The BeatlesWith the newly-announced release of the music of The Beatles on various streaming services, such as Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and more, it’s worthwhile to look at how The Fab Four sometimes used foreign lyrics in their music.

In their early career, long before they became pop icons, The Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where they played in a variety of nightclubs. This period, from 1960-1962, would help make The Beatles more of an international sensation than many of their Liverpudlian contemporaries. However, at this time The Beatles performed in English.

It would be after their breakout hits, on a tour in Paris in 1964, that the Beatles would hurriedly record only two of their hit songs in German. “She Loves You,” became “Sie liebt dich,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” translated into “Komm gib mir deine Hand.”

Though The Beatles generally disliked the idea of making foreign-language versions of their songs, they did at times incorporate other languages in their lyrics, which often displayed their naïvety.

For example, on the song “Michelle,” Paul plaintively speaks French, admitting to the titular young French lady he is addressing, “I will say the only words I know that you’ll understand.” Which are these:

Michelle, ma belle
Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble
Tres bien ensemble

Michelle, my beautiful girl

[These] are words that go together well
Very good together

The Beatles also subtly used the French tune Frère Jacques in “Paperback Writer” as somewhat of a joke. They sang these words in the background during the height of the of urban legend mania regarding hidden lyrics in Beatles music regarding “Paul is Dead.”

During The Beatles’ forays into Eastern mysticism, John incorporated a Sanskrit phrase into lyrics of “Across the Universe:

Jai Guru Deva Om
जय गुरुदेव ॐ

Glory [victory] to Guru [Teacher] Dev [Divine Being], (divinely affirmed)

It referred to the time The Beatles spent with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, between 1967-1968. Though the song was written in 1967, it did not appear until later, in 1969, long after The Beatles disassociated themselves from the Maharishi.

Probably the most difficult foreign language construct in The Beatles’ music occurs in “Sun King.”

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice corazon
Mundo paparazzi mi amore chica ferdy parasol
Cuesto obrigado tanta mucho que can eat it carousel

When for much of my love of a happy heart
World paparazzi my love, chica ferdy [green girl], umbrella [or ‘for the sun’]

This thanks, very much, cake and eat it, carousel

If it doesn’t make any sense, it wasn’t really supposed to in the first place. The Beatles cobbled together a pastiche of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese as more of a lark, for the sound of it, than to have any sort of sensible meaning.

These sorts of artistic linguistics often make translating song lyrics a problematic and technically difficult feat.

John Lennon explained later the idiom of “chica ferdy,” (verde), for “green girl” was a dismissive mocking Liverpudlian expression. Also, the last line implies the idiomatic “having your cake and eating it too.”

Speaking of that, if you love The Beatles, and you love streaming your music online, now you can truly have your cake and eat it too! Enjoy.