2. Quand On Est Tout Seul
3. Dites-Moi, Ma Mère
4. Wait Till You See Ma Cherie
6. My Love Parade
7. Paris, Stay The Same
8. All I Want Is Just One Girl
9. Sweepin’ The Clouds Away
10. You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me
11. Livin’ In The Sunlight, Lovin’ In The Moonlight
12. My Ideal
13. Hello, Beautiful!
14. Walkin’ My Baby Back Home
15. Moonlight Saving Time
16. Oh, That Mitzi!
18. Rhythm Of The Rain
19. I Was Lucky
20. You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth
22. Ma Pomme
23. Ah, Si Vous Connaissiez Ma Poule!
24. La Choupetta
25. Thank Heaven For Little Girls
26. I Remember It Well (with Hermione Gingold)
27. I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore
Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972) was for many years the English-speaking
world’s Frenchman – debonair, sentimental, amorous and humorous. Inevitably
he is juicily accented - listen to the way he sings plan and
plon in All I want is just one girl (tr. 8). The man is
just disarmingly charming. If some of the banter in Louise now
rings a little excruciatingly we have I am sure become too knowing by
As for the bands, approaching half of the tracks feature “Leonard Joy
and his orchestra”. Amongst the other conductors, I noted, from classical
realms, Roger Desormière in Ma Pomme from 1936 and Previn in
Lerner and Loewe’s three songs from the 1958 film Gigi. Thank
Heaven for Little Girls was a staple at one time of the BBC Light
Programme and Radio 2. After Thank heavens how could there be
anything other than I remember it well with Hermione Gingold,
who later sang in the Broadway original of Sondheim’s bejewelled A
little night music. Then, to finish comes a well rounded and open-handed
anthology, comes I’m Glad I am not young anymore. Those three
1958 tracks show how his craft sustained his style well beyond the natural
supple life of his voice.
Only six of these songs are in French. He has lungs’ breath and to spare
- listen to him in Ma Chérie complete with crooning saxophone.
He introduces Valentine and Mitzi. In Mimi he sometimes
sounds very like Al Jolson. The Los Angeles tracks record his film career
of the 1930s and are heard the vivid and clean sound. He stayed on performing
during the German occupation of Paris and La Choupetta (1941)
is a memento of those times. His return to Paris in late 1935 gave us
a selection of tracks where his Gallic flim-flam became more dusky and
broader and deeper than ever.
Many of these tracks were recorded in New York and Los Angeles mostly
in the 1920s and 1930s. This is a generously timed CD and the documentation
is an object lesson in how to do it. There are full discographical references
and a great essay by Peter Dempsey. Transfers are by Alan Bunting and
the compilation is by Ray Crick. We know we are in good hands.
Chevalier’s popularity sustained by invincible charm and theatrical
Jonathan Woolf has also listened to this disc
Chevalier was everyone’s idea of the charming Frenchman. Lionised by Hollywood, after a faltering first start, his first recordings were made in New York in 1929. These were the fruits of the film Innocents of Paris from which we hear three tracks. The last of these, Valentine, sports a spoken introduction in English and the song itself is sung in French. There are two songs from The Love Parade, recorded in January 1930 and they illustrate that he was busy in the film studio as well as the recording studio.
I confess not much to liking Chevalier’s American discs. Many of these songs are so-so would-be boulevardier romps, and they never – the English-language ones – aspire to the chansonnier charm of his French-made records. In his English-language songs he is also very much on the beat, which inhibits all sense of swing; I’m not at all suggesting he was, or could have been, Bing Crosby - that would be ridiculous. But his songs in this genre are inhibited and a bit careful. He does nothing with a standard like You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me other than sing it with a strong French accent. And his parlando trawl through My Ideal is equally desultory. With utilitarian bands, nondescript orchestrations and a novelty foreigner singing away, these sides do nothing for me at all.
But turn to the Paris sides and here we have it. Here is what Chevalier was all about. Here is nostalgia, chansonnier charm, an edgier voiced, wittier, pithier, more incisive singer-actor. Here, at last, he relaxes behind the beat, confident in his own language and milieu, inhabiting the traditions of which he was himself an august practitioner. Prosper, Ma Pomme and the rest are the best of him here. Yes, he sounds familiarly good in ‘Fank Evens’ and I Remember It Well – André Previn was accompanying, don’t forget – but if you want to focus on what made him truly great go for the sides with his top-notch Paris accompanists; and then seek out other recordings he made in the city. That, truly, is the essence of Chevalier.