I’ve never really minded being a Marlene. It’s a decent name, although the variations in pronunciation and spelling occasionally make it a pain over the telephone (I use the traditional German spelling, Marlene, and pronounce it tradtionally: mar-leh-neh. Service operators seem determined to foist the American mar-leen on me.) Marlene peaked as a popular name in the 1920s; while it has declined in use it’s never gone away. In 2011, it was the 883rd most popular name. Its history can be displayed in a baby name graphic visualizer. Don’t skip this step — the visualizer is pretty cool, and you’ll wind up putting in your own name after. I can’t capture the Flash chart, but you can plug in the name Marlene easily. When you do, you’ll get an idea of the name’s faded glory.
Even if it isn’t as popular it once was, if you look through a musical history of the name you’ll see Marlene popping up everywhere. It’s the Zelig of song names. Let’s take a stroll along the Marlene timeline, from the most recent to the brilliant classic from Marlene Dietrich.
2011: Actor John Hawkes sings “Marlene” in character (track 13), but the song is actually a track written by folk singer Jackson C. Frank in 1975 (see below for more on that.)
1996: Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers release their album Bringing Down the Horse, but the single “Three Marlenas” isn’t released until 1998; it’s a hit. I forgive them for the phonetic spelling; they weren’t the only ones who used it (see Frankie Valli, below.)
Holy cow, whilst looking for the Noir Desir track, I just stumbled on a search treasure trove of Marlene tracks. I’ve never heard of most of these! Feel free to browse. I’ll hunt around for gems, but I’d like to finish writing this post before the Mayan-predicted apocalypse.
1988: Duran Duran’s album Big Thing was, indeed, a big thing. The album is was reissued as a three disc box set in 2010. Nestled in there is “Too Late Marlene,” which even was released as a single, but apparently it was only promoted in Brazil (thanks, Wikipedia). This number uses the pan-European (kinda French) pronunciation mar-lenn as opposed to the German mar-leh-neh that also sometimes gets spelled Marlena.
1985: A video was released for Suzanne Vega’s eponymously-titled debut album for the song “Marlene on the Wall”, which went into MTV and VH1’s rotations. This Marlene was a poster of Marlene Dietrich that was apparently privvy to the narrator’s love life 🙂 Bonus: Suzanne Vega did an acoustic remake of “Marlene on the Wall” in 2010 for her album Gypsy.
1975: Jackson C. Frank records “Marlene” as part of his one and only
album produced by Paul Simon. Frank dies in 1999 and the bonus tracks
“Marlene” was a part of aren’t released until 2001; a very sad story.
Disqualification? Does the 1975 track by the Bay City Rollers count? I see variations on spelling everywhere I search, but it appears on the album Once Upon a Star the track was called “Marlina” and it’s sung as mar-lee-nah. Awfully close. They also performed it on their TV show Shang-a-Lang.
1970: “Marlène” was the Monegasque representative in that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, performed in French by French singer Dominique Dussault. No track, sorry. Interesting sidebar — Julio Iglesias was in that year’s competition, too.
1963: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons put the song “Marlena” on the B side to their hit Candy Girl. “Marlena” became a minor hit in it’s own right, reaching #36 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The Four Seasons were famous for running through every gal’s name they could while chalking up their hits — to their credit, the formula made for some tight pop songs.
The original, classic, and evergreen Marlene song is certainly “Lili Marlene.” The Marlene Dietrich renditions during World War II have certainly assured this song’s place in the popular music cannon, but, in fact, the song has a longer and more complicated history than most popular tunes.
Lili Marlene – Marlene Dietrich At the Cafe De Paris 1954
The song was originally written by a German as a love poem during World War I, but it came to be a song that was later used as part of the Nazi propaganda machine (with altered lyrics), and then taken on with English lyrics (altered once more from the literal translation of the original). German-born anti-Nazi Marlene Dietrich sang the song to Allied troops and continued to sing it as a signature number throughout her career. There are now hundreds of recordings of “Lili Marlene” in German and English (and other languages, too). A short article revealing the amazing story of the song was featured in the Telegraph.