In a recent binge on Chanson, translated “French song”, I stumbled upon a solid copy of Gilbert Bécaud’s 7-inch EP Monsieur Winter Go Home at the record store downtown and was immediately smitten.
What drew me to many of the late 60s and early 70s Chanson artists was their incorporation of fringe psychedelic elements that differed greatly from what was happening in the United States at the time. These were true composers, singers and songwriters as opposed to rock bands.
Artists like Jacques DuTronc, Jacques Brel and Francois Hardy drew me in. You also had Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, and, of course, Gilbert Bécaud.
It’s fitting, this song. Winter has lingered far too long. After several years lacking much activity on that crazy white stuff front, early 2017 has dumped snow on western Washington on several occasions. So, when I stumbled upon the song again last week after a light mid-March snow dusting, I couldn’t help but give it a solid spin.
The song finds Bécaud pushing winter to end and spring to come again. A passage in rough translation:
Tip, tip, the river she was frozen
All naked in the valley immobilized.
Tip, tip, the river I hear it crack.
It is ready to descend decrystallized.
Tip, tip, the forest shakes his big arms.
She’s going to sound the battle-shake.
Tip, tip, that’s for sure, it smells like spring
And Mr. Winter goes off in front of him.
Like kin Serge Gainsbourg, Bécaud was a singer, composer and actor though he preceded Gainsbourg by a decade or two in fame.
“Monsieur Winter Go Home” was far from his biggest hit. That’s reserved for “Et Maintenant”, which was released in English as “What Now My Love” and was both recorded and popularized by artists like Elvis Presley, Sonny & Cher, Shirley Bassey, Julie Garland and even Frank Sinatra himself.
But it’s “Monsieur Winter” that drew me to the guy. It’s the perfect song, upbeat and orchestrated. And Bécaud is of the era of my grandparents, so the following video of him singing along to the music of the song while driving draws forth nostalgic memories of my grandfather singing in the car as well.
This I find inherently cool, the Chanson sounds of the late 60s and early 70s. It’s something I never could quite see with the artists of the rat pack, though I’m sure many Gen X-ers not much older than me would disagree.
Their composure and sense of style is similar, but the addition of fringe psychedelic traits to the pop-centric melodies of Chanson, at least to me, made these songs ever greater.
You can hear it in tracks from the other aforementioned artists, too. Dig this? Here’s some recommended listening:
“L’Idole (Je N’En Peux Plus)” by Jacques DuTronc is a perfect example. “Hippie, Hippie, Hoorah” as well, not to mention it was covered by The Black Lips on their Let it Bloom LP from 2005. And, of course, “L’Espace D’Une Fille”.
“The Rose” by Françoise Hardy is a classic. Fans of Wes Anderson will recognize her “Le Temps De L’Amour” for its inclusion in Moonrise Kingdom. I’d also recommend “Mer” and “On Dit De Lui”.
From Jacques Brel, you have “Mathilde”, “Jackie”, “My Death” and “Amsterdam”, all of which the infamous Scott Walker lifted and performed in English on his debut solo LP from the late 60s, post Walker Bros. A cover of “Amsterdam” was also included on David Bowie’s Pin Ups, but under the name “Port of Amsterdam”.