“… Never wanted to/what am I to do?/ I can’t help it.”
So goes one of the most famous songs of all time. It springs, in its most known iteration, from the 1930 German film The Blue Angel, from which also sprang its singer Marlene Dietrich. In the movie Dietrich is a sexy cabaret girl who seduces, marries and thoroughly emasculates a priggish professor. It was a bit racy, from Dietrich’s miles-of-leg-showing costumes to her maneater persona. The song is also quite racy, for when she sings offhandedly about flitting from one love to another, it is in the roundabout parlance of the times the clearest declaration of sexual independence she could be allowed. Back then, in nifty prude doublespeak all things carnal were disguised as love and romance. To sing about having an endless parade of loves is to sing about having an endless parade of lovers. Which Dietrich did with a vengeance – she took down half of Hollywood, male and female.
Since Marlene Dietrich made Falling In Love Again a splash, it’s been covered by all the usual suspects; from Billie Holiday in the forties, to Doris Day and Nina Simone in the sixties, to big shooters like Christina Aguilera more recently. The Beatles used to play it in concert, back when they could still play audible concerts. There’s a recording of William S. Burroughs croaking it in the original German. Bryan Ferry and Marianne Faithfull covered it, because that stuff is catnip to them both. All those versions are honorable – it’s hard to screw up such a classic piece of songwriting. Even Xtina’s version is unexpectedly good. But for me, the definitive Falling In Love Again will always be Klaus Nomi’s. Who but a Nomi would know that an age-old slice of Weimar was meant to be reborn as a disco homage to an entirely different Sodom and Gomorrah, worlds away?