August 1, 2021

The last Romantic

The last Romantic

In his beginnings as a composer, Charles Aznavour joined forces with a great singer and composer, Gilbert Becaud. Together they composed fashionable songs in the fifties. They were the generational replacement of Charles Trenet and Maurice Chevalier in the "chanson". "Me-que, me-que" was one of his greatest successes and under the love protectorate of Édith Piaf both managed to make fashionable songs with a jazz aftertaste. The influx of American music by Glenn Miller and the Andrew Sisters, brought by the troops with the popular records of the Victoria, made the "boogie woogie" fashionable in Europe. For Piaf, Aznavour wrote "Jézébel", and as most of the young people the artist adopted were her lovers: Yves Montand, Gilbert Becaud and Georges Moustaki. He helped all of them to conquer stardom, as he did with his last lover, the Greek Théo Sarapo.

With Gilbert Becaud, the phenomenon of fans was born in France, which will culminate with the Yeye singers. Aznavour, however, seemed resigned to remain as a gifted composer, until Bruno Coquatrix convinced him to sing at the Olympia in Paris in 1956 and recorded his first hit: «Sur ma vie». His cascading voice, a little hoarse and raspy, was perfect for a new kind of romantic song straddling the "chanson" and the yeyé music. But the importance of Aznavour as "crooner" resided in his approach to the romantic song. He was the first to speak of the act of love in a poetic but direct way. The subject that made him a different author was "Après l'amour", in which, without hesitation, he talks about sex, and from that moment in which the bodies relax, the limbs are heavy and the breath panting.

In all his songs, especially those about romantic love, the lack of love and the tragedy of abandonment, these phrases slip over "conjugate the verb love your neighbor" of "Trousse Chemise." But it was not until the late 60's when he composed "Isabelle", a theme that was ahead of "Je t'aime, moi non plus", in which between gasps and sighs simulated an orgasm on a Baroque musical background. It was published in Spain but its broadcasting was prohibited, although it was published in Spanish. Another of the facets that distinguished him from the "chanson", understood in the style of icons such as Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel, was his tendency to mix it with jazz rhythms and thriving rock, homologous with the song yeyé and the new style of performing its themes, without renouncing the drama, distinctive sign from Piaf to Montand and Brel.

Like a painter with his muse

Aznavour liked to stage his songs. All of them had a strong narrative component, typical of the poetry of Prevert and Aragon. In "La bohême", written for a Parisian operetta, the singer gestured like the Bohemian painter of Montmartre cleaning an imaginary brush, touching the curve of a breast or the hip of his muse that posed nude. The beginning of his career as a pop singer was with "Il faut savoir" and "Et pourtant". Two themes next to the yeyé generation. He participated in the film «Cherché l'idole» (1964) with the greatest exponents of the pop song: Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan, for whom he composed two of his most successful songs: «Retiens la nuit» and «La plus belle pour aller danser ».

Since then, his musical career is on the rise and culminates with two compositions that made him an international idol: "Que c'est triste Venise", which had a Spanish version like "Venice without you" and "Hier Encore". Both were translated into English, the first with relative success in the voice of Bobby Darin, while the second a real bombshell since Dusty Springfield versioned it as "Yesterday When I Was Young" and made it a worldwide success. Hundreds of singers performed their version of that "Ayer Yet" by Aznavour, from Shirley Bassie and Andy Williams to Julio Iglesias. Like most of his romantic songs, Aznavour suffers with the unhappy loves and the disappointments of everyday life, which makes that amorous flash in routine. But between the lack of love and the longing for lost time, was the first composer to teach several generations to freely conjugate the verb love without giving up to explicit sexuality of the act of love, just when the hippies discovered in turn free love.


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