Thursday, March 15, 2018

Bing Crosby and Dean Martin à la française (French Records, 1953 and 1962)

Good morning!!

I have been gone but hopefully not forgotten-- how's tricks? Things are swimming along as smoothly as you could hope for with an almost fourteen month old under foot, but I thought I'd pop by and bend your ear on the subject of some vintage records that have recently come to my attention. In sum:
GUYS. THERE ARE TWO FRENCH-THEMED ALBUMS BY BING CROSBY AND DEAN MARTIN, RESPECTIVELY. I'd heard of these some time back but just got a chance to sit and listen this week thanks to Spotify. Wanna hear all about it? I knoooow that you do, haha.


1) Le Bing: Song Hits of Paris: Sung in French by Bing Crosby:

This album popped up when I was looking through the Crosby discography to weed out Christmas records. Bing Crosby's contribution to supermarket/department store PA system soundtrack music from approximately October to December 25th is greatly appreciated, and "White Christmas", contextualized into its WWII beginnings and listened to for on its own merit outside of how popular it became, is incredible...but I was looking for more of his early crooner stuff after seeing the knock-your-socks-off PBS American Masters doc on his life and work and having read a really solid biography of the same. And...what the heck...did I spy with my little eye A WHOLE RECORD OF BING SINGING ENTIRELY IN FRENCH? I did, mesdames et messieurs. I did.

And ten easy lessons later...we have Le Bing!

Der Bingle is actually not too bad at the French accent! I am impressed by his dedication to doing the entire album without switching languages-- a lot of people would have gone for translations with a bit of French sprinkled in (spoiler: see Dino's record below), but he definitely goes whole hog (cochon entière).  The re-issue includes several French to English songs or Franglais songs, but the original record is mostly all French. Crosby sounds about like you would expect him to and doesn't make any hideous or egregious mistakes in accent-- HOWEVER. I would like to point out to the jury exhibit A, track four of this album, in the case of "does Bing speak French or is he working on this phonetically". 

If you live on planet Earth, you've probably heard Edith Piaf's gorgeous signature hymne de l'amour, "La Vie en Rose". You may or may not have heard Louis Armstrong's English language version, which is *so* beautiful and maybe my second favorite interpretation of the song. For Armstrong's version, the lyrics are changed from Piaf's, because French to English translations sometimes have to take liberties to preserve the elegance of the sentiment. The English version's opening line: "Hold me close and hold me fast / The magic spell you cast / This is la vie en rose" is not exactly the same as "Quand il me prend dans ses bras/ Qu'il me parle tout bas/ Je vois la vie en rose". The French directly translates "When he holds me in his arms/ When he talks to me softly/ I see life in pink". As this is a woman singing, notice it's when he holds me in his arms, when he talks to me softly. In some French language versions I've heard with a male singer, they either switch the pronoun to "she" (elle) or take a note from the English version and say "you" (tu, in the familiar, which makes sense, as a person who makes my life la vie en rose is probably beyond the vous stage of the relationship). Bing blithely sings the song exactly as it was written for Piaf, meaning you have him saying things like "C'est lui pour moi/Moi pour lui dans la vie/ Il me l'a dit, l'a juré pour la vie" (It's him for me, me for him in life, he told me so, swore it for life). Um. Which, believe me, is very cool with me if he meant to sing a wrenching beautiful torch song to a man, but-- I don't think this was intentional. And it would have been such an easy fix!! Verdict: Our favorite ba-ba-ba-booer is not a genuine francophone, but puts up a pretty dang good show of it.

A typically pithy quote from him, cribbed from the Wikipedia page on this record:
Of his French accent, Bing remarked at the time that any complaints should be sent 'to the back door of the United Nations'.

File:Bing Crosby in Road to Singapore trailer.jpg
"So sue me." (Poursuis-moi, alors)
The rest of the disc is a bit of a sleeper-- it reminds me of a lot of Eisenhower era crooner records in that you can put it on and forget that it's on outside of some standout tracks. No less than my blessed Frank Sinatra is guilty of this with some of his lesser Decca recordings. Overall, though, I have to say I was so pleased with the novelty of the foreign language format that I would listen again. It might even get better on a second spin, qui sait.

Verdict: Three out of five croque monsieurs:

2) Dean Martin: French Style

Dean Martin: French Style is MUCH livelier, if more English-speaking, than Le Bing. If you remember, along with the likes of Jerry Vale, Connie Francis, and Al Martino, Dean Martin was part of a wave of second generation Italian singers, making up like an entire GENRE of music in the fifties' and sixties', the Italian American Italian language ballad. So! To have him travel up the continent to France isn't a stretch but a very interesting stamp on his musical passport nonetheless. Dino's waggish spoken asides are as light-hearted as his appearance on the cover en blouse d'artiste, béret, et  porte-cigarette (and doesn't he wear it all with a dash!). Most of these songs are about France with tiny bits of French included, but I can appreciate a concept album right along with the best of them. Can you imagine someone's mom and dad / grandma and grandad pulling the cellophane off this record brand new in 1962, and putting it on a console record player while making beefaroni for the family? Something about the earnestness and unselfconsciousness of making a somewhat tongue in cheek but not satirical or snarky record cements a record like this so FIRMLY in the time period for me.

Songs to look for? Dino tackles "La Vie en Rose" in English with exactly the same timbre/pathos of his classic "Non Dimentecar", which I never realized sounds kind of like an Italian cousin of this song. I like his version of "I Like Paris"on this record-- but I looooove the "I Love Vegas" version on this live Rat Pack record. His riffs on his own song catalog in his Rat Pack performances are always one of the highlights of show for me. But I digress. Some low points include throwaway lyrics in between accordion blasts on songs like "The Poor People of France", which includes such lackluster paroles as "I feel sorry for the French/Every guy has got a wench/ Every couple's got a bench/Kissing shamelessly"...uh, this is like late movie career Elvis bad in terms of songwriting. BUT! I still think overall it's a lot of fun.

Dean Martin Y Jerry Lewis
With Jerry Lewis in Paris-- did you know that restaurant is still in business?
Verdict: four out of five jambon emmental sandwiches from Monoprix, which have no earthly right to be as good as they are, considering they come out of a refrigerator case at a corner store:

You can listen to both of these albums on Spotify or even Youtube! What are you waiting for?

Well that's it for this installment of "what's been buzzing around in Lisa's head"-- I hope to share more weird recent finds with you soon. In the meantime, what you been listening to? Any great midcentury finds in either English or French? What do you think about non-native speaker foreign language celebrity records (what a section that would be in a record store)? Parlons-nous!

Take care, and we'll talk again soon!

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