My generalization: For Americans, lyrics make the song, whereas I think for Germans it is the overall feeling that makes the song.
When I decided I would be moving to Germany, I buckled down to learn the language as quickly as possible. My first method: music. But where would I find German music in the middle of “Podunk”, Indiana? Rammstein to the rescue (Sehnsucht)! I learned useful phrases like: “Bück dich” and “Bestrafe mich”, which came in quite handy in my first job interviews.
Die Ärzte, Rammstein, Blumfeld (R.I.P.), Die Toten Hosen – these seem to be lyric driven bands and I think they are exceptions in the German music scene (I’m walking on thin ice here, having been in Germany for only 6 years).
German songs remind me more of places, celebrations or times of the year – they don’t make me think about who I am, like American songs do, but instead where I was, who I was with, or just a general feeling.
What fun it is to be at some form of “party” and scream with a large group of other 30 and 40 somethings: “Zu Spät! Zu Spät!… Doch eines Tages werd' ich mich rächen,
ich werd die Herzen aller Mädchen brechen…"
Or to join arms with your bench neighbor and sway back and forth to “Am Rosenmontag, bin ich geboren, am Rosenmontag in Mainz am Rhein ...” Or in a crowded bar passionately croon in sync: “Ich will zurueck nach Westerland”.
I think Schlager is one of the best examples of German music providing a general “feeling” to its audience. The lyrics are absolutely childish… give anyone the first two words of the sentence and they could complete the sentence without having ever heard the song. But it’s exactly this simple, non-thinking, perfect weather, friendly people, Bavarian idealism which the people want to “feel”.
For me, American songs remind me of singular events in my life… “Don’t you forget about me…Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t you forget about me…” ahh those middle/high school days. “Drove his Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry”… ahh my poor dad can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
So to Tom’s question, “Is there a different part of the brain that sings along, but doesn't interact with the part that processes foreign languages?“ I think this just depends if you’re a lyric person, like Selkie, or not. Even when I sing „no brainers“ like „Ein bißchen Spaß muß sein“, there is simultaneously this small voice somewhere analyzing the statement as to whether fun is necessary for the health of the human soul blah blah…
I still remember the smell of the apartment I was in when I heard the Violent Femmes for the first time… they were like the dirty little secret you only shared with the person who owned the album (we were young and in a conservative community). What a great memory that is…
You translated Blista inna Sahn into germanized Englich so well, I wonder if you could translate “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as well? I stand in the stadium hearing this sung by the 20,000 Germans surrounding me and even though it’s English I can’t understand what the heck they are singing.