402. ‘Chanson d’Amour’, by The Manhattan Transfer

At the end of my last post, I claimed that I had never heard this song before. I also offered a prayer that it might break our recent run of bland soft-rock…

Chanson d’Amour, by The Manhattan Transfer (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 6th – 27th March 1977

Well, I can state that I have heard this song before – somewhere, sometime long forgotten. Or, maybe it’s just that this sounds like a standard, a melody that we all have running through us. As for whether it ups the tempo…? It does, a bit.

I like it, though; for it immediately has a boozy, saucy, pub singalong feel to it. A rolling piano, accordions… Chanson d’amour, Play encore… I also like it because, while half the lyrics are French, they are at my level of French – i.e. very basic high school. Chanson d’amour, Je t’adore… And then there’s an inane refrain: rah-ta-rah-ta-dah…

Actually, so bad is the French that I feel qualified to pick them up on it. The pronunciation is well off, coming out more like Chanson d’amooor, Joo t’adooor… Safe to say there were no actual French people involved in the making of this record. But it’s fun. It kind of sounds like Edith Piaf having a singalong, half-cut on Pernod, down an East End boozer.

There’s another saxophone solo. Make that two in a row and throw in a comment about London buses. (This one grates less than ‘When I Need You’, but I still would have preferred them to stick to the piano, or the accordion.) Then we roll to a gentle finish, and I’m left to wonder what on earth this record was doing at the top of the charts in early 1977. It’s completely pointless, but catchy and – praise be! – fun.

Manhattan Transfer were a band from New York, around since the late sixties. They did swing, jazz, a cappella stuff and largely stayed away from the charts until this hit smashed out of nowhere. They are still a going concern, still with three long-term members. ‘Chanson d’Amour’, meanwhile, was first written and recorded in the late fifties, by Art and Dotty Todd. Going off on a complete tangent… the Todd’s had also recorded the original version of another UK #1 single: ‘Broken Wings’, which was one of the very earliest chart-topping singles back in 1953, for The Stargazers. (Never thought I’d be mentioning them again!)

Viewed in this way, then, the record makes more sense. We can slot it in amongst the rock ‘n’ roll revival records – some covers, some originals – that have been peppering the charts for a few years now (Showaddywaddy, the Rubettes, etc.) Meanwhile, perhaps the definitive version of ‘Chanson d’Amour’ came from the cast of ‘Are You Being Served’, in the show’s final episode. Come to think of it, that’s probably how I knew this song… From post-Sunday lunch re-runs as a child.