This 1962 EP comes in two distinct variants – one version containing the ‘official’ versions of the songs (the versions that appear on CD and on the subsequent albums), and another version which contains alternative takes of the songs.
The two variants have exactly the same cover design – which makes it hard to distinguish between them, however the version containing the alternate takes utilises a yellow and red label design, rather than the normal Barclay Records label.
The alternate takes appear on the very first pressing of this release and sound very different to the final, rerecorded versions. For example, different instrumentation is used and Brel sings different phrases throughout the song. Most distinctly, the alternative takes are recorded with lower sound quality, which I’ve them a demonstration-like feel.
For the first time ever on the internet, here is a digitised version of the demonstration version of ‘Les Filles Et Les Chiens’. As you can hear, the version is completely different to the known version of this song.
Similarly, ‘Les Bigotes’ and ‘La Parlotes’ are also drastically different to the well-known versions.
‘Les Bigotes’ or ‘The Bigots’, which I have translated here, is a striking composition which contains one of the first examples of a musical drone in pop music – a feature that would be used to great effect years later by bands such as the Velvet Underground. The drone in this case appears to be performed on the accordion.
The lyrics of ‘Les Bigotes’ deal with religious conservative culture and are a scathing criticisms, particularly of Catholic women in the same vein as the earlier single ‘Les Flamandes’. The first verse depicts the ‘bigots’ taking primitive little steps towards confession, describing how their faith has sapped all of the joys of living from them. Brel describes the ‘bigots’ as obedient little dogs who have confused love with ‘holy water’. In the first pre-chorus, Brel puts himself in the position of both the devil and god as he watches the believers; singing that if he was god watching them, he would become an atheist – such is his disdain for their bigoted behaviour!
In the third verse, the accordion – an instrument typically associated with the working classes – joins the other instruments and the drums break out into a waltz as Brel describes workers celebrating after coming home from work; seconds later the music dies back down as Brel contrasts this image with the Catholic girls in their houses hiding from working class men.
Later, Brel elaborates on the stuck-up nature of the ‘bigotes’ through the visceral metaphor of them having a “diamond up their ass” – the latter word censored in the released version of the song.
In the last stanzas, Brel’s attempt at ridiculing the believes of the ‘bigots’ is its most severe – he describes them dying, being buried and then “in the heavens that don’t exist” angels mockingly making halos and wings to welcome them.
In ‘Quand Maman Reviendra’ or ‘When Mother Returns’, the narrator speaks from the viewpoint of a child – which can be seen by the simplistic language used – although the end of each verse mentions being 20 years old, which has led some people to take this song as a criticism of the fact that in France, at the time that this song was released, people were not classed as legal adults until the age of 21. The lyrics depict the narrator’s family members returning home from various situations: the mother in this song is returning from a love affair, the bother is returning from prison, the site is returning from Paris, and the father is returning from the bar. The idea is that the narrator has first-hand experienced of the struggles of adult life, however as he is one year younger than the age of majority he is still treated as a child.
Alternatively, the song could be read from the perspective of a child whose childhood has been stolen from him through a troubled home life, or an adult reminiscing about the innocence of youth.
‘Les Filles Et Les Chiens’ or ‘The Girls and the Dogs’ is a comic song that went on to be covered by Scott Walker. The lyrics compare the ways that girls and dogs treat men respectively – to surmise, girls treat men badly and act with ulterior motives whereas dogs are just dogs, which is why we “love them”. At the end of the song, however, is an interesting twist – even though through the song dogs are compared favourably to girls, the narrator sings that they would throw the dog out to please a girl anyway – and thus the song becomes more of a comment on the nature of men.
‘La Parlote’ or ‘The Gossip’ is another comic song in which Brel describes a woman who likes to spread rumours as part of her small talk. The lyrics shift between poetic descriptions of the gossiper being “half fakir, half vandal” whose words mark the “epitaphs on the headstones” of love affairs, to a courtesan who “chats shit” and wakes up after nights out between two men.
Click the song title to view my translations.
- Les Bigotes
- Quand Maman Reviendra
- Les Filles Et Les Chiens
- La Parlote