Playlist Release: Bruxelles ‘76

Clockwise from left: La Grand-Place, Bruxelles, 1970 | ABBA at Eurovision, 1974 | Dalida performing “Le Lambeth Walk”, 1978

And… we’re back! Apologies for the absence, but it’s been a busy Christmas Vac and Hilary Term- lots of stuff up and about. But one of the fine products of said Vac and Term is this new playlist, Sounds of Bruxelles, ‘76- probably one of the last European playlists I’ll do for a while (for reasons we’ll get to, alongside the fact that they take so much time).

I’m much too busy to spend substantial time doing too much of an in-depth description of what this is, but I will say this: I’ve turned Eurotrash into Eurogold. ’70s Europop/Eurodisco/Europop-rock isn’t an easy listen, but this surely is. Melding seven countries, six languages, and three distinctive styles into a coherent listen isn’t easy, but I do think I’ve done it.

From Spain all the way to Sweden, from Milano to Madrid, Bruxelles ‘76 captures more or less the entire spectrum of European pop circa 1976- not so far into the ‘70s that Baccara and (god forbid) ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” and “Voulez-Vous” appear, but not so early on to be dominated by (bad) copies of early ’70s American pop-rock and leftover ‘60s yé-yé music. And why Bruxelles? Well, this, in many ways, is the heart of Europe; equal parts Latin and Germanic, the center of the budding European Union since the ‘60s, it’s only right that a fully European playlist be centered in this place and time.

As an early pre-reviewer mentioned, there’s a consistent note of wistfulness throughout- for in a way, this playlist wraps up everything from the very beginning of our journey through postwar European music. Through Rome ’59, Paris ’66, Monaco ’75, and Bruxelles ’76, these playlists collectively record the zeitgeist of the entire period 1956–81.

Here, we have a playlist that not only takes stock of the moment — 1976 — but looks simultaneously “au futur, au passé”, to quote Sylvie Vartan’s “Masculin singulier”. We begin by acknowledging the musical inheritance of the entire postwar era, passed on to its heirs in the present. Songs like Charles Aznavour’s “Les plaisirs démodés” and Dalida’s “Marjolaine” look wistfully back at the ’40s and ’50s, at the childhoods of these contemporary stars, at the very foundations of the postwar age that have led to this moment, while magnificent pieces like Dalida’s “J’attendrai”, “Le Lambeth Walk”, and Dave’s “Dansez maintenant” are covers of some of the most popular songs from the World War II era, Rita Kelly’s “J’attendrai”/”Tornerai”, Duke Ellington’s “The Lambeth Walk”, and Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”. And in a testament to the longevity of stars in the European pop scene, we are joined by some of the same legendary singers with whom we started our journey back in Rome ’59: Dalida, Charles Aznavour, and Mina.

However, not only are these songs updated for a new era, but they are joined by songs that fully reflect the present of European music. A very careful touch of ABBA — there’s a reason why “Dancing Queen” (…and I just reflexively cringed…) isn’t here — brings us up to date with Europop post-1974, while exquisitely tasty slices of Eurodisco, led by Sylvie Vartan’s absolutely majestic “Masculin singulier” (I still can’t believe this wasn’t a major hit), hint at the lush early splendor of the phenomenon which was to dominate European music for the next decade. (Seriously lush- strings, horns, scratching funk guitar, bongos, synths, the works- what magnificent production!). Touches of more American-influenced pop/rock in France Gall’s “Comment lui dire” and Alain Chamfort’s “La musique du samedi” situate us in the overall era of the ’70s, while more traditional variété Française-type chansons, in the form of Véronique Sanson’s “Chanson sur ma drôle de vie” and Alain Chamfort’s “L’amour en France” bring us in tune with not just the trend-setters like ABBA and France Gall but the ordinary everyman’s music of the era.

And as we bid adieu to Europe, we see hints of its musical future. Increasing electronics, a trend that will become painfully overused in the coming decade, come in to play in Mina’s “Ancora ancora ancora”, while hints of ’80s-type synthesizers show their faces in “El muchacho con los ojos tristes” and France Gall’s classic rebellion against the crush of the ordinary, “Résiste”. And in a display of what’s to come, in their final album, the trendsetters (however unfortunately) of the ’70s, ABBA, set one more trend with a (tasteful) full-blown synthesizers and drum-machine driven bop in “Head Over Heels”.

And au fin, we part to the sweet strains of Charles Aznavour’s “Les plaisirs démodés”, a song that, perhaps more than any other, represents this bittersweet adieu. Alternating between furious funk sections bursting with wah-wah guitars and blistering horns, and traditional chanson sections floating on gentle strings and vocal harmonies, it’s a song that at once lives in the present yet pays homage to the past. And as we glide along into the night, Charles Aznavour (rest in peace) serenades us just one last time as we exit, stage left:

Viens, découvrons toi et moi les plaisirs démodés
Ton cœur contre mon cœur malgré les rythmes fous
Je veux sentir mon corps par ton corps épousé
Dansons joue contre joue
Dansons joue contre joue

Viens, noyée dans la cohue, mais dissociés du bruit
Comme si sur la Terre il n’y avait que nous
Glissons les yeux mi-clos jusqu’au bout de la nuit
Dansons joue contre joue
Dansons joue contre joue

Sers-toi encore plus fort, ne t’occupe pas des autres
On est bien comme ça là, ta joue contre ma joue
Tu te souviens, ça fait un drôle d’effet tout de même
On a l’impression de danser comme nos parents
Dans le fond, ils avaient peut-être pas tout à fait tort
Les époques changent, l’amour reste

Come, you and I, let’s discover the old fashioned pleasures
Your heart against my heart, despite the crazy rhythms
I’d like to feel my body against your married body
Let’s dance, cheek to cheek
Let’s dance, cheek to cheek

Come, drowned in the crowd, but far from the noise
As if on the Earth there were only us
Let’s glide with eyes half closed, until the end of the night
Let’s dance, cheek to cheek
Let’s dance, cheek to cheek

Enjoy yourself, don’t worry about the rest
We’re fine just as we are, your cheek against my cheek
Do you remember, funny as it is
I feel like we’re dancing like our parents
In the end, maybe they weren’t wrong
Times change, but love remains

-“Les plaisirs démodés” | Charles Aznavour — Idiote je t’aime… (1972)

Bon soir.

--

--

--

Guitarist, cinephile, and sometime intellectual. Join me on a journey through ideas, music, and film as I read PPE at the University of Oxford.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Perry Aw

Perry Aw

Guitarist, cinephile, and sometime intellectual. Join me on a journey through ideas, music, and film as I read PPE at the University of Oxford.

More from Medium

Why Company on Broadway is a masterpiece

Alex Garland’s MEN is a Gnarly but Nebulous Folk Horror

Review: “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Everybody Needs Somebody To Love: The Musical Impact The Blues Brothers Left On Me