Thursday, April 19, 2018

Eileen: "The M.T.A. Song" Boston novelty sung in French

    Here’s something peculiar for you: a folk song about the Boston underground…sung in French. Why would the French care? And what could they make of a schmuck named Charlie who can’t simply get off a train? And what about his even more ridiculous wife, who throws him sandwiches when she could easily toss one with a few coins in it so he can pay the fare? 

    One of the lousy things about travel is that you generally have no idea how to get around. Unless you take a cab and don’t mind being stiffed all the time and driven the longest way possible, you’re stuck with mass transit. Most every city has its own infuriating rules. Coins allowed? NOT allowed? Do you have to wait on a line and get a TICKET? I haven't been in France in a while, but the last time, I recall some odd business about getting a pass with a photo ID on it. I don't remember if I used the pass itself or had to buy individual  tickets for every subway (metro) or bus ride.

    The gimmick with the Boston system at the time (and maybe even now) is fare zones. I haven't been in Boston in a long time. I do recall their "underground" as being pretty dinky. I think at least you could actually take an easy commute from Logan Airport into mid-town or even Cambridge.

      Still, a tourist is going to be wondering, "is that ticket good for getting on and off anywhere? Must I pay more the further along I go? If you’re just queer for trains, can you ride it all day back and forth, looking out the window or up the skirts of passengers? Should someone tell you not to look up the skirts of passengers if you’re in Scotland?

       In the song, poor Charlie didn’t anticipate a fare increase and was short a nickel. Har har. Did he ever return? No, he never returned, and his fate is still unlearned! 

    Will Holt was a nice man, and I enjoyed talking to him about some aspects of his career. I think he considered “The MTA Song” one of his lesser achievements. It was amusing that it became such a hit, but he put lyrics to better music (coming up with “Lemon Tree” for example) and this was just a novelty. He figured his enduring achievements were in the musicals he wrote for the stage. (Most of YOU know this thing and "Lemon Tree" most of all). The inspiration for this was a jingle blaring from a truck, being played in the streets to promote a local politician. Holt re-wrote it, recorded it…and it didn’t exactly reach the Top 10. The Kingston Trio covered it, and changed the name of the local politician to the fictional “George O’Brien.” The exuberant trio had a hit. 

    So why not see if it could roll in other countries, too? The singer here is EILEEN. She’s better known as a Nancy Sinatra impersonator (in France, at least) but she took on a variety of American tunes to Frenchify. An interesting thing about her is that she is proof that it’s who you know…but also if you know other languages. Eileen’s father Michael Goldsen founded Criterion Music. (Yeah, yeah, you wonder who losted it. Ha ha.) Born in New York, a language teacher in Los Angeles, she taught French, and was asked to translate some of the popular folk songs of the day into that language. 

    In 1963 the teacher journeyed to Paris, married over there, and managed to get a record deal offering her specialty of being able to sing perfectly in two languages, and knowing the cultures of both. She did both an English cover version of Nancy Sinatra songs and foreign language variations. Since she learned a bit about the music biz from her father, it’s not much of a surprise that after her brief days as a singing idol ended, she started her own music publishing firm, French Fried Music. She still lives in France. 

Hop aboard: Le Métro De Boston (M.T.A. The Boston Subway Song) download or listen online

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