Sunday, June 28, 2009

Marine archaeology (mainly)

"Popular Music" has been around since a barely-adolescent Flintstone beat a stretched goatskin with a spare femur. Or whittled that bone-flute in the Hohle Fels of the Swabian Jura.

Such stuff is, to the shuddering schlock-horror of the epicene, the origin of all music. And it isn't an unimaginable distance from neanderthaler rock to The Cavern.

Even in its more modern form, as recorded music, "pop" has been around long enough for us to start exploring its derivations and developments.

Pete Frame did a superb job with his Rock Family Trees, and that was a quarter of a century back. If there breathes a man with soul so dead he hasn't found and marvelled over Frame (for the beauty of the artwork as much as the researched detail), try the full version of this:

Doubtless, in time, Malcolm will ruminate further on that. However, today he has a ...

Less general point!

In Anglophone Pop, imports from other languages are the exception to the rule. Nowhere is that cultural divide so apparent as a few moments spent in the company of Johnny Hallyday. When a song does make the transition, though, it tends to become mega.

All this is itself preface to a ...

More specific point!

Around 1959 Malcolm's ears would have noted, even (in that less-discriminating period of his development) enjoyed Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea:

That's the original, and none too dusty. Here he is, years of pointless repetition later, bashing it about a bit:

A point of fact!

Any reader, used to Malcolm's circuitous routes, would already have guessed he is heading towards Charles
Trénet's original:

Just believe that hair! This clip (from an Olympia concert, late in T
rénet's life) distorts the 1946 original. Whether Trénet in fact composed the song in 1943, on the train home from Paris to Narbonne, is immaterial -- even if it does raise the old wrinkle over his "collaboration": it gave the Narbonnais the chance to name the D607, at the back of the SNCF, Avenue Charles Trénet. And, of course, he was prescient enough to be born at 13 rue Charles-Trénet.

Yet the route is not direct from
Trénet in 1946 to Darin in 1959:
  • Refer to Capitol catalog 15030 (a 78 rpm, released in 1948, but recorded a couple of days before New Year) and there's Benny Goodman doing Beyond the Sea, the vocal by Peggy Lee. (The over-lush, well-forgettable, pure instrumental version Malcolm is currently earing is from the Goodman Chronology, 1947-48).
Stellar stuff, indeed.
  • Then one finds that Harry James had beaten Goodman by a week or so, with a Columbia recording, catalog 38134. Lyrics by Marion Morgan.
Obviously herein lies a tale.

Trénet's French publisher was Raoul Breton. The Bretons went to New York in 1946, bringing with them Trénet's recording, which they presented to Jack Lawrence, with a request (apparently from Trénet himself) that Lawrence do an English adaptation. The whole of Lawrence's account is on line here, together with extensive appreciation from Will Friedwald's essay in Vanity Fair.

Anything Darin did was merely embossing Lawrence.
-- And for your next trick, Malcolm, what about those other song-imports?
-- If it's Birkin and Gainsbourg, definitely not! ...

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