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"99 Luftballons" (German Neunundneunzig Luftballons, "99 air balloons") is an anti-war protest song by the German band Nena from their 1983 self-titled album. An English version titled "99 Red Balloons", written by Kevin McAlea, was also released after widespread success of the original in Europe and Japan. The English version is not a direct translation of the German and contains somewhat different lyrics.[1]

Background and writing

While at a June 1982 concert by the Rolling Stones in West 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 like strange spacecraft (referred to in the German lyrics as a "UFO"). He thought about what might happen if they floated over the Berlin Wall to the Soviet sector.[2]

Etymology

The translation of the title is sometimes given as "Ninety-Nine Air Balloons"; however, "Ninety-Nine Balloons" is more accurate.[3][4] The title "99 Red Balloons" almost scans correctly with the syllables falling in the right places within the rhythm of the first line of lyrics, with "red" replacing "Luft"; the only difference is that neunundneunzig (99) has one syllable more than "ninety-nine".

Plot

The lyrics of the original German version tell a story: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child's balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor. At the end, the singer walks through the devastated ruins and lets loose a balloon, watching it fly away.[5]

The English version retains the spirit of the original narrative, but many of the lyrics are translated poetically rather than directly translated: red helium balloons are casually released by an anonymous civilian into the sky and are registered as missiles by a faulty early warning system; the balloons are mistaken for military aircraft which results in panic and eventually nuclear war.[5]

English version and other re-recordings

From the outset Nena and other members of the band expressed disapproval for the English version of the song, "99 Red Balloons". In March 1984, the band's keyboardist and song co-writer Uwe Fahrenkrog Petersen said, "We made a mistake there. I think the song loses something in translation and even sounds silly."[6] In another interview that month the band including Nena herself were quoted as being "not completely satisfied" with the English version since it was "too blatant" for a group not wishing to be seen as a protest band.[7] Despite having given in excess of 500 concerts over a period of more than 30 years, Nena has never sung "99 Red Balloons" live, even at her rare concerts in England, always performing the German version instead.[8][not in citation given]

There have been two re-recordings of the original German version of the song which have been released by Nena: a modern version in 2002 which was included on Nena feat. Nena (2002)[9] and a retro version in 2009,[10] which included some verses in French.

Reception

American and Australian audiences preferred the original German version, which became one of the most successful non-English songs in US history[citation needed] when it topped the Cash Box chart and reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind "Jump" by Van Halen.[11] It was certified Gold by the RIAA.

The later-released English translation, "99 Red Balloons", topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Ireland.

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 "99 Luftballons" and "99 Red Balloons" videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EST on 26 March 2006.[12]

Chart positions

German version

Weekly charts

Chart (1983–84) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[13] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 75)[14]
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Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[15]
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Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[16] 1
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[17] 1
France (IFOP)[18] 2
Germany (Media Control AG)[19]
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Italy (FIMI)[20] 21
Japan (Oricon International Chart)[21] 1
Japan (Oricon Singles Chart)[21] 16
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[22]
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Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[23]
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New Zealand (RIANZ)[24]
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Norway (VG-lista)[25]
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Poland (LP3)[26] 23
Spain (AFYVE)[27] 10
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[28]
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Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[29]
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US Billboard Hot 100[30]
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US Billboard Dance Club Play[31] 22
US Cash Box[32] 1

Year-end charts

Chart (1983) Position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[33] 17
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[34] 27
Germany (Media Control Charts)[35] 2
Italy (FIMI)[20] 83
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[36] 14
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[37] 5
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[38] 6
Chart (1984) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[39] 18
France (IFOP)[40] 16
US Billboard Hot 100[41] 28
US Cash Box[42] 31

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Sales/shipments
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[[Category:Singles certified
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gold by the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique
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]]France (SNEP)
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[43]
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Gold 766,000[44]
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[[Category:Singles certified
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gold by the Bundesverband Musikindustrie
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]]Germany (BVMI)
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[45]
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Gold Expression error: Missing operand for *.
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[[Category:Singles certified
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gold by the Recording Industry Association of America
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]]United States (RIAA)
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[46]
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^shipments figures based on certification alone

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English version

Weekly charts

Illegal chart entered Canadatopsingles|1
Chart (1984) Peak
position
Canada (CHUM)[47] 1
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Illegal chart entered Ireland2|1


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UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[48]
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South Africa (Springbok Radio)[49] 3

Year-end charts

Chart (1984) Peak
position
Canada (RPM Top 100 Singles)[50] 13

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Sales/shipments
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platinum by the Canadian Recording Industry Association
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]]Canada (Music Canada)
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[51]
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Platinum 100,000^
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^shipments figures based on certification alone

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2002 re-release

Chart (2002) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[53]
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Germany (Media Control AG)[19]
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Netherlands (Single Top 100)[54] 82
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[55]
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Order of precedence
Preceded by
"Jump" by Van Halen
Canadian CHUM number-one single
24 March 1984 – 31 March 1984 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" by Phil Collins
US Cash Box number-one single
10 March 1984 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Preceded by
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
Japanese Oricon International Chart number-one single
16 April 1984 – 23 April 1984 (2 weeks)
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
2 April 1984 – 30 April 1984 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Eat It" by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Irish Singles Chart number-one single
26 February 1984 – 18 March 1984 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hello" by Lionel Richie
Preceded by
"Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
UK Singles Chart number-one single
3 March 1984 – 17 March 1984 (3 weeks)
Preceded by
"Red Red Wine" by UB40
Canadian RPM number-one single
3 March 1984 – 10 March 1984 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Jump" by Van Halen
Preceded by
"Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)" by Peter Schilling
Austrian number-one single
15 April 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Gel', du magst mi" by Ludwig Hirsch
German number-one single
28 March 1983 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo
Swiss number-one single
20 April 1983 – 27 April 1983 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"L'Italiano" by Toto Cutugno
Preceded by
"Poi E" by Patea Maori Club
New Zealand number-one single
15 April 1984 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"Reggae Night" by Jimmy Cliff
Preceded by
"Radio Ga Ga" by Queen
Swedish number-one single
3 April 1984 – 1 May 1984 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Street Dance" by Break Machine
Preceded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo
Belgian Ultratop 50 Flanders number-one single
16 April 1983 – 30 April 1983 (3 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Let's Dance" by David Bowie
Preceded by
"Fame" by Irene Cara
Belgian VRT Top 30 Flanders number-one single
9 April 1983 – 30 April 1983 (4 weeks)
Preceded by
"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson
Eurochart Hot 100 number-one single
2 April 1983 – 30 April 1983 (5 weeks)
Preceded by
"Pa" by Doe Maar
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
26 March 1983 – 16 April 1983 (4 weeks)
Single Top 100 number-one single
26 March 1983 – 16 April 1983 (4 weeks)

Cover versions

7 Seconds, an American hardcore punk band, covered the song on their third album Walk Together, Rock Together in 1985.[56] Angry Salad released a version of the song on their 1998 album Bizarre Gardening Accident. Their version also appears on their 1999 self-titled album. A cover of the song was recorded by the band Goldfinger in 2000 for the album Stomping Ground and gained popularity after featuring in the film EuroTrip.[57]

South African band Southern Gypsey Queen released a cover of the song in 2011.[58]

Japanese pop singer Yoko Oginome released a cover of the song for the album Dear Pop Singer released on 20 August 2014.[59]

Parody songwriter Tim Cavanagh recorded a parody of the song, "99 Dead Baboons," which debuted on the Dr. Demento radio show shortly after Nena released the original song; it turned into a popular request on the Funny Five.[60]

Australian singer Kylie Minogue covered the song on 18 July 2015, during her Kylie Summer 2015 Tour at Melt! Festival in Germany.[61]

In popular culture

The song was used in the soundtrack of various TV series episodes, movies and video games. The TV episodes are from the US series My Name Is Earl,[62] Gilmore Girls,[62] Scrubs,[62] The Simpsons,,[63] Family Guy and Girls.[62] It also appeared in the Argentinean TV series Guapas.[62] The movies include Watchmen,[62]Grosse Pointe Blank,[62] Boogie Nights,[62] The Wedding Singer,[62] My Best Friend's Girl,[62] Not Another Teen Movie,[64] Watchmen,[64] EuroTrip,[64] Mr. Nobody,[62] Filth,[62] and Hell.[62] The video games include Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec,[64] Donkey Konga,[65] Just Dance 2014,[66] and Lazy Jones.[67]

See also

  • Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet early-warning system operator who in 1983 disregarded a false nuclear attack alarm (from shining clouds, rather than balloons) and may have prevented a nuclear war.
  • List of anti-war songs

References

  1. 99 Red Balloons – interview with the writer, Kevin McAlea. Eighty-eightynine. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  2. Rolling Stone, 15 March 1984
  3. The New English-German Dictionary: "Luftballon". Retrieved on 2 June 2007. “balloon -- der Luftballon[dead link]
  4. The New English-German Dictionary: "Balloon". Retrieved on 2 June 2007. “balloon -- der Ballon, balloon -- der Luftballon[dead link]
  5. 5.0 5.1 99 Luftballons, Side by Side Comparison. In The 80s. Retrieved on 29 October 2014.
  6. "A very good group from Germany". No.1: 38. 17 March 1984. 
  7. Strike, Andy (10 March 1984). "99 Red Herrings". Record Mirror: 14. 
  8. Nena tours and setlists. Nena.de. Retrieved on 10 June 2015.
  9. Nena feat. Nena – 20 Jahre by Nena. iTunes DE. Apple Inc.. Retrieved on 27 June 2013.
  10. 99 Luftballons – Single by Nena. iTunes US. Apple Inc.. Retrieved on 27 June 2013.
  11. "March 3, 1984 – The Hot 100". Billboard. 3 March 1984. http://www.billboard.com/charts/1984-03-03/hot-100. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  12. VH1 Classic to Air the Classic 80s Music Video '99 Luftballons' for an Entire Hour on Sunday, 26 March. VH1 Classic. PR Newswire. 22 March 2006. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/vh1-classic-to-air-the-classic-80s-music-video-99-luftballons-for-an-entire-hour-on-sunday-march-26-55496712.html. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  13. Australia No. 1 hits -- 1980's. World Charts. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  14. "Nena – 99 Luftballons – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  15. "Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Ultratop & Hung Medien / hitparade.ch. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  16. Radio2 top 30: 9 april 1983 (nl). Top 30. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  17. MusicSeek.info – UK, Eurochart, Billboard & Cashbox No.1 Hits at the Wayback Machine (archived 14 June 2006). MusicSeek.info. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  18. InfoDisc : Tous les Titres par Artiste (fr). InfoDisc. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Nena - 99 Luftballons". Charts.de. Media Control. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  20. 20.0 20.1 I singoli più venduti del 1983 (it). Hit Parade Italia. Creative Commons. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Japan #1 IMPORT DISKS by Oricon Hot Singles. Oricon. 18.ocn.ne.jp. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  22. "Nederlandse Top 40 – Nena - 99 Luftballons search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40. Stichting Nederlandse Top 40. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  23. "Dutchcharts.nl – Nena – 99 Luftballons" (in Dutch). Mega Single Top 100. Hung Medien / hitparade.ch. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  24. "Charts.org.nz – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Top 40 Singles. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  25. "Norwegiancharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". VG-lista. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  26. 99 LUFTBALLONS – Nena (pl). LP3. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  27. Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005) (in es). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  28. "Swedishcharts.com – Nena – 99 Luftballons". Singles Top 60. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  29. "Nena – 99 Luftballons – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  30. "Nena Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot 100 for Nena. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  31. Nena – Awards. AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved on 4 June 2013.
  32. CASH BOX Top 100 Singles – Week ending MARCH 10, 1984 at the Wayback Machine (archived 30 September 2012). Cash Box magazine. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  33. Jahreshitparade 1983 (de). Austriancharts.at. Hung Medien. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  34. Jaaroverzichten 1983 (nl). Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  35. (German) Jahrescharts – 1983 at the Wayback Machine (archived 25 July 2014). Officialcharts.de. GfK Entertainment. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  36. Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1983 (nl). Dutch Top 40. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  37. Jaaroverzichten – Single 1983 (nl). Single Top 100. Hung Medien. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  38. Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1983 (de). Hitparade.ch. Hung Medien. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  39. Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s. Australian-charts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  40. TOP – 1984 (fr). Top-france.fr. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  41. Top 100 Hits for 1984. The Longbored Surfer. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  42. The CASH BOX Year-End Charts: 1984 at the Wayback Machine (archived 30 September 2012). Cash Box magazine. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  43. French single certifications – Nena – 99 Luftballons (French). InfoDisc. Select NENA and click OK
  44. Les Singles en Or (fr). InfoDisc. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  45. Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Nena; '99 Luftballons') (German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
  46. American single certifications – Nena – 99 Luft Ballons. Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  47. Chum Chart Archive – Nena at the Wayback Machine (archived 22 February 2006). CHUM. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  48. "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart. Official Charts Company. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  49. South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (N). Rock.co.za. Retrieved on 21 June 2013.
  50. Top Singles – Volume 41, No. 17, January 05 1985. RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  51. Canadian single certifications – Nena – 99 Red Balloons. Music Canada.
  52. British single certifications – Nena – 99 Red Balloons. British Phonographic Industry. Enter 99 Red Balloons in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Go
  53. "Ultratop.be – Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002"] (in Dutch). Ultratip. ULTRATOP & Hung Medien / hitparade.ch. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  54. Dutchcharts.nl – Nena – 99 Luftballons (nl). Single Top 100. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  55. "Nena – 99 Luftballons [2002 – swisscharts.com"]. Swiss Singles Chart. Hung Medien. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  56. Thomas, Fred. 7 Seconds – Walk Together, Rock Together. AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved on 19 September 2014.
  57. Phares, Heather. Original Soundtrack – Eurotrip. AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved on 17 July 2014.
  58. "Southern Gypsey Queen – "99 Red Balloons"". Rolling Stone South Africa. 15 November 2011. http://www.rollingstone.co.za/videosrev/item/208-southern-gypsey-queen. Retrieved 29 March 2014. 
  59. Yoko Oginome Official Website > Discography > Album. Retrieved on 6 September 2014.
  60. 99 Dead Baboons By: Tim Cavanagh. Mad Music. Retrieved on 22 March 2015.
  61. Bagwell, Matt (22 July 2015). "Kylie Minogue Covers Nena's '99 Red Balloons' At Germany's Melt Festival (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. 
  62. 62.00 62.01 62.02 62.03 62.04 62.05 62.06 62.07 62.08 62.09 62.10 62.11 62.12 Nena. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 12 August 2014.
  63. The Simpsons – The Heartbroke Kid (TV Episode 2005). Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 12 August 2014.
  64. 64.0 64.1 64.2 64.3 Goldfinger. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 12 August 2014.
  65. Let's Play Donkey Konga! Episode 13 - 99 Red Balloons (Nena). YouTube. Retrieved on 12 August 2014.
  66. Just Dance 2014: Rutschen Planeten - 99 Luftballons (5 Stars). YouTube. Retrieved on 12 August 2014.
  67. Christiansen, Peter (30 April 2014). The Nostalgia Trip: Lazy Jones (C64, 1984). Gaming Momentum. Retrieved on 12 August 2014.


Nena (band)
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