Jacques Brel - BREL CD REVIEWS

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La haine
Grand Jacques (C'est trop facile)
Il pleut "Les carreaux"
Le Diable "Ca va"
Il peut pleuvoir
Il nous faut regarder
Le fou du roi
C'est comme ca
Sur la place (with Andre Grassi)

S'il te faut | 45RPM EP/432043BE
La Bastille |
Priere paienne 45RPM EP/432126B
Il y a
La foire
Sur la place (61) (with Francois Rauber)



Quand on n'a que l'amour (56)
(with Andre Popp)
Qu'avons–nous fait, bonnes gens
Les pieds dans le ruisseau
La bourree du celibataire
L'air de la betise
Saint Pierre
J'en appelle
Les bles

Quand on n'a que l'amour (60)
(with FranCois Rauber)



Demain l'on se marie
Au printemps
Je ne sais pas
Le colonel
Dors ma mie, Bonsoir
La lumiere jaillira
Dites, si c'etait vrai (58)
L'homme dans la cite
Litanies pour un retour


Dites, si c'etait vrai (56): 45RPM EP / 432126 BE



La valse a mille temps
La dame patronnesse
Je t'aime
Ne me quitte pas
Les Flamandes
La mort
La tendresse
La colombe



Le moribond
Vivre debout
On n'oublie rien
Le prochain amour (March 61)
Les prenoms de Paris
Les singes

Marieke (en flamand)
Laat me niet alleen (Ne me quitte pas)
De apen (Les singes)
Men vergeet niets (On n'oublie rien)
Le prochain amour (February 61)



Les prenoms de Paris
Les bourgeois
Les paumes du petit matin
Les Flamandes
La statue
Les biches
Les singes
La valse a mille temps
Ne me quitte pas
Le moribond
Quand on n'a que l'amour



Les bourgeois
Les paumes du petit matin
Le plat pays
Une ile
Chanson sans paroles
Les biches
Le caporal Casse–Pompon
La statue

Il neige sur Liege
Pourquoi faut–il que les hommes
s'ennuient ? (from the movie "Un roi sans divertissement")



Les bonbons
Les vieux
La parlote
Le dernier repas
Au suivant
Les toros
La Fanette
Les filles et les chiens
Les bigotes
Les fenetres

Quand maman reviendra: 45RPM EP / 70.491 BE
Les amants de coeur



Les timides
Le dernier repas
Les jardins du casino
Les vieux
Les toros
Tango funebre
Le plat pays
Les bonbons
Les bigotes
Les bourgeois
Au suivant



Ces gens–la
La chanson de Jacky
Les bergers
Tango funebre
L'age idiot
Les desesperes

45 tours EP / 71.112 BE - 4 titles:
Mijn vlakke land (Le plat pays)
Rosa (in Dutch)
De burgerij (Les bourgeois)
De nuttelozen van de nacht
(Les paumes du petit matin)



Mon enfance
Le cheval
Mon pere disait
La la la
Les coeurs tendres
Fils de
Les bonbons 67
La chanson des vieux amants
A jeun
Le gaz

Les moutons



Je suis un soir d'ete
Regarde bien petit
Comment tuer l'amant de sa
femme quand on a ete eleve
comme moi dans la tradition
Un enfant
La biere

La chanson de Van Horst
(from the movie "Le bar de la fourche")
L'enfance: 45RPM SINGLE/ 61789 (from the movie"Le Far West")



Un animal
Vraiment je ne pense qu'a lui
Le casque d'or de Mambrino
Chacun sa Dulcinea
Pourquoi fait–il toutes ces choses
La quete
Sans amour
Le chevalier aux miroirs
La mort
– Dulcinea (reprise)
– La quete (reprise)
– L'homme de la Mancha (reprise)
– De profundis
– Le final



Ne me quitte pas
On n'oublie rien
Les Flamandes
Les prenoms de Paris
Quand on n'a que l'amour
Les biches
Le prochain amour
Le moribond
La valse a mille temps
Je ne sais pas



La ville s'endormait
Le bon Dieu
Les F
Les remparts de Varsovie
(from the musical comedy "Vilebrequin")
Voir un ami pleurer
(from the musical comedy "Vilebrequin")
Knokke–le–Zoute Tango
(from the musical comedy "Vilebrequin")
Le lion
Les Marquises

5 unpubished recordings:
Sans exigences
with elegance
Mai 40
L'amour est mort
La cathedrale



A deux
Dites si c'etait vrai
Les gens
La haine
DepartsLe Diable 'Ca va'
Qu'avons nous faites
L'ange dechu
Les pieds dans le ruisseau
LA bastille
Ce qu'il vous faut
L'accordeon de la vie
Je suis l'ombre des chansons
S'il te faut
Les paves
Le fou du Roi
La foire
Sur la place
Il peut pleuvoir
Les deux fauteuils
Les enfants du roi
Le troubadour

Il nous faut regarder
C'est comme Ca
Si tu revenais
Le pendu


To date, the integral Brel edition Boit Integrale assembles the largest list of the known recorded heritage of Jacques Brel. Therefore it is the main subject of these pages. In reviewing it, I focussed on the inedits and the rarities rather than on the overfamiliar songs.

Jacques Brel Boit Integrale | Integral edition on 16 cds.

Label: Universal | Fondation Jacques Brel


For those who are new to Brel while knowing all about Bowie it may come as a shock to learn that it was French language Brel who influenced Bowie and not the other way around. This becomes abundantly clear when comparing Bowie's Brel–tribute 'Rock'n Roll Suicide' with Brel's 'Jef'. Bowie's 'Oh no love, you're not alone' is a literal translation of Brel's 'Non Jef, tu es pas seul', which also applies to the climax in the music. And there is a more subtle paraphrase too, where Bowie kisses Brel's antihero 'Jef' in his opening line ''Chev' brakes are snarling.'' And Bowie is not alone in his admiration. A more obvious example is Terry Jacks, whose evergreen 'Seasons in the sun' is one of the best known tunes in Western popular music. Yet Jacks did not paraphrase Brel in the way Bowie did. Brel simply wrote the song! Its original French title being 'Le moribond | The moribund'.

Perhaps songs like The Beatles' 'Yesterday' and The Rolling Stones' 'Play with fire' would have sounded different if Brel hadn't composed 'Ne me quitte pas' (recorded by Frank Sinatra as 'If you go away') but that is not of the greatest importance here. What does matter is the revised 2003 complete Brel edition on 16 cds, which outclasses the former 1988 integral edition on 10 cds. That first integral edition was so badly produced that sixties remakes of fifties originals were mixed up in the final product. This resulted in the well documented mix up of authors and co–authors (Brel seldom wrote his songs alone) and apart from that, there was quite a lot missing that should have been included. An easy example is the absent musical L'Homme de la mancha | Man of la mancha which features his most famous songs: 'La quete de Don Quixotte ('Rever un impossible reve | Dream an impossible dream). And worse: Polygram even negelected a number of genuine songs like Brel's first Dutch language single 'De Apen | The Monkeys | Les Singes' and 'Men vergeet niets | On n'oublie rien | They forget nothing'.

Rumor has it that Brel's heirs hunted down every possible copy of the original in order to prevent it from popping up somewhere on a bootleg. Whatever the reasons for all these omissions and mistakes in the 1988 edition, the good news is that all of them have been corrected in the spectacular new 16 cd edition Boit integrale | Can complete. In fact, it is so complete that I found myself craving loose ends, which I finally found in the accompanying textleaflets that all mention Barclay as publisher for all Philips recordings prior to 1962 (the year when Brel transferred to Barclay). But this is a minor detail when one acknowledges that Universal issued all original 7", 10" and 12" vinyl issues, adding every possible later remake as a bonus along with the mix–ups from the previous issue, all now presented in their proper place. All that is so immaculate that a fan could easily burst into tears over it, although it should basically be normal to release integral issues in this way.

The 1953 Hasselt recordings

Therefore the true value of the Boit integrale lies elsewhere. Universal and the co-producing Brel Foundation have joined forces in order to issue as many unique items as possible, and unique naturally does not refer to the regular vinyl issues and their alternative takes as mentioned above. The big catch on the Boit Integrale are the complete radio recordings Brel made at the Flemish Hasselt Studios in two sessions from the year 1953 (cd 16). For decades these concerts had been thought lost until radio host Jef Claessen himself discovered them in a forgotten corner of his house. Invaluable, though not a recording premiere, as the obscure Canadian label XXI released the bulk of these copyright free 1953 recordings on a single cd some months before the Boit Integrale hit the shelves of the recordstores. 

The sessions are about the earliest testimonies we have of Brel's career. The singer had just returned disillusioned from his first stay in Paris where he had notoriously failed. Of all people, the Flemish unexpectedly came to his aid when local BRT–director Jef Claessen invited Brel for two complete radio recitals. The songs he performs there will form his basic repertoire until the beginning of 1957. Naturally this is not the great Brel, but they are invaluable for a better understanding of his biography and invaluable for following his development as a singer/ songwriter. Listening to the Hasselt sessions is like witnessing the very conception of songs like 'Ca va, Le diable | All is well', The devil' and 'La haine | Hate'. Here young, monochrome-voiced Brel searches for lost chords on the guitar that he would not find until three years later.

Never released before

Perhaps it is precisely the competition from the XXI label that caused Universal to release the complete sessions instead of the partial 13 track release that had been announced. And things get better, since Brel's widow Miche generously donated her personal copy of the unique 'Si tu revenais | If you return' from an early Swiss radio show. In addition to that, the Dutch KRO broadcast corporation donated the long lost unique performance of 'Le pendu | The hung one', a beautiful song that Brel banned from his repertoire immediately after having premiered it on the KRO Domino show because he was aghast at the scenic demands of the KRO director.

As good as those things mentioned above may sound, the Boit Integrale is still not emptied with it. In fact, the best is yet to come, if one considers the twenty five years of fighting over the pros and cons of releasing his last five songs ever: 'Sans exigences', 'with elegance', 'Mai 40', 'L'amour est mort' and 'La cathedrale'. These are all rejected takes from his final 1977 album BREL (cd 15). The mortally ill singer made this album on his remaining lung and, upon Brel rejecting these five songs, Barclay boss Eddy Barclay vowed never to release them. Brel's heirs subsequently opposed all plans to release them, but apparently time and commercial motives eased the pain.Their release on this edition set France aflame with protest, but Brel's widow answered to the commotion by stressing the fact that Brel did not leave a written testimony of his ban of the release of the recordings. However, this reviewer posesses a handwritten letter by Eddy Barclay in which he promises Brel that they will never leave the vault in which they rest. Nevertheless Barclay himself released one of them as early as the eighties of the twentieth century ('Mai 40 | Mei 40', which he sold out to Frederic Rossif who needed to spice up his documentary on Brel). Brel's daughter France Brel subsequently launched a severe attack on Barclay in the press, in which she fulminates against his 'betrayal'. France repeats this attack in her own Brel discography, and yet, this is the same daughter who co-signed for the integal release of these 5 songs on these Universal discs! But perhaps that discussion is beyond the point of this review, where the foremost question concerns the value of the songs. There Brel was right: in spite of the fine texts, these songs are still in their infancy, except perhaps the second part of 'La cathedrale | The cathedral'. As such these five unreleased songs are merely stuff for buffs, but nothing that justifies the sleepless nights some people have had over them.


No omissions then? Well yes, there are some, provided one would consider them as such: Brel wrote a number of instrumental songs and, in addition, some hits for others, but perhaps these aren't very much missed as he isn't singing in them. That changes when it comes to his recitation of a poem in the Marie–Claire magazine Christmas record 'Un soir a Bethleem | An evening in Bethlehem' and the curious Nord Studio edition 'Nos amis les mineurs | Our friends the miners'. On the latter single, Brel recounts the lives of the miners for a full 20 minutes. Though he is not singing, this is basically one of the holy (and very expensive) grails in Brel collectors' land. Less rare are Prokofjev's 'Peter and the Wolf'' and Poulencs 'Babar', as they were issued on an official cd before. The same goes for a cd with a number of takes from different live recordings (Barclay 559 231–2).

Perhaps the only real omission is his duet version of 'Sur la place | At the square' with Simone Langlois and. In addition to that, there are some live recordings known to exist from Les Trois Baudets – the club where he started his career. Also the alledged Dutch language version of 'Quand on n'a que l'amour | If one has nothing but love' is missing. Yet in spite of their rarity, these omissions do not add much to all that has been assembled here, especially as the simultaneously released 3 dvd issue is literally loaded with additional sound and image! Perhaps the remaining omissions should be seen as a gesture to the devoted collector!

On the the art of remastering

When it comes to breaking one's head, it must be over the splendid technical remastering of these songs that outdo anything that has been done with Brel thus far. His voice sounds more engulfing and warmer than ever. In fact, it sounds very much like it sounded on the original vinyl. In his great recordings ('Ne me quitte pas', 'Le valse a mille temps', 'Amsterdam', 'Jef', 'Le moribond', 'Marieke' the Belgian singer sounds even more modern than before. And there we touch upon the very heart of Brel, who never sounds dated, whereas any song of Charles Aznavour or Gilbert Becaud immediately evokes the year it was recorded. Brel employed some features of French chanson but never used its cliche orchestrations in his best songs, taking a more classical approach.

The companion booklet

Concerning the Boit Integrale a small word has to be said regarding the accompaning booklet included with this spectacularly designed box. The booklet in the old 10" format is a small remake of the large format book that accompanied Bruxelles major 2003 Brel expo 'Le droit de rever | The right to dream'. There are many photos, reproduced posters, songtexts and documents in facsimile surrounding the tracklists that are spread out over the booklet. A real collectors' item which – like everything else in the box – is designed to impress. Normally this would give rise to a climactic phrase concluding this review, but unfortunately there is one major complaint regarding all this glitter and glamour: it is arrogantly and unforgivably issued solely in French language. No English and not even Dutch translations are given! It seems to be that the francophone anti Dutch climate in Bruxelles is matched by the chauvinism of Universal France toward the Anglosaxon world. I wish George W. Bush could be blamed for this as well as for the current paranoia in the world, but alas! Its plain arrogance! And I am not writing on my own behalf : I do speak French.

Despite this small point of criticism, Universal's integral Brel edition is the gift of a lifetime to lovers of the best that French artsong has to give – RS.