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The Secret World of French Songs

Since January 3, 2021, I have been doing a series of Zoom presentations of French songs. The overall schedule is as follows:

Session 1 (January 3): Nineteenth and early twentieth century: Pierre-Jean de Béranger, Paris Commune, Aristide Bruant, Yvette Guilbert
Session 2 (January 17): Chansons réalistes: Fréhel, Damia, Edith Piaf
Session 3 (January 31): Charles Trenet + a sampling of other music-hall stars (Mistinguett, Tino Rossi, Rina Ketty, Josephine Baker, Fernandel, Mireille, Maurice Chevalier)
Session 4 (February 14): Georges Brassens (1)
Session 5 (February 28): Georges Brassens (2)
Session 6 (March 14): Boris Vian, Jacques Prévert, Serge Gainsbourg, Léo Ferré, Jean-Roger Caussimon, Guy Béart
Session 7 (March 28): Anne Sylvestre, Barbara, Françoise Hardy, Eva, Anne Vanderlove, Dalida, Hélène Martin, Monique Morelli, Pia Colombo
Session 8 (April 11): Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, Georges Moustaki, Serge Reggiani, Gilbert Bécaud, Claude Nougaro, Jean Ferrat, Christine Sèvres
Session 9 (April 25): Pierre Mac Orlan, Germaine Montero, La Bolduc, Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, Robert Charlebois, Monique Leyrac
Session 10 (May 9): Les Compagnons de la Chanson, Jacques Douai, Yves Montand, Francis Lemarque, Mouloudji, Michel Legrand, Jeanne Moreau, Hugues Aufray, Maxime Le Forestier, Gérard Manset, Alain Souchon, Raoul Vaneigem, Boby Lapointe, Bourvil

Below are slightly edited versions of the email announcements that I sent out for each of the previous sessions, as well as the tentative programs for each of the upcoming ones. In most cases we only listened to one version of each song, but I included links to alternative versions that I thought were of particular interest for people to check out on their own. In a few cases I had to skip one or two of the listed songs as I was running over my 90-minute time limit, but I have nevertheless included the full lists of the programs I hoped to present.

The day after each meeting I also sent the participants a follow-up message, providing supplementary links for those who might wish to do some further exploration. I have included some of those links.

If you are interested in joining us for the remaining sessions, please email me (knabb@bopsecrets.org) and I’ll let you know the Zoom link and other details.

If you are not able to attend the live meetings, you may nevertheless find it interesting to check out some of the links. In the process of preparing my presentations I explored multiple versions of hundreds of French songs on YouTube etc. The ones I ultimately selected are those I considered to be among the very best songs and performances, so I think you’ll enjoy listening to them whether or not you know any French.

Thanks to the people who attended these sessions, whose enthusiasm at times seemed almost as great as my own; and in particular to the following people, who turned me on to some of the songs, provided information about them, or otherwise contributed toward making this series possible: Didier Agid, Michel Ameline, Christian Camus, Joël Camous, Joël Cornuault, Pierre de Gaillande, Danny Grobani, Douglas Hansen, Gérard Lambert, Réal Lapalme, Odile Lavault, Sabrina Maras, Olivier Zyngier.


INITIAL ANNOUNCEMENT (December 15, 2020)

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, during the last five years I’ve been leading a literary discussion group. Until early this year it met in a bookstore in Berkeley, but since the pandemic we’ve shifted to meeting online via Zoom. The group meets every other Sunday, 4:30-7:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and participation is free. (I’m doing this just for fun.)

Up till now we’ve mostly been reading classic European fiction and poetry. Coming up, however, we’re going to have a three-month musical interlude: From January to March 2021* we’re going to explore the secret world of French songs — from nineteenth-century cabaret songs, through the noirish chansons réalistes of the 1930s and the delightfully zany Charles Trenet, to great post-World War II singer-songwriters such as Léo Ferré, Jacques Brel, Anne Sylvestre, and above all Georges Brassens.

Unlike with the novels and poems our group has explored, which require a fair amount of reading, this series will have virtually no “homework.” Before each meeting I will simply send you links to a number of great performances available on YouTube etc., which you can check out if you want to familiarize yourself with them in advance. But in any case we’ll be listening to the same songs during the meetings. While our book group typically involves lots of discussion, this song series will be more in the nature of a concert with commentary. Most of our time will be spent simply listening to great performances of some great songs, with yours truly as the deejay, though there will be time for some Q&A and discussion at the end.

No knowledge of French is necessary. I and some French friends will be on hand to translate the lyrics, explain the allusions and slang terms, and put the songs in the context of French culture and history.

The reason I refer to these songs as a “secret world” is not because they are particularly mysterious, but because they have unfortunately remained almost totally unknown to English-speaking people. Here’s your chance to find out what you’ve been missing!

Note: When we met in person, our discussion group was of course limited to people in the Bay Area, but since we’ve been meeting online a few people from elsewhere have also been taking part. So I’m also sending this announcement to a number of friends in more distant locations who I think might be interested. Wherever you are, let me know if you’d like to join us!

[*My original plan for a seven-session series was later expanded to ten sessions — January to May 2021.]


SESSION 1 (January 3, 2021)

Welcome to THE SECRET WORLD OF FRENCH SONGS! Here are the songs we’ll be listening to at our first meeting (January 3), along with some background information:

“Georges Brassens and the French ’Renaissance of Song’ ” (Knabb) — http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/brassens.htm (a brief introduction to the singers and songwriters we’ll be exploring)
“Subversive Aspects of Popular Songs” (Rexroth) — http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/songs.htm (a more extensive essay, comparing and contrasting French songs with American folksongs, blues, rock, etc.)

Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Ma grand’mère” [My Grandmother] (sung by Germaine Montero) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHPwvlzc1nQ&list=PLSq8lUfXIajnVu7wkuIXAgg3j6cwVcO9X&index=41

“A mes amis devenus ministres” [To My Friends Who Have Become Cabinet Ministers] (sung by Montero) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXxvFCVSCMA&list=PLSq8lUfXIajnVu7wkuIXAgg3j6cwVcO9X&index=4

“Les cinq étages” [The Five Floors] (sung by Montero) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDJci5bUiNo&list=PLSq8lUfXIajnVu7wkuIXAgg3j6cwVcO9X&index=7

Paris Commune (March-May 1871)
“Theses on the Paris Commune” (Debord, Kotányi & Vaneigem) — http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/Pariscommune.htm
Wiki article | YouTube

“La Marseillaise de la Commune” (tune from the original “Marseillaise,” with new words added during the Commune) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkXnFU32Zcs

“Le temps des cérises” [The Time of Cherries] (song by Jean-Baptiste Clément, sung by Marc Ogeret) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9bV8F6QLyo

“Quand viendra-t-elle?” [When Will It Come?] (song by Eugène Pottier, sung by Mouloudji) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLXqZEuszi8&list=RDbLXqZEuszi8&start_radio=1

Aristide Bruant (1851-1925)
Wiki article | YouTube

“A Saint-Lazare” (short English-language video, introducing Bruant and explaining the context of this song) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoqAID71FHI
Same song sung by Germaine Montero — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2JpTbBYuVA
Same song sung by Picolette — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxcrTsBrRXs

“A la Roquette” (sung by Bruant ca. 1910) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vESusGqc0M

“Rodeuse des berges” [Prowler of the Seine Embankments] (sung by Germaine Montero)— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBx1XFmeCEY

“Rue Saint-Vincent” (sung by Patachou) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9BWp52Lyqo
Same song sung by Yves Montand — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hrd1wV1ztb0

Yvette Guilbert (1865-1944)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le fiacre” [The Hackney Cab] (song by Léon Xanrof, sung by Guilbert) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Ce_4k4uzE&list=OLAK5uy_mPtvCgzVSvmB_8_Ua9nwbMqFP0nImC-nQ&index=1

“Madame Arthur” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXhWj_aBVRc

“Dites-moi que je suis belle” [Tell Me I’m Beautiful] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-VfsT-Qge4&list=OLAK5uy_mPtvCgzVSvmB_8_Ua9nwbMqFP0nImC-nQ&index=11


Olivier Zyngier (who attended the meeting yesterday) informs me that he offers classes on performing “French Café Songs.” For more information, see https://www.mandosoft.com/lessons. Olivier was one of the founding members of the Baguette Quartette, a wonderful Bay Area group that has performed several of the songs we’ll be looking at, as well as lots of great French dance tunes. For more information on that group, including the five excellent CDs they have available, see http://www.baguettequartette.org/. Here, for example, is the Baguette Quartette performance of Yvette Guilbert’s “Madame Arthur” (vocal by the group leader and accordionist, Odile Lavault) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNPwe29CudM

For those of you who have some French knowledge, here’s a detailed line-by-line analysis of Béranger’s “Les cinq étages” — http://musique.ac-dijon.fr/bac2009/sept_chants/montero.htm

Here are several dozen different versions of “Le temps des cérises” — https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%22le+temps+des+cerises%22

And for a little comic relief, here is a recent “French Brexit Song” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPLe9qhpBF8

SESSION 2 (January 17)

At this meeting we will be exploring the chansons réalistes (“realistic songs“) of the 1930s. Over the last few weeks I’ve been researching the three greatest singers of the genre, and I’ve put together what I think is an exciting selection of their greatest performances, including some really delicious film clips.

Trigger Warning: These songs are sometimes sordid or violent — though certainly no more so than their cinematic counterpart, films noirs, or than any hardboiled detective story, or for that matter Grimms’ Fairy Tales or classic tragedies like Hamlet or Medea. Of the songs we’ll be listening to, two involve prostitutes lamenting their fate and three involve murders (one gang revenge, one jealousy killing, and one bizarre shocker in which the pitiful perpetrator is literally brain-damaged). The rest are a mix of more ordinary human joys and sorrows, but I think you will agree that they are all marvelous songs, sung to gorgeous music by three magnificent singers. And as a special treat, to end the meeting on a more upbeat note I will play you two delightful film clips that I guarantee will leave you grinning and humming!

Here are the songs we’ll be listening to:

Chansons réalistes
Wiki article

Fréhel (1891-1951)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Comme un moineau” [Like a Sparrow] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwDmXzA04sk

“Pauvre Grand” [My Poor Big Boy] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjhC_e91P44

“Où est-il donc?” [Where Are They Now?] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzCG8CZhYb8

“Tel qu’il est” [I Like Him Just Like He Is] (film clip) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9FlGjcWIfQ

“La môme caoutchouc” [The Female Contortionist] (film clip with Jean Gabin) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p-ONIKaOYA

“Où est-il donc?” (another film clip with Gabin) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLufu3yR7LU

Damia (1889-1978)
Wiki article | YouTube

“La guinguette a fermé ses volets” [The Bar Has Closed Its Shutters] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=On5qXnwYOsI

“Tu ne sais pas aimer” [You Don’t Know How to Love“] and “La fille des matelots” [The Sailors’ Girl] (two clips from the 1931 film Sola). The complete film is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4xmsgyJnDQ. The songs are at 0:00-3:00 and 51:00-1:08:30.

“Tout fout le camp” [Everything’s Gone Insane] — https://greatsong.net/PAROLES-DAMIA,TOUT-FOUT-LCAMP,235679.html

“Depuis que les bals sont fermés” [Since the Dance Halls Have Been Closed] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XWYO0bkFJs

Edith Piaf (1915-1963)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Mon légionnaire” [My Foreign Legion Lover] (sung by Marie Dubas) (illustrated and subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0hr2D0mTo0
Same song sung by Piaf — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VqzZyqQwB8

“Les momes de la cloche” [Young Streetwalkers] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=262LG0Php78

“Simple comme bonjour” [As Simple as Can Be] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfZGCs19szw

“La Julie jolie” [Pretty Julie] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSLc8nVQcjM

“De l’autre côté de la rue” [On the Other Side of the Street] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zs9tIZ4ois

“La vie en rose” [Life Through Rose-Colored Glasses] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzeLynj1GYM

Jean Gabin (1904-1976)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Fifine” (Gabin film clip) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rPPcxOJSKw

“Quand on se promène au bord de l’eau” [When We Stroll Beside the Water] (another Gabin film clip) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi-WY_1zf-8

[Note: With the partial exception of Edith Piaf, who co-wrote a few of her later songs (including “La vie en rose”), the above singers did not write the songs they sang. I have not bothered to specify the songwriters.]


Other major chanson réaliste singers who we didn’t have time to explore include Lucienne Boyer, Marie Dubas, Lys Gauty, and Berthe Sylva. You can search YouTube to find many of their performances.

The final Gabin clip (“Quand on se promène au bord de l’eau”) is from the 1936 film La Belle Equipe (English version titled They Were Five) — Wiki article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_Were_Five. My French friend Christian Camus (whom some of you have met when he’s visited the Bay Area) leads several different music groups that play in Paris restaurants (when they’re not closed down), and he often performs “Quand on se promène au bord de l’eau.” You can see him singing it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWlaIKO9WLk

“Rose Colored Glasses” (the Rexroth poem about Piaf’s “La vie en rose” that I read you) can be found here: http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/poems/1960s.htm#VENICE. The Ginsberg poem about Rexroth and Piaf can be found here: https://allenginsberg.org/2014/12/ginsberg-scribble/. The passage I read from James Baldwin about Paris (mentioning Gabin) is from the chapter “A Question of Identity” in Part 3 of Notes of a Native Son (1955). That book contains several other interesting essays about Baldwin’s experiences in France. You can find the complete text here: https://www.pdfdrive.com/notes-of-a-native-son-e200657962.html

SESSION 3 (January 31)

After the dark and stormy chansons réalistes of our last session, I promise that this one will be 100% cheery! We will be exploring the delightfully zany songs of Charles Trenet, the “fou chantant“ (singing madman) who someone called a combination of Danny Kaye and Salvador Dali. We will also briefly sample seven other fun music-hall stars of the same era — Mistinguett, Tino Rossi, Rina Ketty, Josephine Baker, Fernandel, Mireille, and Maurice Chevalier.

Here are the songs we’ll be listening to at the meeting:

Mistinguett (1873-1956)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Mon homme” [My Man] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFvYjlgqh4Q

Tino Rossi (1907-1983) and Rina Ketty (1911-1996)
Wiki article on Rossi | Wiki article on Ketty | Rossi on YouTube | Ketty on YouTube

“J’attendrai” [I Will Wait] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9gzZ2b4XXI

Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
Wiki article | YouTube

“J’ai deux amours (mon pays et Paris)” [I Have Two Loves: My Homeland and Paris] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_iFBUYIhtA

Fernandel (1903-1971)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Félicie aussi” [Félicie Also] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnF7AjPOWR8

Mireille (1906-1996)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Ce petit chemin” [This Little Path] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01YcppIILq0
Same song sung on Mireille’s 90th birthday — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Wos6IldPV8

Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Valentine” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU2kMBZPGpw

“Montmartre” (film clip in English with Chevalier and Frank Sinatra) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSbh6IitWok

CHARLES TRENET (1913-2001)
Wiki article — Wiki article | YouTube

“Le jardin extraordinaire” [The Extraordinary Garden] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7H57p1HNbY

“Y a de la joie” [There’s Joy] (Trenet’s song sung by Maurice Chevalier [subtitled], followed by Trenet’s own version) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9Tm6sOupRU

“Le soleil et la lune” [The Sun Has a Date with the Moon] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEUZVu2jzrg

“Les oiseaux de Paris” [The Birds of Paris] (film clip) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-afpSA56FpE

“Je chante” [I Sing] (subtitled)— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGoYc2TFg30

“L’âme des poètes” [The Soul of the Poets] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEMxhO8Obeo

“La cigale et la fourmi” [The Grasshopper and the Ant] (poem by La Fontaine, music by Trenet, acc. Django Reinhardt, animated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfbboranEQk

“Papa pique et Maman coud” [Papa and Mama at the Sewing Machines] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcMJg1DLxjk

“La mer” [The Sea] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXQh9jTwwoA

Trenet chats and jams with Georges Brassens — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfnu6dTnqSs

[Note: Trenet wrote virtually all the songs he sang. With the exception of Mireille, the other singers above did not write their own songs.]


There’s a very interesting 96-minute “Documentaire Charles Trenet” on YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UROJR63Nv1Q. It includes interviews with many of Trenet’s fellow singers, such as Juliette Greco and Charles Aznavour, as well as dozens of clips from his performances. The film is in French with no subtitles, but I think you’ll get the gist of what the people are talking about, and needless to say you don’t need to understand any of the words to enjoy Trenet’s marvelous music and singing.

SESSION 4 (February 14)

During this session and the following one we will be exploring the work of France’s greatest singer-songwriter, Georges Brassens (1921-1981). Imagine a French Bob Dylan. The two are certainly very different in many ways, but there are also some resemblances, and they are of comparable stature and influence in their respective languages. The great Spanish singer Paco Ibáñez called Brassens “the Bach of the world’s songwriters.” The American novelist Peter Beagle said, “It’s hard to explain to an American audience what Brassens has meant to the French. For 30 years his presence dominated the chanson. France has had great songwriters for a thousand years, but Brassens alone bridged the gap between poetry anthologies and lunchtime whistling of waitresses and construction workers.” Brassens has also been quite popular in many other countries, but unfortunately he remains unknown to most English-speaking people. I hope that these two sessions will help you find out what you’ve been missing!

Below are the songs we will be listening to at the meeting this Sunday. When possible, I have chosen videos that have English subtitles. I have also added performances in English where they exist — in most cases by the French-American singer-songwriter Pierre de Gaillande. PIerre attended our first French Songs session and he will also be joining us at both of these Brassens sessions. He and his group “Bad Reputation” have put out two CDs of Brassens songs in English, and I think they convey the spirit, style, and sense of the originals about as well as possible considering the inevitable difficulties of translating song lyrics.


Wiki article on Brassens
Brassens songs on YouTube
“Georges Brassens and the French ’Renaissance of Song’ ” (Knabb) — http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/brassens.htm (includes links to several huge Brassens sites)
“Subversive Aspects of Popular Songs” (Rexroth) — http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/songs.htm (compares Brassens and other French singers with American blues, folk, and rock songs)
Video interview about singing Brassens in English (Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruKp53Tcn0g
Another Gaillande video on the same topic — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QssmyRHLWU&list=PLFZUnysUHCzce8LSduxLhzP96593IrfMe&index=10


“Chanson pour l’Auvergnat” [Song for a Good Samaritan] (subtitled) — https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x19cpv
Same song sung by Joan Baez (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-AqztrNtv8
“Song for the Countryman” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hePHrt16RBM

“Le petit joueur de flûteau” [The Little Flute Player] (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PiYS_39mT8
Same song sung by a chorus of children — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdKRScOe4n

“Les copains d’abord” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9oEcWFjF3M
“Buddies First of All” (sung by Graeme Allwright) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAG8j7qn-VI
“Friendship First” (performed by Asleep at the Wheel) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDO254-d6_k

“Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (poem by François Villon, music by Brassens) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xOuUSv4ffI
“Ballad of the Ladies of Bygone Times” (translations and notes by Knabb) — http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/villon.htm

“Brave Margot” [Good Girl Margot] (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfcl2zb9sMU
Same song performed by Patachou — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4O1eY47cNU
Same song also sung by Patachou with audience participation — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSkQPdVyCEM

“Le roi (des cons)” [The King of Assholes/The Supreme Schmuck/The Ultimate Jerk] (illustrated and subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEUOEGTluaI

“Quatre-vingt quinze pour cent” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep6wM4h_hPg
“Ninety-Five Percent” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4zXP_SDygE

“Auprès de mon arbre” [Beside My Tree] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3-_8SblRIQ



Thanks to everyone for the enthusiastic participation in our Zoom meeting yesterday. In particular, I’d like to thank Didier Agid and Michel Ameline, the two Brassens experts and enthusiasts who joined us from France even though it was in the middle of the night there; and Pierre de Gaillande (New York), who has translated and performed numerous Brassens songs. Their participation added greatly to the discussion.

Regarding the bawdy language and content of Brassens’s “95%” song, which stirred up so much debate, I think that if you listen to the song again and think about it, you will see that it is emphatically “pro-woman.” But if the song presents men as often being pretty clueless about the issue involved (women faking orgasms), it is not really “anti-men,” either. Rather, as is so often the case in Brassens’s songs, both men and women (in general) are revealed as comically inept bunglers regarding everything from managing their most intimate affairs to dealing with the future of the planet. But the flip side is also there: a worldly-wise humanism that also appreciates and loves individuals for their good qualities, an attitude that made Brassens value “friendship above all.”

Our next meeting will include a few more potentially controversial songs. One of them, “The Gorilla,” is about as outrageously un-PC as you can get, but it has also been one of Brassens’s most well known and popular songs in France ever since it was banned from French radio in 1954. If you listen closely you will realize that this song is actually about opposing the death penalty, even if this message only appears as a seemingly passing remark in the last line of its rambunctiously outrageous story. Brassens did not much like songs with overt “messages,” feeling that such songs were not usually very engaging. Instead, he created scenes or stories in which the message was implied, whether or not the listener realized it at first hearing.

I will admit that some of Brassens’s songs do seem rather dated, in the sense that he himself would certainly not have written them the same way if he were alive today. But with most of them I think this is a non-issue, like being self-righteously shocked that Huck Finn doesn’t refer to Jim as a “person of color.” Brassens is just writing songs with made-up situations and communicating them in the popular language of his era — like poets and songwriters have been doing for millennia.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, here are some follow-up recommendations:

For more info on Pierre de Gaillande’s Brassens CDs, see https://pierredegaillande.com/

If you’d like to get to know Brassens better, here are several short documentaries coming at him from several different angles, plus one full-length biopic based on his younger days. They’re all in French without subtitles, but even if you don’t know the language, you can get a good sense of his lifestyle, his friends, his lovers, the places he lived, his relations with other musicians, etc.

Le Regard de Georges Brassens https://pasdemerde.com/documentary-georges-brassens/ (55 min.)

Georges Brassens, les images de sa vie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0pzxK11OH4 (52 min.)

Archives Brassens https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNI3WOJlUdM (20 min.)

News report of his death — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ6OPibFdyM (10 min.)

Video on his long-time hostess Jeanne Planche — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImYyNNgfGec (5 min.)

Video on his long-time girlfriend Püpchen — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOypTyIZAao (10 min.)

Documentary on Brassens’s famous “summit meeting” with Léo Ferré and Jacques Brel — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7Onz6oF21g (20 min.)

Brassens, la mauvaise réputation (film biopic on his youth) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHbJ0e778jY (92 min.)


SESSION 5 (February 28)

This session will continue our exploration of Georges Brassens. Below are the songs we will be listening to. If possible, I encourage you to listen to all of the different song versions ahead of time in order to become familiar with them (though you are very welcome to attend the meeting even if you haven’t done any of this “homework“). During the meeting we will only have time to listen to one performance of each song, but checking out the alternative links in advance will help you to understand the songs better, and also help to minimize the need for lengthy explanations from me.

Note: The three songs marked with an asterisk may seem offensive for some people. In my view, these songs are actually quite benign, whether Brassens is presenting joyously positive or amusing views of human sexuality or creating outrageous satires in the grand tradition of Rabelais, Swift, Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin. In France they are well known and loved by millions of people of all ages and all sectors of society. See, for example, the zanily bawdy “Fernande” being enthusiastically sung to an audience of thousands by France’s former First Lady, and also hilariously dramatized by the prestigious Comédie Française. Relax and enjoy them!


“The Ghost of Georges Brassens” (song by Leon Rosselson) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvujST1QRHY
Rosselson article about Brassens (includes the lyrics to the above song) — https://rosselson.medium.com/me-georges-brassens-the-last-chance-a-shaggy-dog-story-cf4b11fc348d

“La mauvaise reputation” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_TB_r5-cf4
“Bad Reputation” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhQLLZp8sqM
“The Bad Reputation” (translated and sung by Joe Flood) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5nJLNuSEFo
“La mala reputación” (translated into Spanish and sung by Paco Ibáñez) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN1TGK5FAas

*“Trompettes de la renommée” [Trumpets of Fame] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVKyzkNBqjQ
“Trumpets of Fortune and Fame” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1CJv_UVLUA

*“Le gorilla” (subtitled) — https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5nsim
“Brother Gorilla” (translated and sung by Jack Thackray) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvoajDAOHkc

*“Fernande” [“An erection is not a matter of will power . . .“] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emuQlJyXFkg
Same song sung by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKRgXlzAvhA
Same song performed by the Comédie Française — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqyicS9ZwKg
“Quand je pense à Trumpette...” (song about Trump to the tune of “Fernande“) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VARM8ntdvWA

“Maman, Papa” (sung by Patachou and Brassens) (with photos of Brassens and his parents) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4phwUzKZw_ 

“Pauvre Martin” [Poor Martin] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRLRbWWT36c
Same song sung by Barbara — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjuwW__MyxY
Same song performed by the Têtes Raides — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YF73LK-dJnE

“Le petit cheval blanc” [The Little White Horse] (poem by Paul Fort, music by Brassens, sung to an audience of children by Brassens and Nana Mouskouri) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIxfCDjjdhI

“Les amoureux des bancs publics” [Lovers on Public Benches] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eztSYUFUe8I
“Public Benches” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k0GdBK75b

“Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux” [There Is No Happy Love] (poem by Louis Aragon, music by Brassens, images from Picasso, with subtitles) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzf6urpFpuw
Same song sung by Barbara — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es9dm3xZyY

“Heureux qui, comme Ulysse” [Happy Is He Who, Like Odysseus . . .] (song by Copi & Delerue, sung by Brassens for the film of that title) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWlLNpJE1zI
English translation of the song — https://muzikum.eu/en/127-5177-214264/georges-brassens/heureux-qui-comme-ulysse-english-translation.html

“Elégie à un rat de cave” [elegy for the wife of one of the musicians] (Brassens with a jazz group) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYxU7vmEg6g

“Quand les cons sont braves” (posthumous Brassens song sung by Jean Bertola) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9R7q7Q6MXw


Thanks for yet another lively and enjoyable meeting. If I’m not mistaken, I have the impression that just about everyone who attended the last two meetings has come away with a great appreciation for Georges Brassens both as a person and as a singer-songwriter.

Due to time constraints, I had to leave out many more Brassens songs than I could include in my presentations. (During the two meetings we listened to around 20 of them, which is a good number but less than 10% of his total output.) So I thought I’d let you know about some of the other gems I considered including but ultimately decided to omit.

“La Jeanne” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO4IKnfEmp0
Same song sung by the Eva Denia Trio — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLyA-eN1_10

A 5-minute video about Jeanne Planche — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImYyNNgfGec

[The above song and video are about Brassens’s longtime hostess.]

“Je me suis fait tout petit”— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiG5NPuLO4g
“I Made Myself Small” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu8BvvoSdtc

“Rien à jeter” [Nothing to Reject] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2V1rkP8x_o
“Absolutely Nothing” (same song translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysOELWUWXwI

“La non demande en mariage” [A Marriage Non-Proposal] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0UYHleOGt4

A 10-minute video about Püpchen — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOypTyIZAao

[The above three songs and the video are about (or addressed to) Brassens’s lifelong girlfriend Püpchen.]

“Le vieux Léon” [Old Léon, the Accordionist] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5_rC9o-rs4
“Dear Old Leon” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S38th11g7Kk

“Le blason” [an homage to “the most beautiful feature of the female anatomy”] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lVhNSnXUeg

“Complainte des filles de joie” [Lament for the “Good-Time Girls”] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSYk6qS3KAw
Same song sung by Les Frères Jacques — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2_yGN_sePg
“Lament of the Ladies of Leisure” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC_WTipoQQ0

“La traitresse” [Betrayed by My Mistress] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9KUwKgeHQU

“Mourir pour des idées” [To Die for Ideas] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZpNgSaYWts
“To Die for Your Ideas” (translated and sung by Pierre de Gaillande) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3AL7NU6Wn4

“Gastibelza” (Victor Hugo poem, music by Brassens) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znJla7ZQ_5Q

“Hécatombe” [The Massacre] (subtitled) (very un-PC, proceed at your own risk!) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-ZPNtDVKW4

“Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète” [Plea to Be Buried on the Beach at Sète] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iim_CJktUdA
[He was indeed buried in his hometown of Sète, though not on the beach, but in a cemetery along with his parents and his girlfriend Püpchen.)

“Les passantes” [Ladies Who Passed By] (poem by Antoine Pol, music by Brassens, sung by Brassens and Maxime Le Forestier) (subtitled) — https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3vl5l

“Top 6 meilleurs musiques de Brassens” (a French musician analyzes six Brassens tunes that he finds particularly remarkable musicologically; it’s in French, but you can easily understand because he illustrates his points musically) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eDOMRdT0MI

And finally, if you go to this YouTube link you can browse among hundreds of Brassens songs, sung by him and by many other singers and groups, along with interviews, documentaries, etc. — https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=georges+brassens

SESSION 6 (March 14)

When I originally planned this French Songs series, I thought that seven sessions would suffice — the five that we’ve already done, plus two more. But I’ve now realized that that is not nearly enough. After having become more familiar with more songs and singers and songwriters, and also spurred by several French friends (“Surely you can’t omit So-and-So! Just listen to these songs . . .”), I’ve decided to add three more sessions. So in the next FIVE sessions of our series we will explore some of the many other great modern French singers and songwriters besides Brassens.

In this session (March 14) we will focus on several key figures of the immediate post-World War II period (ca. 1945-1960).

“It is out of Occupied and Post-War Paris, the world of hunger, concentration camps, and displaced persons, most of the latter young and utterly penniless, that the golden age of Saint-Germain-des-Prés began. Once it got under way it came like an explosion. The great poets of Post-War II France are without exception the singers. Poets like Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Anne Sylvestre are incomparably better than the leading establishment poets. . . . Along with Jacques Prévert, Boris Vian, Mouloudji, Les Frères Jacques, Juliette Gréco, and others, these people are not only responsible for the greatest renaissance of song in modern times, they are also responsible for the cultural change of the counterculture, the replacing of the acquisitive appetite with the lyric sensibility.” (Kenneth Rexroth)

Below are the songs we’ll be listening to at this upcoming session. If you have the time, I encourage you to listen to all of the different versions ahead of time. During the meeting we will only have time to listen to one performance of each song, but each of the links is there for a reason, whether because it is an outstanding performance, or because it includes subtitles, or because it reflects an interesting slant on the songwriter’s work, etc.

For example, at the meeting we will listen to Boris Vian’s own superb performance of his “Java des bombes atomiques.” That recording has no subtitles, so I will translate the text before playing it for you. But you will get a better sense of the content of the song if you have already viewed the subtitles that are included in the performance by the Petites Annonces group, and a better sense of the spirit of the song by watching the two wacky dramatizations I’ve linked to.

Again, at the meeting we will watch the Frères Jacques’ version of Prévert’s “En sortant de l’école” because I want you to see the amusing singing and miming of this brilliant vocal quartet. But you will get much more out of the song if you first look at the “French lesson” link (which has a word-for-word English translation of the original poem); and then watch the cartoon version (to see the surrealistic adventures described); and then listen to Germaine Montero’s performance (which, as usual with her, is just about perfect). I think you’ll also enjoy the performance by the chorus of school children, which is not only particularly appropriate for this song, but also an example of how many of these songs have become popular among wide sectors of the French population.

During the coming five sessions we will be seeing many more such interrelations, as I try to present a representative selection of works by more than twenty of France’s greatest modern songwriters while at the same time showcasing a variety of superb singers doing some of their finest performances. Do yourself a favor and savor each of them!

Boris Vian (1920-1959)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le déserteur” [The Deserter] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0fxfog_ShY
Same song sung by Mouloudji — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oruYUkv-Cpw
Same song sung in French by Joan Baez — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOl9XfmNDDo
Same song sung in French by Peter, Paul and Mary — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CUD26DXY8U
Same song adapted and sung in English by Andy Chango — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSThqTj79yE

“La java des bombes atomiques” [The Atomic Bomb Dance] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eryzp0Pklc8
Same song performed by the Dolbeau Trio (animated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwoAG4TkNlM
Same song performed by the Comédie Française — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOQ0s8nDaWU
Same song performed by Petites Annonces (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONQvxHjnuRA

Jacques Prévert (1900-1977)
Wiki article | YouTube
(Prevert’s poems were usually set to music by Joseph Kosma.)

“En sortant de l’école” [After School] (sung and mimed by Les Frères Jacques) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i765LGP9Ouc
Same song sung by Germaine Montero — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfUUbd8YtTM
Same song sung by Renan Luce (with cartoon) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay6lhO_KviM
Same song sung by a chorus of school children — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfnevQEC1nU
Same poem presented as a French/English lesson — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBd8bbgYmtE

“Barbara” (sung by Les Frères Jacques) (illustrated and subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vQ8rMm-kNM
Same song sung by Jacques Douai — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4chonCs0Sg

“Les feuilles mortes” [Autumn Leaves] (sung by Yves Montand in a 1951 film) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWfsp8kwJto
Same song sung by Montand in 1981 (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mvi7mFpSO1M
Same song sung by Juliette Gréco (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPvvMabnWxo

Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991)
Wiki article | YouTube

“La chanson de Prévert” [The Prévert Song] (song by Gainsbourg about Prévert’s song “Les feuilles mortes”) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16mH21EmNbs

“Le poinçonneur des Lilas” [The Ticket-Puncher of the Lilas Station] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CHHsd46rcc 

Léo Ferré (1916-1993)
Wiki article | Léo Ferré

“Avec le temps” [With Time] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Cy6p_48QDo
Same song sung by Hélène Martin — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJZ0LWau5cw

“Paris canaille” [Roguish Paris] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f17iQ3zWJzw
Same song sung by Juliette Gréco — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L96166SFh_o 
Same song sung by Catherine Sauvage — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbkCR6e3Rek
Same song sung by Geneviève on American TV — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxaBV2khW6I

“Les anarchistes” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6nE-BInNQ0

“Les poètes de sept ans” [“Seven-Year-Old Poets”] (poem by Rimbaud, music by Ferré) (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5kT7n9hTfk

Jean-Roger Caussimon (1918-1985)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le temps du tango” [The Tango Days] (lyrics by Caussimon, music by Ferré, sung by Caussimon) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xnhe1ybrBDw
Same song sung by Catherine Sauvage (preceded by a short Caussimon-Sauvage interview) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y450rTcaCno

“Paris jadis” [Paris in the Old Days] (lyrics by Caussimon, music by Philippe Sarde, sung by Jean Rochefort & Jean-Pierre Marielle) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dt1TW-yz-tU
Same song sung by two other singers — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94oze9vQjRc
[Both of the above versions are illustrated with photos of old Paris.]

Guy Béart (1930-2015)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Il n’y a plus d’après” [There’s No More After] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBJ1uDIs-Nk
Same song sung by Béart and Juliette Gréco — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sUkTIsWI2c
Same song sung by Yves Montand — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK7Qrblb6zM

“Bal Chez Temporel” [Temporel Dance Hall] (poem by Andre Hardellet, music by Beart)
Sung by Béart — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G_cvHeLDgc
Same song sung by Béart in English — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqIVcQ0UpcQ 
Same song sung by Patachou — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVvm9B_F_Q0

“Le chapeau” [The Hat] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1eb5En4RMk


In addition to the featured songwriters from our meeting yesterday, here are some of the singers that you may wish to explore on YouTube:

Les Frères Jacques
Yves Montand
Juliette Gréco
Catherine Sauvage

Here’s a Wiki article on Saint-Germain-des-Près (the neighborhood in Paris mentioned in several of the songs) — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Germain-des-Pr%C3%A9s
And here are various songs and videos about that neighborhood — https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Saint-Germain-des-Pres

And here are a few specific performances that you may find of interest:

An entire concert by Les Frères Jacques — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD2SUUw-J5s

An interview with Ferré, including song excerpts (part of a feature-length documentary about him) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb4GedOAPzs

A delightful song by Guy Beart that I just discovered: “Il fait beau” [It’s Beautiful Weather in Paris] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo5IkqUCahc

SESSION 7 (March 28)

This session will be devoted to women songwriters and performers, with particular focus on two of France’s greatest singer-songwriters, Anne Sylvestre and Barbara. Rexroth, in fact, considered Sylvestre among the very greatest anywhere. As examples of “popular songs of great literary merit” he mentioned “the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in German, of Georges Brassens and Anne Sylvestre in French, and of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell” (Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The Art of Literature”).

Here are the songs we’ll be listening to:

Anne Sylvestre (1934-2020)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Ma chérie” [My Dear] (duet with Sylvestre’s daughter Alice) (subtitled & illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odolFy3aw2s

“Eléonore” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zJx3rcCI1k

“Lazare et Cécile” (performance followed by an interview) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIiKatXLKqo

“Mariette et François” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdXdwtzTAj0  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIiKatXLKqo

“Berceuse de Bagdad” [Baghdad Lullaby] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPj-7_xm9ww

“Grand ou petit” [Tall or Short] (children’s song with cartoon) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmLJAApvR60

Barbara (1930-1997)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Göttingen” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2beYoAxxC8A

“La solitude” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry9ThfHjcRw

“Nantes” (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZDvwt_qNH0

“L’aigle noir” [The Black Eagle] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHWiw7lRdPQ  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZDvwt_qNH0

Françoise Hardy (b. 1944)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Message personnel” [Personal Message] (song by Hardy & Michel Berger) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5snWk-TwbQ&list=RDo5snWk-TwbQ&start_radio=1

Eva (1943-2020)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le coeur battant” [My Heart Beating] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RE4poCP6qYU

“Mozart” (song by Bonnet & Rivière) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf6QK4eN8ao

Anne Vanderlove (1939-2019)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Les tours de Saint-Malo” [The Towers of Saint-Malo] (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvdyeLlAXlM

Dalida (1933-1987)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Il venait d’avoir dix-huit ans” [He’d Just Turned 18] (song by Sevran, Lebrail & Auriat) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuwsZUumlsE

Hélène Martin (1928-2021)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Les poètes aussi” [The Poets Too] (poem by Y. Broussard, music by Martin) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz20SZQCnwE&list=RDRz20SZQCnwE&start_radio=1

“Le condamné à mort” [The Man Sentenced to Death] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CumaK6iQng

Monique Morelli (1923-1993)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Paris 42” [Paris in 1942] (poem by Louis Aragon, music by Lino Leonardi) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gztSamJP22o

“Je plains le temps de ma jeunesse . . .” [“I lament the days of my youth . . .”] (poem by François Villon, music by Lino Leonardi) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw4o-bjnEJk

Pia Colombo (1934-1986)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le métèque” [Mediterranean Vagabond] (song by Georges Moustaki) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzyIhOJN0m0


Here are some other songs by Anne Sylvestre that I would like to have included, except that I needed to leave room for the other singers:
“T’en souviens-tu la Seine?” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7az9xNTqHCc
“Mon mari est parti” [My Husband Has Left] [drafted for a war and has not come back . . .]— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kihs1JrvBk
“Les cathédrales” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlyagJyyk9E
“La femme du vent” [The Wind’s Woman] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpGOPNa87K0
“Philomène” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okhteCsozqs&list=RDokhteCsozqs&start_radio=1
“Une sorcière comme les autres” [A Witch Like the Others] [on the various roles played by or projected onto women] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6wq8UVy94s

You might also enjoy these:
11-minute interview with Sylvestre — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxWa4c7SPxg
20-minutes of a Sylvestre concert — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM3VddGdUHc

And if you know any little kids (or if you yourself remain a child at heart), don’t forget to check out the hundreds of “Fabulettes” (little fable-songs) that Sylvestre wrote for children (many of which are animated) — https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=anne+sylvestre+fabulettes

SESSION 8 (April 11):

Here are the songs we’ll be listening to during this session. Enjoy!

Jacques Brel (1929-1978)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Orly” [At Orly Airport] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3QBHi7FJP4&t
Same song sung by Anne Sylvestre — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IYvMztMnTQ

“Ces gens-la” [Those People] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11zbDNSnRT4

“Les bonbons” [Candies] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqaM5IKcUnY

“Les filles et les chiens” [Girls and Dogs] (subtitled and illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ab7xWM2Cv1k

“Les vieux” [Old People] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkaT7LgAWo0
“Old Folks” (English version from the musical revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris) (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbF1hSCfjS8

Interview (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYmejUd9Q2U

Charles Aznavour (1924-2018)
Wiki article | YouTube

“La bohème” [Bohemian Life] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmrUeGogRbI
Same song sung by Aznavour in English — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZL7If4lsG8

“Hier encore” [Only Yesterday] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xpf4m75-58M

“Emmenez-moi” [Take Me] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3A9KkiH74g8

Georges Moustaki (1934-2013)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le métèque” [Mediterranean Vagabond] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNa3wuYXxbI
Same song sung by Pia Colombo — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzyIhOJN0m0

“Ma liberté” [My Freedom] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CusCZ6Yijo

Serge Reggiani (1922-2004)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Sarah” (song by Moustaki, sung by Reggiani) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ixHlyFURzQ

“Le petit garçon” [The Little Boy] (song by Datin & Dabadie, sung by Reggiani) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HiU8sgjA0I

Gilbert Bécaud (1927-2001)
Wiki article | YouTube

“L’important c’est la rose” [What’s Important Is the Rose] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4Lh8dm00lo
Same song subtitled (but the above performance is better) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8NAh2sHFA0

Claude Nougaro (1929-2004)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le jazz et la java” [Jazz and Java] (song by Jacques Datin & Michel Legrand, music adapted from Dave Brubeck, sung by Nougaro) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLtMBjW7BQs
Same song sung by Yves Montand — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8cw9xZwstA
Same song sung by an amateur chorus — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BGsZvjmckU
“Three to Get Ready” (the original music by the Dave Brubeck Quartet) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmaC4WwspS4

Jean Ferrat (1930-2010) and Christine Sèvres (1931-1981)
Wiki article on Ferrat | Ferrat on YouTube | Wiki article on Sèvres | Sèvres on YouTube

“Les petits bistrots” [The Little Bistros] (song by Ferrat, sung by Ferrat) (illustrated)— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2IPV00ndT0
Same song sung live — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1nD4nPdxpc

“Ma France” [My France] (song by Ferrat, sung by Ferrat) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cz0Cnh3xDg

“La montagne” [The Mountain] (song by Ferrat, sung by Ferrat) (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APdBLHLisTQ

“La matinée” [Morning] (lyrics by Henri Gougaud, music by Ferrat, sung by Ferrat and his wife, Christine Sèvres) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5nWVId9vxY

“Nous dormirons ensemble” [We’ll Sleep Together] (poem by Louis Aragon, music by Ferrat, sung by Ferrat and Sèvres) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMTcLwAR3qI

“Point de vue” (Point of View) (song by Martine Merri & Jean Arnulf, sung by Christine Sèvres) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhATglRt7Pc
Same song sung by Jean Arnulf — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0sOX5CjGQ0


Some videos you might enjoy (these are all in French with no subtitles, but even if you don’t know any French you can usually get some sense of what they’re talking about, and they include plenty of songs):
50-minute documentary on Brel — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5OFfO5uYHI
15-minute conversation and song jam between Aznavour and Brassens — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5Ie6VSNCI0
20-minute video on the famous 1969 “summit meeting” between Brel, Brassens, and Ferré — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7Onz6oF21g
52-minute video on the same topic (includes some delightful and insightful comments by Juliette Gréco) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f46d3jYESVY

Our fellow group participant Willem let me know about a Dutch version of Ferrat’s “La Montagne.” The tune is identical and the lyrics express the same rural/urban distinction, but the words have been modified to apply to the Netherlands, which has no mountains. The song is thus called “Het Dorp” [The Village]. Here are three versions, the first two sung by Wim Sooneveld (one live, one with vintage Dutch illustrations), the third by André van Duin:

SESSION 9 (April 25)

This will be our most exotic session. The first portion will consist of my favorite French singer, Germaine Montero, singing four songs by her favorite songwriter, the great bohemian novelist and poet Pierre Mac Orlan — songs ranging from gypsies and vagabonds and sailors in France to the opium dens of the Limehouse district of London and the brothels of Tampico, Mexico. Then we’ll hear her sing one other French song, then two haunting songs in Spanish. (Montero studied theater and poetry with Garcia Lorca in the 1930s, until he was murdered by Franco’s forces in 1936.)

Then we’ll shift to Quebec, where we’ll first listen to an unexpectedly upbeat song about the Depression by the “accidental star” La Bolduc (a housewife and mother of a large family who ended up becoming Quebec’s most popular songwriter in the 1930s). And then to selections from three later Québécois singer-songwriters, Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, and Robert Charlebois, and the terrific singer Monique Leyrac. Quebec also seems pretty exotic to me and probably to most of you, despite how close it is to us (I’ve never even been there, and know almost nothing about it). As you will see, its vast snowy terrain has inspired songs that are strikingly different from the Parisian ones we’ve been listening to during the last several months.

Explore and enjoy!

Pierre Mac Orlan (1882-1970)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Les Saintes Maries de la Mer” (song by Mac Orlan & Verger, sung by Germaine Montero) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByWLGEA56lM
Same song sung by Monique Morelli — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cts1M0kPhtI&list=PLN4K2BNiuZ4QGG_WlYk0Rm2JFhwW-x8yA&index=14

“La fille de Londres” [The London Girl] (song by Mac Orlan & Morceau, sung by Montero) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA5pvLEBzkM
Same song sung by Juliette Gréco — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AexbNU1Vij8
Same song sung by Catherine Sauvage — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA7D1G1HWfM

“La chanson de Margaret” [Margaret’s Song a.k.a. Tampico] (song by Mac Orlan & Morceau, sung by Montero) (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc6ifEnKj8k
Same song sung by an unknown singer (with Mexican photos and Spanish subtitles) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jaatk7ihFmk

“Jean de la Providence de Dieu” (song by Mac Orlan & Gérard, sung by Montero) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXzRyitkakk
Same song sung by Juliette Gréco — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdCc8dJxwZM

Germaine Montero (1909-2000)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Je voulais les soleils” [I Wanted the Suns] (song by Loris & Verger (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6YaY7esq8k

“Asturiana” (Spanish folksong) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nopCJ5pSGZs

“Canción de Belisa” (song from a play by Garcia Lorca) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un5NJ1np_Sk

La Bolduc (1894-1941)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Ça va venir, découragez-vous pas” [Things’ll Get Better, Don’t Get Discouraged] (1930 song about the Depression) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dI-DdTZJyo

La Bolduc (45-minute documentary in English) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xgNT-glfBc
[Note: We will not have time to play more than the one Bolduc song during our meeting, but I encourage you to watch this short English-language documentary. It not only includes a lot of interesting information on the life and music of Madame Bolduc, it will incidentally give you a taste of Quebec to help you better appreciate the later singers below.]

Félix Leclerc (1914-1988)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Hymne au printemps” [Hymn to Spring] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-fQi46HUKE

“Le petit bonheur” [The Little Happiness] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hafFjvs3uP8

“Bon voyage dans la lune” [Bon Voyage to the Moon] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OG3xWwBVNA

“Sensation” (poem by Rimbaud, music by Leclerc) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh8JP7McqM0

“Le tour de l’île” [Tour of the Island] (live concert) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEpC34NyXA8
Same song subtitled and illustrated with views of the island (Ile d’Orléans, near the city of Quebec)https://vimeo.com/98772652
Same song with different illustrations— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5fLm67bV6w
Same song with yet different illustrations — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQPEklgBl50
Same song sung by a Zoom chorus in 2020 — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oBeZGZ7iMs

Gilles Vigneault (b. 1928)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Mon pays” [My Country] (sung by Vigneault and Catherine Sauvage) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9Qh52nUkps

“Les gens de mon pays” [The People of My Country] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJOvYMG53g0

Robert Charlebois (b. 1944)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Je reviendrai à Montréal” [I’m Coming Back to Montreal] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4NXUo8qipM

Monique Leyrac (1928-2019)
Wiki article | YouTube

“La fille de l’île” [The Island Girl] (song by Leclerc, sung by Leyrac) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hjr8OYn9Wps&feature=youtu.be

“Mon pays” [My Country] (song by Vigneault, sung by Leyrac) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwCA8eGEjCc&feature=youtu.be


. . .

SESSION 10 (May 9)

This final session of our series will be the most varied. The first three songs, though all modern compositions, harken back to magical ballads of the distant past. They are followed by three vintage songs about Paris in the good old days; then songs from two great French films; then a couple of songs reflecting the intersection with the American counterculture of the sixties; then three songs involving different forms of more or less explicit political critique; then a couple of utterly zany songs involving French puns and tongue-twisters; and finally two wonderful songs that I think will serve as a good way to conclude this whole exploration. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have!

Les Compagnes de la Chanson
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le prisonnier de la tour” [The Prisoner in the Tower] (song by Blanche & Calvi, sung by Les Compagnons de la Chanson) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCvVDhfqvRs
Same song sung by Edith Piaf — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3vVYUfvaXY
Same song sung by the Chorale Jacou (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Du1BYEeW6U
Same song sung by Dominique Peuch — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fnjijKWKmk

Jacques Douai (1920-2004)
Wiki article | YouTube

“File la laine” [Spin the Wool] (song by Robert Marcy, sung by Jacques Douai) (subtitled, with images from Vermeer) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKXAR_t1UfY

“Démons et merveilles” [Demons and Marvels] (song by Jacques Prévert from the film Les visiteurs du soir; sung by Jacques Douai) (illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5MuT6ie2UA
Same song sung live (preceded by a short interview) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdZb6wO8LrA

Yves Montand (1921-1991)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Mon pote le gitan” [My Pal the Gypsy] (song by Verrières & Heyral, sung by Yves Montand) (illustrated and subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa1Hc3qfyKA

Francis Lemarque (1917-2002)
Wiki article
| YouTube

“Cornet de frites” [Cone of French Fries] (song by Francis Lemarque & Bob Aster, sung by Catherine Sauvage) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsRUu7tsBQ
Same song sung by Yves Montand — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KItdtfJaNXg
Same song sung by Francis Lemarque — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1__S6m7tjbs

Marcel Mouloudji (1922-1994)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Complainte de la butte” [Montmartre Lament] (song by Jean Renoir & Van Parys, sung by Mouloudji) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-mh4BFF0hk
Same song sung by Cora Vaucaire — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz-4ab9i16Q

Michel Legrand (1932-2019)
Wiki artice | YouTube | Wiki article on the film

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [ The Umbrellas of Cherbourg] (1964 film written & directed by Jacques Demy, music by Michel Legrand) (complete film with English subtitles) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDM9ld4cktA
[We will be listening to the scene at 29:30-33:30.]

“Je t’attendrai” [I Will Wait for You] (same scene without subtitles) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rq0yhizu0y8

Jeanne Moreau (1928-2017)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le tourbillon de la vie” [The Whirlwind of Life] (from the Truffaut film Jules and Jim) (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqwLx0DG7qQ

Hughes Aufray (b. 1929)
Wiki article | YouTube

“A quoi ça sert de chercher à comprendre’’ (Bob Dylan’s song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” translated and sung by Hugues Aufray) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep6WAIbPwpk

“Les temps changent”/“The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” (Aufray-Dylan duet, Grenoble 1984) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5qSMPcwbEc

Maxime Le Forestier (b. 1949)
Wiki article | YouTube

“San Francisco” [a.k.a. “La maison bleue”/The Blue House] (song about living in Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960s) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDtXXlD98kw
Maxime talks about his experiences there and sings parts of the song — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6hQTYk8O50
“Maxime Le Forestier a retrouvé sa maison bleue” (newscast forty years later) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbMuiANN1wM

Gérard Manset (b. 1945)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Il voyage en solitaire” [He Journeys Alone] — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxYHZNm9gi4
Same song with a video story — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9GYJnCFUOk

Alain Souchon (b. 1944)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Foule sentimentale” [Sentimental Crowd] (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9T2ibMUROE

Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934)
Wiki article | YouTube

“La vie s’écoule, la vie s’enfuit” [Life Goes By, Life Slips Away] (lyrics by Vaneigem, music by Francis Lemonnier, sung by Jacques Marchais) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQWvjqrHdiQ
Same song sung by Fanchon Daemers — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWiw03U5jGE

Boby Lapointe (1922-1972)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Ta Katie t’a quitté” [Your Katie Has Left You] (a zany song of French puns and tongue-twisters) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJksApHi9bU 
Same song, viewing the French words — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brt3f-jlrao
Same song sung by a French family in 2020 — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPWyO4vsgDg

“Aragon et Castile” — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_7I5C9XAVE

Bourvil (1917-1970)
Wiki article | YouTube

“Le petit bal perdu” [The Little Lost (or Forgotten) Dance Hall] (song by Nyel & Verlor, sung by Bourvil) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRvV7dqS_FQ
Same song sung by Juliette Gréco — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKtBRNfKEIw
A ballet to Bourvil’s version — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEgpiLMA11A&list=PLycWxaRuajDU6CTS8mnfOAsD3G_7iP2OM&index=33

“La tendresse” [Tenderness] (song by Roux & Giraud, sung by Bourvil) (subtitled and illustrated) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUz8m_WvBv4
Same song done as an international Zoom performance in 2020 (subtitled) — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEjvRktXeis



. . .

Programs of Ken Knabb’s Zoom presentations of French songs (January-May 2021).

No copyright.

[Georges Brassens and the French “Renaissance of Songs’’]



Bureau of Public Secrets, PO Box 1044, Berkeley CA 94701, USA
  www.bopsecrets.org   knabb@bopsecrets.org