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.