Posts Tagged ‘Franck Pourcel’

Saturday Single No. 539

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

One of my favorite things about our membership at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is that on the first Sunday of each month during the church year, we gather after our service for a lunch of soup and bread. And I’m even more pleased when one of those Soup Sundays comes along and I have a chance to provide a soup.

Around these parts, the soup-making generally falls to the Texas Gal. It’s one of her favorite things to cook. She’s good at it, and when she makes soup, she makes a lot of it, so we end up with extra to freeze for those days when we don’t want to think too hard about dinner. And maybe twice during our church year, she’ll make a soup to take to church for one of our Soup Sundays. The hosting is generally sorted out by having each of our fellowship’s committees take a month, and the Texas Gal is on a couple of committees.

But for tomorrow’s Soup Sunday, I’m cooking. The Building & Grounds Committee was assigned to host tomorrow’s lunch, but that committee is a little short-staffed, so I volunteered to bring a soup and then help with clean-up afterward.

And when I volunteered, I knew exactly what I was going to make: Polska bean stew. It’s from a recipe I found while wandering around the Interwebs a few years ago, one that originated on the website of the company that owns the Hillshire Farms brand of sausage.Polska Bean Stew The Texas Gal thought it sounded good, so we gave it a try. We liked it, although there are a few things we would have changed. We made it again with those changes, and then – a couple of years ago – we brought it to church for a Soup Sunday. At the end of the lunch, our seven-quart crockpot was scraped nearly clean. (That’s not a new experience for us; nearly every soup we’ve brought to a Soup Sunday has been a hit, from the Texas Gal’s vegetable beef or chicken noodle soups to my Swedish yellow pea soup.)

So later today, I’ll shine up the stockpot and get to work on a batch of Polska bean stew. I’ll be making a triple batch: two-thirds of it will go into the crockpot tomorrow to take to church, and the rest we’ll keep here. We’ll have some for dinner on Monday, most likely, and we’ll freeze some.

I won’t list the recipe here, but here are the ingredients: Bacon, kielbasa, chopped onions, sliced carrots, minced garlic, kidney beans, cannellini beans, chicken broth, water, diced tomatoes, oregano, sage, pepper and bay leaf. It also calls for hot pepper sauce, which we skip, but we do put in a pinch of home-grown dried hot chili pepper. (If anyone out there wants the recipe with notes on our modifications, just let me know.)

Thinking about Polish bean stew, I went into the RealPlayer looking for an appropriate tune. I found nothing for “Polska” and nothing that seemed worthy when I searched for “Polish.” “Beans” got me lots of versions of “Red Beans & Rice” and “Cornbread & Butterbeans,” but nothing that worked for me this morning. “Stew” got me lots of tunes by Al Stewart, John Stewart and Rob Stewart as well as a few versions of “Stewball.”

So I pulled out of my memory the fact that a mazurka is a Polish dance, and among the works I have by French orchestra leader Franck Pourcel, I found the “Obertass Mazurka,” written by Henryk Wieniawski, a Polish composer of the Nineteenth Century. The recording is from Pourcel’s 1993 album Treasures Of Slav Music, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Sometimes It’s Not So Easy

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

On occasion, my fascination with easy listening music jumps out of the speakers and bites my ears.

I was puttering at the computer yesterday, posting a note or two on Facebook, checking email, keeping an eye on the news from Ukraine and scoping out the latest rumors about the Minnesota Vikings and the upcoming NFL draft. Keeping me company was the RealPlayer, chugging along on random and offering me some current Americana, some 1960s and 1970s pop, some 1950s R&B and the occasional bit of a film soundtrack.

And then came this:

I winced and then laughed at Ray Conniff’s pretty much clueless take on “Happy Days” (found on the 1976 album TV Themes), and then I took a look to see exactly how much music I have by Ray Conniff in the files. It turns out to be 227 mp3s. That means that Conniff should have been listed in the Top 20 artists I posted a few weeks ago, coming in at No. 15, just ahead of Richie Havens. Why wasn’t he? Because some of his albums were credited to just Ray Conniff, others to Ray Conniff & The Singers, others yet to Ray Conniff & His Orchestra and so on, and that inconsistency, along with my inattention to detail that day, kept Conniff off my chart.

Why so much Conniff? Because I do love – generally – easy listening music from the 1950s through the 1970s, probably in large part because the work of Conniff and his easy listening brethren reminds me of the years of Hula Hoops and Erector sets on through the years of madras shirts and eventually mood rings. So my love for the music is mostly nostalgia, but that’s a potent enough force as it is.

And then there’s the fact that some of the easy listening tunes in the stacks are pretty good music. In terms of execution, nostalgic weight and chart performance, it’s hard to beat “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith, which was No. 1 for nine weeks in 1960. There were many other decent easy listening pieces during the years of my youth; many of those are in my files; some, I have to assume, are not.

But it’s not at all difficult to find easy listening missteps like Conniff’s “Happy Days,” especially when the easy listening folks tried to translate pop-rock hits into instrumentals palatable for their audience (generally older folks, of course, as well as the unhip kids like me). And since pratfalls are often more fun than graceful success, I thought I’d wander through the collection and find some easy listening efforts that are not at all easy to listen to.

So here are a couple from 1969: A clueless take on Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Billy Vaughn’s Theme From Love Story and a flighty version of the Doors’ “Touch Me” from Enoch Light & The Brass Menagerie, Vol. 1.*

I could dig further for hard listening, but I won’t. Instead I’ll close with a couple of covers that are interesting takes on popular songs. On his 1970 album Doc Severinsen’s Closet, the Tonight Show band leader of the time took some chances by covering a number of intriguing titles (including a cover I once shared here of “Court of the Crimson King”). The one that caught my ear this morning was his cover of the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just A Little More Time” (into which Severinsen incorporated a quote from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from the group then called Chicago Transit Authority).

And as I dug around in the 121 tracks I have from dual pianists Ferrante & Teicher, I came across their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Ferrante & Teicher occasionally missed the sense of a song; there are some missteps in their work. But far more often than not, at least to the ears of this easy listening fan, they succeeded in translating pop songs into their own idiom. I think they did so with “The Sound of Silence,” which was on their 1969 album Midnight Cowboy.

*I was going to make it a trio of missteps from 1969 by including Franck Pourcel’s version of Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525”, which seems to have first been issued on the Bolivian release En El Anno 2525, but after a couple of listens, I’m liking it.

‘Chariot’?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Yesterday’s task here in the Echoes In The Wind studios wasn’t all that hard: Sort the contents of a four-CD anthology of the easy listening music of Franck Pourcel and tag the mp3s with the original album and date. Well, it wouldn’t have been that difficult had Mr. Pourcel not had a habit throughout his career of re-recording many of his favorite pieces.

That meant, for example, that when I got to his version of Tommy Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” I ended up with an album/year notation that read: “In A Nostalgia Mood, 1983; International, 1972; and/or Pourcel Portraits, 1962.” And those, I think without being sure, were only the records released in the U.S. and France. I’m sure the Dorsey classic showed up on records Pourcel released elsewhere around the world, but I decided to focus, as well as I could, on releases in the U.S. and in Pourcel’s native France. I wouldn’t have been able to come that close to precision, of course, had it not been for two websites I found early in the process. One of them is Pourcel’s own website; the other was the Pourcel section of Grand Orchestras, a website devoted to cataloging the work of several easy listening groups and conductors.

So who the heck, I can imagine readers wondering, is Franck Pourcel? The easy answer comes from All-Music Guide: “French violinist Franck Pourcel is best-known for his jazzy string arrangements of pop hits, as well as his lush easy listening arrangements and film scores.” From the early 1950s until the mid-1990s, Pourcel and his orchestra recorded and released scores of albums across Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas, covering pop hits and orchestral classics. Pourcel passed on in 2000, just five years after his last recording session.

So why do I care? Well, I have a fondness for easy listening music, and a while back, when I chanced upon a Pourcel offering from 1973 titled James Bond’s Greatest Hits, I was hooked. I’ve been digging into his catalog ever since. Another one of my musical weaknesses is French pop, and Pourcel’s music scratches that itch, too, so I was very happy the other day to get hold of the four-CD anthology 100 All Time Greatest Hits, and it was those files I was sorting yesterday.

And then I came to the tune called “Chariot.” As I generally do when I’m researching, I clicked the link to listen to the tune as I looked for its origins. The video below isn’t quite what I heard; the version I had was the 1971 revision, but the 1962 original version below is close enough:

You’ll have recognized the melody, I assume, just as I did, probably hearing Little Peggy March inside your head, singing “I will follow him . . .”

I thought it was a mistake. The individual who’d originally tagged the files had made a few that I’d already caught, like tagging “Moon River” as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so I went deeper into the two websites. As helpful as it otherwise was, the official Pourcel website simply told me that there was a tune titled “Chariot.” But the fan website, Grand Orchestras, said that “Chariot” began as a joke. Thinking of American western movies, Pourcel and co-composers Paul Mauriat and Raymond Lefevre – along with lyricist Jacques Plante – put together a tune and then concocted the story that the tune would be in the soundtrack of an American western film (from 20th Century Fox, no less) titled You’ll Never See It. Shortly after Pourcel’s orchestra released its version of the song, a French group called Les Satellites included the tune on an four-track EP. In late 1962 or early 1963, Britain’s Petula Clark recorded the song as “Chariot” and shot a video:

Clark also recorded the song in several other languages, including German, Italian and English (with the English version having some musical adaptation by Arthur Altman and lyrics by Norman Gimbel). The non-English versions were successful in Europe, going to No. 1 in France, No. 8 in Belgium, No. 4 in Italy and No. 6 in what I assume was West Germany. (I found an odd video of Clark presenting the tune with portions in all four languages: English, Italian, German and French.) Clark’s English version of the song, titled “I Will Follow Him (Chariot)” was released on Pye records in the U.K. and on Laurie here in the U.S., but neither of those versions charted.

Other cover versions followed, of course, including those from the Four Dreamers in French, Judita Čeřovská in Czech and Betty Curtis in Italian. George Freedman and Rosemary each released versions in Portuguese. And English versions came from Joan Baxter, Bobby Darin (“I Will Follow Her”), Dee Dee Sharp, and Skeeter Davis. And then, Little Peggy March got hold of the song:

Her version was a huge hit, of course: No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, No. 1 on the R&B chart for a week, and the No. 8 record of 1963 (bracketed in that annual tabulation by Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” at No. 7 and Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips – Pt. 2” at No. 9).

There were other covers, of course, with the song sometimes presented –  as in the case of the versions by Percy Faith, Rosemary Clooney and Ricky Nelson (and others, I assume) – as “I Will Follow You.”

Over the next thirty years, there was the occasional cover – later covers in other languages added Finnish to the mix, according to Second Hand Songs – but the most notable resurrection of the song came in the 1992 movie Sister Act, where the song’s object was re-visioned and the tune that began as a bogus western became a gospel song. And we’ll leave it there today with Deloris (as played by Whoopi Goldberg) & The Sisters.

‘Now It’s Been Ten Thousand Years . . .’

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

The question I wrestled with overnight is one that has crossed my mind a number of times over the past few years as my obsession with pop music of the 1960s and ’70s became an obsession with writing about said music: Why do I like Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”?

It was, of course, a hugely popular record during the summer of 1969, spending twelve weeks in the Top 40, six of those weeks at No. 1. (It was also, of course, widely derided and remains, I think, one of the true “love it or hate it” records in Top 40 history.) I don’t know what other folks heard in the song, but I can make a few guesses at what the sixteen-year-old whiteray – a nascent Top 40 fan at the time – heard when it came across the airwaves from KDWB and WJON.

First of all, it’s a science fiction song. It’s a clunky and not particularly well-written science fiction song, yes, but I was reading a lot of science fiction at the time, and much of the science fiction I was reading was clunky and not particularly well-written. I was clearing the shelves, so to speak, of the lesser authors and making my way toward the giants of the genre: Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury (whose work often crossed the border into fantasy) and more. And here was this song coming from the radio that spoke to me about my current reading.

Not only did the record speak to me with its lyrics, but it did so musically as well, with the descending bass pattern that I’ve always found intriguing. In addition, twice during the song, writer Richard Evans changes key a half-step up in a manner that I these days call a “slam modulation”: just end one verse in A minor and – with the horns and bass announcing the change in this case – start the next verse in A# minor (more likely Evans called it B-flat minor). It’s an unsubtle way to change keys, but it does get the listener’s attention and gives the record forward momentum. So the record grabbed me both lyrically and aurally.

And then: One of the things I’ve written about frequently during the thousand or so posts for this blog is the indelible impressions made by the first music we care about. The late summer of 1969, as I’ve said many times, was when I fully embraced Top 40 music. And what record was sitting at No. 1 for the last three weeks of July and the first three weeks of August of 1969, dominating the airwaves just about the time when I tuned my old RCA radio to Top 40 for the first time? “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”

So what happens when one finds a clunky science fiction tale backed by a chord pattern and key changes that are musically interesting, and said record is coming out of summertime speakers maybe ten or more times a day? Add to that the fact that “In The Year 2525” would also have been one of the records I heard frequently on my radio that summer as I huddled in the traphouse during my four-day stint working at the state trapshoot. So it’s no wonder the record insinuated itself into my marrow. (And yet, I recognized its flaws enough that the record wasn’t so deep in that marrow to have made the list I compiled last year of my 228 favorite records.)

As I mentioned yesterday, I was a little startled to find a number of covers of the song. But after some consideration, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me. I posted the Ted Heath cover yesterday, and at least a couple of the other covers of “In The Year 2525” are by similar outfits: instrumental orchestras that made their bucks converting pop hits into easy listening music. Two additional examples of that trend were the covers released by two Frenchmen: Raymond Lefèvre, whose cover of “In The Year 2525” showed up on the 1972 LP Oh Happy Day, and Franck Pourcel, who included a cover of the tune on 1970’s Paraphonic. There’s not much to differentiate those three versions, but I tend to like Heath’s a bit more. (There are a few other gems on Heath’s posthumous album The Big One, like a trippy take on the Beatles’ “Get Back.”)

A couple of other covers of the tune caught my ear: Country singer Nat Stuckey included an cover of the tune on his 1969 album New Country Roads, and it seemed an odd choice, but then, the album is packed with seemingly odd choices:  Rod Stewart’s “Cut Across Shorty” (recorded before Rod by Eddie Cochran, as reader Larry mentions in a note below), Herb Alpert’s hit, “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “Hound Dog,” “The Letter” are just the most notable. And Brit pop-rockers Whichwhat – about whom I know nothing else – covered the song as well in 1969.

There were a few oddities, too: The British group Visage is described by All-Music Guide as “[p]ioneers of the New Romantic movement,” and AMG tells the tale:

“Visage emerged in 1978 from the London club Billy’s, a neo-glam nightspot which stood in stark contrast to the prevailing punk mentality of the moment. Spearheading Billy’s ultra-chic clientele were Steve Strange, a former member of the punk band the Moors Murderers, as well as DJ Rusty Egan, onetime drummer with the Rich Kids; seeking to record music of their own to fit in with the club’s regular playlist (a steady diet of David Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Roxy Music), Strange and Egan were offered studio time by another Rich Kids alum, guitarist Midge Ure. In late 1978, this trio recorded a demo which yielded the first Visage single, an aptly futuristic cover of Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’.”

I found two other covers that caught my attention but I’m still not sure what to think of them. Laibach is a Slovenian group described by Wikipedia as an “avant-garde music group associated with industrial, martial, and neo-classical musical styles.” Laibach retitled the song simply “2525” and revised the lyrics to begin the count of years in 1994, which was when the group recorded the song. The Teutonic heaviness makes the track sound like parody, but – being neither a fan of the band nor Slovenian nor even European – I’m not at all certain what the target is.

Finally, among the covers I found, there’s a lengthy take on the Zager & Evans hit by the British band Fields of the Nephilim, another group I knew nothing about until AMG told me:

“Of all the bands involved in Britain’s goth rock movement of the 1980s, Fields of the Nephilim were the most believable. The group’s cryptic, occult-inspired songs were sung in a guttural roar by vocalist Carl McCoy. Live appearances were shrouded with dim light and smoke machines, while bandmembers stalked the stage in black desperado gear inspired by western dress. The group was also one of the longest lived of the original goth rock groups, finally breaking up in 1991 when McCoy left for another project.”

Here’ what Fields of the Nephilim did with Richard Evans’ song. From what I can tell, it was recorded during a 2006 reunion, and it’s interesting but ultimately not my deal (and I doubt that’s surprising).

I think for a cover version, I’ll stick to Ted Heath . . . or maybe Visage.