99 Luftballons: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"99 Luftballons" /
"99 Red Balloons"
Single by Nena
from the album Nena and 99 Luftballons
Released 1983 (West Germany)
1984 (United Kingdom)
Format CD single
Recorded 1982
Genre Pop rock, Neue Deutsche Welle, New Wave, Synthpop
Length 3:53
Label EMI
Writer(s) Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen (music)
Carlo Karges (German lyrics)
Kevin McAlea (English lyrics)
Certification Gold (RIAA)
Nena singles chronology
"Nur geträumt"
"99 Luftballons"
Music sample
99 Luftballons

"99 Luftballons" is a Cold War-era protest song by the German singer Nena. Originally sung in German, it was later re-recorded in English as "99 Red Balloons".

"99 Luftballons" reached #1 in West Germany in 1983. In 1984, the original German version also peaked at #2 on the American Billboard Hot 100 chart and the English-language version topped the UK Singles Chart. The German version topped the Australian charts for five weeks and the New Zealand charts for one week.

When it made the charts in the United States, most US radio DJs incorrectly assumed that "99 Luftballons" translated to English as "99 Red Balloons" and spoke the number 99 in English, saying "Ninety-nine Luftballoons."

The translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons", however "Ninety-Nine Balloons" is also correct.[1][2] A Luftballon is a colourful toy balloon, rather than a balloon for transport or research. The name is derived from Luft, German for air, but the meaning of Luft does not qualify the type of balloon. The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first lines of lyrics, with "red" replacing "Luft". The only difference is the missing counterpart to the German syllable "und" in "Neunundneunzig" (literally "nine and ninety").


History of the song

While at a Rolling Stones concert in Berlin, Nena's guitarist Carlo Karges noticed that balloons were being released. As he watched them move toward the horizon, he noticed them shifting and changing shapes, where they looked nothing like a mass of balloons but some strange spacecraft. (The word in the German lyrics "UFO") He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.[3]

Both the English and German versions of the song tell a story of 99 balloons floating into the air, triggering an apocalyptic overreaction by military forces. The music was composed by Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, the keyboardist of Nena's band, while Karges wrote the original German lyrics.

Having achieved widespread success in Germanic Europe and Japan, plans were made for the band to take "99 Luftballons" international with an English version. Kevin McAlea wrote this version, titled "99 Red Balloons" (on an envelope, which he claims to still have), which has a more satirical tone than the original. The English version is not a direct translation of the German but contains a somewhat different set of lyrics.[4]

Nena recorded "99 Red Balloons" despite their dissatisfaction with the lyrics, which they expressed in numerous magazine interviews in 1984. They, as with many of their fans, felt that the English rendition was not true to the meaning of its German original.

The song came during a period of escalating rhetoric and strategic maneuvering between the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. In particular, its international chart success followed the United States deployment of Pershing II missiles in West Germany in January 1984 (in response to the Soviet deployment of new SS-20 nuclear missiles), which prompted protests across western Europe. The following month, Nena topped the UK Singles Chart with "99 Red Balloons" for three weeks, starting in 28 February 1984. Unusually, in the United States the German version was more successful, charting at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. On 26 March 1984, it was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipment of over 500,000 copies. "99 Luftballons" became the first German-language record to reach the top ten on the US charts since "Sailor (Your Home Is the Sea)" by Lolita in 1961. Although the German version was the hit version in America, both the German and English versions receive radio airplay in the United States today.

Nena never had another hit single outside Continental Europe and Japan, and therefore, is considered to be a very successful one-hit wonder artist in both the U.S. and the UK. Channel 4 placed "99 Red Balloons" at #2 in their countdown of the 50 Greatest One Hit Wonders, while VH1 placed it at #16 on 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s. VH1 also put it at #73 on VH1's 100 greatest songs of the 80s.

VH1 Classic, an American cable television station, ran a charity event for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006. Viewers who made donations were allowed to choose which music videos the station would play. One viewer donated $35,000 for the right to program an entire hour and requested continuous play of Nena's "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos for an entire hour. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EST on 26 March 2006.[5]

Chart performance

Chart (1983/4) Peak
Australia 1
Austria 1
Canada 1
Germany 1
Ireland 1
The Netherlands 1
New Zealand 1
Norway 4
Sweden 1
Switzerland 1
UK 1
US 2

Cover versions

The song has been covered by numerous bands, including 7 Seconds, Desolation Yes, Five Iron Frenzy, Goldfinger, Angry Salad, Draco and the Malfoys, and The Sugarcubes. In fact, its artist has been mistaken for Björk, as she was the front vocalist for The SugarCubes. The song is also a show staple. In German it was covered by Beat Crusaders and by Goldfinger in English with a German verse. The German verse in the song is actually the next to last verse in the original German version, and it replaces the next to last verse in the English version (one involving Captain Kirk). However, in Sony Computer Entertainment's Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec the song is sung in full English, including the Captain Kirk verse.

The Goldfinger cover was featured in several films, including Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), Our Lips Are Sealed (2000), Not Another Teen Movie (2001), Eurotrip (2004) and Watchmen (2009), as well as during various competitions in Nickelodeon's television movie Rocket Power: Race Across New Zealand (2002). The song was also used during an episode of Gilmore Girls called "Dear Emily and Richard", when Lorelai Gilmore arrives at the hospital. Van Nuys covered it for the My Name Is Earl soundtrack. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn sing their version of 99 Red Ballons in Wedding Crashers (2005). The song was also sung by Liz Lemon in an episode ("Larry King (30 Rock)") of the TV series 30 Rock as she attempted to convince a character that the song was written by her grandmother.

Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine have also covered the song on their I'd Like a Virgin 2004 album; this version actually contains gibberish lyrics sung in a pseudo-German accent in lieu of German lyrics, stopping almost immediately after the song begins, cutting in with "alright, that sucked...". Ellen ten Damme included part of the song in her cover of Sag mir wo die Blumen sind, the German translation of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". A version in Japanese called 99 Love Balloons was released by Nakanomori Band on their March 2008 album Electric Girl. French singer Alizée performed a live cover during her Psychédélices tour in Moscow, Russia on 18 May 2008. She sang in English.


Preceded by
"Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
UK number one single
26 February 1984
Succeeded by
"Hello" by Lionel Richie
Preceded by
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
7 April – 7 May 1984
Succeeded by
"Eat It" by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Preceded by
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Irish Singles Chart number-one single
March 3–24, 1984
Succeeded by
"Hello" by Lionel Richie
Preceded by
"Red Red Wine" by UB40
Canadian RPM Singles Chart number one single
March 3–10, 1984
Succeeded by
"Jump" by Van Halen
Preceded by
"Radio Ga Ga" by Queen
Swedish Singles Chart number-one single
3 April – 8 May 1984
Succeeded by
"Street Dance" by Break Machine
Preceded by
"Poi E" by Patea Maori Club
New Zealand RIANZ singles chart number-one single
18 April 1984
Succeeded by
"Reggae Nights" by Jimmy Cliff
Preceded by
"Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)" by Peter Schilling
German Singles Chart number-one single
25 March 1983
Succeeded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address