I now present another instrumental. In fact, this is the only time in the entire rock era that an instrumental followed another instrumental in the number one spot. Previously, we had “Lisbon Antigua” and now there is “Poor People of Paris”. For you trivia enthusiasts out there, out of all the number one songs in the rock era (which I estimate to be just under 900 songs between 1955 and 2000,) there are only five which contain cities that are not in the United States. I’ve already discussed Lisbon, now there is Paris. The other three are Calcutta, Winchester and Glasgow. Can you guess the names of the songs which include those names?
“Poor People of Paris” was originally a French song called “La Goulante du Pauvre Jean” which means “The Ballad of Poor John.” The music was written by Marguerite Monnot and the words were written by Rene Rouzaud. It was sung by the great Edith Piaf and was a big hit for her. A representative of Capitol Records was in Paris and heard the song and thought it could be made into an American hit, so he cabled home the title of the song, only when doing so, he misspelled the last word as gens, instead of Jean. Gens mean people in french, so instead of the song being about poor John, it became about the poor people. Of course, the Les Baxter version has no words.
Les Baxter was a musical child prodigy, learning the piano at the age of five and eventually studying at the Detroit Conservatory of Music. He became a conductor and worked on many radio shows in the Thirties, including Bob Hope’s show and Abbott and Costello.
In 1956, the adult public was trying to hold on to the music of the Forties, the big bands and the vocalists, as the kids were moving music in a totally new direction.
“Poor People of Paris” reached number one in March of 1956 and stayed there for six weeks.
There are several YouTube videos of this song, but I choose this one because it was recorded from a 78 RPM Record and you can hear the surface noise. That really brings back memories of a time when everything wasn’t perfect.
Next: The king himself. We finally get to Elvis, “Heartbreak Hotel” – Elvis Presley