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Why Are Spanish Covers So Different from the Originals?

When a song becomes an international phenomenon, quick-witted musical producers usually decide that it could also sound good in other languages. An example of this is the huge amount of songs that have been translated from English to Spanish; but that doesn’t mean that the Spanish language version is always the same as the original.

“My Way” the song made immortal by Frank Sinatra is a perfect example. In English, the song starts, “And now, the end is near/And so I face the final curtain,” but in Spanish the version sung by the popular Raphael goes, “El final, se acerca ya/ Lo esperaré, serenamente” (or translated literally: “The end is near/I’ll wait for it serenely”). The first verse is more or less the same, but the second is completely different!

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Another example is Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses.” The chorus starts, “I want to lay you down in a bed of roses,” but in the Spanish version the singer from New Jersey sings, “Quiero tener tu amor entre vino y rosas” (translated literally, “I want to have your love between wine and roses”).

Why does this happen? In the first place we have to place blame on meter and rhyme. A sentence translated literally from English to Spanish almost never has the same number of syllables, which affects the song’s rhythm. A quick example is the theme song from Friends: “I’ll be there for you” has six syllables, but its translation, “Allí estaré para ti” has seven, and so it doesn’t fit with the music. In this case, if we were the translator, we could choose “Siempre estaré aquí” (literally: “I’ll always be here”), which although it is not the literal translation, means something similar, and still talks about loyalty between friends.

Another question is, why is the translation necessary? Some producers seem to start from the premise that Spanish speakers don’t understand English and we need to sing something that we understand. Well, that is simply not the case: Spanish speakers can sing “Sympathy for the Devil” from start to finish in English, knowing perfectly that Mick Jagger is talking about an elegant Lucifer justifying his behavior.

It is true that in the past song titles have been translated to give the Spanish public some idea of what the song was about. In the 60s and 70s they played “Black Betty,” “More Than a Feeling,” and “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” in their original versions, but the DJ used to introduce them as “Betty la negra,” “Más que un sentimiento,” and “Sentado en el muelle de la bahía;” but it never became necessary to translate the lyrics.

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Another very interesting topic is the “reinterpretation” of songs. There are Spanish bands that have done covers of great classics, turning them into their own, adding their own messages… which have turned into great classics themselves! Two examples come to mind: M-Clan (a Spanish band) with their “Llamando a la Tierra,” a wonderful reinterpretation of “Serenade” by the Steve Miller Band, and the interesting case of the hair-raising version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” by the group Radio Futura in the 80s.

What do you prefer? Do you want your favorite song to be translated literally or to have the same message transmitted even though the song may talk about something different?

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