Category Archives: 1960s

Jacques Brel: the easy and the important

When you learn a song by ear, especially when it’s in a foreign language, the ‘easy’ words, the words you know, leap out at you. Words you recognise, like a favourite auntie walking towards you through a crowd of strangers.

Give your aunt a bear hug and a box of chocolates, by all means. She’s special to you. But don’t scream “here’s Aunt Lavinia, everybody,” and expect the world to share your enthusiasm. Your Aunt Lavinia is like an ‘easy’ word in a song. She’s familiar to you, but unremarkable to anyone else in the airport.

In an Aunt Lavinia at Arrivals situation, we know to keep our interest personal and private. We hug her hello, then we take her home. When we sing in a foreign language, it’s easy to get unbalanced by familiar words, to pump undeserved energy into words, just because we recognise them. I’ll tell you a story about Jacques Brel and me …

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Where’s the ‘y’ in R.E.S.P.E.C.T.?

Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. is a popular choice for singing contests, but a lot of singers stumble over the ‘spelling’ part of the song. It feels too crowded, so they drop a letter, usually the C. Continue reading Where’s the ‘y’ in R.E.S.P.E.C.T.?

Scott Walker: Jackie and Inspired Translation

It takes a brave translator to turn Jacques Brel‘s “Même si un jour à Knokke-le-Zoute/Je deviens comme je le redoute” into “And if one day I should become/A singer with a Spanish bum:

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Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand): Ostranenie

An ordinary word sung in an extraordinary way is a treat. A parallel universe frisson of excitement. We pay extra attention whenever the familiar is made unfamiliar.

Ostranenie works its magic in Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand). The backing singers offer such an unusual version of the word’anyone‘ that they throw the slow honey of Irma Thomas’ voice into reassuring relief. They pronounce anyone as nobody pronounces anyone. Irma’s telling a love story, so she sings anyone as a deep, warm version of itself:

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