The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (118): Best-ever French song?

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (118): Best-ever French song?


norman lebrecht

July 11, 2020

The composer’s version:

Diva style

Je m’en fou

Movie soundtrack


Le dernier cri



  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Noel Harrison
    Natalie Desay
    No others.

  • Legrand a french legend who passed away few months ago. With Maurice Jarre and Francis Lai he’s from a generation of French composers who won saveral Oscars. We can add also the unfairly unknown outside of France Philippe Sarde the most talented of this group for me. He was more connected to classical and less to jazz than Legrand

  • Daphnis176 says:

    Barbra, not Barbara.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I love a great deal of Legrand’s music (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, for instance), but this song is strictly 1960’s hippie dippy flower power music.
    And “The Thomas Crown Affair” was a real stinker of a movie. Sorry, McQueen and Dunaway fans, but you know I’m right.

    • Dragonetti says:

      Spot on Greg!
      Legrand was one of the greats but even he was entitled to the odd turkey.
      The harmony is horribly predictable, the lyrics silly ( and hippy). It has for reasons unknown been seized upon by dozens of singers, great and hack, and been inflated way beyond its level.
      It joins my personal list of banned pieces. “Send in the Clowns” ( original excepted) “The Entertainer” and Für Elise played by anyone under diploma level among others.
      I’ll get me coat now…

      • David K. Nelson says:

        Not a fan of this song in any version. It always reminds me of the Galaxy Song from the Monty Python film “The Meaning of Life” and would be vastly improved by being sung by Eric Idle.

        My nomination for best French popular song is (gasp) an Italian song: J’attendrai. Jean Sablon would be the preferred recording, Tino Rossi an acceptable alternative.
        Both are on YouTube. There is of course the marvelous film of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, marred only by the annoying narrator.

  • sam says:

    Tant pis that Barbra, whose French is impeccable in her Debussy (from NL’s prior post), didn’t sing this song in French. She would’ve slayed.

    Jessie is a revelation, who knew she could lighten her voice like this when switching genre, and what a new timbre it reveals, lent to beautiful and sweeping phrasing

    Natalie demonstrates what a difference it makes when a native opera singer takes to the song: one can’t help but focus on the text, even though you know she has the technique to phrase the melody (à la Jessie), she phrases the text (à la Legrand).

    Alain, well, it sounds like he was late to the studio, was told he only had 2 minutes left for the recording session, was handed the lyrics, and he sight read through it, and the track was laid.

  • Best ever French song? The question mark saves you, for there are so many great songs. Les Feuilles Mortes (Yves Montand) comes to mind; La Mer (Charles Trenet); L’Hymne à l’amour (Edith Piaf), just to name a few. And the list could go on and on…

  • Nick says:

    EXQUISITE COLLECTION! Thank you! Indeed, likely the best French Song.

  • V. Trahan says:

    ++++Avec le temps – Léo Ferré
    ++++Ne me quitte pas – Jacques Brel

  • R. Brite says:

    There are so many great French songs, but it’s fun to declare this the best ever so that people here will predictably list other contenders and fight about this one. That said, it’s truly a wonderful song and anyone bad-mouthing it is a stupid head.

    • Dragonetti says:

      Now, now. I was only making a light-hearted comment about my personal preferences.
      Anything’s good if you like it. Anything’s bad if you hate it.
      When in France I’ll make a big detour to avoid fruits de mer or fish soup but I wouldn’t go over to someone and bad-mouth them for eating it!

  • Evangeline Roche says:

    Interesting to hear “the French” singing French. Norman does very well, and Sam’s comment is spot on: who knew she could lighten her voice like this.
    The photo of her is beautiful.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Mesdames et messieurs, can we be serious for a minute, s’il vous plaît ?
    « Les moulins de mon cœur » is undoubtedly a great song, by a wonderful French composer, but a *French* song it is not.
    It is the French *adaptation* of an American song, “The Windmills of Your Mind”, the magnificent original lyrics courtesy of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, composed and written specifically for “The Thomas Crown Affair”.

    The French version is not a translation, but an entirely different creation, with a different perspective and a different mood.
    “Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
    Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
    Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
    Like a carousel that’s turning running rings around the moon
    Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
    And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
    Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!”

    « Comme une pierre que l’on jette
    Dans l’eau vive d’un ruisseau
    Et qui laisse derrière elle
    Des milliers de ronds dans l’eau
    Comme un manège de lune
    Avec ses chevaux d’étoile
    Comme un anneau de Saturne
    Un ballon de carnaval
    Comme le chemin de rondes
    Que font sans cesse les heures
    Le voyage autour du monde
    D’un tournesol dans sa fleur
    Tu fais tourner de ton nom
    Tous les moulins de mon coeur »
    The French adaptation was crafted by a forgotten master wordsmith, Eddy Marnay (and sung by Michel Legrand, obviously).

    Here is the account of the Bergmans:

    ALAN: In The Thomas Crown Affair, the Steve McQueen character was a playboy who masterminded the robbery of a bank, and what he did for fun was to fly gliders. The character was flying the glider in a cloudless sky but he looks grim. Norman said that he wanted a song to underline the anxiety the character was feeling. Michel played us seven or eight melodies. We listened to all of them and decided to wait until the next day to choose one. We three decided on the same one, a long baroque melody.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      With all due respect, cher LKdj: bollocks.
      The song is treacle in any language. “A long baroque melody”?? Give me a break, Alan. It’s a poor imitation of a Ray Manzarek stoner jam.
      And get THIS stream of consciousness psychedelic crapola: “The Steve McQueen character was a playboy who masterminded the robbery of a bank, and what he did for fun was to fly gliders. The character was flying the glider in a cloudless sky but he looks grim. Norman said that he wanted a song to underline the anxiety the character was feeling.”
      Are you KIDDING me?? What a bunch of bull puckey!
      The film “The Thomas Crown Affair” is unescapably execrable. It is easily among the all-time worst films that either McQueen or Dunaway have been involved in (and both of them have been in some howling dogs). The on-screen chemistry between them was absolutely nil, the photography was dizzying (and not in a good way), and the plot was, to be charitable, drug-induced.
      Face it. The movie stinks, the song stinks.

      • Paul Carlile says:

        errhh… no! The account is historic & genuine. However, your comment does have more than a whiff of stink!

        • Greg Bottini says:

          Dear Mr. Carlile,
          I do not at all dispute LKdj’s retelling of the Bergmans’ account. I believe it to be accurate, and as you say, historic & genuine.
          I simply think the Bergmans are full of merde.
          I stand by my previous statement, prefacing it with the caveat that it is only my opinion, but an opinion nurtured by 65-plus years of enthusiastic movie-going and by 50-plus years of playing music professionally.
          To reiterate: the movie stinks, the song stinks.
          Errhh… yes!