‘Chariot’?

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.

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3 Responses to “‘Chariot’?”

  1. Larry Grogan says:

    I love stories like this!

  2. Yah Shure says:

    I loved the ‘You’ll Never See It’ film title, and as odd a fit as Johnny Cash’s “Thunderball” might’ve seemed for that film, there’s no way “Chariot” would’ve worked in an oater (sorry, Wagonmistress Clark; still unconvinced.) All the better it would’ve been included on the film’s accompanying ‘You’ll Never Hear It’ soundtrack.

    On RCA’s 1988 ‘Nipper’s Greatest Hits – The ’60s, Vol. 1′ compilation CD, the Little Peggy March title was listed as “I Will Follow Him (Chariot).” Perhaps someone at BMG corporate in Germany put the word out.

    Gotta rustle me up one o’ them covered wagons on eBay. Who knew the acoustics were so killer?

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