By Richie Unterberger

It's been noted before, but it bears repeating—the 1960s weren't only about rock'n'roll. As many pundits have pointed out, it was a time when AM radio could play, back to back, the Beatles, Herb Alpert, the Supremes, and Frank Sinatra. That's not just a figure of speech—all of those acts, to take just a sampling, enjoyed massive #1 hits from 1966 to 1968. It wasn't always necessarily a good thing, but you really could hear easy listening instrumentals nonchalantly sandwiched in between the latest British Invasion and Motown smashes.

    And, if you were listening to the radio in early 1968, you really might have heard, say, the Beatles, then an easy listening instrumental, and then Otis Redding.  For the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" was perched at #1 for the first few weeks of January, with Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" settling in at #1 for a month starting in mid-March. And for five weeks of the intervening two months, that coveted #1 spot was hogged by Frenchman Paul Mauriat's easy listening instrumental "Love Is Blue"—the first instrumental to top the American charts, believe it or not, since the Tornados' "Telstar" had managed the feat way back in 1962. Wholly out of step with the day's trends, issued by an artist with virtually no name recognition in the United States, it nevertheless managed to overcome the odds with the help of that all-important asset: an unforgettable haunting melody, bolstered by an arrangement deftly combining orchestration, harpsichord, and just a hint of a swinging '60s rock beat.

    Although it must have seemed like Mauriat shot out of nowhere to become an overnight sensation in early 1968, in fact he'd not only been leading his orchestra for a quarter-century, but had already co-written a #1 American hit single—though few noticed his credit at the time. Born in 1925 in France, he formed his own band as a teenager during World War II, and gained employment with renowned French singer Charles Aznavour, working as an arranger and conductor. Also arranging for other artists, he started recording instrumental albums of his own in the early 1960s. Around that time, he also found his greatest international success that he'd experienced up to that point as a co-writer of the song "Chariot," which became a hit for Petula Clark (then often recording in the French language) in several countries. One country where it didn't find success, however, was the United States, where the song was translated into English for another singer to record for the American market. Under the title "I Will Follow Him," the tune got to #1 for Little Peggy March in the States in 1963.

    Yet Mauriat's profile was not negligible in the US prior to "Love Is Blue." Mauriat had managed to release three albums on the Philips label prior to the release of the "Love Is Blue" single (or "L'Amour Est Bleu," as it was titled in French), although according to Time, those LPs had only sold about 25,000 copies each before Mauriat landed his unexpected monster hit. "Love Is Blue" not only rocketed up the Billboard charts, but also gave the orchestra leader his first (and only) hit in the UK, where it made the Top Twenty (and where, believe it or not, a competing non-LP single version by none other than Jeff Beck made the Top Thirty). Ironically, when the song—its music written by Andre Popp (himself a noted French arranger/composer), its lyrics by Pierre Cour—had been picked to represent Luxembourg in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest (sung by a Polydor recording artist billed as Vicky), it finished only fourth.

    Mauriat would never end up making the US Top Forty singles charts again. But like "Love Is Blue," the LP on which it was included, Blooming Hits, was a simply massive seller. Like the single, it topped the charts for five weeks running, taking over as it happened from the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. Perhaps it was a backlash against the hard rock and soul that was the rage by early 1968. Or perhaps not; to sell 750,000 copies, as TimeMagical Mystery Tour and Blooming Hits in their collections. Sales were likely not hurt, either, by the cover of a reclining naked foxy lady, all the naughty bits artfully hidden (well, one breast was not so hidden), with a mock butterfly-flower mural-tattoo of sorts striped across her face and the camera-facing sides of her upper body.

    To be cold, however, those expecting a whole album of songs on the order of "Love Is Blue" might have been a tad disappointed. For half of it was given over to easy listening orchestral covers of recent pop-rock hits—including, funnily enough, a song that had been one of the highlights of Magical Mystery Tour, "Penny Lane." Also given the Mauriat treatment were "Somethin' Stupid," the chart-topping duet between Sinatras Frank and Nancy; Herman's Hermits' "(There's a) Kind of Hush"; "Puppet on a String," a #1 hit for Sandie Shaw in the UK in 1967 (and, ironically, the winner of the same 1967 Eurovision Song Contest in which "Love Is Blue" had placed fourth); and "This Is My Song," which had been a Transatlantic smash for none other than Petula Clark (although it was written by Charlie Chaplin, who used it in the last film he directed, A Countess from Hong Kong). Then there was "Mama"—not a hit, but recorded by Cher, and co-written by then-husband Sonny Bono with Jacques Monty.

    For those who hungered for less overexposed material with arrangements more in line with what they might have expected from the "Love Is Blue" single, the hard stuff—relatively speaking—was delivered by an instrumental cover of Italian singer Salvatore Adamo's "Inch Allah." With its melancholy, soaring, and grandly orchestrated melody, it might have made a worthy follow-up 45 to "Love Is Blue" itself. "Adieu  La Nuit (Adieu to the Night)," again emphasizing the most haunting side of Mauriat's repertoire, was used as a theme in the 1967 film The Night of the Generals, and co-written by famed film composer Maurice Jarre. The sole Mauriat original, "Seuls Au Monde (Alone In the World)" (credited to the same pseudonym, "Del Roma," he'd used for "Chariot"/"I Will Follow Him"), was more conventional easy listening fare than "Love Is Blue," down to the wordless vocal moans, syrupy strings, and dramatic piano flourishes.

    In the wake of "Love Is Blue"'s astonishing success in the US, Mauriat himself came to the country in early 1968. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and nabbed a few paragraphs in Time, which effused, "For those whose idea of an oldie is pre-rock'n'roll, there is still hope. A record called 'Love Is Blue' has become a hit without any of the ingredients that pop musicians have considered necessary for the past few years: the juggernaut beat, the vocalisthentic performance, and the strain of novelty. 'Love Is Blue' is concocted according to an entirely different recipe. Its rocking rhythm cradles a plaintive, folklike melody swathed in lush strings and horns…it is practically gimmick-free." "Soul Coaxing," an instrumental by another French bandleader, Raymond Lefevre, even rode the coattails of "Love Is Blue" to enter the US Top Forty just a few months later.

    Mauriat, however, had just one more, mild entry in the singles charts ("Love in Every Room," which peaked at #60 in 1968). And while nine of his subsequent albums would make the Billboard Top 200 between 1968 and 1971, none remotely approached the success of Blooming Hits; indeed just one, 1970's The Christmas Album, even made the Top Forty. Nonetheless, he continued recording and performing for decades, giving his final performance in Osaka, Japan in 1998 (though his orchestra still tours). He wasn't a one-hit wonder, exactly, but in the United States, that's what he'll remain. "Love Is Blue," meanwhile, will probably remain on the playlists of oldies and easy listening stations for as long as we're listening to music without booting up a computer. -- Richie Unterberger
magazine claimed it had by late March, you have to sell to all ages, and likewise some listeners probably had both

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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