Jun 08


FT + Popular56 comments • 6,227 views

#402, 12th March 1977

Manhattan Transfer smooth out and slick up Art and Dottie Todd’s song to such a degree that it becomes a pastiche of imagined Frenchness – an accordion, bof alors! – as much as a fifties throwback: what’s sacrificed in the process is vigour as well as (perhaps imagined) innocence. This “Chanson” may make for a good WTF-bomb as a chart-topper, but it’s also as soupy as any of the ballads we’ve sat through. Part of the problem is the vocalising, just on the edge of enjoyably preposterous with its chawn-sawn and its joooo tadoor, but not quite making it. But the “rat-a-ra-ta-ra” hook is the Crazy Frog nim-nim of its day, so points given just for brazen persistence.



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  1. 31

    embrace was a bit of a rubbishly vague word, rosie (haha that’s why i used it twice obviously!): i don’t mean their anxiety was that they wanted to be part of the rock thing, i mean that their anxiety was (well, may have been) that they didn’t want the music THEY loved to be swept away by the rock thing — which leaves them with the choice of (mostly, except for todd) ignoring it, or bringing their aesthetic to bear on it (as ferry did in a slightly different context): i see the ferry move as the bolder one, the more confident one (but in a way it’s the confidence of callowness)

  2. 32
    pink champale on 3 Jun 2008 #

    #21 the ‘are you being served’ episode is my main memory of the song too. following a complex (though perhaps less than seinfeldian) chain of events mrs slocum et al ended up miming to a recording of this that got faster and faster as the song progressed. the rat-ta-ta-ta-ta’s resulted in particular hilarity.

  3. 33
    Lena on 3 Jun 2008 #

    I heard this back in March on Pick of the Pops – for the first time (I only knew Manhattan Transfer from “Birdland” and “Twilight Zone”) and it’s very good for what it is – I don’t know if they are singing it (the song) straight exactly…but they are definitely in on the joke while actually respecting the whole chanson tradition…which reminds me of Scott Walker…(if we are talking spectrums)

    And let me repeat vinylscot’s praise for Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights” – when the time comes I’m going to praise another of their songs…

    (oh, and meanwhile in the US Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” is #1)

  4. 34
    rosie on 3 Jun 2008 #

    Arguably, of course, Manny Tranny took on rock, or at least Miles Davis-ish jazz with a foot in the rock camp, when they took on Joe Zawinul. It’s worth tracking down their version of Birdland if you haven’t heard it – it may not be Rock’n’Roll but it’s great fun and supremely well-executed.

    Of course, it’s natural for a group of people who get their kicks from creating complex harmonies together to steer clear of a musical genre which eschewed that sort of thing in favour of raw simplicity.

  5. 35
    mike on 3 Jun 2008 #

    ManTran’s “Birdland” was my favourite “Birdland” until Quincy Jones’s all-star version came along. (Dizzy Gillespie AND Big Daddy Kane! Kool Moe Dee AND Sarah Vaughan!)

  6. 36

    i totally agree about birdland (tho miles himself at this stage was moving away from complex harmonies towards stockhausen-ornettesque sound-clusters and scribble-lines over endless rock-funk pedal-point)

    that’s a good point about rawness — but the steering clear is what i’m getting really: that there’s (harold bloomism alert) an AGON here between craft suppleness as elaboration (which is the MT fancy) and areas the “kid’s” form could reach which the suppleness maybe couldn’t (or anyway these supple-teers FELT it couldn’t, felt it as a territory they couldn’t move about in; tho i think the broader argt of glam is that there was something, a lot in fact, to be explored in the collision)

    “art’s for art’s sake” (haha walter paterism alert) is another line within pop we don’t see much of, and when it does emerge, i think it’s quite hard (if it’s not yr favoured art-style) not to respond to as if it’s irony: we touched on this discussin the swingle singers i think

  7. 37

    “at this stage” <--- meaning c.1970, oops! not 1977 anyway

  8. 38
    DJ Punctum on 3 Jun 2008 #

    Quite, since in 1977 Miles was having problems moving anything, poor old soul…

    Now, as for Weather Report’s “Birdland” versus 1977’s Actual Most Important/Influential/Punkish Album, viz. Dancing In Your Head

  9. 39
    DJ Punctum on 3 Jun 2008 #

    (also note how Herb Alpert ends up total most punk person of ’77 for getting rid of the Pistols from A&M and signing up Ornette instead…)

  10. 40

    1976 most punkish alb =

  11. 41
    DJ Punctum on 3 Jun 2008 #

    If only Jaco had joined the Pistols and Sid Weather Report, two lives might have been saved…

  12. 42
    Waldo on 3 Jun 2008 #

    Never mind all this nonesense, peeps. I’ve just read some uber-exciting news. Popular icon and eternal sex goddess, Anita “Just Loving You” Harris (mother of Wee Willie) is appearing currently at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool in Wodehouse’s “Carry On, Jeeves” along with Victor “Most People Think I’m Dead” Spineti and Derren “It’s Your Funeral” Nesbitt. During the performance, Anita dances a “show-stopping pearls-swinging Charleston”, much to the gratification of the audience populated heavily by block-booked rows of Waldoesque tragicoes, each donning Harry Palmer-style bins and decked out in buff-coloured mackintoshes with extra deep pockets. It would seem unlikely that any of these “admirers” will be admitted to the cast party afterwards, celebrating La Harris’ 66th birthday.

    What an entertainer! What a diva! WHAT A GAL!!!!

  13. 43
    DJ Punctum on 3 Jun 2008 #

    But will she need to carry on Jeeves, so to speak?

    And will Derren be taking the bows later on?

  14. 44
    Waldo on 3 Jun 2008 #

    Not with that ruddy great chain of office hanging round his gregory!!

  15. 45
    Laurel Massé on 15 Apr 2009 #

    Laurel Massé here, founding member of Manhattan Transfer. Thank you all for the many compliments for “Walk in Love” and “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”. I loved singing them both, especially Rundgren’s tune. He is still one of my musical idols.

    Many of you have posted wondering why we chose “Chanson d’Amour” I wish I could remember… it may have been that it was so deliciously cocktail-y and a bit over-the-top. We were fearless at times.

  16. 46
    The Intl on 16 Apr 2009 #

    ManTran was always my “guilty pleasure”. Friends were puzzled, I’d have to go through the whole “good taste/the right influences/doo wop/be bop” thing. I must admit I preferred when they hung with Jon Hendricks to this type of thing, but still in all, they were always under-valued. They just need another “Vocalese” to be back on top of their game.

    But this one, well, I get it, but it was still kinda Mom’s music to me.

  17. 47
    Erithian on 16 Apr 2009 #

    Laurel #45 – our pleasure! This isn’t something I ever expected Popular to allow me the opportunity to do, but thank you for some great music and in particular the, erm, bracing effect your voice had on this 16-year-old! (“We walk in silence but we have talking hands…” – mmm, that did it for me.)

    Seriously though, thanks for taking the time to post on here, and feel free to share more of your memories of having a UK number one single and anything else this thread evokes. Very best wishes.

  18. 48
    rosie on 17 Apr 2009 #

    Yes, welcome to the asylum, Laurel! I had a funny turn when I saw you there but it’s great to see you here and hear what you have to say,

  19. 49
    john on 23 Oct 2010 #

    Can someone please post a link to Cannon and Ball singing this as part of one of their shows, jsut so I can prove to my wife that they did actually do it

  20. 50
    DanH on 19 Jan 2013 #

    Oy, my parents were quite the Manhattan Transfer fans, so I had to hear some of their output growing up. Had no idea they had a hit outside America, let alone a #1. Best they could get here was #7 with a cover of Boy From New York City.

  21. 51
    swanstep on 20 Jan 2013 #

    @DanH. Manhattan Transfer did OK in the charts in New Zealand with their cover of Boy From NYC getting to #2 for 2 weeks in 1981. Their final week (13th Sept 1981) at #3 before ascending to #2 had a memorable top-3:

    1. Kool And The Gang, Celebration
    2. Joy Division, Transmission
    3. Manhattan Transfer, Boy from NYC

  22. 52
    Erithian on 18 Oct 2014 #

    So farewell then, Tim Hauser, who’s died aged 72. He founded Manhattan Transfer, saw the original band break up, then recruited the three other members of the classic line-up, two of whom he met through working as a taxi driver in New York City. RIP.

  23. 53
    lonepilgrim on 17 Nov 2019 #

    Youtube has clips of the group performing this on the Old Grey Whistle Test AND on a US variety show – complete with ‘comic’ mismatched dancers which highlights the songs universal appeal and/or its blandness. There was a flurry of acts around this time that flirted with pre-rock music – including Joni covering Lambert, Hendrick & Ross and Bette Midler reviving Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy – but like this performance everything seemed to be done ‘ironically’ which depending on the context could look smart or dumb.
    I like the deep tones of the lead vocalist and the silliness of the arrangement I find quite endearing but I can see how this would annoy people

  24. 54
    Steve on 14 Dec 2020 #

    This is my favourite song of all time. I’m not into all the pretentious stuff as posted above, i judge a song by the sound, and the effect it has on me. Why do people tear music apart and worry about the genre and the category. Just listen and enjoy, and that’s coming from a musician of many decades. Some people like to stand in art galleries, staring at a painting and trying to work out the meaning. Stuff the meaning, just enjoy, or not

  25. 55
    DJ Punctum on 15 Dec 2020 #

    No but it’s about whether or not they’re wearing a mask we are PROPHETS

  26. 56
    Gareth Parker on 9 May 2021 #

    I find it hard getting a grip on this one. A generous 5/10?

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