How the German actor who voiced Sulu and Little Joe turned ALF into a pop star
Veteran overdubber Tommi Piper rapped and sang as the cat-chasing alien.
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The level-headed Starship Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu, the spunky cowboy Little Joe Cartwright, the wise-cracking alien ALF, and Tony Danza's ballplayer-turned-housekeeper — when it comes to TV personalities, these characters are about as far apart as you can get.
To a German, they all sound the same.
Singer-actor Tommi Piper, a gruff-voiced Berlin native, overdubbed these characters auf Deutsch in German editions of ALF, Bonanza, Who's the Boss? and Star Trek films. He also voiced Oscar the Grouch, a role perhaps best suited for his deep, raspy pipes. In the late 1970s, Piper also sang with Amon Düül II, the long-running psychedelic Krautrock band. As an actor, he has appeared in front of the camera for nearly 60 years.
Yet none of these gigs quite matched the success of ALF. Between the years 1988 and 1991, Piper released two full-length albums and four singles as ALF. The furry brown Melmacian rivaled David Hasselhoff when it came to singing '80s TV stars in Germany.
Piper was no stranger to the recording studio. As far back as the 1960s, he was cutting mod, cosmopolitan pop records like "So Knall und Fall." However, as ALF, he took his music into an altogether different direction. He rapped.
The first track on his debut as ALF, Alles Paradiso!, declared "ALF Wird Unser Bundeskanzler," or "ALF Will Be Our Chancellor."
However, it would be another cut from the LP that stormed the German charts. "Rhonda," a love song from the cat-fancying alien to his girlfriend, hung around on the charts for twelve weeks. Take a listen to this smash, circa the era of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
There were attemps to turn ALF into a singing sensation in the States, too, as Burger King released a series of novelty picture disks like "Take Me, ALF, to the Ballgame" and "Melmac Girls." On both sides of the pond, puppet handlers figured the fuzzy guy would be into the Beach Boys sound, it seemed. However, the gimmick only clicked in Germany.
Perhaps because the public there could close their eyes and also imagine Sulu or Little Joe singing those alien love songs.