1) "On Ne M'a Jamais Parlé Comme Ça"
2) "Dites-Moi, Ma Mère"
3) "Quant Je Suis Chez Toi"
4) "Mais Où Est Ma Zouzou"
5) "J'Vous F'Rai Voir"
7) "Moi, J'Fais Mes Coups En D'ssous"
8) "Je Ne Dis Pas Non"
9) "C'Est Pour Vous"
10) "Si J'Étais Demoiselle…."
11) "Mon Cœur"
13) "Moi-z Et Elle"
14) "Quant On Revient"
15) "On Est Plus Léger…."
17) "Mon P'tit Tom"
18) "Ça M'est Égal"
The final curtain would soon fall and the dancers,
singers and comedians who had performed in the Royal Variety Performance
at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London that year were ready to gather
for the finale to pay tribute to the Royal Family by singing the National
Anthem. But not until one last performer, his eyes firmly fixed on the
Royal Box, straw boater at a raffish angle, sang to the Queen Mother
"You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby" ending with a characteristic
catch in his voice "'Cause baby, look at you now." That night
in the early 1960s I wondered, as I watched on TV, if the Queen Mother
felt embarrassed. Maurice Chevalier, for it was he singing of course,
made it obvious by the way he was gazing up that he was singing it especially
for her. He must have known he had broken with protocol but didn't seem
to care about that. His whole performance that evening was so in keeping
with those of his many songs over the years but that tendency to exaggerate
his French accent while singing in English seemed to me even more pronounced
than usual that night and I confess to not liking it very much.
That was the last time that I and many others saw Chevalier
on stage or television and as I listened to these old 78rpm recordings,
brilliantly transferred to CD, the years rolled back much further to
the time I first remembered hearing of Chevalier. At first I found it
difficult to relate the handsome, debonair picture of him on the cover
to how he looked that night in the 1960s. I can still remember him being
mentioned in the 1920s when I was a schoolgirl, a time when people would
often speak of "Gay Paree" where we knew he came from as though it were
another planet as no one of my acquaintance had ever been there. I had
already become a film fan and had a friend who had an elder sister with
access to film magazines and I would avidly read through them and occasionally
they would mention a new star and Maurice Chevalier was one of them.
I even remember reading he had made a record and asking at home if we
could have it only to be told by my parents that I wouldn't understand
it as it was in French. That if I paid more attention to my school lessons
in that language I would be able to understand it. At last a Chevalier
record was lent to us and I then heard this "new" Frenchman
sing at last. I have no idea what the songs were, but I do know I loved
how they were sung. What did it matter if I had no idea what he was
singing about? It was the way he was singing them that appealed
to me. The record became one of my favourites for a time, until it was
returned, but I was to learn a great deal about Maurice Chevalier as
time went on and gradually he became a "name". I learned he had been
born in 1888 with an ambition to become an acrobat but that because
of some accident was unable to do so. He was eventually discovered by
legendary night-club singer Mistinguett, and they became a popular act
in the Folies-Bergere.
I recall all this so well because I always contrast
how I first heard Chevalier in the 1920s with how he sang much later
in life, as he did that night on TV in the 1960s. That exaggerated accent
perfected over the years for when he sang in English seemed to have
been laid on with a bigger and bigger trowel as the years went by and,
in the end, I have to say that I found it irritating. So you can understand
I was anxious to listen to this new CD because the recordings on it
are taken from that first period in his career. In fact they are from
just three years between 1925-1928 when he must have hardly been out
of the studio and to compare it with how he was in old age is really
fascinating. I expected a difference, of course, as he was much younger
then. But I found I could barely identify the Chevalier of the late
years with the one I was hearing now on this CD. I have listened with
great enjoyment to a rousing, rollicking, delightful collection of typically
French songs sung by a man who possessed not only a charming, light
baritone voice but also who knew how to make full use of it with none
of the artifice or manner of the future. So refreshing too.
Of course, Chevalier had great charm in those days.
It shouts out to you down the years, even through the vagaries of these
historic discs. But I have to say his voice also gives an impression,
to me at least, of some arrogance though cleverly concealed by the charming,
cavalier type of singing of which he was even then a master. Though
all these songs are sung in French, and are in mood as French as the
whiff of Gauloise, I think everyone will recognise the tunes of several
and be able to admire the style and assurance with which he interprets
the words, which is some achievement indeed. I must also pay credit
to all the orchestras who accompany him so superbly. However, I particularly
liked "Mon Cœur" where Jean Wiener and Clement Doucet accompany
on two pianos. With the same piano duet Chevalier also recorded "Mais
Où Est Ma Zouzou" in the same month. This is one of the songs
whose tune I was certainly familiar with as it’s better known in English
as "I wonder Where My Baby is Tonight".
For me, and I suspect all my generation, here is a
collection of songs that portray exactly the mood of Paris in the 1920s
– or at least what would be our impression of it, which is half the
fun of records like this, I think. The war was only recently over when
these recordings were made and Parisians were determined to enjoy themselves
as much as possible.
Chevalier certainly sings as though he hasn't a care
in the world, I assure you, and maybe he hadn't at that time. In between
recording he did cabaret work and a few movies. Some were successes
and some not. However many successes he had around that time he certainly
deserved them. He had been a prisoner of war and it was whilst interned
that another prisoner had taught him how to speak English. In 1928,
officially failing an MGM screen test, he was accepted by Paramount
on condition that the "over the top" French accent he used should be
a written requirement of his contract. This surely must have been the
start of what I came to find most irritating about him later in his
career, brought to a head on that memorable night at the Royal Variety
I'm delighted to have this CD mainly because I can
hear again, and in superbly restored sound, the young Chevalier singing
in his own language and in his natural voice. The difference is certainly
noticeable. So I highly recommend this disc for the excellent way David
Lennick and Graham Newton have succeeded in transferring these old discs
with every part clear while still retaining the difference between then
and now of how the singers and music sounded in those days so long ago.