Jacqueline Francois was one of the greatest singers and interpreters of French song. There are so many classic recordings, and some of the repertoire is considered cabaret. She exemplified a certain kind of charming, classy diva and was popular from her very first singles, and a global star a few years later. Born Jacqueline Guillemautot in 1922, she had a very long life in singing, recording countless, mostly French-penned, songs. Her voice, a rich alto with a ton of character and a certain smokiness throughout her range, is one of my favorite voices of all time. The feel of her voice on the microphone is something so soothing but commanding, hypnotic but laid-back.

“Mélancolie” (Melancholy) is a haunting, lesser known number which was written by the famous songwriting duo Al. Romans & Pierre Dudan. Recorded in 1951 for French Polydor, it features Jo Boyer and His Orchestra (who also worked with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Django Reinhardt) and Francois’ mesmerizing voice singing the lonesome lyric:                              (English translation is below)

Mélancolie un jour s’achève,
Mélancolie on n’y peut rien.
Chaque jour dans la fumée et dans l’alcool, on noie ses
rêves,
Seul, jusqu’au matin…
Et chaque nuit, ça recommence
Pour torturer le coeur trop lourd,
Le cafard dans la fumée et dans l’alcool, mène la danse
Jusqu’au jour.
Demain y aura d’ l’amour et d’ la lumière,
Peut-être bien, ça m’est égal…
Barman jusqu’au matin, remplis mon verre,
Je veux rêver que j’ai moins mal.
Mélancolie… tu nous enchaînes,
Plus fortement qu’un grand amour,
Un beau soir dans la fumée et dans l’alcool, on noie ses
peines

Melancholy one day ends,
Melancholy can’t be helped.
Every day in smoke and alcohol, we drown our
dreams,
Alone, until the morning…
And every night, it starts again
To torture the heavy heart,
The pointless depression in the smoke and in the alcohol, leads the dance
Until the day is over.
Tomorrow there will be love and light,
Maybe I don’t care…
Bartender till morning, fill my drink,
I want to dream that I have less pain.
Melancholy… you chain us,
Stronger than a great love,
One fine evening in the smoke and in the alcohol, we drown its pains

 

 

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This is a Thai luk thung 78 I found in a flea market in Chiang Mai. Luk thung, which translates to “children of the field”, is the name of a folk/country genre of music that developed in the central rural areas of Thailand after WWII. The sound can be described as traditional Siamese/Thai elements combined with Western musical instruments (mostly brass and electronic) and styles emerging in 1940s and 50s America.

I had the great luck of having my friend Oraboon “Taeng” Imchai Bulut from Doisaket, Thailand, translate the writing on this very rare disc. So, the artist is called Fascination and the song is “Love You Girl (Thai folk dance); and it is catalogue number R.H. 2001 on the Hong Barge label, which is one of hundreds of tiny, obscure labels operating at the time. I am guessing this is from around 1959. That’s about all know at this time, unfortunately, wish I knew more…

“Love You, Girl” is a beautiful melody sung in a strong tenor voice on top of a simple arrangement of accordion and percussion. The moody, serpentine slow groove and harmonic flutters from the accordion are all that’s needed to float the lover’s passionate incantation.

 

 

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This is a really swanky, swingin’ little instrumental number from 1955 on the TEEN label; it features piano and a drummer playing a small kit setup that includes one or two tambourines. It pulses along like a good-time get-together with the right party crowd, full of light-hearted merriment and boozy smiles all around.

“Dizzy Brown” was one of the many aliases of pianist, bandleader, orchestra leader, record producer and record company executive Bernie Lowe. He founded TEEN Records that same year, and also the Cameo label in 1956, both which were dedicated to rock, soul, doo-wop and folk rock groups. He also wrote or co-wrote many well-known hits in the 1950s and 60s, including Elvis’ “(Let Me Be) Your Teddy Bear”, Charlie Grace’s “Ninety-Nine Ways”, “Teen Age Prayer” by Gale Storm, and Chubby Checker’s “That’s The Way It Goes”, as well as many Bobby Rydell tunes that charted. Lowe was quite important to the growth of rock-n-roll during this era just as it was entering the true mainstream of American music.

 

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Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958), American blues legend.

Born in Mississippi, he played guitar, piano and bass, and went on to pen many blues standards, and copyrighted over 300 of them. Also, he was one of the founding faculty of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music , in 1953.

His sides on Paramount and Vocalion (where he is sometimes called “Willie Broomzy”) are typically hard to find, they’re expensive, and are almost always pretty beat up from the jukebox joints etc. “I’ll Start Cutting On You”, a 1938 country blues on Vocalion #04095 is no exception – it is roughed-up and scratchy; but I love this tune and it still comes up wonderfully from under the hiss, promise (you could also very easily adjust the treble settings on your EQ for a less lived-in sound, and you would still enjoy the bouncy beauty of this rare pre-war gem)! Happiness.

 

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This gospel quartet caught-on in the U.S. national scene in the 1940s and kept up their popularity & musical quality into the 50s. The great Ray Charles has said that the Pilgrim Travelers, and particularly their baritone Jesse Whitaker, influenced him and his then developing musical style: a brew of blues, gospel and jazz which would eventually come to be known as “soul” music.

This acapella take of “I Was There When the Spirit Came” is vocally tight, light and snappy, especially much of the accompaniment behind the lead.  On the Specialty label out of L.A., which was known for its many excellent black rock & roll and gospel sides, this is a pretty clean copy with plenty of lustre on the shellac, and the voices are clear and really ring out so beautifully.

 

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Mr. Olvera was born three days before Christmas 1936, in Aguascalientes, Mexico. He was blinded by lightning at the age of seven months, became a piano prodigy later on, and around 13yo began to play the Hammond organ in the Guadalajara restaurant where he worked. He eventually developed an original technique of gradually opening the organ bars in ways which created vocal inflections, to make the organ sound as if it was singing words! The first big success with his new style was this 1956 78, “Pancho Lopez”, a take on the popular “Ballad of Davy Crockett.” On the RCA label, recorded in Mexico, and such a very creative, colorful cover of this timeless frontier classic.

 

Ernesto Hill Olvera - Pancho Lopez

Willie “Billy” Gales was Ike Turner’s drummer during the 1940s and 50s, but he did cut a few sides as a singer in his lifetime. This tune, “If I Never Had Known You” is a Turner original; is a lyric about feeling low and ashamed (and grateful); is sung so tenderly, but in the way of a powerful gospel singer confessing himself to his congregation.

This is on Federal Records out of Cincinnati, which was actually Mr. James Brown’s first label. Released in 1956, it has that warm, hi-fi fidelity which is a feature of many great 1950s-era 78 rpm recordings.

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