Fred Jay (born Friedrich Alex Jacobson) was one of the most prolific European pop songwriters of the 70s. In his heyday he regularly penned over 50 singles a year for a diverse clientele that ranged from German singers Michael Holm, Christian Anders and Howard Carpendale to world conquering stars such as Johnny Mathis and Boney M. Born in Austria to Jewish parents, his family relocated to Berlin, where Jay proved a popular and hard-working student. It was while pursuing a law degree at the University of Vienna that he began writing his own songs. His first taste of the music industry came when a number he first scribbled down on napkin in a Viennese cafe in 1935, 'Danke Schön, Es War Bezaubernd', became a hit for German schlager singer Gloria Astor and Harry's Tanzorchester, led by inimitable Austrian film composer Heinz Sandauer.
After completing his doctorate Jay fled to France, where he lived in a small rented room in the Latin Quarter. While songs arrived seemingly unbidden during this period, he supported himself by playing covers on the ukulele in the notorious nightly cabarets of Montmartre. Captured by the Germans in 1940, he spent several terrifying months locked in a warehouse, living off on the most basic rations and wondering whether death was around the corner. When he was finally released, Jay obtained a visa to New York, where he found employment amid several multilingual Austrians working on the radio show Voice Of America. Producers of US entertainment shows were soon exploiting his fledgling talents as a lyricist; while the enterprising Jay also made himself known among the city's many publishers. Having settled in New York with his wife, Polish émigré Mary Wulman, and publicly changed his surname, Jay briefly struck up a songwriting partnership with Irving Reid that yielded Lee Lawrence's 1954 single 'The Things I Didn't Do', later sung by Perry Como. He spent several years fielding rejection letters before Chuck Willis's ebullient reading of 'What Am I Living For"' entered the US top ten in 1958. Soon stars such as LaVern Baker ('I Cried A Tear'), Shirley Bassey ('Hands Across The Sea'), Georgie Fame ('Bend A Little') and Julie Rogers ('The Wedding') made him a name to be reckoned with.
In 1963 he accepted a job at Voice of America in Germany, settling first in Munich and then Berlin, where he was later appointed program director of RIAS. Having not penned a hit for the best part of a decade, Jay decided to have another crack, this time at the burgeoning schlager market after encouragement from young music publisher Peter Meisel. While it took a few years to build up a productive hit rate, by 1969 he was crafting several a year, with weather-worn schlager god Ricky Shayne the chief recipient with the likes of 'Es Wird Ein Bettler Zum König' and 'Ich Mache Keine Komplimente', while affectionate Beatle tribute 'Mr. Paul McCartney' was a debut hit for plucky Auschwitz survivor Marianne Rosenberg. He became better known still in 1971 when Katja Ebstein placed thirdat the Eurovision Song Contest with his environmental anthem 'Diese Welt'. While German-singing stars such as Jürgen Marcus, Christian Anders and Howard Carpendale were frequent recipients of Jay's easy yet emotive style, it was the suited and groomed Michael Holm who got first dibs on the reflective 'Titel Tränen Lügen Nicht', a single that sold upwards of a million copies. Two years later Jay would reap much more handsome rewards when American superstar Johnny Mathis lit up the UK charts with his English version, 'When A Child Is Born', the UK's Christmas number one and a song that since been covered in 120 different languages and sold over six million records. It remains Jay's greatest chart feat.
While Mathis bestrode the charts Jay had started on another partnership, penning songs for producer Frank Farian's new disco group Boney M., writing both 'Got A Man On My Mind' and 'Lovin' Or Leavin'' for 1976's debut LP Take The Heat Off Me. It was 1977 when the heavily stage-managed band took up residency atop the German charts with Jay's latest sleight of hand, 'Ma Baker'. Inspired by the story of the legendary Missouri outlaw, when Jay couldn't get her surname to scan he simply changed it. Jay concocted a similar cocky piece of historical revisionism for their next huge number one, recasting 'Rasputin' as 'Russia's greatest love machine' in a tribute that shamelessly prized pop craft over historical fact. While Jay enjoyed further success with songs for Carpendale, Andy Borg and Bruce Low, Boney M. were his principle cash cow, and he had a big hand in multi-platinum albums Nightflight To Venus (1978) and Oceans Of Fantasy (1979). And while his last major smash for the band, 'Hooray! Hooray! It's A Holi-Holiday' broke their run of seven successive German number ones, it more than made up for it across other European territories. Jay eased off the pace and decided to put down the quill for good in 1983, with upwards of 900 published songs under his belt. He moved back to New York in 1985, to be closer to his son, where he passed away three years later.
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