SONG: La vie en rose
ARTIST: Edith Piaf
Listen to it here:
La vie en rose was written by Edith Piaf and Louiguy in May 1945. The song was broadcast on radio before it was actually put on tape, and first performed live in concert in 1946. The song made Piaf an international superstar and a favourite with audiences. The song was finally recorded and released in 1947 on a single and sold 1 million copies in the US. Due to the song’s success, Piaf wrote 80 more songs throughout her career.
The lyrics often translated as “Life in happy hues”, “Life seen through happy lenses” and speaks of the euphoria of falling in love, which appealed to the people who had lived through the war and were rebuilding their lives. The song was re-recorded by Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong and Grace Jones.
Edith Giovanna Gassion was born December 19, 1915 in Paris, France. Both of her parents were performers (dad Louis was a street performer and mom Annetta was a singer and circus performer), but her mother abandoned her at birth. She was raised by the Normandy prostitutes at the brothel her grandmother ran, and attributed her unhealthy relationship with men later in life to her upbringing. At age 14 her father came to collect her and she started singing with his circus act and met her life long best friend Simone “Momone” Berteaut, and the two performed singing on the streets together. By 1932 Piaf married and had a child Marcelle, but was not a natural mother and often left the child at home when she went out performing after leaving the child’s father, Louis. Ultimately the child’s father took Marcelle back and Marcelle died of meningitis at age 2.
Edith’s career began in earnest when she was discovered by a nightclub owner who dubbed her ‘La Mome Piaf’ (The Little Sparrow) due to her stage fright and standing at a tiny 4’8. Piaf’s opening night was attending by Paris’ glitterati and the band was lead by Belgian guitar hero Django Reinhardt. She started putting songs to tape shortly after that and her career flourished in France with her adopting the name Edith Piaf. Her popularity did not falter during WWII and by the late 1940s she was one of the most popular performers in the city. She embarked on a tour of the United States in 1947 but were met with lukewarm audiences until she received glowing reviews from influential New York critic Virgil Thomson.
Piaf took up residence at Paris Olympia between January 1955 and October 1962. Piaf’s health began to falter thanks in part to years of alcohol and drug abuse. A stomach ulcer paired with a damaged liver caused her weight to drop drastically and she floated in and out of consciousness until a ruptured aneurysm ultimately felled her at age 47, October 10 1963. She is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
After WWII Piaf was almost banned from the radio after she was considered a traitor and collaborator (she often performed in cabarets frequented by occupying German soldiers) until her secretary, a member of the Resistance spoke in her favour.
I mean, what can I say, I named my dang cat Piaf! Similarly to how I romanticize Weimar Berlin, I totally romanticize Paris in the Golden Age, then the 1930s, then again the 1960s. Going to Paris was my first real international trip as an adult, and Holly took me to all the spots I could possibly go to. It was early May, and one sunny afternoon Holly had school, so I took the metro and found a leafy square in Montmartre, ordered a cafe au lait and just enjoyed the experience – the only thing that would have made it perfect would have been if Edith herself sang this on the street corner there (and maybe a baguette). Her voice is unmistakable, and even the melody on its own makes me think of that Haussmann architecture and art deco metro lamps. I can’t be objective about this song because it evokes such a visceral reaction from me, and it’s a reaction I savour.
This song just screams France and all the things that I loved about living there! Edith’s voice is immediately recognizable and, though dated, is just so powerful. Somehow that weird fast vibrato seems to fit her just perfectly. The orchestration teeters right on the verge of being cheesy, but stays on the right side of that line, and the melody is just awesome. I love this song. My favourite part is right at the end with Piaf is just singing ‘lalala’ over the melody.
Average mark out of 10:
*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!
Other notable versions of this song
The 1980s called and wanted to do this song! Grace Jones:
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