In the bottomless pit of amazingly wonderful music video on YouTube are chestnuts of sublimely melodramatic pop music. Now, the foremost example of this sort of music is of course the gorgeous morsels of death-rock that populated American rock ’n’ roll in the early Sixties (“Teen Angel,” “Tell Laura I Love Her,” etc.), but in the same vein of awesome, moving, and morose pop I must include the Belgian master, the late Monsieur Brel. Americans discovered his music through the translations of Mort Shuman and Eric Blau in the long-running cabaret show Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (god, I do love those long Sixties/Seventies show/movie titles…).
The British, however, were introduced to Brel’s wonderfully emotionally overwrought works through through covers of the Shuman-Blau translations by Scott Walker (plum examples here and here. Also David Bowie (main example here).
Well, in the world of YouTube, we are now treated to the terrific sight of Brel himself, a simply incredible, incredible stage performer, singing his own tunes, for the first time ever with English subtitles translating his wrenching lyrics (I do believe Serge Gainsbourg was a more complex and innovative poet-lyricist, but there’s no arguing with the raw power of Brel’s work).
Here are three examples from YT, each of ’em a gem:
The song we know better (through a Rod McKuen translation, and later a perfectly depressing one hit wonder version by Terry Jacks) as “Seasons in the Sun.” I give you “Le Moribond” in English. It’s actually a pretty “up” song with the singer urging us to celebrate his death:
Here is Brel’s most wrenching song, “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Don’t Leave Me) with English subs. There is a more amazingly raw performance of this by Brel with English subs up on YT, but the poster doesn’t allow for embeds on that one, so dig this subtitled version instead:
Here’s a little upbeat number, just so’s you don’t think ol’ Jacques was a downer. This one also appeared in “Live and Well…” It’s called “Brussels.”
And here, we have a good example of Brel’s stagecraft. Tell me one other singer (okay, Alice Cooper — but besides Alice, whom I also love) who has performed a song while wearing a noose onstage: