Jacques Brel – Les Paumes du Petit Matin

First cover:

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Second cover:

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This 1962 EP was the first Brel 7″ to be issued by Barclay records, after Brel moved away from his first label Philips.

The songs are taken from Brel’s first 12″ (30 cm) album, known as “Les Bourgeois” (also released in a 10″ (25 cm) version), which contained studio versions of several songs first recorded for Philips.

I covered the songs “Les Paumes du Petit Matin” and “Madeleine” in my previous post about the live EP which saw the first release of these two tracks, so I’ll take some time below to talk about the themes in “Zangra” and “Rosa”…

“Zangra” tells the story of a soldier rising up the ranks while waiting for the enemy to attack so that he can claim to be a hero. While waiting for his time to come, he grows old while drinking and flirting. Each verse ends in the people around the narrator wanting to talk about the horses at the fort, signifying that they are not interested in Zangra himself – which is why he is so desperate for the enemy to come and make his life seem more noteworthy than it is. Eventually, his drinking buddy dies, Zangra becomes a General and retires. In a cruel twist of fate, this is when the enemy attacks, and the narrator realises that he will never be a hero.

The song functions as a precautionary tale to young recruits, for whom the army becomes more than a career, it becomes both a mindset and a way of life. It also reflects the themes of a youth wasted in the military, which Brel would go on to repeat in songs such as “L’Age Idiot”, and of joining the army for nefarious resons – in this case the search for glory, rather than patriotism or a sense of duty. This theme seems likely to have come from Brel’s own millitary service, which was compulsary in Belgium following WW2.

“Rosa” contains some interesting wordplay, particularly within the refrain, which is sung from the perspective of a schoolboy learning the Latin variants of the word ‘rose’. There are a few excellent lines which encapsulate Brel’s common themes of adventure and insignificance, including ones which see the narrator staring at puddles thinking of the explorer Vasco de Gama, as well as one which sees the narrator’s Latin test results (0s) compared to halos for St Francis.


Tracks

Side A:

  • “Les Paumes du Petit Matin”
  • “Zangra”

Side B:

  • “Madeleine”
  • “Rosa”

The tracks translate as: “The Lost Ones of the Early Morning”, “Zangra”, “Madeleine” and “Rosa”. ‘The Lost Ones’:

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