I’ve only sung one of “his” numbers, Když Milenky Pláčou (When Lovers Cry), a Czech version—not so much a translation—of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” Among other international cover material he performed was Rot und Schwarz (Red and Black) a German-language version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Remarkably, it starts off with a string section sounding like Pablo Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen or a Brahms/Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody/Dance, adding to the already “orientalist” vibe of the original. Gott’s light Slavic accent, the final touch of exotica, made it a smash in the German-speaking world.
I saw a Czech interview with a publicist recently, saying Gott was determined to be wildly successful from at least his early twenties, and he did everything to hone the skills and the image, down to clothes, hair, and poise and movements on stage, to project the confidence and aura of a pop star. Gott was often criticized for signing the “Anti-Charter,” a Communist Party-led declaration condemning Charter 77 (a 1977 petition for the regime to respect human rights, in particular to abide by the terms it had agreed to under the Helsinki Accords of 1975). But in 1989’s Velvet Revolution he sang alongside dissident Karel Kryl from a balcony overlooking Wenceslaus Square. His career continued unabated until his recent bout with acute leukemia.