One thing I’ve never understood is why, for many English-speakers, the combination of French and song somewhat evokes carefree 1960s and 1970s musicals. I love Flight of the Conchords and the following clip is hilarious but why do we still have to pay for things like Les demoiselles de Rochefort well into the 21st century?
For many years, I have tried to educate English-speakers about more recent French music, specifically French hip-hop. But seeing a video about a very good translation of Brassens’s ode to judiciary zoophilia on Google+ (thanks François and Ben) convinced me it was time to remind the world that the ’60s and ’70s had hardcore, badass songs in French. I’m neither a big Brassens nor Leo Ferré fan, and my favorite francophone singer is actually Belgian.
Jacques Brel was an intense performer and amazing songwriter but, as the saying goes, translation is treason and very often Brel songs lost both their poetry and their bite when ported to English. A choice example is Seasons in the Sun, where the blunt references to adultery or atheism were either softened or removed.
But not all translated Brel sucks though, so here are some good English-language covers and subtitled original videos.
Next is a song about a virgin’s first time in a military brothel.
The original: Au suivant
Then Ne me quitte pas, one of his most famous songs (and one of the best love songs of all times) where the line “let me become the shadow of your dog” mysteriously disappeard from the first adaptation.
Sometimes the title is a bit different, but Tom Robinson does justice to the overall content:
The original: Les bourgeois
Translating poetry is really hard, as is shown by the following very literal translation of my favorite song from Brel: “Je suis un soir d’été“. The exquisite wordsmithing is turned into general weirdness, and don’t get me started on the pedestrian video.
So what about the peeing and the women? It’s from Brel’s classic Amsterdam, which Amanda Fucking Palmer once covered for a guerilla performance walking through Paris’ old touristy sex district with a broken leg (you just can’t make this shit up).
And because she sang in French, I’ll leave you with the subtitled original of Amsterdam.
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