Few French singers enjoyed a career as long and productive as Charles Trenet, who, in a span of about sixty years, wrote and recorded countless songs, toured tirelessly, and even published several novels and books of poetry. Some of the best songs he introduced achieved international popularity through English versions performed by the likes of Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. That is the case of "La Mer," which became a big hit for Darin as "Beyond the Sea," and the beautiful ballad "Que Reste-t-Il de Nos Amours?" which was covered in English by many artists under the title of "I Wish You Love." Trenet's ebullient stage persona, his theatrics, and his jazz-tinged singing style influenced a whole generation of French singers, including Jean Sablon, Yves Montand, Georges Brassens, Léo Ferré, and Jacques Brel, so his importance in the universe of the French chanson should not be underestimated.
|Maurice Chevalier, Trenet's early singing influence|
"Ménilmontant," "Retour à Paris," "Douce France," and "Que Reste-t-Il de Nos Amours." Sometimes he even sang texts by famous poets set to music, as in the case of the lovely "Verlaine," which he recorded with Alix Combelle's Jazz de Paris combo in 1941. This recording brought about criticism from collaborationist journalists who believed that jazz (a style of music which, we must not forget, was labeled "undesirable music" by the Nazis) should not be mixed with the work of a serious poet like Paul Verlaine, whose "Chanson d'Automne" is the basis for this song. Trenet's star rose particularly after the war, and by the 1950s he was an internationally known artist who was touring widely and whose songs were recorded by singers in several languages other than French, and in 1951 he even appeared on television in the United States for the first time. Throughout his career, he got to visit the U.S. and Canada several times, and in fact, his popularity in Canada was one of the main reasons that persuaded him not to retire from recording and performing live in the 1970s.
"Je Chante," "Verlaine," "Ménilmontant," and "Que Reste-t-Il de Nos Amours," among several others. The musicianship of the backing bands is outstanding here, as Trénet joins forces with Alix Combelle, Wal-Berg, Bernard Hilda, and even dazzling swing guitarist Django Reinhardt on "La Cigale et La Fourmi." A more comprehensive collection is the two-CD import Chanson 1937-1960 (BD Music, 2011), which contains 48 tracks, very detailed liner notes in French, and even an account of parts of Trenet's life in the form of a full-color comic book. Another interesting French import is 100 Chansons (EMI France, 2007), a five-disc set that offers, well, one hundred tracks by Trenet, and finally, Definitive Collection (Not Now Records, 2010) is a fairly inexpensive way to get introduced to seventy-five of his best songs, with good sound quality but, alas, no notes or personnel information.