(via Alice Whitfield – “Timid Frieda (Les timides)”)

Year: 1968

Album: Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording)

What a gorgeous and sad melody sung by Alice Whitfield, whose character in the famed off-Broadway play Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is singing over gentle keys and chimes of isolation and fear in the face of a new start in a new city. The phrase “Brave new fuck” has never sounded more eloquent.

“Timid Frieda (Les timides)”, as well as the rest of the soundtrack, was originally written by Jacques Brel, an influential French singer-songwriter born in Belgian who was stylistically Bob Dylan’s more theatrical French cousin, a sly yet serious songwriter who was also incorporating serious poetry and depth into pop music. But unlike Dylan, Brel was more influenced by cabaret, and so his songs were easier to translate to the stage (though I’m sure there were plenty of bad off-Broadway plays reinterpreting Dylan’s music in Greenwich Village in the ’60s). Brel’s most popular hits at the time were translated into English for the play, which was made in response to Brel’s decision to stop touring the year before. The 1975 film adaptation, in which Brel makes a special cameo, further established the popularity and reach of the play, which was already one of the longest-running off-Broadway shows of all time.

I’ve never seen the play, but the soundtrack is strong enough on its own to justify the listen. In 2003, David Bowie included it on his list of 25 favorite vinyls, and he would cover “Amsterdam” as a B-side to 1973’s “Sorrow.”