The Poor People of Paris

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"The Poor People of Paris" is the English name of a popular song from France.

The original French language song was "La goualante du pauvre Jean" ("The Ballad of Poor John"), with music by Marguerite Monnot and words by René Rouzaud.[1] Edith Piaf had one of her biggest hits with the original French version.

The song was adapted by American songwriter Jack Lawrence in 1954, and he wrote English lyrics, which are considerably different from the French. The English-language title arises in part from a misinterpretation of the French title, as "pauvre Jean" was taken for the same-sounding "pauvres gens," which translates as "poor people."[2][3]

Lawrence's lyrics, which pronounce Paris in the French style, as "PaREE," are seldom heard. Most of the popular recordings of the song in the English-speaking world have been instrumentals.

Les Baxter version[edit]

"The Poor People of Paris"
"The Poor People of Paris" by Les Baxter & His Orchestra on Capitol 3336
"The Poor People of Paris" by Les Baxter & His Orchestra on Capitol 3336
Single by Les Baxter & His Orchestra
B-side Theme from "Helen of Troy"
Format 45rpm single
Label Capitol
Songwriter(s) Marguerite Monnot

A recording of the tune by Les Baxter's orchestra (Capitol Records catalog number 3336, with the flip side "Theme from 'Helen of Troy'") was a number-one hit on the Billboard chart in the US in 1956: for four weeks on the Best Sellers in Stores chart,[4][5] for six weeks on the Most Played by Jockeys and Hot 100 charts, and for three weeks on the Most Played on Jukeboxes chart. This recording was also released in Australia by Capitol under catalog number CP-1044.[6] This version of the song was also the last song to reach number one before Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" topped the chart.

Baxter's version featured strings, brass, a wordless chorus, tinkling percussion, finger snapping, and a group of whistlers.

Winifred Atwell version[edit]

In the same year, the piano version by Winifred Atwell (Decca Records catalog number F10681)[7] was number one in the UK Singles Chart for three weeks.[3] In Australia, it was released as Decca Catalogue number Y 6783.[8]

Other versions[edit]

Cover versions by Lawrence Welk, Russ Morgan (Decca Records catalog number 29835, with the flip side "Annabelle")[9] and Chet Atkins appeared in the US Top 100.
Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney recorded a version containing the seldom-heard Lawrence lyrics for their 1965 album That Travelin' Two-Beat.
On the Cash Box Magazine best-selling record charts (combining all versions of the song), the song was number 1 from March 24 through April 14, 1956, and on the chart 21 weeks.[10] Billy May also recorded a Latin-styled version that appears in the Ultra-Lounge CD Volume 10: A Bachelor in Paris, that was edited together with Les Baxter's version.[11]

In 1991, Episode 6 of Series 2 of Vic Reeves Big Night Out featured a version of the song with completely new lyrics detailing The Man With The Stick's holiday.

A 1955 version of Eddie Cochran was released in 1997 on the album Rockin' It Country Style.

Preceded by
"Rock and Roll Waltz" by Kay Starr
Billboard Top 100 number one single
(Les Baxter version)

March 24, 1956 (6 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis Presley
Preceded by
"It's Almost Tomorrow" by The Dream Weavers
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single
(Winifred Atwell version)

13 April 1956 for 3 weeks
Succeeded by
"No Other Love" by Ronnie Hilton


  1. ^ [1] Archived October 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Poor People Of Paris". Jack Lawrence, Songwriter. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  3. ^ a b Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. pp. 24–5. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  4. ^ Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. p. 9. ISBN 0-8230-7677-6. 
  5. ^ "#1 Songs 1955-1959". Listology. 2005-01-26. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  6. ^ "Capitol Records - OZ - CP0000 series". Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  7. ^ "Winifred Atwell". 1914-02-27. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  8. ^ "UK Chart Entries 1952-1961 ; A (Alfi & Harry - Winifred Atwell)". Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  9. ^ "DECCA (USA) 78rpm numerical listing discography: 29500 - 30000". Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  10. ^ [2] Archived May 31, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "The Poor People of Paris" by Billy May & Les Baxter on YouTube