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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Born Alexandra Nicholas Badran in 1924, in Mersin, Turkey, to Lebanese parents, she changed her name to Nour el Houda (“Light of Guidance”) just as she was becoming a famous actress and singing star. During her long career, which began at ten years old, El Houda recorded a huge chunk of classical, religious and popular Arabic songs and is considered one of the greatest Lebanese singers. For her tone, intonation, power and control, she was hailed as “the Girl with the Golden Voice” and was a cultural sensation for almost 30 years.

“Ala Oum el Manadili” is mostly a big, insistent groove and melody which eventually open up into a slow, bare, and moody bridge section that allows you to really hear her incredible vocal talent, before taking it back to the top for a fierce finale. Besides the lead voice and backing singers, the instruments I hear are the mijwiz (a reed clarinet), tablah, the buzuq (strings, long-fretted neck and a tone like a viola), and handclaps. The arrangement and the sounds are pretty typical for middle 1950s, popular Arabic recordings.

This is a song on two sides, so I edited them together in Logic Pro.

 

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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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I can’t find any information whatsoever about this duo, Jack and Betty, who seem to be lost to history at this point. And it also seems like this is their only record: TEEN 107A, “Satisfied Mind” and 107B, “This Is My Story”.

From 1955, “Satisfied Mind” made a moderate-sized splash as a popular jukebox rendition of this Red Hayes & Jack Rhodes C+W classic which has been covered many times since it was first recorded that same year. Even Jeff Buckley, the 1990s NYC songbird who tragically died way too young at 30yrs old, did a cover of this tune, which is really amazing, and it is available on the Columbia Records release “Live at Sin-E” (Legacy Edition.) This, however, is my favorite take of this beautiful secular hymn. Jack plays the rhythm guitar and Betty plays the organ, and they sing in harmony virtually the whole time. There is also an unknown electric guitar player plucking some great sounding lead lines, wish I knew who that was… The simplicity of the arrangement, the passion in the playing and the singing, and just one hell of a lyric, make for a powerful, haunting piece of Americana.

 

 

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“White Silver Sands” is a famous pop song written in 1957 by Red Matthews and covered quite often thereafter, but this Don Rondo & Billy Rock Orchestra version has a cheerful, bop-country rock feel and the melody is fun to hum (and can get stuck in yer’ head)

“Where the deep blue pearly waters
Wash upon white silver sands
There on the brink of love I kissed her
And obeyed our hearts command
Where the deep blue pearly waters
Wash upon white silver sands
We watched the sun set in the evening
In a far and distant land”

 

On the NYC Jubilee Records label, Rondo scored a Billboard #7 chart hit with this one the same year Matthews wrote it.

 

 

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On the rare La Belle Creole label, this Haitian 78 rpm of Guy du Rosier singing the rollicking, self-penned calypso “Mathilda” is a real treasure; and not only because it is basically impossible to find in any shape. Around 1948 Du Rosier and his Rhythm recorded this lively performance filled with masterful percussion, rock solid & perfectly playful piano by Bebo Valdes (father of the very famous contemporary pianist Chucho Valdes), and an energetic vocal take which was just loose enough to catch the island feeling but not lose the ensemble nuances that you need to pull off this kind of laid-back sound. Later on, in the 1950s, Harry Belafonte would do his own version of this tune to great acclaim, but this lesser-known original take (on a super clean shellac – yes!) is the one I prefer every time.

Edith Piaf once called Mr. Du Rosier, a calypso star from an early age, ”the living breath of Haiti.”

 

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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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