“Live fast, die young”: Austrian-born former musical prodigy Falco and his classic ’80s hits

By on September 28, 2017

Austria’s Johann “Falco” Hölzel remains the first and only German-language artist to ever score a #1 hit in the U.S. Night Flight interviewed him for our Falco Video Profile, originally airing on December 20, 1986; watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

Falco was not a “one hit wonder,” however, as many have claimed, having several international hits in addition to “Rock Me Amadeus,” including “Der Kommissar,” “Vienna Calling,” “Jeanny,” “The Sound of Musik,” and “Coming Home (Jeanny Part II, One Year Later).”

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Falco’s estate claims he’s sold some forty million albums and twenty million singles over the past four decades, making him the #1 Austrian performer of all time with twenty-three Top 40 songs charting in Austria alone.

Read more about Falco below.

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Falco was born Johann Hölzel on February 19, 1957, in a working class neighborhood in the Margareten district of Vienna, Austria.

Then as now, Austria is best known as the birthplace of great classical composers — including Haydn, Mahler, Mozart, and Schubert, among others— and until the ’80s, they had not yet produced any charting pop artists.

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At age five, young Johann (“Hans”) turned out to be a music prodigy, and quickly dubbed “the new Mozart.”

At sixteen, he was enrolled in the Vienna Conservatoire, but he became so frustrated that he left school because he wanted to play jazz, rock, punk and pop instead.

In 1977, age twenty, he relocated to West Berlin, Germany, and ended up playing bass guitar and singing in several local bar bands, including Drahdiwaberl, an anarchist punk outfit known for their wild onstage antics.

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Their Falco-penned hit “Ganz Wein” (“All Vienna”) — about rampant heroin use across the country — was banned by Austrian authorities, possibly leading to the success of their 1979 album Psycho Today.

By then, Hölzel had used several pseudonyms — including John Hudson and John DiFalco — but settled on the singular Falco (“falcon”), inspired by German skier Falko Weissflog.

He was soon approached by manager Markus Spiegel to re-record “Ganz Wein” as a solo artist, this new version appearing on his 1982 debut album Einzelhalf (“solitary confinement”).

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Einzelhalf‘s biggest hit, however, would end up being “Der Kommissar” (“The Police Inspector”), reportedly musically inspired by Rick James’ “Superfreak,” as well as a nursery rhyme sung in a children’s game, Plumpssack.

Falco wrote “Der Kommissar” for his friend, actor Lukas Resetarits, who played a police inspector on an Austrian TV show “Kottan Ermittelt” (“Kottan Investigates”).

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Einzelhalf topped the charts in Austria and the Netherlands, selling seven million copies, although “Der Kommissar” failed to break Falco in the UK and the U.S. despite charting in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, and several other countries.

It would end up being covered by British rockers After the Fire (featuring former Yes keyboardist Peter Banks), whose version was a Top Five hit on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1983.

Falco’s next album, Junge Römer (“Young Romans”) failed to provide any hits, despite charting at #1 in Austria.

For his third album, 1985’s Falco 3, he began experimenting with English lyrics to try to broaden his global appeal, partnering up with two Dutch producers, Robe & Ferdi Bolland.

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He also resurrected an old idea about mixing classical music with electro synth-pop and a German-sung rap (with occasional English words or phrases) about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A child prodigy too, Mozart was probably the first rock star, throwing wild parties and bedding lots of Viennese babes before his short life had its tragic, miserable end.

Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” had germinated for so long that when it finally arrived it felt like a parody of the Mozart character depicted in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, and the subsequent Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning blockbuster film.

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Regardless, Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” struck the right note with global audiences in 1986, in part due to a popular music video — featuring his old pals from Drahdiwaberl — in which he appeared in a powdered fright wig and short knee britches.

By the end of ’85, “Rock Me Amadeus” was a #1 hit in Austria, Germany, England, South Africa, and Canada.

It also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks, becoming the only German-language hit to reach to top the U.S. charts on March 29, 1986.

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Falco 3 produced several additional hits: “The Sound of Musik” (which blasted then-Austrian president Kurt Waldheim), “Vienna Calling” (#18 U.S.), and “Jeanny,” which topped the German pop charts even though the track, about a prostitute, was banned by radio due to what many thought was a glorification of rape because the lyrics were penned from the first-person perspective of a stalker.

Always the perfectionist, Falco felt considerable pressure for follow-up hit albums and singles, and spent the rest of his career trying to top “Rock Me Amadeus.”

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1986’s Emotional scored another hit with the title track, but 1988’s Wiener Blut was less successful.

His 1992 album Nachtflug (“Night Flight”) featured “Titanic,” a #1 hit in Austria for seventeen weeks, but he never charted again in the U.S.

In the mid-Nineties, Falco moved to the Dominican Republic, where he worked on TV pilots and recorded a comeback album, Egoisten, releasing one final single, “Naked.”

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It’s possible that, like Mozart, Falco may have known he wasn’t going to live very long, as both “Der Kommisar” and “Rock Me Amadeus” have lyrics mentioning a “live fast, die young” lifestyle.

On February 6, 1998 — two weeks before his 41st birthday — Falco died from severe head injuries after his SUV was hit by a speeding bus on a mountain road near Puerto Plata.

The title track of his posthumously-released album, Out of the Dark – it contained the line “Do I have to die to live?” — would be his last charting hit.

Watch our Falco Video Profile — and other video profiles — on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.