Everybody probably has a notion somewhere inside of their head of some special place they have a yearning to see, sometimes realistic, sometimes not. That place could be a country or city as yet unvisited but high up on a mental list of places to see. It could be somewhere that has always exerted a pull on the imagination from a description in a poem or story, like a mermaid singing a siren song: like Petra, rose red city half as old as time, or the Golden Road to Samarkand. Or it could just be somewhere much nearer to home. Charlene had been to Nice and the Isle of Greece (pedantically this should surely be ‘an Isle of Greece’ or ‘the Isles of Greece’ ) but had never been to me.
These are all personal and individual but there are some places that seem to carry a more universal appeal, where most people feel they must surely go one day. One of these is Paris. Think of those songs that are not so much about having been to Paris but about an idealized dream of being there, especially in spring. Like Pavlov’s dog, the lyrical associations triggered by Paris seem predictable: Paris-spring-romance. Like April in Paris, for example, or Andy Williams’ Under Paris Skies :” Love becomes king the moment it's spring under Paris skies, Lonely hearts meet somewhere on the street of desire”. Or, really going into romantic over-drive, Maurice Chevalier’s, You will Find Your Love in Paris: “You will find your love in Paris when you walk along the Seine. When you fall in love in Paris it’s a river of champagne”. In fact, the allure of Paris seems so general and automatic that German group Basta made a point by recording Ich Will Nicht Nach Paris (“Paris is no Paradise, I don’t want to go to Paris”).
These are all about Paris in general, as an idea. When it comes to specific areas, songs about Paris, like London, are selective in where they choose. There aren’t, for example, many about La Defense, with its concrete and high rises .Much more evocative sounding is 'Boulevard de la Madeleine', the long boulevard running past the Madeleine and Opera Metro stops and title of a 1966 Moody Blues track with the original line-up that included the wonderfully named Clint Warwick : much more mean and moody than his real name of Albert Eccles. (Like Reg Presley of the Troggs, aka Reginald Ball, a change of name can do wonders for the image). The song passed by largely unnoticed, though there was a later cover version by Dutch group Pussycat. Undeterred, the Moodies changed musical direction and headed off to a new horizon where they spied a Threshold of a Dream shimmerering, though losing Clint Warwick on the way.
Alternatively, there are other quarters of the city that seem equally attractive for a musical evocation. The Left Bank, of course, heralded by Paul McCartney and Wings in Café on the Left Bank and by Winifred Atwell following up her 1956 Poor People of Paris hit with Left Bank, this time featuring an accordion as accompaniment instead of a musical saw. The Seine is a favoured scene musically. Dean Martin did the usual ‘lovers by the lovely River Seine’ stuff with The River Seine. The Style Council went for a more sophisticated image with Down in the Seine, chucking in some verses in French a la Beatles and Michelle to show they were more cosmopolitan than an outfit like - well, say, the Jam. Sheffield band the Crookes went for a more Orwellian Down and Out in Paris and London approach with the Smiths-like By the Seine, which manages to get both ‘proletariat’ and ‘scullion’ in the lyrics, neither of which are often heard in a pop song oddly enough.
The song here from 2010, Champs Elysee - by Danish duo Hush (Dorthe Gerlach and Michael Hartmann) - is about the Champs Elysee, naturally, and the Seine. But it’s more about not going somewhere ,a bittersweet track of regret of never getting to the place of your dreams: its poignancy is heightened by the little details like getting a dog-sitter in place. In fact, it turns the 'lovers walking by the Seine' theme on its head. It has echoes of The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, in which not getting to Paris also figures as a theme. Though that song is probably best known through the Marianne Faithful version, the original was by Dr Hook, who had come to fame with another Shel Silverstein song, Sylvia’s Mother. (This last track made me realise how much the rapid changes in technology have made some relatively recent songs sound comically antiquated to modern ears. To someone brought up on mobiles, Skype and Facebook the notion of an operator constantly asking for 40 cents more for the next 3 minutes [Sylvia’s Mother] or having to say “Oh, please, operator, If he doesn't have another dime ,reverse the charge to me, but put him on the line” [Brenda Holloway’s Operator] must sound as remote as penning a letter with a quill pen, sending it off with a boy from the village on horseback and waiting 2 weeks for a reply).
Champs Elysees means Elysian Fields -heaven on earth. Reality doesn’t always match up, of course, and a visit to Paris isn’t always the height of glamorous sophistication. I once accompanied a French tutor taking a group of her adult students to Paris. The tutor decided to go off to see the Mona Lisa and wasn’t back when the coach was due to depart to catch the ferry home. The coach driver asked where she was. ‘”She’s gone to the Louvre”. Whether it was my attempt at a French accent or his hearing but there followed a surreal conversation from which I eventually realised he thought I had said “She’s gone to the loo.” Coach driver: ”Well, has she gone far?” Me :”It’s at the end of the Champs Elysee. She took a taxi I think”. Coach driver: “Why has she gone all the way there? Is she going to be long?” Me: “I looked in earlier and the queues were pretty long then. I decided not to bother.” etc.
Hush are good at creating a mood of wistfulness and regret:as here or their For All The Right Reasons, which has the kind of plaintive yearning heard in much of the Sundays' work .It suits the type of place here, places I imagine rather than remember.