Thursday, February 14, 2008
Jacques Brel is one of those singers who give me goosebumps, even though I don't understand the words too well. Since I neither speak French or Flemish I generally just listen to the sound. And this singer has always had the sound for me.
Another one is Édith Piaf.
From Wikipedia: Jacques Romain Georges Brel (April 8, 1929 – October 9, 1978) was a Belgian French-speaking singer-songwriter. The quality and style of his lyrics are highly regarded by many leading critics of popular music.
Brel's songs are not especially well known in the English-speaking world except in translation and through the interpretations of other singers, most famously Scott Walker. Others who have sung his work in English include Marc Almond, David Bowie, Dusty Springfield, The Dresden Dolls, Terry Jacks, Nina Simone, and Beirut. In French-speaking countries, Brel is also remembered as an actor and director.
An American musical revue of his songs, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, which debuted in 1968, has played around the world since. Frequently performed at colleges as well as local theatre.
"Amsterdam" is a song by Jacques Brel. It combines a powerful melancholic crescendo with a rich poetic account of the exploits of sailors on shore leave in Amsterdam.
Brel never recorded this for a studio album, and his only version was released on the live album Enregistrement Public à l'Olympia 1964. Despite this, it has been one of his most enduringly popular works. Mort Shuman translated several of his songs into English for the Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris musical.
Scott Walker recorded several of these translated Brel songs in the late 1960s. This inspired David Bowie to record his own version of "Amsterdam" in 1970. Bowie's version was released as the B-side to his single "Sorrow" in November 1973.
What many people don't know is that this song was not originally written in English at all. It was first written in French in 1961, by Jacques Brel. Brel's version of the song, entitled "Le Moribond" (The Dying Man) was much, much darker, and when it was originally translated by Rod McKuen into English in 1964, the words were significantly changed in order to "lighten up" the song. Originally recorded in English by Bob Shane, of the Kingston Trio, the song languished for years. Only after it had been passed over by the Beach Boys did Terry Jacks decide to record it for himself, and the rest is history.