12
Sep 06

PETER SARSTEDT – “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?”

FT + Popular121 comments • 23,098 views

#267, 1st March 1969

 

PETER SARSTEDT – “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?”In an NME interview, John Peel once named this record as his personal worst of all time. The man heard a really very large number of bad records so this claim made quite an impression on me. And it’s easy to imagine the young Peel, earnestly making a name for himself playing the furthest out progressive rock to – he might hope – a turned-on nation, being utterly and profoundly horrified that the British public chose this instead.

He shouldn’t have been surprised, though. British pop culture, for all that it mostly measures itself against its own past or an American present, is subject to occasional spasms of admiration for the sophisticates of Continental Europe. On a subcultural level this gave the UK mod, among other things. At the supercultural level of the singles chart it tends to manifest itself in the occasional hit by Brits rolling around in broad European stereotypes – David Whitfield, Rene and Renata, and here Peter Sarstedt. My MP3 of “Where Do You Go To My Lovely?” is genre-tagged “chanson”, which is somehow both insane and appropriate.

This is a completely, whole-heartedly, marvellously bogus record. Marvellously not because it’s good but because Sarstedt with his pseudo-French accent sells its naffness with such gusto. Its storyline – street kid becomes rich socialite but cannot escape her past – is basically an excuse for a list of high-ticket brand and celebrity names, drawn out to remarkable length. The awful eye-rolling apogee is reached when Sarstedt follows the phrase “for a laugh” with an “a-ha-ha-ha” of such well-rehearsed spontaneity I cringe.

“Where Do You Go To My Lovely?” sounds so ridiculous now it’s quite the entertaining listen: certainly there’s no way I’d agree with Peel’s assessment. The question I can’t answer is: was it ridiculous then, even to the people who bought it? Certainly there is no reason why liking a record enough to buy it need also involve “taking it seriously” – for starters, “My Lovely” is an entertainingly imitatable record. But it’s also possible that buyers in 1969 did find it moving, or mysterious, or sophisticated – reactions that seem uncanny to me now.

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Comments

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  1. 101
    wichita lineman on 3 Jun 2009 #

    Do you not think all those references are namedropping to show how well travelled Peter S is? The way his chest puffs up when he sings “Boulevard Saint Michel” makes me want to slap him especially hard.

    I don’t think he’s being satirical. He used the same over-earnest approach on seventies radio hit Beirut, which I’m assuming wasn’t satirical or ironic.

    Follow-up no.10 hit Frozen Orange Juice, on the other hand, is a blissful scoot around the Massif Central. In a Morgan. With the top down. Top summer comp recommendation! Similar ingredients but none of the midbrow cultural grandstanding.

  2. 102
    Waldo on 3 Aug 2009 #

    I actually loved this back in the day, still do, and am genuinely surprised at the sledging it has received here with only a handful of posters not only leaping to its defence but outlining its merits, which I believe it has in spades. As someone said up-thread, it is a novel within a song and Sarstedt’s attempt to inject an element of class and sophisication into his story-telling does not for me fail. That said, I can perfectly understand how WDYGTMY could easily annoy those who consider that the song looks down their noses at them and thereby dismiss it as merely pompous grandstanding (I would suggest that this was Peel’s main objection, a man who so desperately jettisoned and then denied his own middle class roots) but if you don’t take that view there is very little to dislike about it, I think.

    Btw, I have been to the magnificence which is Paris many times, oftentimes staying in a hotel off the Boulevard Saint Michel just past the Sorbonne. I have to admit that I have more than once wandered up and down that street trying to work out where Marie Clare’s fancy apartment could have been. But then this was after a more than agreeable prolonged lunch.

  3. 103
    tracy shephard on 29 Aug 2009 #

    i have loved this lyric since i was five years old in fact i am the english version

  4. 104
    inakamono on 11 Sep 2009 #

    I’m surprised at the bile in some of the comments on this — I think you have totally misunderstood what’s happening in this song.

    Sure, it name-drops brands and “exotic” locations and famous people — and the comments seem to be slagging the song off for doing that.

    But the *song* isn’t doing the name-dropping of those brands and locations and people; it is *Marie-Claire* that is name-dropping those things, and the song is trying to call her back to reality. The song is critiquing Marie-Claire’s obsession with them. The song wants us to see how false all that stuff is: the song is rooted, it is Marie-Claire who has lost that.

    The commentators who are slagging the song for its pseudo-Frenchness and obsession with brands are failing to get inside the lyric — get inside *his* head, if you like… All of those elements are there, of course, but they are not being presented as good things: they are the things that have destroyed Marie-Claire. The lyric wants you to see how clutzy all that stuff is, because the singer wants to tell Marie-Claire that none of that stuff matters.

    Loads of comments have focussed on the contrived falseness of the “a-ha-ha-ha” line — but it is deliberately that way, because it is not the narrator/singer who is laughing. That is the false, contrived laugh of Marie-Claire. Maybe her sophisticated brand-obsessed name-dropping jet-set friends think her laughter is real, but the narrator knows it is a deliberately contrived, fake joyity that really only tries to hide the hurt — the hurt she still feels when she’s alone, with none of her high class friends around her, alone in her bed…

    It seems to me that almost all of the criticisms of the song in the comments here are actually it’s strengths. You say it is “faux sophistication” — but it’s the singer’s intention to say that Marie-Claire’s airs and graces are just faux. You say the French accent is forced — but the singer is telling Marie-Claire that, if she is honest enough to remember, she isn’t really French, everything about her is forced.

    Sarstedt was born in India, and I’ll draw a parallel to Slumdog Millionaire here — the storyline is the same, even if the parallel is a bit forced. You can’t blame the girl for escaping her poverty however she could, and you can’t blame the boy for still loving her. Except, in Slumdog, he becomes a millionaire too. In “My Lovely”, the boy is for always left behind — you have a picture of him standing in the street watching her being swept away by one of her boyfriends in a limousine while he busks on his accordion for a few cents.

    It’s a great song, for all the reasons the commentators have been criticising. And for more: the constant repetitions of “yes you do” “yes you are” “yes I do” “yes it does” etc… a chorus within a verse, followed by a chorus with a chorus inside of it.

    Not a “10”, for sure, but certainly not a “3” either. One of a kind, never repeated because it can’t be repeated. I’d give it 7, and shame on the people who spewed so much bile on it.

  5. 105
    Mark M on 11 Sep 2009 #

    Re 104: I certainly don’t dislike this song as much as some people above, and I thought it worked terrifically well in The Darjeeling Express, but I think you’re being either a bit naive or a bit disingenuous. The classic joke about name dropping goes something along the lines of ‘There really is nothing more vulgar than name dropping, as I’ve said many times to Mick Jagger, Bill Gates and Richard Dawkins, and they all agree with me’. A song supposedly criticising pretentious people is a great opportunity to have your cake and eat it. In that, it reminds me of the dreadful mid-60s film Darling, which is a monstrously snobbish putdown of a girl on the make.

    (And your Sarstedt was born in India/Slumdog Millionaire link is massively tenuous – thousands of Brits were born there before independence, not least Cliff Richard).

  6. 106
    dch on 29 Oct 2009 #

    Amazing how a record lasting over 4 minutes can turn , on successive hearings, into 4 hours; 4 days and 4 years!
    The sheer monotony of this record makes it completely tortuous -it is one of the very few records which I will switch off immediately if I am unlucky enough to hear the opening bars.

    P.S. Frozen Orange Juice seems like a masterpiece by comparison.

  7. 107
    Alex on 14 Sep 2010 #

    I’m surprised that representatives of the ‘irony generation’ cannot see the affectionate irony and self-irony that run through this song. Of course the ‘a ha ha ha’ is meant to be (moderately) derisive. Having a few french references in a song was not, in those days, seen as ‘cultural grandstanding – I think you will find that more people in Britain spoke reasonable French in the 1960s than now. The Boulevard St Michel is mentioned with awe not to show how well-travelled Sarsedt was (remember this was aimed initially as a British audience a high percentage of whom would have been to Paris – it’s only next door) but to emphasise that the flat would be expensive – just as would a reference to Fifth Avenue or Beverly Hills. Apart from the names promounced in French, Sarstedt is not singing in a French accent, but in a kind of busker drone that you could often hear in the sixties – the then popular but now forgotten Donovan sang in a similar way – echoing influences as varied as Serge Gainsbourg and Bob Dylan.

    In terms of the meaning of the song, the references are made with an irony tinged with envy that people would have understood. They would not have taken it either as an endorsement of the celebrity lifestyle referred to, nor as a complete rejection of it, but as the expression of a particular emotional reaction. You can like the song without agreeing with the narrator – his rather priggish, intrusive attitiude to Marie-Claire rings true but isn’t necessarily meant to be taken at face value. Listeners might also have identifed with the theme of social climbing and whether you can or should really leave your roots behind (the generation that listened to this had seen two decades of rapid social mobility).

    Why would John Peel have hated it? His generation of the middle class tended to embrace US culture (although not US policy) as an antidote to that of the older British generation. The older middle class generation in Britain in the 50s and 50s tended to associate France and Italy with ‘continental’ sophistication’ and this would be shared by many in the lower middle and working classes, so plenty of reasons for middle class rebels of the 60s began to reject this. Presumably Peel, like several commentators here, could not imagine that the mass audience might understand the ironies of the song and would assume that it expressed some feeble aspiration to the ‘jet set lifestyle’.

    For me the song brings back the 70s when I thought that smoking Gitanes sans filtre was the height of authenticity. The fact that it wasn’t doesn’t stop me liking it.

  8. 108
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Gemma Craven, actress(1988)

    Elisabeth Welch, singer(1990)

    Lawrence Dallaglio, rugby player(2011).

  9. 109
    Lena on 2 Jan 2012 #

    Why be miserable in your bed, or otherwise? http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/01/build-better-dream-then-cilla-black.html Happy New Year & thanks for reading!

  10. 110
    Sue on 8 Jan 2012 #

    Just watching TOTP2 and saw Peter singing ‘Where do you …. lovely?’, and it reminded me of a brief meeting with him after a sixties show at the Kings, Southsea, in the eighties.
    He was the most charming man you could wish to meet, genuinely interested to chat, a lovely memory (unintentional!. Unlike Gerry Marsden who ‘topped’ the bill.
    I’d plucked up the courage to ask for his autograph, as the local paper had organised a ticket to include a post-show buffet with the acts. He stunned me into silence (a rare thing) by saying “Why?” – very embarrassing at the time.
    So I shall take this opportunity to say that over a period of several years, each time I saw him in one of those sixties shows he told exactly the same jokes.

  11. 111
    malmo58 on 13 Jan 2012 #

    #104 inakamono – Very interesting take on the song. And presumably she was born Maria Clara, and adopted the French form of her name when she moved there – another aspect of her new life that’s a front.

  12. 112
    Elvina on 31 Oct 2012 #

    He’s an Anglo Indian by birth..that’s what made him extra special..

  13. 113
    Luke Norman on 2 Apr 2013 #

    Re: inakamono † on 11 September 2009 #

    You are correct, and how anyone could argue your take on the song, when that is exactly what it is – is absurd. The detractors have allowed the accordian to throw them into tizzy.

    Its a Sophia Loren based/no one in particular fantasy about a couple of lowly rag children from Naples.

    It’s Folk music…

  14. 114
    punctum on 2 Apr 2013 #

    It’s almost English, that comment. But not quite.

  15. 115
    BUGSY on 23 Jun 2013 #

    *** JUST RELEASED ***

    Check you the music promo for Peter Sarstedt’s latest song ‘Valentine’!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEeUCJaOQuc&hd=1

    Enjoy!

  16. 116
    Paulito on 8 Jan 2017 #

    And so poor old Peter Sarstedt goes to his great reward.

    As for WDYGTML, whether one loves it or loathes it, this most Marmite of chart toppers is certainly also one of the most memorable. Almost 50 years later it’s still instantly recognisable and well-known to all. And the extensive debate that it attracted in this thread is evidence of this song’s lasting place, for good or ill, in pop history. Personally, I think Alex @107 is spot on regarding its meaning and context. WDYGTML is a gently mocking satire, not some gauche “Ooh, these Continental types ain’t ‘alf sophisticated” paean.

  17. 117
    enitharmon on 8 Jan 2017 #

    I loathe WDYGTML with a vengeance but I did like Peter Sarstedt’s previous single, I Am A Cathedral, which has been largely forgotten and wasn’t much of a hit despite one of the Radio 1 DJs, probably David “Put t’ kettle on mother” Symonds, plugging it heavily to the housewives and returnees from school like me. It seems to hold up rather well.

  18. 118
    AMZ1981 on 8 Jan 2017 #

    In my early teens I bought a lot of compilations of old hits (hey, they were half the price of chart albums) and this was how I came to know a lot of late 60s, early 70s chart toppers; often meeting them for the first time with little idea of their context.

    I mention this because I had always had a soft spot for WDYGTML and always enjoy it cropping up on my main Itunes playlist 20 years on. It probably sits best when viewed as an upmarket novelty song. Although today we’re reflecting on the death of an old man after a long illness, Peter Sarstedt was only 27 when he recorded this and I doubt he took it that seriously. RIP

  19. 119
    wichitalineman on 10 Jan 2017 #

    The Sarstedts’ back story, as with that of other Anglo-Indians who moved to Britain during and after partition, is most likely fascinating. Here’s an excellent piece on Cliff Richard’s early days in Britain: https://medium.com/@JPRobinson/the-fate-of-sir-cliff-richard-2e0e2e5b290d#.fupx6bden

  20. 120
    Jimmy the Swede on 11 Jan 2017 #

    Yes, very sorry to see that Peter had gloved one. WDYGTML was indeed a marmite record, much more so than Frozen Orange Juice, which wasn’t of course as big a hit. I just hope that St Peter didn’t put the shutters up as soon as he heard that accordion intro approaching. RIP.

    #119 – Nice piece about Cliff climbing off the boat from India. Top bloke to be fair.

  21. 121
    lonepilgrim on 13 Jan 2017 #

    I’ve always loved the melody and production on this song. PS comes off as a bit whiny and judgemental but I think his performance includes a sense of self awareness – they have both escaped the slums of Naples and his familiarity with the names he drops suggests that he has moved away from his roots as well.
    I like the the very specific references to names such as Balmain and the Rolling Stones records – each as exotic and/or commonplace as the other depending on your circumstances – and no more so than the Stones referring to Knightsbridge and Hackney in ‘Play with Fire’.

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