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Nina Hagen

Nicknamed "the Godmother of German Punk," Nina Hagen emerged in the mid-'70s, charting with pop band Automobil before rising to fame as part of the emerging post-punk era with 1978's Nina Hagen Band, a Top 20 album in her native Germany. Dropping the "band," she found her way onto the Billboard 200 in the U.S. with 1982's Nunsexmonkrock and the next year's Fearless, albums that helped establish her uncompromising, alternately passionate and playful art-punk and distinctly theatrical delivery. Although she never made it back onto the Billboard 200, Hagen maintained a dedicated North American following, and still charted in Europe through the early '90s. Always one to favor her muse over the whims of the mainstream, she released an album of Hindu bhajans in 1999 (Om Namah Shivay), collaborated with the Leipzig Big Band on 2003's Big Band Explosion, and focused on music with religious themes on 2010's Personal Jesus, which included a cover of the titular Depeche Mode hit. It landed Hagen in Germany's Top 20 for the first time in over 30 years. Anti-establishment and Civil Rights themes populated 2022's Unity, which included covers of the folk classic "Sixteen Tons," a German-language cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," and originals including "United Women of the World," which she co-wrote with Boney M.'s Liz Mitchell. Born in East Germany to journalist/screenwriter Hans Hagen and singer/actress Eva-Maria Hagen in 1955, Nina Hagen was a child actress, appearing in films alongside her mother before releasing a Top 40 single, "Du Hast den Farbfilm Vergessen," as a member of the pop band Automobil in 1974. She had gained a reputation as a flamboyant rock singer by the time she emigrated to the West in 1976, where she formed a band, signed to CBS Germany, and released the debut album Nina Hagen Band in 1978. The record was a hit in Europe, charting in Germany and Austria and reaching as high as number seven in the Netherlands. It was followed in 1980 by Unbehagen, which fared even better, hitting number two in Germany. Hagen's first U.S. release, Nina Hagen Band EP (1980), was a four-song EP consisting of songs drawn from her two German releases. She moved to New York and made her first English-language LP, Nunsexmonkrock, in 1982. That and its follow-up, the Giorgio Moroder-produced Fearless (1983), charted briefly on the Billboard 200, and "New York New York" was a Top Ten dance club hit. But Hagen left CBS after 1985's In Ekstasy failed to chart in the U.S., although she maintained a chart presence in central Europe. In 1987, she celebrated her marriage with the EP Punk Wedding, released in Germany and Canada, and in 1989, she returned to the U.S. market with the Mercury-issued Nina Hagen. Its guests included Lene Lovich and Motörhead's Lemmy. She reached the Top 40 in places like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with 1991's Street, but with grunge dominating the airwaves, she finally fell of the charts with 1993's Phil Manzanera-produced Revolution Ballroom, her final album with Mercury. Ariola/RCA signed on for Hagen's next two albums, freuD euch (1995) and BeeHappy (1996). They found her reintroducing short, '70s punk structures with personnel including Dee Dee Ramone and Einstürzende Neubauten's Ash Wednesday. Om Namah Shivay, a set of Hindu bhajans (devotional songs), followed on the Smart Ass label in 1998. Hagen charted in Germany for the first time in nine years with the release of Return of the Mother (Orbit/Virgin) in 2000. It included a tribute ("Poetenclub") to Austrian pop star Falco, who had died in a car accident in 1998. Continuing her unpredictability streak, she returned in 2003 with Big Band Explosion (SPV), featuring the Leipzig Big Band. Another set of covers of standards, 2006's Irgendwo auf der Welt (Island), instead featured the Capital Dance Orchestra. Hagen achieved her highest chart placement in Germany since 1979 with 2010's Personal Jesus, which reached number 16. Released by Koch, it comprised 13 faith-themed tracks (including a cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus") that dutifully blended rock, blues, soul, and gospel into a sound that was distinctly hers. Still with Koch, Hagen came back just a year later with the German-language Volksbeat, which concentrated on anti-war and anti-establishment songs. Nine years passed before Hagen re-emerged in 2020 with the single "Unity," a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, featuring George Clinton. The album Unity followed on Grönland Records in 2022.
© Marcy Donelson & William Ruhlmann /TiVo


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