Thursday, May 25, 2023

THROWBACK THURSDAY: All the Chapel Bells Were Ringing

Little Jimmy Brown, aka Jean-François Nicot.

He was baptized. He got married. He died and there was a funeral for him.

And at all three of these events CHURCH BELLS RANG!!!!!


I don't think so ...

Today I'm diving into a song that's haunted me since I was but a wee tot. Composed by Swiss songwriter Jean Villard Gilles, the song emerged from France under the title of "Les Trois Cloches." It soon jumped over the Atlantic, where it became famous as "The Three Bells."

The first recording, telling the life story of a small-town bboy named Jean-François Nicot, was by none other than Edith Piaff  in 1946 with a bunch of French fellers (Les Compagnons De La Chanson). Here's a live take by Edith and her compagnons in 1956:

Jean Villard Gilles is one of the few Swiss musicians I know who was never on Voodoo Rhythm Records. I don't know the date of this recording (the compilation it's on was release in 2017. Gilles died in 1982) but here's the songwriter singing his most famous tune:

"Cloches" soon rang in the U.S. with at least two translations. One -- with new French lyrics by Marc Herrand before it was translated into English by Dick Manning (who also co-wrote at least two Perry Como hit,  "Hot Diggity" and "Papa Loves Mambo") -- was called "The Angelus Was Ringing."  As shown by Frank Sinatra's 1949 version, this version didn't even mention poor Jean-François. It was about a guy reuniting with a lover at church.

But the American translation, simply called "The Three Bells," became even more popular. It was recorded by The Andrews Sisters as well as Edith Piaff herself. Jean-François Nicot was gone, but in his place, as the star of the baptism, wedding and funeral, was one Little Jimmy Brown (not to be confused with "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.")

But it didn't become a major hit in the U.S. until it was recorded by a country group called The Browns with lead singer coincidentally named Jim Ed Brown (his biggest solo hit was the 1967 honky tonk masterpiece "Pop a Top") along with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie.

This haunting version is the first I first heard as a child and still the one I love the best:

Through the years many other singers, including Johnny Cash (with The Carter Family), Andy Williams, Roy Orbison and, more recently Alison Krauss rang those three bells. I dig this take by Ray Charles

Finally, in the sacred words of The Dead Milkmen, "You can move to Montana and listen to Santana, but you still won't be as cool as Sha Na Na!"

For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook

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