By Ricky Riccardi June 2020
70 years ago, Louis Armstrong entered Decca’s New York studios to record two songs of French origin: “La Vie En Rose” and “C’est Si Bon.” Sy Oliver put together a terrific studio orchestra and arranged both songs for the date. The result was the biggest hit of Armstrong’s career to this point and two sides that have had ever-lasting appeal, especially “La Vie En Rose,” the only song to rival “What a Wonderful World” in terms of out-and-out popularity in the 21st century. Before we get too carried away, let’s listen to Armstrong’s original glorious performance to get in the right frame of mind:
Because the anniversary falls on a Friday, the day we peak inside “Satch’s Tracks,” it only makes sense to examine some of the French selections in Louis’s record collection.
Besides Armstrong’s version, “La Vie En Rose” is most associated with “The Little Sparrow,” Edith Piaf. And yes, Armstrong owned two Piaf LPs, one of which contained her legendary version of “La Vie En Rose”:
And here is the audio of Piaf’s legendary performance:
However, Armstrong actually preferred another version of “La Vie En Rose” to Piaf’s. On this clip from one of Louis’s tapes, he’s trying to get some shy French fans to speak on tape and mentions that he loves the singing of Jacqueline Francois, feeling that her version of “La Vie En Rose” was smoother than Piaf’s:
Here is Armstrong’s copy of Francois’s Vox 10-inch LP, Jacqueline Francois Sings, containing “La Vie En Rose”:
And here’s Francois’s version of “La Vie En Rose”:
On a later tape, Louis actually got all three versions of “La Vie En Rose”–Piaf’s, Francois’ and his own–and played them back-to-back-to-back. Here’s his catalog page:
For the sake of completeness, here is Louis’s copy of “La Vie En Rose,” marked with one of his homemade “Recorded” labels to denote that it had been copied to tape:
As for the flip side, “C’est Si Bon,” we don’t have as many artifacts related to it in our Archives, but thanks to the efforts of Olivier Betti, we know a great deal about the backstory of the song. Olivier’s grandfather, Henri Betti, wrote the music for “C’est Si Bon,” which was outfitted with French lyrics by Andre Hornez. On February 28, 1948, the Nice Jazz Festival hosted a jam session at the Hotel Negresco that was attended by the likes of Django Reinhardt, Claude Luter and Louis Armstrong. At the session, Suzy Delair sang “C’est Si Bon” in French (Delair passed away this March at the age of 102). Armstrong apparently loved the song immediately and promised to record it when he got back to the United States. A recording ban was in effect at the time, but Armstrong eventually got around to it on June 26, 1950.
And for more on the history of “C’est Si Bon,” Olivier Betti has created a Facebook page and has contributed to the Wikipedia entry on the song, as well as this recent article in French. Thank you, Olivier for all of your efforts in telling the story of your grandfather’s wonderful song! Here is Louis’s copy, with the “Recorded” label, alas, no longer affixed.
“La Vie En Rose” and “C’est Si Bon” were recorded during a prolific period for Armstrong at Decca thanks to the efforts of producer Milt Gabler. A host of Armstrong’s Sy Oliver-arranged singles were originally collected on a 10-inch LP, Satchmo Serenades; Louis’s copy is on display in the den of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.
Eventually a few more tracks were added to turn it into a 12-inch LP, of which Louis owned a Argentinian pressing, Satchmo Seranatas (transforming our two anniversary tracks into “La Vida Color De Rosa” and “Es Tan Bueno”)!
And if you’d like to listen to Satchmo Serenades on Spotify, here’s the link:
Finally, one more memento from the Armstrong Collection, a Decca brochure printed for Armstrong’s 1953 tour of Japan, focusing on “La Vie En Rose” and “C’est Si Bon” and even including lyrics of both so you can sing along while listening:
From the squalor of the streets of Paris to the glamour of the world wide stage, 50 years after her death the great diva of la chanson française lives on. Edith Piaf is remembered and revered as much for her exceptional voice as for her extraordinary life which is the stuff of fiction. In today’s show we look at the French singer’s legacy.
Georges Moustaki (born Giuseppe Mustacchi) gave France some of its best-loved music, writing over 300 songs for some of the most popular singers, including Edith Piaf, who popularized his composition Milord.
As a young musician, Georges Brassens took Moustaki under his wing, introducing him to artists and intellectuals hanging out in the cafes around Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Moustaki eventually adopted the first name of the only musician he called “master.”
Moustaki wrote Le Métèque in 1969, and it was his first breakthrough hit.
Françoise Hardy doesn’t actually sing on this – as the YouTube title might suggest. Yet I would say her presence adds a certain je ne sais quoi.
Chanson Du Jour 10/28/2016: “Dans Ma Rue” performed by Zaz
This is not only a great home-studio performance by Zaz, but comes with a Serbian lyric translation (a bonus for the many Serbs who visit my blog.)
In English, the songs begins:
I live in the corner of old MontmartreMy father comes home sozzled every nightAnd to feed the four of usMy poor mother works in the wash-houseWhen I’m sick, I lean out the windowI watch outsiders pass byWhen the sun comes outThings appear that scare me a little
So – life isn’t easy for the young girl in this song. I wish her father would take a break from getting sozzled and instead take his daughter out to visit the Zoo, buy her an ice cream cone (deux boule!) at Berthillion’s Glacier on Ile St Louis, and then pick out a pretty new dress at La Marelle.
However, my guess is that Dad will just get sozzled again.
In this video, Zaz displays some impressive chanson chops, and I really like her piano accompaniment (the young man’s name is not listed, so let’s call him “Yaz”). Yaz not only tickles the ivories with a nice feel for Les Blues, but at the end of the song, he tends to the video recording streaming to the MacBook sitting atop the piano. Merde! These hotshot multi-taskers are costing us jobs in the video production business. Hey Zaz and Yaz, walk a mile dans ma rue!
“Dans Ma Rue” was made famous by the great Edith Piaf in 1946. The song was composed by Michel Emer (June 19, 1906 – November 23, 1984)
Chanson Du Jour 10/19/2016: “Jezebel” by Edith Piaf
In the États–Unis d’Amérique, Frankie Laine had a great hit with this in 1951. The Everly Brothers also recorded it, as did Prague’s legendary Waldemar Matuška.
I love Piaf’s version – recorded the same year as Frankie’s hit.
Jezebel – the Biblical woman who was a murderer, prostitute and enemy of God – reportedly preferred the version of her song that Desi Arnaz sang in the I Love Lucy episode, “Lucy Is Jealous of Girl Singer.” True! Pas de merde! Continue reading “Chanson Du Jour: “Jezebel””