Guilt Trip: Falco – “Rock Me Amadeus”

In this feature, That Sunday Barrel goes full-on confessional as we present our biggest guilty pleasures at the risk of losing our musical integrity and perhaps a little personal dignity. 

by Katherine Milsop

What can I say? I’m a sucker for period costume in music videos, especially late 18th century Marie Antoinette-era European Dandy garb. So it’s only natural that I should love the video for Falco’s much parodied international hit “Rock Me Amadeus” (1985).

My fondness for “Rock Me Amadeus” goes beyond the simple auditory pleasure of plastic synths, syncopated rhythm and German lyrics. After all, I can’t say that I remember hearing the song on the radio in its hey-day (It debuted five years before I was born).

No, “The Simpsons” is responsible for this, as well as a vast majority of my esoteric knowledge. Their song parody, “Dr. Zaius”, appears in a musical-version of “Planet of the Apes” (“Stop The Planet Of The Apes I Want To Get Off!”) in the episode “A Fish Called Selma,” and it’s wonderful.

But back to Falco… The lyrics are a choppy, German-English mash-up singing the praises of the original Classical wunderkind who lived fast and died young: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. See these lines translated into English:

He could play the piano like a ring and a bell
And everybody screamed: Come on, rock me Amadeus
With a bottle of wine in one hand and a woman in the other
His mind was on rock and roll and having fun
Because he lived so fast he had to die so young

In addition to composing some of the most gorgeous and well-known symphonies, operas and concertos, Mozart had a certain joie de vivre, played up most memorably in the 1984 film “Amadeus.” Going by the movie and Falco’s music video, Mozart comes off as a prodigy, but a silly one who loved fancy clothes, pastel wigs, booze and decadence. Despite the widespread success and notoriety he experienced during his lifetime, Mozart was financially in dire straits when he died at age 35 in 1791.

Alas, while “Amadeus” is an excellent film and a childhood favorite of mine, it’s also rife with historical inaccuracies.

The music video on the other hand…

Falco (Viennese-born musician Johann Holzel) wears a pink and blue-powdered wig and a dazzling Frock Coat. He dons a tuxedo now and then. He’s dropped off by horse-drawn carriage at a wild opera house, and performs for powdered wig-wearing ladies and gents. There are also leather-clad bikers. And those fun but kind-of-creepy party masks.

Although “Rock Me Amadeus” has been considerably mocked over the years, Falco was a classically trained musician who produced a number of chart-toppers in Europe (“Der Kommissar”) prior to his international hit. Apparently, he’s the best selling Austrian singer of all time. Tragically, Falco died in a car wreck at age 40 in 1998, on the verge of a planned comeback.

If nothing else, “Rock Me Amadeus” could be considered an homage from one musically gifted Austrian to another.

Guilty pleasure? Perhaps. Timeless cultural touchstone? Most assuredly.

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