NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and it’s been a busy couple of weeks.
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OK, I have no idea whether you’ll find this week’s trivia question to be easy or hard, but here we go: What do the following musicians have in common? We have:
And Paul Carrack. What do all those guys have in common? I’ll have that answer for ye at the end of the show.
I’ve been on a little bit of a kick lately with the songs that have foreign lyrics in them. Not like I did back in Episode 50, which focused on songs that were entirely, or nearly so, not in English, but on songs where a line, or a verse, isn’t in English. Today we’re going to peek at a couple more songs in that genre. Is that a genre? It is now, I guess.
And I’m willing to bet that, for a couple of them anyway, you’re going to be a little bit surprised.
So I’m going to start by telling you a little bit about a movie from 1960, called Les Yeux Sans Visage. It’s a horror film, but it’s not a gory one. There are a lot of humanistic themes in it. It’s about a gifted plastic surgeon who is involved in a car accident which badly disfigures his beautiful daughter. The surgeon begins to kidnap young women so that he can remove their faces and graft them onto his daughter to restore her looks. And because the grafts keep failing, the daughter is forced to wear a plastic mask with very plain features, so that only her eyes are visible. Meanwhile the doctor keeps obsessively kidnapping women and stealing their faces. The daughter has become essentially eyes without a face, and the doctor, having blinded himself to the monster he’s become, is a face without eyes.
[EYES WITHOUT A FACE]
It’s a truly chilling film, and even if you’re watching it with subtitles, you will be genuinely riveted by it.
This film, and the title in particular, were the inspiration for Billy Idol’s 1984 song “Eyes Without a Face”, which is the English translation for “Les Yeux Sans Visage.” Now, the song’s lyrics don’t echo the plot of the movie, it’s one of Idol’s softer and more introspective tunes. In the song, Idol is basically wallowing in guilt for having ruined a relationship, and now he’s coming to terms with just how petty he’s been. And the female voice you hear during the song, which is provided by his girlfriend at the time, backup singer and dancer Perri Lister. And she’s singing…”Les Yeux Sans Visage.”
[LES YEUX SANS VISAGE clip]
Incidentally, a woman appears in the video for the song but you can’t see her very clearly, and Perri Lister isn’t credited in the video, so I don’t think it’s her. But on the other hand, I don’t know who that is.
Incidentally, Billy Idol had himself a little horror movie scenario while making the video. It took about three days to shoot the video, which involved a lot of fog and fire sources. Right after the shoot, Idol flew to Arizona to perform in a show, and fell asleep on the plane. He woke up to discover that the combination of the fog and fire, plus the dry air on the plane, had caused his contact lenses to fuse to his eyeballs. He had to check into a hospital to get the lenses removed, he had to have his corneas scraped, and his eyes were bandaged for several days while the corneas grew back. Isn’t that a weird parallel? Billy Idol singing about eyes without a face, becoming the face without eyes.
OK, let me tell you now about a game show that ran in Europe from 1962 to 1999. Now, in this game, teams from various participating countries would dress in crazy costumes to complete bizarre tasks. Each game is judged by a pair of judges and the winner is determined at the end of each season. It’s truly weird in a fun way, and it’s very physical stuff, and I’ll include a couple of links at the website so you can see what I’m talking about. The show is typically known by its French name, Jeux Sans Frontières.
[GAMES WITHOUT FRONTIERS]
In 1979, Peter Gabriel took the show’s concept of different countries battling over small matters and expanded it to encompass the idea of world nations and their displays of territorialism, nationalism, and all the other little pettiness that nations can go through. He gave the lyrics an overlay of children playing games: Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane, Jane plays with Willi, and so forth. But when he gets to the next verse, the tensions are ramping up…
…and the title of the song, of course, is “Games Without Frontiers,” which is the English translation of “Jeux sans frontières”, and it’s the phrase that’s sung repeatedly at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the song. Incidentally, that’s Kate Bush singing “Jeux sans frontiers” in this record. So, no: she’s not singing “She’s so popular,” which is what most people assume it is. And while I’m at it I should note that the whistling is Peter Gabriel, along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.
Oh, and there’s one final connection between the song and the TV show: while most people refer to the show by its French name—in fact, the show’s logo involves the letters J, S, and F—for some reason in England it’s called It’s a Knockout.
OK, here’s a quick one for you. And for this one we jump back to 1969 and a group called The Tee Set, which puts the foreign phrase right there in the title:
[MA BELLE AMIE]
…”Ma Belle Amie” just means, “my beautiful friend,” and the spelling indicates that the friend is female. But wait—there’s a little more French going on…
…What he’s singing there is “Après tous les beaux jours, Je te dis merci merci,” which translates to “After all the beautiful days, I say to you, thank you, thank you.” See? Easy one, and you already knew it wasn’t in English.
[SUITE JUDY BLUE EYES]
All right, everything we’ve talked about today so far has been French, so let’s move on to another language: Spanish.
OK, sure, I’m skipping over the fact that the title has a French word in it, but let’s move past that. Did you know that “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” had Spanish lyrics in it? If you, like so many others, weren’t listening closely, there’s an entire verse of the song sung in Spanish, near the end. Stephen Stills put this part of the song in Spanish partly because he didn’t want it to be easily understood, and partly because the words don’t have a lot to do with the rest of the song. And finally, he added it in because he felt that the ending was just kind of lying there and needed a little perking up. Incidentally, while Crosby, Stills and Nash all sang on this record, of the three only Stephen Stills is playing any instruments, with percussion provided by Dallas Taylor. Let’s listen in and I’ll translate for you:
“How nice it would be to take you to Cuba
The queen of the Caribbean Sea
I only want to visit you there
And how sad that I can’t, damn!”
See? Not much to do with the rest of the song.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you What these five men have in common? They are:
And Paul Carrack.
The answer is that they all sang on hit songs for more than one band.
Paul Rodgers was the voice of Free and Bad Company, Eric Burdon was out front for both The Animals and War, Graham Nash sang on hits for both The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And finally, Paul Carrack was the lead voice for Ace and for Mike and the Mechanics. And while he didn’t sing, he was also a key part of Roxy Music and Squeeze for awhile.
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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we look In Your Eyes—by listener request!
Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time.