Champs Elysees

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.


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  2. Great column Geoff!

    Here's the song Geoff was alluding to at the start of the column:)

    (she's also been to Georgia and California and anywhere she could run).....

  3. Ha ha, that Basta song is brilliant ( Ich Will Nicht Nach Paris) - here it is in case anyone is curious!


  4. Here's Threshold of a Dream that Geoff mentioned - great song! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nf0k-3T4xZU

  5. Here's the Pussycat version of Boulevard de la Madeleine, which is great, although the original is better I think

    (Geoff the system keeps deleting my comment - posting is for the third time - it keeps it up there for about 30 seconds, then it vanishes!!)

  6. Ha ha, I can tell you're not a Dean Martin fan:)

    ("Dean Martin did the usual ‘lovers by the lovely River Seine’ stuff with The River Seine").

    I dislike Dean Martin too. He's a hack who somehow made a career out of being phonily "cool" and crooning (poorly) some cheesy standards!

  7. I hadn't heard the Crookes song By the Seine, but it's fascinating and great - and you're right, it's very George Orwell!!

    I think ‘proletariat’ and ‘scullion’ aren't heard often enough in pop lyrics:)

  8. I really liked your paragraph about the changes in technology. There are still some places in the world where operators basically ask for 40 cents. I recently spent a long weekend in a small western Pennsylvania town that was surrounded by Amish. Lots of horses and carriages. My favorite part was the rural, country phone booths out on roadways with lines of 3-5 deep teenagers lined up to use the thing to call their friends. Also, the Amish community there uses phone booths that aren’t that easy to spot. Even if you saw one, you might not recognize it. They are homemade. They look more like outhouses than phone booths, except that some of them have a window in the door. The locals call them ‘phone shacks.’ There’s a hitching rail alongside. It isn’t unusual to see two buggies parked there, with one person using the phone and another waiting.

  9. I liked your story about the Louvre / loo mixup. While visiting recently, a friend of mine got stuck in the Louvre loo, Tony. He said the lever to lock was turning, but it wasn’t catching on anything. The mechanism was broken. A wave of panic overcame him as he noticed the space below was too small to fit through. It was a handicapped stall, by the way. There was space above the door, but he had to climb on a sink in order to stick his head through. Meanwhile, the concerned group was waiting outside the bathroom and one of us, Kris, went in to see what was wrong. When he entered, he saw Tony’s head poking through the top of the stall. Tony told him he was stuck. Kris went to get help, and a worker at the Louvre came in, but could not unlock the door. Another maintenance worker was retrieved. By this time, Tony’s plight had attracted a small audience. Tony tells me he considered jumping through the hole and having Kris catch him. But a worker/security guard said no, most likely because the museum didn’t want to be liable if he got hurt. “I just wanted to jump through,” Tony said. “I was more claustrophobic than anything.” It took a while for the maintenance guy to finally undo the lock. The guard made it a long, drawn-out process. It seemed like forever. In reality, it was probably between 40 and 60 minutes. Precious minutes, if you’ve only got limited time in the Louvre as we did. Now, I’ve been to the Louvre bathrooms before, and I can tell you from personal experience, they are a mess. On that same day, I used a stall that would NOT lock. And later that afternoon, I opened a bathroom door and a cleaner’s mop came crashing down on my face. It hurt! You would think that the bathrooms in the one of the world’s most prestigious museums would be at a higher standard. But, sadly, THEY ARE NOT.

  10. Richard - very recently they introduced a luxury loo at the Louvre. You pay 1.50 euro for the privilege of peeing in style, but you get a visual feast in return. First, you wait beside walls and walls of specialty bog roll (that you can of course buy in expensive six-packs for your own stylish Parisian home). Or you could buy the trendy wall holder to hold your colourful bog rolls in suitable style. But hold on - you can't actually pee yet. After each person exits a cubicle, the attendant rushs in to wipe down the loo and spray air freshener. After which, you get a 'madame may enter now' wave. Then there is a sales pitch IN the loo - as the shelves behind the cistern are arrayed with a variety of toilet inspired knick knacks you can - of course - buy from the front desk for an exorbitant fee.....

    This is the new wall of colourful toilet rolls: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-W5t8kkFJ4Dg/T9TBQuu87zI/AAAAAAAAAxI/YMlQ7zvXGsU/s1600/IMG_8630.JPG

  11. Here's For All The Right Reasons by Hush, which is pretty gorgeous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_1zQxbSHSo

  12. Speaking of very effective name changes, there is also Marilyn Manson (born Brian Werner)....

  13. And Hank Marvin, whose real name is Brian Robson Rankin

  14. And Dean Martin himself is Dino Paul Crocetti

  15. I think men change their names more than women in the music world. Although there is Joni Mitchell who was really Roberta Joan Anderson....

  16. I only learned recently that Barry Manilow is really Barry Alan Pincus

  17. I think it's sad / disturbing when artists erase their ethnic heritage from their names, like Freddie Mercury who was really Farookh Bulsara, and George Michael who is really Georgios Krylacos Panayiotou. Even Ricky Martin is really Enrique Jose Martin Morales. As though the general public can't be expected to enjoy the music of someone with a non-white / Anglo-American sounding name!

  18. Then theres Steven Demetre Georgiou, who became Cat Stevens and then Yusuf Islam

  19. Clint Warwick was real class, his bass lines shouldering the power of the original (and best) line up of The Moody Blues during the days of R&B. I'm not really sure if he was the best beat group bassist I've seen or not but the choice between he and Mickey Walker (The Redcaps) would be close. Naturally I am speaking from the point of view of a guitarist who wants a bassist that fits into a band perfectly and then plays just the right lines. I was deeply disappointed when he and Denny Laine left the band and doubly disappointed that I never met or saw Clint play again. He passed away several years ago.

  20. I like how the Moody Blues always looked..... well, moody, in photos. The group--consisting of (l to r in this moody photo - http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-0ZS127oHisg/TkStsBWIbAI/AAAAAAAAUiM/H3bwC7E_-eg/s1600/Screen%2Bshot%2B2011-08-12%2Bat%2B12.33.49%2BAM.png) Mike Pinder, Denny Laine, Clint Warwick, Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas had a reputation of always being rather solemn looking!

  21. I recently learned about El Riot and the Rebels, which featured John Lodge and Ray Thomas pre-Moody Blues.... here's a 45 RPM demo, thought you might this interesting Geoff......


  22. Thanks for this. Mike Pinder was with them too for a while.

  23. Wonderful blog Geoff! I agree about Paris being one of those fantasy places that people have a yearning to see. Like Machu Picchu, Peru. Or the Egyptian pyramids. My personal one though is a restaurant near Sanyou Cave above the Chang Jiang river, Hubei , China - it looks like this: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-gr4m6MXqit4/TWDgG-EV-HI/AAAAAAAAAkw/k_JjGBJW3aw/s1600/SanyouCave_ROW1642012971_20110220.jpg. I'm sure I'll never get there but I often think about drinking some tea at one of those tables.

  24. Geoff, did you see last year's movie Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)? I thought it was brilliant - i think you'd like it if you haven't seen it already......

  25. I really liked the simple instrumentation of Hush..... using instruments that are unusual in pop music, such as mandolin, banjo and mellotron. Thank you Geoff!

  26. I don't know why, but there seems to be quite a bit of Scandinavian music filtering into the UK recently. Not a whisper of Abba and not a Smurf in sight, but it's here, including in the shape of the duo, Hush.

  27. Hush sounds like a great and unique combination of blues, country and pop....

  28. About Paris – I think people expect too much of the city. I was raised there – went to kindergarten all the way to university – so it is different for me, it is home. I think all the Paris blogs which constantly admire the city – or the parts tourists see – bring too many expectations. I also think that one’s mood makes a huge difference – if you are in love and with the loved one, Paris will be wonderful, if you are older and alone, it is quite different.

  29. I love your idea of a lyrical Paris - the lyrical associations it conjures up. I certainly conjure up an imaginative Paris, half-real, half-mythical: Jacques Prévert scribbling poems on café tablecloths; Baudelaire, in drug-induced somnolence, stumbling down alleyways through puddles of spilt absinthe; Sartre and de Beauvoir debating existentialism in Les Deux Magots; Jean Genet finding epiphanies in Art Nouveau urinals; Henry Miller wallowing in nostalgie de la boue and celebrating the lotus flower and its muddy roots; Rilke’s panther pacing up and down its cage in the Jardin des Plantes; the mentally ill and terminally insane in the Salpêtrière, endlessly gesturing; government ministers and their mistresses legislating and fornicating in the Palace Bourbon and the Palais du Luxembourg; portrait painters in Montmartre flattering their sitters by accentuating the good bits and airbrushing the dodgy bits; pretty sirens in the posh bars of the Boulevard Saint-Germain beckoning in the tourists for a flinchingly expensive glass of red; smart prostitutes patrolling the Bois de Boulogne like efficient businesswomen, while the lurid, tacky ones smoke crack in the backstreets of Pigalle; fashion-accessory shih tzus and chihuahuas trotting by their Versace and Gaultier-clad owners along the Champs-Élysées, or being carried in handbags like exquisite, tiny invalids; clochards swigging cheap wine on the quays near the Pont Saint-Michel; the open-air bookstalls lining the Seine’s Left Bank, a scene unchanged for a hundred years; the mathematical, metallic chic of the Tour Eiffel . . .

    . . . but, above all, I imagine the songs of Paris, those innumerable clichéd, romantic songs, crooned by an Yves Montand or a Charles Aznavour, and those more authentic, lived-in songs from the big heart of a diminutive Edith Piaf, and I trawl through these songs, and am drawn inexplicably to a dozen of them; then I steal a line from this one and a line from that one, like a jackdaw filching rings dropped in the Tuileries Gardens, and arrange them in a different way, cut-and-paste fashion, until a poem emerges from this musical bric-a-brac, and finds itself. You might call it a cento or poetic patchwork, an assemblage or lyrical collage . . . here it is:

    Lyrical Paris

    We may never get to Paris
    And find the café of our dreams
    So I’m leaving for Paris
    Don’t try to find out where I am

    April in Paris
    Chestnuts in blossom
    Holiday tables under the trees

    Sous le ciel de Paris
    Marchent des amoureux
    Sous le ciel de Paris
    Coule un fleuve joyeux

    Paris c’est une blonde
    Qui plaît à tout le monde

    I’ve got nothing to lose
    But the hole in my shoes
    And small change

    The pavement cafés
    On the Champs-Élysées
    Are deserted
    And the trees are so bare
    On the Boulevard de la Madeleine

    I walk the boulevards
    And I ask the moon and the stars to find you
    But we don’t exist
    We are nothing but shadow and mist
    Nothing but shadow and mist

    I’m throwing my arms around Paris
    Because only stone and steel
    Accept my love
    Because nobody
    Wants my love

  30. Geoff - there are apparently 235 songs about Paris - here is the list!


  31. What an amazing list.
    I loved the poetic collage above too.
    Yes I did see Midnight in Paris, Joe -it was great!

  32. Actually, that exhibition that Marie posted, about songs about Paris, is saying that there is a huge list of 2750 songs.....! Here is the website: http://www.chansons.paris.fr./ (the list of 235 is just a selection). It runs through July 29, the exhibit, Geoff, in case you have a chance to get there! There’s no need to understand French. The range of emotions expressed in the more than four hundred recordings that make up the exhibit (out of a selection of nearly 2800 songs about Paris) speak the universal language of music, transcending words and borders.....

  33. I went to that exhibit just last week! It's superb - I recommend it, Geoff! It’s not often I walk through the streets of Paris, humming, singing, swaying to a melody. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to draw attention to herself in the street, but after going to the exhibit, it was different. I was walking on air, care-free, my heart full of song. Just by heading to the library - to the exhibit organized by the public libraries of the city of Paris, where I discovered Paris en chansons, Paris in Song, one of the most joyful exhibits I’ve been to in years. The website posted by Marie also is streaming non-stop songs about Paris spanning a period of nearly five hundred years. The most ancient is “Voulez ouyr les cris de Paris,” “Hear the cries of Paris,” a song written by Clément Janequin in 1530, which provides a mouth-watering inventory of all the food and drink sold by hucksters in the city streets nearly 500 years ago.

    At the other end of the timeline, one of the most recent is “Gare du Nord,” “North Station,” recorded in 2009 by Malakoff, a French rock group that grinds out a hard-rock ballad about the misery and excitement found in this Parisian train station, the busiest in Europe, the most dangerous in France.

    In between, there are lots of familiar faces, voices, and songs. I listened to Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris” and heard Petula Clark sing “Hello Paris.” Everywhere, in photos, video and sound recordings, I met Maurice Chevalier, star of the 1958 MGM movie “Gigi,” where he sang “Thank heaven for little girls.” Considered a typical “French lover,” he inspired the Looney Tunes character Pepé le Pew and remains one of the best known French singers in the world. I stopped to admire a photo of the frail Edith Piaf, “the little sparrow,” weighed down by her accordion. I also listened to Yves Montand as he strolls along the boulevards of Paris, Charles Aznavour singing about why he loves Paris in May, and Brigitte Bardot celebrating “les p’tites femmes de Paris,” the elusive women of Paris who always know how to keep a man on his toes.

    Many names familiar to the French may be less so to Britons and Americans, such as Juliette Greco whose 1951 rendition of “Sous le ciel de Paris,” “Under the Paris sky,” is my favorite. There’s also Barbara (1930-1997), a singer for whom “Seine” often rhymed with “peine” (Seine and pain went together). The painter Toulouse Lautrec immortalized Aristide Bruant, the father of French popular song, who sang in the language of the streets of Paris, protesting against injustice, celebrating the life of the working class. Surely, many readers will recognize his portrait or a poster of Le Chat noir (The Black Cat), the famous Montmartre cabaret where he performed. At the exhibit, I listened to an 1889 recording of him singing one of his compositions, “A la place Maubert,” “On Maubert Square.”

    Or Mistinguett, singer, dancer, actress, star of stage and screen, sang at Moulin Rouge and, in 1926, was the star of the opening ball of the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. That same year, “Ça, c’est Paris,” “That’s Paris,” the song that became her “anthem,” was composed. Performing it, she belts out that Paris is a blond who makes everybody happy. Her chief rival, Josephine Baker (1906-1975), the African-American singer who, in the 1920’s and 30’s, took Paris by storm, might have disagreed. At the Folies Bergères, she sang “Paris, Paris, Paris” and “J’ai deux amours,” “I have two loves” (France and the USA), and brought the house down.....

  34. ..... continued because of the word limit.....

    Ernest Hemingway wrote that Paris is “A Moveable Feast.” Parisians might argue that, above all, “Paris is a song,” and every neighborhood has its own. The website of Paris en chansons provides an interactive map (carte interactive), where, district by district, decade by decade, from the 1870’s to the present, you can discover how each Parisian neighborhood was turned into song. Mine, near what were once the slaughter houses and the meat market of the city, has been immortalized in “Les joyeux bouchers,” “The Happy Butchers,” a 1954 tango whose refrain is “it’s gotta bleed, it’s gotta bleed.”

    In the past, before Parisians began tuning out the world and tuning into music only they can hear through headphones plugged into electronic devices, they actually joined together in song. Paris en chansons also documents how sheet music was sold in the streets, a practice developed by Aristide Bruant who would send out singers with a bundle of his songs printed as sheet music. They, in turn, would set up shop on street corners, singing the songs, distributing the music to bystanders and encouraging them to join in. If the melody “struck a chord,” Parisians were ready to pay a few pennies to take the sheet music home to play on the piano or sing with family and friends.

    I’m tempted to sigh, those were the good old days, but perhaps that’s what many songs devoted to Paris are all about. They make us feel nostalgic about a mythic city that only exists in song and in our dreams.

  35. I walked down the Champs-Elysees recently. Unfortunately, Laduree, the famous macaron store, was being renovated. However, they have set up a temporary shop where one can still purchase their pastries. My partner had a pain au chocolat and I had a macaron with a lemon/lime marshmallow filling.

  36. I went to the exhibit too, it's Paris en chansons, at the Galerie des Bibliotheques on Rue Mahler in the Marais. This is a small City of Paris gallery. It was a lovely exhibit with lots of memorabilia including old LPs, photos, documents, and audio stations playing songs about Paris. The exhibit had recordings of about 400 songs, of around 2800 total about Paris. The source of most of the material in the exhibit came from the Bibliotheque Historique and the Agence photographique Roger Viollet. There were themes including love, districts - Montmartre, Pigalle and Saint Germain de Pres being the most written about, transportation, the Seine, and of course, Paris lost. Song writing about Paris started in earnest towards the end of the 19th century, though there were earlier songs as far back as the 16th century. Aristide Bruant, a cabaret singer and nightclub owner, started the chanson realiste genre.

  37. Perhaps you'll enjoy my song, Paris Is Burning

  38. You might also like Amelie (the movie) - it very, very charming. An interesting commentary on the way everyday practices can define our individuality alongside an eccentric love story all spread against Paris as a magnificent backdrop......

  39. I think the best Paris song is J'ai Deux Amours by Madeleine Peyroux - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJG7gAN5htw.

    This song just has such a wonderful jazzy feel to it, and, if you speak a little French, you can pick up on all the delightful praise of Paris Madeleine is dishing out. Every time I listen to this song, I can’t wait to get on a plane!

  40. I think you might enjoy Isabelle Aubret's album from 2000, Geoff, called Parisabelle. Since the beginning of the Sixties, she has courageously led a career as an artist nevertheless subjected to numerous hazards of life. Apart from accidents and media boycott, Isabelle Aubret's journey is very poetic. She permanently pays tribute to the greatest artists and her repertoire is worth the best anthologies of classic French music.

  41. I like "Paris” by Joshua Kadison, it's kind of a heartbreaking tale of two lost souls from different generations.....


  42. And don't forget about “He Went to Paris” by Waylon Jennings


  43. My favourite is “Poor People of Paris” by Chet Atkins


  44. Holly Williams’ “Three Days In Bed” is an excellent song about Paris.

    “We drank all our wine on the Champs Elysees,
    We got carried away on the banks of the Seine,
    Woke up on old boulevard St. Germain”

  45. With all due respect to Waylon, nobody does “He Went to Paris” like the song’s author, Jimmy Buffett.

  46. Also John Denver has a lovely song called ‘A Country Girl in Paris’ that ws a single in the 90s.

  47. Geoff, when are you going to do a column about Memphis? Our fair city gets name-dropped in more songs than any other city on earth. The Rock’n'Soul museum keeps a running list of all of the songs that mention Memphis in the lyrics. Currently, the count is at 1074: http://www.memphisrocknsoul.org/over1000songs

    The artists on the list are varied – everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Dylan to Project Pat and Ani Difranco is represented. A lot of the artists are locals, both past and present.

    Every time I hear a song that mentions Memphis, I get a dorky little swell of civic pride, especially when the song is awesome. No offense to Marc Cohn, but “Walking in Memphis” doesn’t make me feel nearly as at home as Spoon’s “Finer Feelings” or Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee”.

  48. Paris is probably the most beautiful city in the world - but Paris knows it. The French capital can feel quite uptight and self-conscious, as if every Parisian believes he or she lives in the cold-blooded glamour of a fashion show. The sheer beauty of the place can be intimidating, like when you visit someone's new home and fear leaving mud on their carpet. Waiters and customer service staff demand respect for their authority, and the omnipresent French flags suggest an irritation with anything different or foreign. It's hard work to relax in Paris.

    By contrast, London is warm and human. Its streets feel practical and lived in, like a comfortable pair of shoes. Compared to the hassle of Paris cafés, London pubs are blissful and kind. And even its monuments are idiosyncratic - despite their functionality and familiarity, Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament still seem so odd.

    And pop music gives us proof of London's warmth and Paris's cold. There are hardly any French pop songs about Paris - certainly nothing contemporary or cool. Rap acts may rap about Paris - but only as political commentary, not as praise.

    By contrast, London has been apotheosised in countless songs by its natives and residents. Waterloo Station and the nearby bridge are quite unremarkable, yet Ray Davies featured them in one of pop's most poetic songs. The Clash, The Jam, Madness and Blur have added their own layers to London's pop mythology by singing of ordinary places like Camden Town, the Tube, Hammersmith and Primrose Hill. (Of course, Paris has no pop/rock anthem to match 'London Calling'.)

    Paris has inspired great painting, literature and classical music - but it has no great pop music, I would argue. North American songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Stephin Merritt use Paris as shorthand for artistic freedom and old-fashioned romance respectively, but those are outsider images with little relevance to daily life Seine-side. The city's only native pop genius, Serge Gainsbourg, recorded his classic late-'60s records - including 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' - in London and filled his lyrics with American pop culture references. There's very little of Paris in Serge's masterworks. And as we've pointed out before, the entire 'French Touch' wave of mid-'90s indietronic culture - Daft Punk, Air, Michel Gondry, Phoenix - come from Versailles.

    Why is Paris so poor for pop? Well, it might be due to that intimidating air of cold-blooded glamour we mentioned earlier. Pop music is democratic and open-minded and human and un-self-conscious and fun - and Paris is none of these things. But London seems to have these qualities in abundance, hence it's the pop capital of the world.

  49. Geoff, you might enjoy this Guardian feature - http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/blog/2011/may/06/olivier-hutman-paris-playlist - where music experts are asked compile a playlist to their city. Here, jazz musician Olivier Hutman charts the heart and soul of Paris from Edith Piaf to Serge Gainsbourg.....

  50. I was in Paris in the Spring two years ago. There’s a reason people write songs about Paris in the spring. It’s indescribably lovely and bursting with fresh life. The horse-chestnut trees that line the streets were covered in white blooms. In one of the little parks near Place Saint-Sulpice, I sat and ate pastry from Pierre Herme under a violet drape of wisteria. Tulips and lilacs created a riot of scent and color around the city. It was magical.

  51. Right now I'm discussing a possible nightclub act with a singer. I’ve proposed organizing the act around songs that originated in animated films – shorts or features. I’m proposing we put together two contrasting songs about Paris by two distinguished teams, "Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart" (a jaunty number by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens for Anastasia) and "Paris is a Lonely Town" (one of a few haunting songs of loneliness Harold Arlen wrote with Yip Harburg for Judy Garland, on this occasion for Gay Purr-ee, a tale of French cats). There’s also a charmer that was originally sung by animated bugs called "We’re the Couple in the Castle" in Mr. Hoppity Goes to Town that came from the pen of Frank Loesser.

  52. Don't forget Throwing my arms around Paris by Morsey

  53. There is a delightful collection of songs by a French singer by the name of Yves Carini. This CD is a collection of songs about Paris — Un Ete Parisien. It is an upbeat collection. Even with schoolboy French I can understand the lyrics (well, I think I understand them!). You may find this CD hard to find — I see that Amazon.com no longer distributes it because it is an import and, evidently, the supplier is no longer supplying. But look around on line for French suppliers or some of the downloading sites (the legal ones!). Carini is a joy to listen to in terms of his range and interpretation of some songs you’ll probably recognise (e.g. Cole Porter’s “Let’s Fall In Love”). Put this CD on whilst you’re cooking a nice meal and you’ll feel both inspired and transported to that great city, Paris!

  54. You might like the music of Eric John Kaiser, too - the album L'Odyssee (2006) contains heartfelt songs about Paris, and then in his 2010 EP, Portland Rendez-Vous, all four tracks evoke images of Parisian cafes and strolls along the Seine. He is French but now lives and works in Portland, Oregon (USA).

  55. I saw a great play / musical revue in New York a few years ago - if it is ever revived, you should try to see it Geoff: http://offbroadway.broadwayworld.com/article/METROPOLITAIN_Plays_The_Laurie_Beechman_Theatre_1122_20101022

    It features a cast of six singers/performers (three men and three women): One couple is late 40s- early 50s, one couple is mid 30s, and one couple is 20s. More than one of the performers is able to play the piano or another musical instrument. The setting features a backdrop that cleverly blends together two famous subway maps, the Paris Metro system and the NYC subway lines. The evening consists of twenty episodes, without intermission, each taking place near a particular Metro or subway stop. Before each scene or song, a metro/subway name on the backdrop lights up revealing where in Paris or New York the next vignette will be taking place.

    This is a revue about perceptions… a tale of two very adored, very crowded, very cosmopolitan cities. The opening number, “Metropolita(i)n” sets the tone: “New York, Paris… la vie metropolitain.” The revue reflects the general attitudes, romantic feelings and misconceptions that New Yorkers have about Paris and Parisians have about New York. The New Yorker’s songs about Paris are sung in English and the Parisian’s songs are sung in French. Besides the cities themselves, there are also a few satirical stabs at famous political figures on both sides of the Atlantic, President Sarkozy and Senator Hilary Clinton, for example.

    The New Yorker believes that Paris is really a movie set; nothing about it is real. He imagines Paris being taken down every evening by stagehands and put up every single morning. (A song, “Ville Imaginaire”) The New Yorker sees Paris as a city of decadence because of the notorious reputations of its writers, cinema, theatre, etc. That everybody in Paris smokes like a chimney, wears a black and white striped sailor’s shirt, a beret, carries a baguette under his arm, and holds a glass of red wine in the other. That Parisians, particularly sales people, are rude and unhelpful, especially at the Metro guichet. (the scene is musicalized in the song “L’homme au guichet”) That nobody would ever think of eating early in a restaurant, except for the vulgar American tourists, that Paris is the city of hundreds of Museums (there is a musée de pain, de fumeur, de sexe, etc.) and one particular sex musee, the Bistro du Curé, is even owned by a priest. That it is a place that manufactures way too many cheeses, three hundred at least, (glorified in song “Barrage des Fromages”.) That Parisians are voyeuristic and eager to participate in l’amour in Public places (the disapproving song is called “Prenez une chambre”) and, clearly, everybody who is gay or Jewish lives in the Marais or, as it is called, the “gay-tto.”

    On the positive side, the New Yorker also finds Paris a city of incomparable beauty, especially when he is just being a flanneur, (“Se Reposer et Observer,”) or enjoying the music that seems to be present everywhere in the city. Why, even at the Gare du Nord, the short jingle heard before the SCNF announcements is so catchy to the New Yorker that it becomes a dance production number for the entire cast of performers. (“Samba de SNCF”) There is also a musical paean to the man who had the inspiration for the city of Paris’ most famous landmark. (“Une lettre a Monsieur Eiffel”)

    And, ultimately, despite the cultural differences, the New Yorker and the Parisian agree on one thing, that wherever you are on this planet, you must find a way to make it your home.

  56. You might enjoy me performing Dave Frishberg's tune “Another Song About Paris” - poking a little fun at the fact there are SO many songs about Paris.....

  57. I've been thinking a lot about 'authentic' songs about Paris. For example, I think that "In Moscow" and "Dublin in the Rain," both written by Carol Hall and Tex Arnold, each evoke that powerful "spirit of place" that I find compelling. So I tried making a list of all the foreign-language songs I knew,or sort-of knew, and the tunes about places I know and love, and put it away in a journal for the right moment. Impossible not to notice that there are a lot of songs about Paris. The task has been to find the one or two that taste most right, and real. It's actually hard.

  58. Oooh, I love anything that lets me force my favorite music down other people's throats and my obsessive love of making lists means that I have playlists about EVERYTHING. This is my playlist that has songs about Paris:


  59. Here's The Style Council, Down in the Seine, that Geoff mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgtSxDUXhWI

  60. I kind of like Andy Williams’ Under Paris Skies, which was mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7p2M-D-P9Q

  61. The best Poor People of Paris is surely by Winifred Atwel, the version that Geoff mentioned! Here it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O50GfY29Iaw

    And here's her Left Bank too!

  62. Here are the two versions of The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, so people can judge which one they prefer!

    Marianne Faithfull: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0NxhFn0szc

    Dr Hook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFGQyYfhLsc

    I think I prefer Marianne Faithfull.....

  63. What a fantastic selection of links and comments above. Thanks for all the tracks I will listen to .
    Poor People of Paris cropped up in a previous column - its original title was Pauvre Jean and was misheard as Pauvre Gens..

  64. I havent been to Memphis, Trip- hence lack of a column about it!

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