Posts Tagged ‘Michel Legrand’

‘Like A Circle In A Spiral . . .’

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

On one of the cable channels a while back, I caught the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, a remake of a 1968 film that starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. The remake placed Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in those roles, and I have to say I was underwhelmed. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen the original film, so I can’t make a final judgment, but the original is currently at the top of my Netflix queue, and once it arrives, I expect the McQueen-Dunaway team to easily outpoint the Brosnan-Russo pairing.

One area in which the 1999 version will earn a victory, however, comes in the vocal performance of the very familiar theme. Titled “The Windmills of Your Mind,” the sinuous and lovely tune was – like “The Theme From The Summer of ’42” – a collaboration between French composer Michel Legrand and American lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. (The song’s French lyrics, under the title of “Les Moulins de Mon Coeur,” were by Eddy Marnay.)

In the 1968 film (or at least on the soundtrack), the vocal version was performed by Noel Harrison, son of British actor Rex Harrison. The younger Harrison had reached the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 with the overly dramatic “A Young Girl” (No. 51) and in 1967 with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s cryptic “Suzanne” (No. 56). In 1969, a year after The Thomas Crown Affair was released, Harrison’s rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind” went to No. 9 on the British charts. I don’t know if it was released as a single here in the U.S., but if it was, it failed to make the charts.

Maybe I just don’t care for Noel Harrison’s voice, but – like his 1966 album that included “A Young Girl” and his 1967 version of “Suzanne” – I find his version of “The Windmills of Your Mind” to be thin and not all that interesting. The version used in the 1999 remake of the film had vocals from Sting, and although it’s altogether too easy to have too much of Sting, his version of the classic theme is better than Harrison’s, if only by a little bit.

We’ll close today’s exercise with Legrand’s instrumental version from the 1968 film. Later this week, I’ll offer the French version of the tune that seems to have been the most popular, and we’ll take a look at a few of the many, many covers through the years of “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Here’s the original instrumental from the 1968 soundtrack.

‘The Summer Smiles . . .’

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Whiling away an hour the other evening, the Texas Gal and I sat in the living room with the television playing one of the forty or so available music channels. We listen to maybe ten of them, including adult alternative, current country, classic country, blues and the Seventies. We’d chosen the latter on that recent evening, as the Texas Gal puttered on her laptop and I made my way through Catching Fire, the second volume of the Hunger Games trilogy.

Then from the speakers came the first strains of Peter Nero’s version of the “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’,” and I looked up from my book and looked back at a summer day in 1971. I wrote here once – in a post that has not yet found its way into the archive site – that on a rainy day during that summer, my workmates and I were told to remove from boxes about two hundred new file cabinets intended for use in St. Cloud State’s new Education Building. That is true.

I also wrote that we had a radio playing as we tore open boxes and set up file cabinets, and that, too is true. But I wrote that we heard on the radio the Peter Nero version of “Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’.” And that was probably not true. Nero’s single first reached the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 1971, eventually peaking at No. 21 in December. (It went to No. 6 on the Adult Contemporary chart.) So it’s extremely unlikely that we heard it that June day in the Education Building, where our radio was almost certainly tuned to the Twin Cities’ KDWB.

But something in my memory links that rainy day of unboxing file cabinets with the theme from The Summer of ’42. I’m still not certain after puzzling over this for a few days, but I think I’d seen the movie the evening before – I know I did see it that summer – and was still playing Michel Legrand’s elegant and melancholy main theme in my head.

I recall thinking as I left the theater that I should find the soundtrack to the film. I never did. I bought two records that summer: Stephen Stills and the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. And the soundtrack to The Summer of ’42 fell from my memory. I might have thought of it finding it when Nero’s version of the theme hit the charts in the latter portions of the year, but that’s doubtful. Although my fondness for mellow instrumentals and movie themes would never go away entirely, my eyes and ears in 1971 were mostly pointed at current and historical pop and rock. I wouldn’t buy an album that didn’t fit into those categories until late 1975, when I picked up a Duke Ellington anthology. And, as I said above, I never did buy Legrand’s soundtrack. (I did get Nero’s Summer of ’42 LP in 1992; I doubt it’s been on the turntable more than once.)

I went looking today, and learned – unsurprisingly – that the album is out of print. What did surprise me is that the price for a used copy of the CD can range from about $35 to more than $180. I also learned at Amazon that the album sold as the soundtrack to The Summer of ’42 isn’t really the soundtrack at all. Two customer reviews at Amazon point out that only two of the tracks on the album come from The Summer of ’42: The main theme in the video above and the end titles music. The commenters said that the remaining ten tracks on the CD come from Legrand’s soundtrack for a 1969 film, Picasso Summer. Given that and the price, I likely won’t bother with the CD.

Whether I have the CD or not, Legrand’s theme – also titled “The Summer Knows” after the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman – remains a beautiful piece of music, and hearing Nero’s version the other day not only spurred me to look for the soundtrack, but it made me wonder about other covers. Most of the names that pop up are not too surprising: Frank Sinatra, Jessye Norman, Barbra Streisand, Nana Mouskouri, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Vicki Carr, Mantovani, Henry Mancini. Some are unknown to me: Yuri Sazonoff, Bengt Hallberg and Arne Domnérus, Ali Ryerson and more. And Legrand did his own cover version on what seems to be a solo piano album, Michel Legrand by Michel Legrand, which came out in 2002. The most recent covers seem to be those from 2011 by singer Melissa Errico and jazz duo Roger Davidson & David Finck.

A couple of the covers were more interesting than most. An Indian-British producer by the name of Biddu Appaiah – he produced Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit “Kung Fu Fighting” – discofied Legrand’s tune in 1975 and released it under the name of the Biddu Orchestra. The record went to No. 14 in the U.K. and to No. 57 on this side of the pond.

And Maynard Ferguson recorded a – for him – fairly subdued version of the theme for his 1972 album MF Horn, Vol. 2. The LP went to No. 6 on the Jazz Albums chart.

As to which cover I prefer, I should note that I’ve not heard many of them in full. As I did some wandering around this morning, I was prepared to like Frank Sinatra’s cover, but I found it kind of lifeless. Legrand’s 2002 cover is a bit too ornate for the simplicity of the melody, with flourishes and runs that remind me of the piano style of the late Roger Williams (who released his own cover of Legrand’s theme in 1971). None of the covers I heard this morning really knock me out. But I do like Ferguson’s take on the tune.