Search - Jacques Brel :: Grand Jacques 1

Grand Jacques 1
Jacques Brel
Grand Jacques 1
Genres: World Music, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Broadway & Vocalists
  •  Track Listings (23) - Disc #1

Original Album. 23 Brel's Poems Including 'la Haine', 'le Diable', 'c'est Comme Ca' and More.


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CD Details

All Artists: Jacques Brel
Title: Grand Jacques 1
Members Wishing: 2
Total Copies: 0
Label: Polygram France
Release Date: 1/14/1998
Album Type: Import
Genres: World Music, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Broadway & Vocalists
Styles: Europe, Continental Europe, Vocal Pop, Euro Pop, French Pop, Cabaret
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 042281672026


Album Details
Original Album. 23 Brel's Poems Including 'la Haine', 'le Diable', 'c'est Comme Ca' and More.

CD Reviews

Just a few facts more...
Merilahti Kristiina | Finland | 11/26/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Recently Fondation Brel has released a collection of Brel's works, including the earliest and inedited ones from the end and the very beginning of Brel's career. Listening to them I found that 'Sur la place' in this record is already a 'new' arrangement. Originally Brel sang it with just his guitar as most of his first songs, this is done with Rauber's orchestra. If you get a chance to hear the earliest recordings, this song is a good example, how much it meant for Brel to get rid of the guitar and sing freely with a good arrangement backing him up. But since 1955 'Sur la place' wasn't done again, which is a shame, because with better sound quality it would sound wonderful. As many of these songs."
(3 out of 5 stars)

"When he started in the early 50's ,BREL was nicknamed L'ABBE by BRASSENS, because most of his songs dealt with his CATHOLIC upbringing.His first classic QUAND ON A QUE L'AMOUR is included here, but otherwise this is not the BREL most fans like to remember, and only his die hard fans should purchase that collection.There is a world between that BREL and the other(1962-68)much more cynical ,but also truer to his real personality."
Buy it for the fantastic song "Sur la place"!
J.S. | California, United States | 12/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Sur la place" ("In the Square") is a rare and lovely song, one of Brel's absolute best, with some of his most poetic images and an inspired orchestral arrangment by Francois Rauber. I rate the album 5 stars for this 10-star song alone, which is a must-have for any Brel enthusiast.

There are actually two versions of it on this disc: track 9 has the version accompanied by Brel on guitar alone, while track 15, which I prefer, has the full orchestra and that eerie "Ondes-Martenot" instrument, sounding very much like the "singing saw" one hears at rural county fairs in the USA or the Theremin instrument from which it was derived.

I'd like to thank Thelma Blitz for researching the "Ondes-Martenot" instrument, settling a big question in listeners' minds about what Brel used to produce that other-worldly sound in "Sur la place".

For the American "singing saw" instrument, a performer is seated and bends a wood saw between his knees, stroking the smooth side of the blade with a violin bow and varying the bend angle to change the pitch.

The "Ondes-Martenot" creates a similar sound using a keyboard connected to an electronic tone generator that sounds like a violin-flute hybrid, typically with 2 metal strips that produce glissando and vibrato effects when stroked with a finger.

The keyboard has made it a mainstream orchestral instrument in France, so mainstream composers like Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Faure and Messaien have created an extensive symphonic repertoire for the "Ondes-Martenot". It has also been used extensively in the soundtracks of Hollywood feature films and TV movies of the last 20 years. There are a number of bands that use it as well, including "Radiohead". Jacques Brel was in good company when he selected this instrument to represent the dog plaintively wailing at the end of this song ("Sur la place"), as well as to convey his grief and despair in the original version of his song "Ne Me Quitte Pas."

Two other excellent songs on this album are "Le diable - Ca va" ("The Devil - it's going okay") and "La Bastille" ("The Bastille"). See the song descriptions below for details:

1. La haine ("Hate")

In this poem Brel vents his bitterness at a lover who betrayed him, giving him 1,000 days of misery in exchange for one night of love.

2. Grand Jacques - C'est trop facile ("Big Jacques - It's too easy")

This is Brel's lament on how easy it is to pretend. Along the way he takes potshots at those who rely on priests to take their confession, those who claim at war's end that it will be the very last war, and at those who believe that love lasts a lifetime.

3. Il pleut "les carreaux" ("It's raining" / "The window panes")

Brel complains that girls who like to go out dancing choose partners who know how to bribe them with silly things, leaving him in the cold. Being the stalwart poet that he is, Brel consoles himself with a rooftop view in the rain of the city and of the dancing moon.

4. Le diable "Ca va" ("The devil - it's going okay")

This song begins with a spoken preamble in which Brel explains that one day the devil came to the earth to watch out for his interests, and after seeing and hearing everything he went home "down there" to deliver his report of how things are going on earth. It turns out the devil is quite satisfied with how things are going, due to shortages, fires, wars, train crashes, railway bombings, mass starvation, the stingyness of wealthy nations towards the poorest countries, and so on. Evidently not much has changed between 1955 when he wrote this song and today. . .

5. Il peut pleuvoir ("It can rain")

This is one of Brel's few lighthearted songs, in which he sings about how it can rain on the sidewalks of the big boulevards but he doesn't care because he's got his honey next to him.

6. Il nous faut regarder ("We have to look")

Brel prescribes a remedy for the misery one sees in the world around us, which he catalogs for us. His remedy is namely to look for and look at those things we can be grateful for, such as the beauty that exists in the world, the boat that returns from the sea, birds in the woods, and the prayers of children.

7. Le fou du roi ("The king's madman")

This is a cautionary tale about a crazy man who lived with a king in bygone days. He was in love with the queen, and it grieved him when he saw the queen cheating on his king with a handsome count during a 3-day game hunt. Upon his return to the castle, the madman reported all he had seen to the king. However, the king decided to decorate the count and to hang the madman, presumably for daring to suggest that his queen had misbehaved.

8. C'est comme ca ("It's like that")

In this song Brel sings about the pleasures and perils of the evil city versus the simple pleasures of the countryside.

9. Sur la place ("In the Square")

This is one of the most poetic and inspired songs of Brel's career, and this is one of the very few CDs where you can find it. In fact, there are two versions on this disc: track 9 features Brel playing his guitar to accompany his song with no other instruments, while track 15 features an inspired orchestral arrangement by Francois Rauber, my personal favorite.

The song is about a girl who dances in the warmth of the sun at noon in the village square, while the drowsy residents gaze at her through their window panes. She sings a hymn of love and goodness as she dances, and her song rises above the village. Eventually it gets too hot, and the people don't want to listen to her song, so they close their windows. People harden their hearts, plug up their ears and cover their eyes as their hearts grow old. The girl finally leaves, replaced by a dog that bewails death as mankind weeps at his destiny.

10. S'il te faut ("If you must")

In this song Brel laments people who have understood nothing of life. These are people who must have trains to flee toward adventure, daybreak to believe in the day after, for whom poetry is nothing more than a game. Their whole life is nothing but ageing, they must have boredom to find profundity, and fits of anger to feel strong.

11. La Bastille ("The Bastille")

The orchestra provides very martial sounding music evoking marching army drummers with plenty of trumpets and timpani.

Built in the 1300's under King Charles V, "La Bastille" was originally intended as a fortress to guard one of the city gates of Paris. By the 1700's, the French government was using it to bypass the French court system, engaging in arbitrary and secret imprisonment of persons of influence who they believed were covertly speaking out against government policies or officials.

The most famous example of this was Voltaire, the towering genius behind the French Enlightenment, who was imprisoned twice in the Bastille. The first time was due to insults made against a regent that were falsely ascribed to Voltaire; the second time he was beaten and then imprisoned due to a witticism he made at the expense of a young nobleman.

The storming of this notorious and much-hated Parisian prison by middle-class French citizens on July 14, 1789 resulted in the death of the governor and the freeing of 7 inmates, marking the start of the French Revolution. Till now "Bastille Day" is celebrated as a national holiday in France every July 14, in a similar spirit to our American July 4th Independence Day.

This song is Brel's warning to a communist revolutionary who wants to attain by fire, by blood and by civil war his political aims in post-WWII France. Brel sings about how that violent action didn't straighten out anything that needed fixing in society in 1789. Brel admonishes both sides that instead, "we should have just loved each other" and advises the present-day revolutionary that "no dream ever deserves a war."

This message concerning the Bastille resonates in the USA today, where the so-called "Patriot Act" enables our executive branch, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, to secretly seize and imprison our own citizens, holding them for years without ever charging them with any crime. Hopefully it won't take another American Revolution to win our government back from those who ignore the lessons of history.

12. Priere paienne ("The Pagan Prayer")

I'd like to express my thanks to Brel translator and Amazon.con reviewer Thelma Blitz for help with the meaning and lyrics of this song, which she summarizes this way: "The worldly, the carnal, the ordinary is also holy, that is, a prayer to Mary." Based on Thelma's inputs, I'd translate part of the song Brel sings this way: "Isn't it true Mary [the mother of Jesus] that it's like singing for you, when we seek to find in everything a thing of beauty? That singing for the child who will soon come to us is like singing for the child [Jesus] who rests in your arms?"

13. Il y a ("There is")

In this song Brel weaves together many disparate ideas, all tied together by a common structure: "there's so much of this, and so much of that, that there's none of something else." For example, "There's so much plowing, there's so much seed, that there's no joy in hoping." Or: "There are so many stained glass windows, there are so many church steeples, that there are no voices telling us to love." And: "There are so many canals that traverse the earth, that there are no wrinkles on mothers' faces." Most of the thoughts he expresses here seem to me to be without much merit. I'd venture to say that a more judicious editor or producer would have insisted on dumping this particular poem. . .

14. La foire ("The Fair")

In this light-hearted song, Brel reminisces about the joys of going to the county fair as a child to "get your head spun around on the Merry-Go-Rounds of russet horses to the sounds of silly music." Nostalgically he describes the sights, sounds and smells of fairs he enjoyed as a kid, telling us "The wheels turn, turn without rest, taking all our money and giving us a little piece of a dream. . ."

15. Sur la place ("In the Square")

This is my preferred version of the song that first appears on track 9 of this CD. Track 15 has the full orchestra and the inimitable "Ondes-Martenot" instrument accompanying Brel (that's the plaintive wailing sound at the end, no doubt representing the dog's sad howls at the end of the song).

Other highly recommended Jacques Brel CDs you can find on include:

Title (ASIN#) No. of Songs

Quand On N'a Que L'amour (B00000IYC9) 49 songs with 32 pages of photos and essay on Brel's life and songs (3-CD set)
Infiniment (B0002PUHGU) 40 songs with wonderful English translations (2-CD set)
Olympia '61 and '64 (B000BJ7D96) 30 songs with great English translations (2-CD set)
Ne Me Quitte Pas (B0000AKOLJ) 11 songs
Volume 1 - Grand Jacques (B00000DXQY) 15 songs including "Sur La Place"
Les Flamandes (B000006UOA) 21 songs
Les Bonbons (B0000AKOLD) 14 songs
Ballades Et Mots D'amour (B00003Q56T) 30 songs
Vol. 1-Special Edition (ASIN: B000042OFF) 16 songs
Master Series: Jacques Brel (B0000046O5) 16 songs (same songs as on Vol. 1-Special Edition)
Grand Jacques Integrale 172 Titres (B000025BD8) 172 songs (10-CD set)

What's even more fabulous than the CDs, however, is the 3 volume DVD set released in 2003: Jacques Brel: Comme quand on etait beau. (ASIN: B0000AQJPR). The set includes 7.5 hours of live and staged performances as well as interviews and home video footage. Everything that the heart of a Jacques Brel fan desires to capture the essence of this very theatrical artist in a way that an audio-only recording can not.

Also of tremendous interest: the VHS video "Jacques Brel" (ASIN: B0001P1XG4), a video biography on the life and music of Jacques Brel. Full length documentary features extensive live footage and interviews with Brel himself as well as his daughter and associates. It is also available on DVD, but only from Films Media Group.