Un chanson, en anglais…
She, by Charles Aznavour (his 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 23rd June – 21st July 1974
It’s a simple ballad – a piano, a voice, not much else to start with – about an unnamed woman. She. A bit of a femme fatale, it sounds like. She may be the beauty or the beast, May be the famine or the feast… Not the most flattering lyrics for a love song, you might argue.
The words are crammed into each line, running on slightly, spilling over onto the next, in that way that French chansons do, a la Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf. She who always seems so happy in a crowd, Whose eyes can be so private and so proud… Meanwhile, when the drums come in, it starts to sound like a late Beatles ballad, a ‘Something’, or a ‘Long and Winding Road’.
Charles Aznavour was French-Armenian, and he sings this in heavily-accented English. I’m not sure it would work so well were it sung in straight-forward British or American tones. The Frenchness of it adds glamour, mystery, and romance – all the things that we pasty, repressed Anglo-Saxons associate, rightly or wrongly, with the other side of the channel. I knew this song through Elvis Costello’s late-nineties version and, looking back, it’s not as good simply because he isn’t French.
Not only was Aznavour French, he was also pretty old – he’d just turned fifty when ‘She’ hit the top of the charts, making him… I think… the second oldest male chart-topper, so far, behind Louis Armstrong. He sounds older, even, when he sings, and again this adds to the mystique, to the idea that his life has been plagued-slash-brightened by this alluring lady. It was recorded as the theme to a TV series: ‘Seven Faces of a Woman’ (which can’t have been very memorable, as it doesn’t have a Wiki page) and soared to the top of the charts as a result. Amazingly, this was Aznavour’s second and final chart hit in the UK. Mais, en France…
I would need another article to do his biography justice. A seventy year career taking in 1,200 songs… France’s Sinatra… ‘Entertainer of the Century’ ahead of Elvis… Seller of 200 million records… Performing until a few weeks before his death aged ninety-four! And that’s before you get to the non-musical portion of his life: he sheltered Jews during WWII, he was a National Hero of Armenia, as well as Armenian ambassador to Switzerland, an opposer of far-right politicians, a supporter of LGBT rights before that was the done thing… He sounds like quite the guy. And it just goes to show how insular our Anglo-centric world can be, given that I knew nothing of his life before writing this post!
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