adoring him.

That is the real background to the song. A biting, spiteful, venomous critique of the former militarisation of the German society; a song which would make people laugh openly at former officers, the very same people they had been in fear of a couple of years before. No wonder this song had to be forbidden when the militarisation of the German society came back with a vengeance and with much more disastrous results in 1933. Now enjoy 'Schöner Gigolo' and a more or less verbatim translation.


Der kleine Leutnant er war der beste Reiter
The little lieutenant he was the best rider
und alle Herzen, sie flogen ihm gleich zu.
and all hearts immediately flew to him
Er konnte küssen und tanzen wie kein zweiter,
he could kiss and dance without peer
er kam und sah und er siegte auch im Nu.
he came, saw, and conquered in no time
viel Monde hat er gekämpft im Frankreich drüben,
Many months he fought over in France,
bald an der Weichsel, Piave, irgendwo.
Soon at the Weichsel, Piave,wherever.
jetzt ist ihm nichts mehr geblieben,
now nothing else is left to him,
er wurde Gigolo.
he became a gigolo

Chorus: Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo,
beautiful gigolo, poor gigolo:
denke nicht mehr an die Zeiten,
don't think back at the times
wo du als Husar
where you as Hussar
goldverschnürt sogar
with golden braid
konntest durch die Strassen reiten.
could ride through the streets
Uniform passe, Liebchen sagt adieu
Uniform is gone, lover says bye bye,
schöne Welt du gingst in Fransen
beautiful world you went in pieces
wenn das Herz dir auch bricht,
even when it breaks your heart
zeig ein lachendes Gesicht
show a laughing face
man zahlt und du mußt tanzen
one pays and you've got to dance

Er wurde Tänzer, die Erde dreht sich weiter,
He became a dancer but the earth moves on
Der kleine Leutnant tanzt für sein täglich Brot.
The little lieutenant dances for his daily bread
Wenn nur das Mütterchen einmal wieder heiter;
If only mother would be cheerful one more time
Sie darf nichts fühlen mehr von bitt'rer Not.
She must not feel the bitter poverty
Dort, wo beim Sekt er gelauscht der schönen Lieder,
The place where he has listened with a champagne to beautiful songs
Wo er getanzt hat in dulci jubilo,
where he has danced and been as merry as can be
dort tanzt er täglich jetzt wieder,
there he dances again daily
doch nur als Gigolo.
But only as a gigolo.

Now that's another song, isn't it?


    Note from Joe Offer: The Harry Fox Agency attributes the German words to Julius Brammer, English by Irving Caesar, and music by Leonello Casucci.
    JRO, 15 Feb 2011-

02 Aug 01 - 12:57 PM (#519776)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a gigolo)
From: M.Ted


Many thanks for posting this song--as you know, this song is very popular in the States, and I have often been asked to play it when performing. A few years ago, I found an old recording of it by Berthe Sylva, and, though I really only understand English, I was able to get a general sense of of the story, and realized that it was a much different song than the one that I knew--your translation helps me to understand it much better.

Americans tend to think about German music from this time as decadent and frivolous, this helps to make people understand a little better--

02 Aug 01 - 01:12 PM (#519783)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a gigolo)
From: MMario

Indeed - they are really two seperate songs sharing a melody;

and - though originaly it might have been a mocking satire of the former military - could it not also (NOW) be taken at face value? a lament for those lives wasted in and by the military and the whole false/artificial value sytem setup around it?

03 Aug 01 - 05:24 AM (#520220)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a gigolo)
From: Wolfgang

Thanks, M.Ted

Yes it could, MMario, maybe it's only my disappointment when knowing the original song. Maybe similar to a couple of friends going to the movies and one of them having read the book is disappointed whereas the others not having read the book think that it is a great film. Nono of them is to be blamed.


03 Aug 01 - 09:05 AM (#520320)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a gigolo)
From: MMario

I can see your point Wolfgang - no matter HOW one interprets the original the standard english version comes up as a piece of trite tripe next to it.

04 Aug 01 - 09:13 AM (#520927)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a gigolo)
From: Maryrrf

Wolfgang, thank you for sharing this with us. I for one was very moved by your explanation and translation of the song. The background you gave made it even more poignant and meaningful. It's wonderful to discover the many layers of a great song, or poem, or work of art, for that matter. Certainly it was a good example of translations ruining songs. But in this case (as in many other cases) there would be no way to lift the song out of its original language and cultural context without losing something.

15 Feb 11 - 05:15 PM (#3095964)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: Joe Offer

My 96-yr-old mother-in-law asked me about "Just a Gigolo" today. She remembered almost all the words. I've always wondered about this song, and never would have guessed it had German roots. The Great Song Thesaurus (Lax & Smith) says the song was published in 1930, but Wikipedia says the German version was published in Vienna in 1929. The Harry Fox Agency attributes the German words to Julius Brammer, English by Irving Caesar, and music by Leonello Casucci. I've always associated this song with Louis Prima and with the 1985 recording by David Lee Roth, but apparently the song was introduced in the U.S. by Irene Bordoni (in a 1932 Betty Boop cartoon?) and popularized by Ted Lewis.
The U.S. Wikipedia says that Louis Prima paired "Gigolo" with another song, "I Ain't Got Nobody," (words by Roger Graham and music by Spencer Williams, 1915). David Lee Roth also recorded this medley in 1985.
If you can read German, you'll find the Wikipedia entry on Brammer (1877-1943) very intriguing. Brammer was primarily an opera librettist. He was Jewish, and he and his wife fled to Paris after the Germans took over Austria in 1938. From there, he went to the unoccupied Côte d’Azur. The Wikipedia article doesn't explain the circumstances of his death in 1943. also has a very interesting article about Eintänzer, which is the approximate German equivalent of "gigolo."
Marlene Dietrich's last film performance was in 1979, singing the title song of the film "Just a Gigolo." (click)
I question Wolfgang's translation of "goldverschnürt" - does that mean "with a golden braid on his shoulder" or "with a golden mustache"?


15 Feb 11 - 08:36 PM (#3096103)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Some years ago, my wife and I got into a conversation with a man travelling on the same cruise line. We shared some of the same interests and he was from the same province where we lived.
After a few days of sharing morning coffee with him, he said he had a confession- he was hired by the cruise line as a gigalo. We had seen him and a couple of other men, good dancers, regularly on the dance floor in the evenings, partners to a variety of women, mostly middle-aged.
I hadn't been aware that cruise lines (or this one, anyway) hired gigalos and offered free passage and keep; the job to keep women traveling without men entertained.
It seemed to us to be a good way to travel without expense; this particular cruise was around-the-world and we were on a small segment of it.

We had a dentist who played piano with musical groups or solo on cruises during his vacations- another of the jobs available on cruise lines. Large liners have a regular orchestra, but also have more intimate lounges; these usually have changing personnel.

16 Feb 11 - 05:35 PM (#3096734)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: GUEST,Grishka

Joe (15 Feb 11 - 05:15 PM), I think goldverschnürt means "tied up with golden strings", a drastic description of the hussar uniform with its golden braids. The gigolo's fate is seen to serve him right because of his alluded vanity, cowardice (to save his uniform from the dirt of the trenches), incompetence (typically owing his lieutenantship to his aristocratic background), and former arrogance.

Q, indeed there are less dignified jobs than dancing (- or playing music -) for money, but in the lyrics a sharp cutback in social status is paired with poverty.

According to a Dutch website, Brammer, an operetta librettist, died of a "stroke" – who knows if that is true.

19 Feb 11 - 01:16 AM (#3098452)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: Jim Dixon

Someone has cleverly matched up Louis Prima's audio with video of Silvio Berlusconi here.

21 Feb 11 - 09:12 AM (#3099686)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: Jim Dixon

YouTube has these recordings of JUST A GIGOLO:
Bing Crosby
Irene Bordoni singing in French and English, as part of a "Betty Boop" cartoon
Louis Armstrong
Louis Prima, in an early TV performance
Louis Prima, studio recording
Marlene Dietrich, in a scene from the 1978 film "Just a Gigolo"
Smith Ballew
Ted Lewis

The Online 78-rpm Discography Project lists these recordings:
Adrian Schubert & His Orch
Al Shayne
Ben Bernie & His Orch
Bing Crosby
Chick Bullock & Levee Loungers
George Stark & His Orchestra
George Wells & His Orch (Sl)
Harry James
Harry Richman, Comedian
Howard Safford (H.Richman)
Jack Hylton and His Orch
Jaye P. Morgan (Frank De Vol Orch)
Jean Valentine
Joe Gumin's Orch
Joe Mooney Quartet
Joe Morgan Palais D'or Orch
Keystone Rhythmeers
Leo Reisman & His Orch
Les Brown's Band of Renown
Lloyd Keating & His Orch
Louis Armstrong & His Orch
Louis Prima & His Orchestra
Morgan Joe
Raymond Scott & His New Orch
Richard Jordan
Ross Colby (S.Ballew)
Roy Smeck's Qt
Roy Smeck's Trio
Sam Lanin's Famous Players
Sammy Kaye
Sid Garry
Sleepy Hall & His Collegians
Ted Lewis & His Band
Tin Pan Paraders (Sleepy Hall)
Tony Martin
Wingy Manone

21 Feb 11 - 12:00 PM (#3099771)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: GUEST,Wolfgang

picture of a hussar

gives an idea what "goldverschnürt" means.


21 Feb 11 - 02:36 PM (#3099861)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: GUEST,Grishka

Wolfgang, are you identical with the OP (though a decade older)? No longer incommunicado?

"Verschnürt" might mean in particular "tied in a corset", which was and is a feature of vain persons of any age and sex. Maybe the song mockingly compares the hussar's blouse to a corset (which he may well have worn underneath). Can you confirm or contradict this?

Bing Crosby sings a verse transposing the story to Paris.

22 Feb 11 - 11:42 AM (#3100397)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)
From: GUEST,Wolfgang without cookie

Yes, I'm still the same though....

Youtube of part of the German version as used in the film Kuhle Wampe, a "proletarian film" first shown half a year before the Nazi takeover. Of course, the film was forbidden.


10 May 19 - 05:25 PM (#3991728)
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Schoener Gigolo (Just a Gigolo)

"goldverschnuert" refers to the "gold" braids decorating the uniform (at the shoulders), designating rank.