On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Jacques Brel – Ne me quitte pas (1959)
” Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t leave me”) is a 1959 song by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. It has been covered in the original French by many artists and has also been translated into and performed in many other languages. A well-known adaptation, with English lyrics by Rod McKuen, is ” If You Go Away”.
We’re over to Europe today and our story begins in Belgium but moves with today’s artist into France. Jacques Brel left Belgium in the mid-50s and made for France where his music career would take off in a country that felt more like home than Belgium ever would. He is an artist who would see some of his songs translated into English and then covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra and David Bowie. Brel also influenced a plethora of other singers as well. From his collection we have Ne me quitte pas (Don’t Leave Me).
Ne me quitte pas is an interesting song as a translation of the lyrics would suggest it is a love song. Not only is Brel beseeching someone to not leave him but in convincing them to stay he is making increasingly greater and even desperate promises to show his devotion. Brel sings of building a kingdom for this person, he wants them to know of a king who died for not knowing them, and by the end he wants to be a shadow, any kind of shadow, that is close to this person. It sounds romantic but Jacques Brel stated the song is more to do with the foolishness of men and how far they will humiliate themselves. Thinking of it from that perspective it makes sense but it sounds like someone foolish because of love.
Despite five years of learning French at school I still needed a translation for this one. The imagery in the translation is quite amazing and despite Brel’s insistence to the contrary, Ne me quitte pas does feel and sound like a sad love song. He did insist that women would interpret it as romantic and had no issue with this. I see both the romance and the foolishness of men in the words. It’s insightful to see so many influences for the artists we have still to visit on our journey and knowing that not all come from US shores.
Favourite songs so far: