Les Chansons de Café Chanson, Part 1

Upstream Theater is presenting a flawed but nevertheless interesting production through January 27th, 2013, of Café Chanson, a new musical written and directed by Ken Page. The score consists of one new song by Mr. Page and his music director Henry Palkes. The rest of it is made up of (mostly) French popular songs from the 1920s through the early 1970s.

You can see my review of the show for details on what works and what doesn’t. What I’d like to do here is provide you with the first installment of a complete song list along with some background and random thoughts on some of the numbers. In cases where I had nothing intelligent to add about a particular song, I just listed it and left it alone.

I’m a great admirer of classic French songs, but even so some of these were new to me. I love it when that happens.

The names in parentheses are the songwriters. In the few cases where the titles in the program were incorrect or misspelled, I’ve corrected them here. If there’s anything in here that I’ve gotten wrong, please let me know.

Édith Piaf

“La Vie En Rose” (Édith Piaf, Marguerite Monnot and Louis Guglielmi, a.k.a. Louiguy) Her songwriting team didn’t think it would be a hit initially, but after a live concert in October 1946 it took off and has remained strongly identified with Piaf ever since. Piaf performed the song in the 1948 French movie Neuf garçons, un coeur.

“J’ai Deux Amours” (Georges Koger, John Murray, Vincent Scotto, Barry Trivers, Henri Eugene Vantard)

“Sous Le Ciel de Paris” (Jean Drejac / Hubert Giraud) Another Piaf hit with wonderfully poetic lyrics. The English version (“Under Paris Skies”) substitutes some fairly banal stuff by Kim Gammon. Here’s my own attempt at a translation of the first verse (I’m still working on the second).  Note the rhyme scheme assumes you’ll pronounce Notre Dame in the French rather than English way.

Under a Paris sky
There’s a song in the air, Hum,
Born in the heartfelt sigh
Of a boy young and fair.

Under a Paris sky
Lovers walking along, Hum;
Passion is in their eyes,
On their lips is a song.

Down at the Pont Bercy
A philosopher you see
A busker or two, some loafers, then
Everyone that you know.

Under a Paris sky
They’ll be singing ‘till dawn, Hum.
Their love for Paris is why
The song goes on and on.

Down by Notre Dame
Sometimes there is drama
But here in “Paname”
You’ll find it’s OK.

A few sun rays,
A summer day,
The accordion
A sailor plays.
There’s hope in our eyes
Beneath Paris skies.

“Parlez-moi D’Amour” (Jean Lenoir) This was written in 1930 and made popular by Lucienne Boyer, among others.

“La Boheme” (Jacques Plante and Charles Aznavour) The song is one of Aznavour’s signature tunes, originally recorded by him in 1966

“Le Grand Café”

Sophie Tucker

“Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong” (Fred Fisher / William Raskin / Billy Rose) Sophie Tucker’s 1927 recording of this was famous enough to provide the title of a Cole Porter show in 1929. The lyrics compare French freedom unfavorably with repression and prohibition in the USA. The lyrics make a little less sense sung by a character in a French café during World War II, but the song still packs a punch.

“Der Fuehrer’s Face” (Oliver Wallace) Written for a 1943 Donald Duck propaganda short of the same name, the song became a hit before the movie was released due to the famous Spike Jones recording. It’s still pretty hilarious.

“Don’t Touch Me Tomato” (Arthur S. Reid) A calypso novelty originally performed by (I think) Josephine Baker

“Adieu Mon Coeur” (Contet / Marguerite Monnot) Recorded by Edith Piaf in 1946


“A Blue Like the Blue (Plus Bleux)”

“La Fille de Joie Est Triste (L’Accordéoniste)” (Édith Piaf / Michel Ermer) Another quintessential Paif song, about a woman of the streets and her love for a musician who goes off to war. This one was rather popular at the piano bars in Paris this past fall (or at least at the few I frequented).

More to come…