ten emblematic songs to rediscover the artist

Marcel Mouloudji, born into a poor family in the east of Paris on September 16, 1922, was not predestined for the brilliant and eclectic career he enjoyed. The son of a Kabyle mason and a Breton housekeeper who died of dementia when he was ten years old, he became a lover of love songs: it became his refuge, his early livelihood – he sang in the beginning with of his brother – and soon he gained 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 like The Lost of Saint-Agil (1938) by Christian-Jaque and, later, We are all murderers (1952) by André Cayatte. An insatiable jack-of-all-trades, he also began a career as a writer, publishing novels and autobiographical stories, writing plays. After the war, the singer Mouloudji was lured to Saint-Germain-des-Prés and flew away. Does his pathological shyness have an effect on his unique voice, which is at once deep, theatrical but also slightly quivering? This shyness and his modesty prevented him from putting himself forward. But Mouloudji, touching his gentle and sad face, said that he is very grateful for what life has given him: “Singing is a unique profession for me. That I can sing and that in addition I am paid, I find it surprising and immediately rewarding”. he confessed one day on television.

Like a Little Poppy (1951)

Romantic and poetic, this is Mouloudji’s most iconic 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 turned it down, judging it too far in his style. The anecdote was told by Jacques Canetti, famous producer, art agent, talent scout, boss of the Parisian club Les Trois Baudets where he 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 Asso that the song was originally intended for Yves Montand who was then a big star. whatever, Like a little poppy would win the Grand Prix du Disque and become Mouloudji’s favorite song, whose career it would inspire.

One Day You’ll See (1954)

Now one of Mouloudji’s biggest hits, this song was written by the artist and composed by Georges van Parys for the sketch film Secrets of the Alcove (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 was recorded with an orchestra conducted by Michel Legrand. The song was not an immediate hit but made its way and soon became one of the essentials in Mouloudji’s repertoire.

The Deserter (1954)

This song with a powerful text and an eventful fate was written by Boris Vian and composed later, together with Harold Berg, in February 1954, during the war in Indochina. His subject: a letter addressed to the authorities in his country by a man who refused to comply with the mobilization order he had just received. At first, Vian offered it to various performers, but no one wanted to risk singing this anti-war text. So Mouloudji, the artist firmly anchored on the left, a communist like his father, close to the workers’ groups, launched himself. However, he asked Boris Vian to change some words. Pacifist and anti-militarist, he especially refused to sing the last lines “Tell your soldiers / That I will hold a gun / And I know how to shoot.” The song ends like this: “Tell your gendarmes / That I have no weapons / And that they can shoot.” Through a combination of circumstances, the song was created on stage and recorded in May 1954, during the fall of Diên Biên Phu, a decisive defeat for the French army. He caused a scandal and found himself banned from the national airwaves, the censorship committee thinking he was tarnishing France’s image. The disc has been withdrawn from sale. The abandoned slowed down the career of Mouloudji for a time, which was 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 by many artists, from Serge Reggiani to Joan Baez, while the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary will carry it song during the Vietnam war …

The Complaint of the Infidels (1951)

Historically, this was his first major success as a singer. But in the movie, The House of Bonnadieu (1951) by Carlo Rim (with Bernard Blier in the lead role), produced by Mouloudji, who plays a street singer, The Complaint of the Infidels. Echoing the plot of the film, this song, “sorrow prevention”, it’s like a warning “cheating wives” who knows “despair and tears”. The title, which appears on the soundtrack of the film, is the subject of the second discographic 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 moving 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 Honest-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 the biography of Gilles Schlesser in 2009. The song, which combines 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 enjoyed this text set to music by composer and singer Cris Carol. “My mother’s Catholic, my father’s Muslim”, attacked the singer with a portrait of the family that is engraved with frightening humor, and in which he does not neglect to relate the changes in his own journey. When it was released, the song was a huge success in post-May 68 France.

The Wicked in Paris (1951)

First translating the texts of others, Mouloudji slowly 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 that he defended on stage as an author, during a show on the theme of the capital with many guests. That night, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, he was spotted by the important producer Jacques Canetti who invited him to perform at his Trois Baudets club. Themes of Paris and nostalgia are very present in Mouloudji’s work. We can also see them in the songs where he is the author On the streets of Paris (music by Charles Henry, 1957) than he took as a performer, such as Paris will be seen again by Charles Trenet (Mouloudji recorded many songs from Le Fou chantant, he also visited 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 singing. Set to music by Gaby Wagenheim, The Beatles at 40 a funny response to the new stars taking over the music industry: “When we see all these young people / With their wind at their backs / Who pushed us towards the hospice / We say to ourselves that it was really worth it / The return to Alsace and Lorraine for them”, claim of the 43-year-old singer, introducing himself as a spokesperson for “withered poppies”, on “wheat without gold”, on “empty”, on “strange blue flowers”

Gotta Live (1973)

Another result of the collaboration between Mouloudji and composer Cris Carol, must live would qualify today as a manifesto of resilience. Its message is simple and strong at the same time: live in spite of everything, in spite of sufferings, disappointments in love, the passage of time, our lost illusions, our death, our death . “Despite the fact that ours is a dead child / sometimes there is still a small smile / like an old dream that is dying / must live…”, sings Mouloudji in a moving text.

The Butte Complaint (1955)

Jewel in Mouloudji’s younger years, The weeping of the hill a song written by Jean Renoir and composed by Georges van Parys. Initially, he appeared in the soundtrack of the film French Cancan by Renoir, where he was translated by Cora Vaucaire. Mouloudji will make a French song classic. It has been captured over time by various French artists, but also internationally: the singer Rufus Wainwright will interpret it on film red Mill (2001) by Baz Luhrmannn, but also on stage.

Bonus: Someday I’ll Go (1973)

Finally, a touching song like a trust, describing a farewell, written by Mouloudji and composed by Jean Musy. There shines all the sadness of the author who recently passed fifty.

There are so many other titles to enjoy, such as My Pot’ the Gypsy (Jacques Verières / Marc Heyral, 1955), the very beautiful ruby heart (Jacques Prévert / Henri Crolla, 1959) and Six Falling Leaves in San Francisco (music by Gaby Wagenheim, 1969), the impertinent Everyone is running (music by Cris Carol, 1973) or, of course, Love, love, love (Yves Stéphane / Jack Arel, 1963), song forgotten on a supermarket sign for an advertising spot… It’s time to rediscover Mouloudji.

> To be seen in Paris, at the Hall de la Chanson: “Comme un p’tit coquelicot”, musical show for the centenary of Mouloudji, Friday September 16, Sunday September 18 and 25, 2022.

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

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