Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I first discovered Claudine Longet about fifteen years ago just after my 18th Birthday. I was in a Bowling Green record store sifting through hundreds of old records in a newly purchased bin and came across one Called Colours credited simply to Claudine. It had one of the most striking photos I had ever seen on the cover, a portrait of a haunted looking woman who seemed to look right into you. It reminded me of the first time I saw Nico's The Marble Index cover, it had that same kind of unnerving effect. It was like looking at a picture that couldn't have been taken.
I bought the record not having any idea who Claudine Longet was, I was fortunate that way as I know the tragedy that happened later in her life overshadowed her recordings for a long time.
I remember dropping the needle on Colours for the first time with no idea of what I might hear. First sound is that gorgeous string opening to Scarborough Fair which seems to be announcing something really great and grand, the music softens and then that voice comes in. The words are familiar but her voice transforms it into something beyond mysterious, somewhere between a whisper and silence Claudine Longet's voice floored me the first time I heard it.
I was transfixed throughout the entire record by this strange French singer who was taking many songs I knew well and turning them into something uniquely her own. I immediately felt like I had discovered something wonderfully secret and hidden. I would play the record for friends and watch their reactions, close out mix tapes with her definitive reading of Randy Newman's I Think It's Going To Rain Today and spent hour upon hour searching through record bins for more.
This was long before ebay or the like, the Internet has made us forget the excitement of the hunt. I began to find more records by her and was transfixed everytime even though Colours remains my favorite. I would marvel at how she could take songs that I would count among my favorites like Golden Slumbers or Holiday and turn them into Claudine Longet songs.
I have noticed in the past few years that her music is becoming more and more known. When I first discovered her everything was years out of print, then those amazing remastered Japanese CD reissues and now we actually have a handful of cds available in America. Not bad for someone who was considered for a long time less than a success.
I was thrilled beyond words recently when Ear-X-Tacy in Louisville, one of the best record stores in the country, gave Claudine her own section at their store. DustyGroove.com carries two essential collections, one that covers her early years and the other that houses her Barnaby work. That great site also occasionally gets her imports and original lps. Amazon, of course, has everything that is currently available including the majestic remaster of Colours. Nick DeCaro's lovely string arrangements and Claudine's vocals have never sounded so striking, I must say though that no remastering can replicate that original scratchy vinyl that I heard so many years ago. She remains that same unsolvable mystery that took me and the songs she sang to another world in a time very much lost.
Two essential places to visit of the internet are: