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Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn) by Joe Dowell

Album: Wooden HeartReleased: 1961Charted:
1
  • This is an English version of the German folk song "Muss I Denn." Elvis Presley sang it in the movie G.I. Blues, and his version became a #1 hit in the UK in March, 1961. RCA Records had no intention of releasing it in the US, as they feared it would harm his image - in the movie, he sang it to a puppet and it is clearly a novelty, complete with poorly translated lyrics like "If you say goodbye then I know that I would cry, maybe I would die." Elvis was becoming more of a family entertainer and had a huge hit borrowing from an Italian song with "It's Now Or Never," but this one could have done serious damage to his Rock cred.

    When it became clear that the Elvis version wasn't going to be released in America, the race was on to record it stateside, and Shelby Singleton, a producer at Mercury Records, got a young performer named Joe Dowell to sing a half-English, half-German version, which shot to #1 upon release. Dowell had one more Top-40 hit when the novelty song "Little Red Rented Rowboat" made #23 in America, but he got his own G.I. Blues when he was drafted into the Army.
  • When this hit #1 for Elvis in the UK, he became the first artist there with 7 #1 hits.
  • The credits on this song read: Benjamin Weisman, Fred Wise, Kay Twomey and Bert Kaempfert. Kaempfert wrote the music for "Danke Schoen" and produced the first Beatles recordings, which were done when they came to Germany in the early '60s.
  • The legend of the recording sessions may have been exaggerated over the years, but this song was recorded very quickly, with Shelby Singleton giving Joe Dowell just a few hours to learn the bilingual lyrics. The song was a #1 Country hit, and around the same time (some sources report it was the same day), Singleton also produced the Ray Stevens song "Ahab the Arab" and Leroy van Dyke's "Walk On By," both of which were also #1 Country hits. Stevens played organ on Dowell's recording of "Wooden Heart."

    In 1969, Singleton bought Sun Records (where Elvis signed) from Sam Phillips, who founded the label.
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Comments: 10

Muss i denn is an old German song about a young man who has to leave home for 7 years to become a journeyman. He must find a master craftsman who will take him in and teach him his trade. The young man is sad because he must leave his girlfriend behind.Fred - Michigantown, In
Respectfully, this song is not a Dutch folksong in any way, shape, or form. It is Schwaebian, which can be mistaken for Dutch due to the sound of the dialect. Schwaebian, or Schwaebisch, is spoken in the Wurtemburg area of Germany, and is probably one of the most obscure dialects I have personally come across; much more difficult to learn than Bavarian, for example. Nothing to speak of was ever written in the dialect until after WWII, with this song being one notable exception. Schwaebisch replaces the diminutive suffix "-chen" with "-ele," hence the words Schaetzele and Staedele, etc. The dialect is also noted for it's "Schimpfwoerter" or scolding words, which are fun and colorful. I just copied the German (Schwaebsisch) words and will post a translation soon. Rest assured there is no "wooden heart" in the lyrics, apologies to Elvis and Joe. The song is about a guy who has to leave town and wants his girl friend to remain true in his absenceGuy - Reston, Va
Online translators are pretty abysmal for German, especially when it's in the Schwäbisch dialect (which explains "i" and "Staedtele").

Muss i' denn, muss i' denn
zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus
Und du mein Schatz, bleibst hier?

Must I then, must I then
leave the village,
leave the village
and you, my dear, remain here?

Sei mir gut
Sei mir gut
Sei mir wie du wirklich sollst
wie du wirklich sollst

Be good to me
Be good to me
Treat me as you really should
as you really should.
Oxa - Los Angeles, Ca
I am not fluent in German; but I beleive the lines Sei mir gut... translate to "Be good to me...", not "Is good to me...". I presume the "i'" is a shortening of "ich" which means "I". I did speak German as a young child; but have never heard the dialect that shortens "ich" or the diminutive ending "ele"; but that is probably my ignorance. That all makes the words make sense to me. I had never seen them written before and could by listening I could not make sense of them before.Al - Dallas, Tx
From which site that I can download this nice Song?Dinesh - Colombo, Sri Lanka (ceylon)
That is a really terrible translation. Can he speak either of the two languages at all? The first line means roughly: 'Must I then (must I then) leave this (little) town' (Staedtele = diminutive of Stadt, in dialect) The next line is right, but 'while you my treasure' would be more poetic.Jerry - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
hi,every1 at last the translation of german words are here:Muss i' denn, muss i' denn
zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus
Und du mein Schatz, bleibst hier?
Muss i' denn, muss i' denn
zum Staedtele hinaus,
Staedtele hinaus
Und du mein Schatz, bleibst hier?
now translation:
Must go of i' then, must go of i' then
from the Staedtele,
Staedtele out
And you my treasure, stay here?
Must go of i' then, must go of i' then
from the Staedtele,
Staedtele out
And you my treasure, stay here?
Sei mir gut
Sei mir gut
Sei mir wie du sollst
wie du wirklich sollst
translation:
Is good to me
Is good to me
Is to me like you should go
how you really should go
Mohammad - Bandarabbass, Israel
i had actually wanted to know the meaning of the german lyrics in the wooden heart songRuby - Bangalore, India
Actually, the German song dates back long before either Elvis' or Joe Dowell's recordings. The English words have nothing to do with the original German lyrics, which are about leaving home and lover behind. The title and sound were intended to suggest that the song was Dutch (making a false connection to the traditional Dutch wooden shoes), due to a certain amount of residual anti-German social sentiment, a decade and a half after Hitler. The only German line is the first line of the song, repeated, because the original second line sounded "too German" to American ears.Keith - Slc, Ut
Upon hearing the Joe Dowell version, many people thought that it was Elvis Presley.Charles - Alexandria, Va