Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert Bécaud’

Soundtrack of my Life: 1960s

July 17th, 2009 20 comments

Some readers may remember a series of posts in which I looked at songs that evoked particular times, the way music often does. That was two years ago, and for two years I’ve regretted not milking the concept more than I did. In my excitement, I rushed through the years, overlooking some essential songs. And, of course, I’ve rediscovered a few in the meantime. One I found a couple of weeks ago; the chorus had been a recurring, random earworm for more than three decades without revealing itself in a manner by which I could carry out the appropriate research in order to identify and acquire it. Around the same time, I stumbled upon a song I had entirely forgotten about. Hearing both beamed me back to 1971/72, when I was five years old.

That then, is the point of this revised series (I will probably recycle some blurb I wrote two years ago while pretending to ignore what I posted): to recreate, as the cliché goes, a soundtrack to my life consisting of the hits of the day. Be warned, some of the music will be utterly horrible, enjoyable only as an act of nostalgia, and even then not very much. There will be oddities that must be included because they were pivotal in my life, like my first idol, childstar Heintje, or my first single (an obscure soul song now regarded as a classic in its genre called… oh, OK, a terrible Schlager single). I will be brutally frank in acknowledging a record of bad taste in childhood, and of questionable record purchases as a young man in the 1980s (What’s The Color Of Money, anyone?). But I also know that there are many who will share these records of bad taste, the questionable purchases, and enjoy revisiting these — maybe even recalling the same songs with similar experiences.

This, then, is my musical autobiography. My interest in knowing the names of performers, other than the legend that is Heintje, began in 1970, when I was four. In this first installment we look at songs that were hits before then, but which remind me of my childhood, not necessarily of the time when they were hits (except for Heintje, of course).

* * *

Heintje –Mama (1968).mp3
heintjeIt all begun with Heintje. I had opportunity last year to report on how I pretended to be an old-fashioned record player. I was about two. I’d run around with my left arm pointing up to resemble the metal spindle on which one would stack records, while my right hand would make semi-circular motions around the supposed spindle to indicate the record’s rotation, all the while lustily singing a song, usually by Dutch-born Heintje, who was huge in West-Germany in the 1960s. Shortly, I’d say “clack” — the next record dropping down the spindle — to begin a new song, invariably by Heintje. I was a fan of the boy who as Hein Simon would enjoy considerably diminished success once, hurrah!, his bollocks dropped.

Listening to Heintje today, it is difficult to see on what foundations of excellence his career was built. It was almost exclusively sentimental gunk, mostly addressed to his mother whom he repeatedly beseeched not to cry for his sake. And it was mainly mothers, their mothers, and two-year-old kids who dug Heintje’s oedipal stylings. And yet, anybody who was alive in West-Germany in the 1960s (or even early ’70s) before the onset of puberty will most likely be beamed back to their childhood on hearing his hits such as Mama or Heidschi Bumbeidschi, and few are the German families that did not have Heintje’s Christmas album, as essential to a true German 1970s Weihnachten as tinsel and Lebkuchen.

.
Alexandra – Mein Freund der Baum (1968).mp3
alexandra-mein_freund_der_baumCLACK! Banal Schlager singers were a Pfennig-a-dozen in Germany. All the more tragic when a real chanteuse, the beautiful, husky voiced Alexandra perished in a car crash on 31 July 1969 at 27. I faintly remember my grandmother telling me that Alexandra was dead when footage of her appeared on the old monochrome television. I don’t know how old I was, but I certainly knew nothing of death. A year before Alexandra died, in 1968 when I was two, my great-uncle died. I have two flashes of vivid memory of him, but his absence didn’t trouble me. He’s dead, you say? Cool. Will he come visit tomorrow? But now I was affected by the gravity of what my grandmother was telling me about the pretty singer. Death seemed serious, shocking business. Maybe you didn’t even survive it.

Quite likely, I would have recovered soon from notions of mortality, had it not been for the song that accompanied the footage of the dead Alexandra: a mournful, slightly eerie ode to a tree that was felled, with its theme of loss and anguish underscored by mournful, slightly eerie music. Knowing this person was dead freaked me out so much that for a couple of years I refused to watch reruns of shows or movies that featured people I knew to be dead (except Laurel and Hardy, probably because they were immortal. And The Little Rascals, who were kids and therefore not possibly dead). Forty years on, I regard Mein Freund der Baum has one of the era’s very few German songs of merit, one influenced by Alexandra’s contact with the French chansonniers of the day, such as Gilbert Bécaud and Salvatore Adamo (both huge in Germany).

.

The Peels – Juanita Banana (1966).mp3
peels_juanita_bananaBeyond Heintje, my initial introduction to music rested on the singles my second-oldest sister played and my mother owned. My sister never let me look at her records, so I don’t recall much of them other than the green Odeon label records of the Beatles and a song in which a dog barked a melody on the red Telefunken label. My mother, on the other hand, kept her singles in an album with plastic sleeves to which I had unrestricted access, at least once I got my own record player for my fifth birthday. I don’t think that her single of the Peels’ great novelty hit from 1966 impressed me much until then. The record’s sleeve was by then missing, so the initial attraction was the label, with a karate figure which evoked my favourite ice lolly from our holidays in Denmark, the wrapper and name of which had some martial arts motif, possibly Kung Fu (it tasted of liquorice, and when I returned to Denmark in 1999, they were still selling it. It still tasted great). Once played, Juanita Banana became a firm favourite (the eponymous heroine Juanita Banana is singing Caro Nome from Verdi’s Rigoletto, incidentally). I confess, I still love it; it’s the best novelty hit of all time.
.

Udo Jürgens – Siebzehn Jahr, Blondes Haar (1965).mp3
udo_jurgensUdo Jürgens is one of the most important German recording artists (he was born and grew up in Austria; his parents were, however, German). He wrote Matt Munro’s hit Walk Away, Shirley Bassey’s Reach For The Stars and Sammy Davis Jr’s concert-closer If I Never Sing Another Song, and has sold a reported 100 million records (he also collaborated with the tragic Alexandra, incidentally). More importantly, he was my youngest sister’s favourite singer before the moody Peter Maffay appeared on the scene in 1970. It was through that sister, ten years older than me, that I grew up on Jürgens hits such as Merci Chérie (a Eurovision Song Contest winner), the rousing and quite funny seduction song Es wird Nacht Senorita, and this sing-along hit about a blonde teenager. Now almost 75, Jürgens is apparently still performing, retaining his massive popularity.

.

Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown (1967).mp3
manfred_mann_clownIn the course of moving between continents and leaving my record collection unattended while the vultures circled, I have lost almost all of my singles, but I still have this one, which I inherited from my mother. Of course a small kid will be attracted by the idea of a song about clowns, especially laughing ones (the kid need not be aware that the protagonist wanted to bang the wife of the clown). But two other things attracted me to the record: the cover, with a rather cute little girl, and the Fontana label, with the record company’s rather eccellent logo. As the Peels entry revealed, I had an interest in record labels as soon as my love affair with vinyl began. And the Fontana one appealed to me greatly. I loved all black labels, it seems. The song itself is brilliant; it features the flute and whistling!

.

Chris Andrews – Pretty Belinda (1969).mp3
pretty_belindaAnother of my mother’s records, and I still own that one, too. It’s the intro wuith the trrumpets that grabbed me then. Andrews looks very English on the cover, yet this song didn’t even chart in his home country, where he’ll be remembered better for his 1965 hit Yesterday Man. Andrews main career was sing-writing (he’s still at it, apparently). He wrote loads of songs for Sandie Shaw — by virtue of which he is a bit of a hero — and Adam Faith, as well as the Mamas and the Papas I’ll Remember Tonight.

.

Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (German version) (1965).mp3
becaud_nathalieFew things excited German record buyers of the ’60s and ’70s as a foreign accent and the sound of far-away lands. Few singers had thicker accents than Bécaud, and when he sang a Russian-inflected song with a Cosack-dance type interlude, the Germans loved it. My mother certainly did, because she bought the single. I loved the cover, with Monsieur 100,000 Volts suavely greeting us from his sportscar, no doubt on his way to make love to an unattainable ethnic beauty. The song’s storyline exploits every Russian cliché bar the appearance of a babooshka. Gilbert picks Nathalie up in Red Square, parties with her and her university friends in her residence, then has hot Soviet sex with her. Now he remembers Nathalie and expects to kiss her soft lips again one day. Oh Gilbert, poor, naïve Gilbert. After your sexcapades in Moscow, the KGB arrested Nathalie and her friends. She was last believed to be in Siberia. Thanks, Gilbert.

.

Esther & Abi Ofarim – Noch Einen Tanz (1965).mp3
esther_abi_ofarimThis is the German version of the Israeli duo’s song One More Dance (another one of mother’s singles). And what a cruel song it is, covering the conversation between two illicit lovers as the woman’s rich husband is ailing at home. Esther and Abi are milking the black humour for all it’s worth, especially when Esther notes with absolute glee that her husband is ill and when Abi, as “Franz”, informs his lover with fake surprise that her husband has died. And all that backed with jovial yet sinister music. With my death phobia, I found the song unsettling yet somehow alluring.
.

Al Martino – Spanish Eyes (1966).mp3
al_martinoLike many of the songs here, I can’t say exactly when this record (another of mother’s singles) entered my consciousness. I do remember that my six-years-older brother and I adapted the English lyrics to sing: “Du, sperr’ mich ein” (You, lock me up). Which suggests that my brother had not learnt English yet, as he would begin to do so at the age of 10, and that I could not read the cover. Which would date the consciousness-entry at about 1970. Spanish Eyes was written by Bert Kaempfert, whose composing chops we observed in the most recent Originals instalment in reference to his Strangers In The Night, and who first recorded the song as an instrumental titled Moon Over Naples. Martino, of course, played mafia-owned singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, on whose behalf a racehorse lost its head. It is said, with some justification, that Fontane was based on Frank Sinatra. Martino had himself mafia troubles, having to pay $75,000 (in 1953, when that was worth something like ten times as much in today’s money) to ensure the safety of his family and went into exile in Britain for five years.

.

Freddy Quinn – Junge, Komm Bald Wieder (1962).mp3
freddyOld Fred, I hate to tell you, was not an Irish expat making it big in Germany. Freddy’s mother knew her boy as Manfred Nidl-Petz. You see the reason why Fred saw cause to change his name, as many other singers have done before and after him. He was one of the first, however, to adopt an English-sounding moniker. Following his example, ever Hans, Fritz and Heinrich would take an Anglophone name, such as Roy Black or Chris Roberts. Unlike Roy and Chris and their friends, Freddy had some connection to his new name: his father was Irish (perhaps even named Quinn).

Manfred’s reinvention didn’t end there. Although born in landlocked Austria, he made the musical sentiments of seafaring his stock and trade. That is akin to a New Yorker making a career out of being a professional hillbilly. Of course, nobody particularly cared that this Austrian was now a Northern German (the astute student of German political history will faintly remember another Austrian who became a German), and Freddy’s melancholy songs about the sea and homesickness — such as this featured piece of shit — were ubiquitous even years after they were hits.

.

Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg – Je t’aime moi non plus (vinyl).mp3
jane_birkinIn the official version, my first celeb crush was ABBA’s lovely Agnetha, but I suspect that before the lovely Agnetha, I fell for the lovely Jane Birkin. I loved looking at the sleeve of the single, which my mother somehow saw no need to withhold from me. Of course, I had no idea that Birkin was climaxing (I’ve read that it wasn’t faked; I like to think it wasn’t) in a sexual manner. I don’t know what exactly I thought she was doing (probably she had a nightmare, or a tummyache), but I certainly had no idea that there was such a thing as sex, and if I had, I wouldn’t have known what it sounded like. So my early childhood exposure to Je t’aime moi non plus had no corrupting influence on me. Not at that point anyway. I certainly liked the sound of the music. This vinyl rip isn’t my work — I downloaded it about ten years ago — but it captures the way I remember hearing it as a child perfectly. My mother’s single crackled just like that.

.

More Stepping Back

The Originals Vol. 24

May 8th, 2009 14 comments

We have a bit of a bumper edition here, with ten quite distinct and all lovely versions of Let It Be Me, four of City Of New Orleans, plus It Must Be Love, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town. Special thanks to our old friend RH and our new friend Walter for their contributions. I would be interested to know which version of Let It Be Me is the most liked.

* * *

Labi Siffre – It Must Be Love.mp3
Madness – It Must Be Love.mp3

siffre_it_must_be_lovePerhaps I’m stretching the concept of this series a little here; some may well say that they know the Labi Siffre original better than the remake. Still, it is the 1981 Madness cover that was the bigger hit and gets the wider airplay. In my view, their version is better than Siffre’s, though I fully expect to receive dissenting comment calling into question the intactness of my mental faculties (or, indeed, refer to my complete madness). Madness reached the UK #4 with the song; in 1971, Siffre (one of the first openly gay singers in pop) reached #14 with it. Rather endearingly, Siffre made a cameo appearance in the video for the Madness single (he is a violin player).

Siffre periodically retired from the music industry. He most propitiously returned in 1987 when he released his anti-apartheid song Something Inside (So Strong), which has been frequently covered, and then proceeded to co-write most of Jonathan Butler’s fine 1990 album Heal Our Land, which in part was a love letter to South Africa at a time when it had become clear that apartheid was dead.

Also recorded by: Marian Montgomery (1972), Lyn Paul (1975), Jasper Steverlinck (2004), Jeroen van der Boom (2006), Paolo Nutini (2007)

* * *

Mel Tillis – Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) (1967).mp3
Waylon Jennings – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1967).mp3
Kenny Rogers & First Edition – Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3

Mel Tillis – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town (1976).mp3

tillisA Korean war veteran comes home from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs and his beloved wife treats him like dirt and goes cheating on him. Much as it may sound like a country music cliché, songwriter Mel Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood, with the man having been wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: The ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself. Though the protagonist of the song imagines putting Ruby into the ground, he has no concrete plans to kill her.

EDIT: Tillis was the first to release the song, but Waylon Jennings actually recorded it three months before Tillis did, in September 1966. Jennings’ version, however, did not get released until August 1967.

The song had been recorded a couple of times before Kenny Rogers decided it would serve to move his group, the First Edition, closer to the country scene. He and the group recorded the song in one take. It became a hit in 1969 (at the height of the Vietnam War), reaching #6 in the US and #2 in the UK. For Rogers it became a signature tune which he would record twice more, in 1977 and 1990. Apparently Rogers likes to send the song up in concerts; it seems to have become a bit of a gag, with the not very humorous Right Said Fred honouring it with a cover version. Personally, I fail to see the capricious angle.

And thanks to commenter Phillip:
Walter Brennan – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.mp3 (direct DL via AprilWinchell.com)

Also recorded by: Johnny Darrell (1967), The Statler Brothers (1967), Red Sovine (1969), Dale Hawkins (1969), Peter Law & The New Pacific (1969), Leonard Nimoy (1970),  Carl Perkins (1974), Gary Holton & Casino Steel (1980), Sort Sol (1985), The Gorehounds (as Ruby, 1989), Right Said Fred (1996), Cake (2005), The Killers (2007) a.o.

* * *

Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans.mp3
Johnny Cash – City Of New Orleans.mp3

Willie Nelson – City Of New Orleans.mp3

steve_goodmanThroughout this series there have been songs that in their original form were far superior to the versions that made them famous. Great though Guthrie’s version (and Willie Nelson’s) is, City Of New Orleans is one such song. Goodman wrote it after travelling on the eponymous train which was about to be decommissioned, recording faithfully what he saw. The song helped to reprieve the line. Having been discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who introduced him to Paul Anka, Goodman recorded the song in 1971. One night in a Chicago bar he approached Arlo Guthrie with a view to introducing the song to Woody’s son. Arlo was not really interested in hearing another songwriter trying to peddle a song, but on condition that Goodman buy him a beer, he mustered some patience. Later he would recall it as “one of the longest, most enjoyable beers I ever had”. The meeting would provide him with his biggest hit, released in 1972. Johnny Cash, no stranger to the subject matter of trains, released his take in 1973.

arlo_guthrieGuthrie changed some of the lyrics: Goodman’s “passing towns” became “passing trains”, the “magic carpet made of steam” was now made of steel, “the rhythm of the rails is all they dream” was now felt. Goodman didn’t seem to mind; he and Guthrie remained good friends until the former’s premature death at 36 in 1984 from leukaemia, the disease he had been diagnosed with in 1969. He won a posthumous Grammy for the song on strength of Willie Nelson’s 1984 version. Read the quite dramatic story of The City of New Orleans train here, and more about Steve Goodman here.

Also recorded by: John Denver (1971), Chet Atkins (1973), The Seldom Scene (1973), Joe Dassin (as Salut les amoureux, 1973), Sammi Smith (1973), Hank Snow (1973), Johnny Cash & June Carter (1973), Henson Cargill (1973), Ted Egan (1973), Hopeton Lewis (1973), Jerry Reed (1974), Johnny Cash (1975), Judy Collins (1975), Rudi Carrell (as Wann wird’s mal wieder richtig Sommer, 1975), Yoram Gaon (as Shalom Lach Eretz Nehederet, 1977), Louise Féron & Jérôme Soligny (as Salut les amoureux, 1993), Randy Scruggs (1998), Maarten Cox (as ‘t Is weer voorbij, die mooie zomer, 2005), Beth Kinderman (2006), Discharger (2006), Lizzie West & the White Buffalo (2006), Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2007) a.o.

* * *

Ted Weems & his Orchestra – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3
Nina Simone – My Baby Just Cares For Me.mp3

weemsWritten by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the 1928 musical Whoopee (not to be confused with the rubbish actress going by a similar name), My Baby Just Cares For Me was recorded by a host of artists in the following few years. Ted Weems’ was not the first, but certainly among the earliest recordings. His take shows just how great an interpreter of songs Nina Simone was. She recorded it in 1958. It was not her most famous number, much less her signature tune, really becoming well-known when it featured in a British TV commercial for Chanel No. 5.

The bandleader Ted Weems was a star by the time he released his version of My Baby Just Cares For Me in July 1930, having had previous hits with Somebody Stole My Gal (1924), Piccolo Pete, and The Man from the South (1928), and later with Heartaches, which he recorded in 1933. At around that time he became even more famous thanks to a regular spot on Jack Benny’s hugely popular radio show. His band broke up with World War 2, and was reformed briefly in the early ’50s. Weems toured until 1953 when he became a DJ in Memphis and then a hotel manager. Weems died in 1963 at the age of 62. Take a look at this great video of Weems and a chorus line of flappers.

Also recorded by: Ethel Shutta (1930), Ted Fiorito & his Orchestra (1930), Mel Tormé (1947), Nat ‘King’ Cole (1949), The Hi-Lo’s (1954), Tony Bennett (1955), Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads (1955), Tommy Dorsey (1958), Tab Hunter (1958), Mary Wells (1965), Frank Sinatra (1966), Cornell Campbell (1973), Alex Chilton (1994), George Michael (1999), Julie Budd (2000), Natalie Cole (2002), Cyndi Lauper (2003), Laura Fedele (2005), Jaqui Naylor (2006), Amanda Lear (2006) a.o.

.

Gilbert Bécaud – Je t’appartiens (1955).mp3
Jill Corey
– Let It Be Me (1957)
Everly Brothers – Let It Be Me (1960)
Betty Everett & Jerry Butler – Let It Be Me (1964)
Skeeter Davis & Bobby Bare – Let It Be Me (1965)
Peaches & Herb – Let It Be Me (ca 1967)
Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry – Let It Be Me (1968)
Bob Dylan – Let It Be Me (1970)
Roberta Flack – Let It Be Me (1970)
Rosie Thomas – Let It Be Me (2005)
All nine cover versions in one file here

becaud-jappertiensLet It Be Me is one of those pop standards that cannot be ascribed to any one particular artist. Most commonly, it might be considered an Everly Brothers song. To me, it is Betty Everett & Jerry Butler’s song; perhaps the most gorgeous version. Some may have heard it for the first time in its vulnerable interpretation by the wonderful Rosie Thomas, duetting with Ed Hardcourt. Not many will think of it as a French song, co-written and first released by the brilliant Gilbert Bécaud as Je t’appartiens (I belong to you) in 1955.

It was not the biggest hit for Bécaud (born François Silly), but it has been prodigiously covered. It took two years to cross the Atlantic, when Jill Corey – the youngest singer ever to headline at the Copacabana — recorded the first English-translation version. It was not a big hit, barely scratching the Top 60. It did become a hit with the Everly Brothers’ in 1960, their first recording made outside Nashville — it was made in New York — and their first to incorporate strings in the arrangement. Let It Be Me became a hit again in 1964 for Butler & Everett, in 1969 for Glenn Campbell & Bobby Gentry, and in 1982 for Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan recorded it twice; featured here is the first of these, which appeared on his 1970’s Self Portrait album. The same year Roberta Flack gave the song a whole new treatment on her second album. I am also partial to the version by the delightfully named Skeeter Davis with outlaw country pioneer Bobby Bare, which includes aspoken bit by Skeeter, as was her wont.

Also recorded by: The Blue Diamonds (1960), Chet Atkins (1961), The Lettermen (1962), Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1962), Andy Williams & Claudine Longet (1964), Sonny & Cher (1965), Brenda Lee (1965), Molly Bee (1965), The Shadows (1965), Barbara Lewis (1966), The Escorts (1966), Nancy Sinatra (1966), Arthur Prysock (1966), Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown (1967), The Sweet Inspirations (1967), Sam & Dave (1967), Claudine Longet (1968), Earl Grant (1968), Petula Clark (1969), The Delfonics (1969), Jim Ed Brown (1969), Tom Jones (1969), Connie Smith & Nat Stuckey (1969), Roberta Flack (1970), Elvis Presley (1970), Bob Dylan (1970), Nancy Wilson (1971), New Trolls (1973), The Pointer Sisters (1974), Demis Roussos (1974), Nina Simone (1974), Mary McCaslin (1974), Melanie (1978), Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (1979),Jay & the Americans (1980), Bob Dylan (again, 1981), Willie Nelson (1982), David Hasselhoff (1984), Collin Raye (1992), Marc Jordan (1999), Nnenna Freelon feat Kirk Whalum (2000), Justin (2000), Lauro Nyro (2001), Anne Murray & Vince Gill (2002), Mike Andersen (2003), The Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio ( 2003), Paul Weller (2004),Pajo (2006), Frankie Valli (2007), Charlie Daniels Band with Brenda Lee (2007), Roch Voisine (2008), Jason Donovan (2008) a.o.

.

More Originals