Amsterdam (Jacques Brel song)

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"Amsterdam"
("Amsterdam")
Written by Jacques Brel
Music by Jacques Brel
Published 1964
Language French
Original artist Jacques Brel
Recorded by Jacques Brel, Scott Walker, David Bowie, De Dijk, Acda en De Munnik, Hector, John Denver, Bellowhead

"Amsterdam" is a song by Jacques Brel. It combines a powerful melancholic crescendo with a rich poetic account of the exploits of sailors on shore leave in Amsterdam.

Brel never recorded this for a studio album, and his only version was released on the live album Enregistrement Public à l'Olympia 1964. Despite this, it has been one of his most enduringly popular works.[1] It was one of the songs Mort Shuman translated into English for the Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris musical.

Brel worked on the song at his house overlooking the Mediterranean at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the house he shared with Sylvie Rivet, a publicist for Philips; a place she had introduced him to in 1960. "It was the ideal place for him to create, and to indulge his passion for boats and planes. One morning at six o'clock he read the words of Amsterdam to Fernand, a restaurateur who was about to set off fishing for scorpion fish and conger eels for the bouillabaisse. Overcome, Fernand broke out in sobs and cut open some sea urchins to help control his emotion."[2]

The melody shows strong similarities with the English folk song Greensleeves.[3]

Cover versions[edit]

David Bowie version[edit]

Scott Walker recorded several of these translated Brel songs in the late 1960s. This inspired David Bowie to record his own versions of "Amsterdam" in the early 1970s. Bowie's July 1973 studio version was released as the B-side to his single "Sorrow" in October 1973.

Bowie's version is also found on several other releases:

  • It was released as picture discs in both the RCA Life Time picture disc set and the Fashion Picture Disc Set.
  • The July 1982 German rerelease of the single "Alabama Song" had "Amsterdam" as the B-side.
  • On the December 1982 RCA Records compilation album Rare (1973 single; B-side "Sorrow")
  • On the 1990 Rykodisc CD release of Bowie's 1973 album Pinups, "Port of Amsterdam" was released as a bonus track (1973 single; B-side "Sorrow")
  • On the 1989 Living Legend Records Publishing CD Chameleon Chronicles Vol.3 (LLRCD 050) "Amsterdam" was recorded for D.L.T. (Dave Lee Travis Show) as "David Bowie and Junior's Eyes" 1969 October 20th; broadcast date 1969 October 26th.
  • "David Bowie and the Tony Visconti Trio (aka The Hype)" recorded "Amsterdam" for the BBC radio show The Sunday Show introduced by John Peel on 5 February 1970 (broadcast date 8 February 1970). This performance may be heard on the 2000 Virgin Records CD Bowie at the Beeb.

Other English covers[edit]

Dave Van Ronk recorded a version on his 1971 album, Van Ronk.

The Dresden Dolls often play a cover of the song live with English lyrics. More recently, Amanda Palmer has performed the original French version in her live solo show with Jason Webley playing accordion.

Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie recorded a version for their debut album Good Deeds and Dirty Rags.

Irish cabaret singer Camille O'Sullivan performs a cover of the song as part of her show with the Spiegeltent. Irish singer-songwriter Jack L has also recorded a version of the song.

John Denver released a version of this song on his album, Take Me To Tomorrow (1970).

Bellowhead have recorded Amsterdam on their 2010 album Hedonism.

Rod McKuen made his own translation of "Amsterdam" and included it on his album Rod McKuen Sings Jacques Brel.

A rather obscure German art collective named Flaming Star recorded a version for their untitled first 7" single.

In 2007 Marc Almond recorded a version for the EP "Brel Extras" released 2008 (http://www.discogs.com/Marc-Almond-Brel-Extras/release/1481753)

Dutch covers[edit]

Both Dutch band De Dijk and Dutch artists Acda en De Munnik recorded Dutch language versions of the song, called "Amsterdam" and "De stad Amsterdam" (The city Amsterdam) respectively. Other Dutch versions can be found by Liesbeth List (Liesbeth List zingt Jacques Brel), Jan Mesdag (Jan Mesdag zingt Brel) and Jeroen Willems (Jeroen Willems zingt Jacques Brel).

Other languages[edit]

  • Finnish: Finnish singer-songwriter Hector recorded a cover of the song in Finnish for his album Yhtenä iltana (1990).
  • German:German chanteuse Ute Lemper included a version of "Amsterdam", in English and French, on her 2002 album But One Day.... The song was translated into German and regularly sung by Hildegard Knef at the end of her live performance career, usually to conclude her concerts.
  • Greek: Translated and performed by Giorgos Arapakis. Also performed by Manos Xidous, and by Vassilis Papaconstantinou.
  • Polish: The Polish version of "Amsterdam", with lyrics translated by Wojciech Młynarski, was performed by, among others, Piotr Zadrożny and Katarzyna Groniec.
  • Slovenian: Slovenian actor Branko Završan translated and recorded "Amsterdam" in his album Senca tvojga psa (Shadow of your dog), realised in 2008.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jacques Brel". Last.fm. Retrieved January 9, 2012. 
  2. ^ Paris Match no 2992 September 2006
  3. ^ "Jacques Brel's Amsterdam sample of Traditional Folk's Greensleeves". WhoSampled. 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 

External links[edit]