ten emblematic songs to rediscover the artist

ten emblematic songs to rediscover the artist

Nothing predestined Marcel Mouloudji, born into a poor family in the east of Paris on September 16, 1922, for the brilliant and eclectic career he enjoyed. Son of a Kabyle mason and a Breton housekeeper interned for dementia when he was ten years old, he became passionate about the love song: it became his refuge, his early livelihood – he sang at the start with his brother – and soon won him the support of two personalities, the poet Jacques Prévert and the actor and playwright Jean-Louis Barrault. This double sponsorship paved the way for him in the cinema from 1936. He made an impression in films such as The Disappeared of Saint-Agil (1938) by Christian-Jaque and, later, We are all assassins (1952) by André Cayatte. Insatiable jack-of-all-trades, he also started a career as a writer, publishing novels and autobiographical stories, writing plays. After the war, it was the singer Mouloudji who seduced Saint-Germain-des-Prés and took off. Does his pathological shyness have an effect on his unique voice, which is at once deep, theatrical but also slightly trembling? This shyness and his modesty prevented him from putting himself too forward. But Mouloudji, so touching with his gentle and melancholy face, said he was very grateful for what life had brought him: “Singing has been an extraordinary profession for me. That I can sing and that in addition I am paid, I found it surprising and immediately providential”, he confided one day on television.

Like a little poppy (1951)

Romantic and poetic, it is Mouloudji’s most emblematic song. Written during the summer of 1951 by the lyricist Raymond Asso and composed by the pianist Claude Valéry (also the author’s wife), it was proposed in October of the same year to Maurice Chevalier who refused it, judging it too far from his style. The anecdote was told by Jacques Canetti, famous producer, artistic agent, talent scout, boss of the Parisian club Les Trois Baudets where he had hired Mouloudji. Canetti, who was present when Asso presented the song to Chevalier, suggested the author give it to the 29-year-old, his latest musical crush. The biography Mouloudji (2009) by Gilles Schlesser evokes the version of Canetti and that of Asso who would have initially intended the song for Yves Montand who was then a big star. Whatever, Like a little poppy will win the Grand Prix du Disque and will become Mouloudji’s favorite song, whose career it will propel.

One Day You’ll See (1954)

Now one of Mouloudji’s greatest hits, this song was written by the artist and composed by Georges van Parys for the sketch film Alcove Secrets (1954) by Jean Delannoy. Mouloudji plays the role of a truck driver who sings his beautiful ballad to a young woman interpreted by Françoise Arnoul. The discographic version is recorded with an orchestra conducted by Michel Legrand. The song is not an immediate hit but makes its way and soon becomes one of the essentials of Mouloudji’s repertoire.

The Deserter (1954)

This song with a powerful text and an eventful destiny was written by Boris Vian and composed by the latter, with Harold Berg, in February 1954, during the Indochina war. His subject: a letter addressed to the authorities of his country by a man who refuses to comply with the mobilization order he has just received. Initially, Vian offered it to different performers, but no one wanted to risk singing this anti-war text. So it was Mouloudji, the artist firmly anchored on the left, a communist like his father, close to working-class circles, who launched himself. However, he asks Boris Vian to change some lyrics. Pacifist and anti-militarist, he notably refuses to sing the last sentences “Tell your gendarmes / That I will hold a weapon / And that I know how to shoot.” The song will end like this: “Tell your gendarmes / That I won’t have any weapons / And that they can shoot.” By a combination of circumstances, the song was created on stage and recorded in May 1954, just at the time of the fall of Diên Biên Phu, a decisive defeat for the French army. She caused a scandal and found herself banned from the national airwaves, the censorship committee considering that she undermined the image of France. The disc is withdrawn from sale. The deserter slows down the career of Mouloudji for a time, which is the subject of increased attention from the censors. But this title will impose itself over time as a monument of French song, and will be taken up by many artists, from Serge Reggiani at Joan Baezwhile the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary will cover this anthem during the Vietnam War…

The Complaint of the Infidels (1951)

Historically, this is his first major success as a singer. But it’s in a movie, The Bonnadieu House (1951) by Carlo Rim (with Bernard Blier in the main role), which Mouloudji, playing a street singer, created The Complaint of the Infidels. Echoing the plot of the film, this song, “sad refrain”, sounds like a warning to “cheating wives” who will in turn know “despair and tears”. The title, which appears in the original soundtrack of the film, is the subject of a second recording in 1956. And Mouloudji will play the street singer again for television in 1961.

Tessa’s Song (1954)

“If you die, the birds will be silent forever…” It is certainly one of the most beautiful and poignant songs in Mouloudji’s repertoire. It is a text by Jean Giraudoux set to music by Maurice Jaubert. In 1934, Giraudoux adapted the novel for the theater Tessa, the Faithful-Hearted Nymph (1924) by Margaret Kennedy. Mouloudji’s version was released in December 1954 in the first 45 rpm of his career, we read in Gilles Schlesser’s 2009 biography. The song, which brings together two important themes for Mouloudji, love and death, is then accompanied by three other titles including One day you will see.

Self-Portrait (1971)

“Atheist, oh thank God!”, Mouloudji has fun in this text set to music by composer and singer Cris Carol. “Catholic by my mother, Muslim by my father”, attacks the singer in a family portrait carved with scathing humour, and in which he does not omit to recount the vicissitudes of his own journey. When it was released, the song was a great success in post-May 68 France.

The Evil of Paris (1951)

First interpreting the texts of others, Mouloudji gradually began to write and sing his own texts. In June 1951, The Evil of Paris (whose music is signed Amédée Borsari) is the first song he defends on stage as an author, during a show on the theme of the capital with several guests. That evening, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, he was spotted by the essential producer Jacques Canetti who invited him to perform in his Trois Baudets club. The themes of Paris and nostalgia are very present in Mouloudji’s work. We find them as well in songs of which he is the author as Along the streets of Paris (music by Charles Henry, 1957) than in those he takes up as a performer, such as See Paris again by Charles Trenet (Mouloudji recorded several songs from Le Fou chantant, he also revisited Georges Brassens, Barbara…).

The Beatles of 40 (1965)

Hit by the yéyé wave like most of the great figures of French song, Mouloudji created his own label in the 1960s, but he did not hesitate to continue to sing. Set to music by Gaby Wagenheim, The Beatles of 40 is a humorous response to the new stars who have taken over the music industry: “When we see all these youngsters / With their wind at their back / Who push us towards the hospice / We say to ourselves that it was really worth it / To go back to Alsace and Lorraine for them”, claims the 43-year-old singer, self-proclaimed spokesperson for the “wilted poppies”, of the “wheat without gold”, of the “emptied”, of the “standout blue flowers”

Must Live (1973)

Another fruit of the collaboration between Mouloudji and the composer Cris Carol, must live could today be qualified as a manifesto of resilience. Its message is simple and strong at the same time: live despite everything, despite the torments, the disappointments in love, the passage of time, our lost illusions, our deaths, our mortality. “Despite the fact that in us a dead child / sometimes so little still smiles / like an old dream that is dying / must live…”, sings Mouloudji over a moving text.

The Complaint of the Butte (1955)

Jewel of Mouloudji’s young years, The lament of the hill is a song written by Jean Renoir and composed by Georges van Parys. Initially, she appears in the soundtrack of the film French Cancan of Renoir, where she is interpreted by Cora Vaucaire. Mouloudji will make it a classic of French song. It will be taken up over time by various French artists, but also international: the singer Rufus Wainwright will interpret it in the movie red Mill (2001) by Baz Luhrmannn, but also on the scene.

Bonus: One Day I’ll Go (1973)

Finally, a poignant song like a confidence, which prefigures a farewell, written by Mouloudji and composed by Jean Musy. There shines through all the melancholy of the author who has just crossed the fifties.

There would be so many other titles to savor, like My Pot ‘the Gypsy (Jacques Verières / Marc Heyral, 1955), the very beautiful ruby heart (Jacques Prévert / Henri Crolla, 1959) and Six San Francisco Fallen Leaves (music by Gaby Wagenheim, 1969), the impertinent Everything scampers off (music by Cris Carol, 1973) or, of course, Love, love, love (Yves Stéphane / Jack Arel, 1963), song brought out of oblivion by a supermarket sign for an advertising spot… It is high time to rediscover Mouloudji.

> To see in Paris, at the Hall de la Chanson: “Like a little poppy”, musical show for the centenary of Mouloudji, Friday September 16, Sunday September 18 and 25, 2022.

> To listen and see: “Mouloudji is 100 years old”, 3 CD set (75 songs) plus a DVD of exciting INA television archives (2h05 of shows), on Mercury / Universal. The same label is also releasing a compilation vinyl album (12 tracks), The Eternal Romance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.