This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Honourable Mention Song #7: La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf, (as Covered by Louis Armstrong) and (as Nominated by Deb Wilton).
“La Vie En Rose” is a French song that was written during WWII during the German occupation of France. It translates, quite literally, to “the Pink Life” or, more accurately, to viewing life through rose-coloured glasses or having a positive outlook on things. “La Vie En Rose” was written by a lady named Edith Piaf, who is known in France as “The Little Sparrow” because she stood less that five feet tall. Edith lived a colourful life; living, in and out of brothels and bordellos in her youth. As a very young girl, the beautiful nature of her voice brought her to the attention of important people in the musical community and thus, she began singing in public while still a teenager. Over time, she began to gain fame across France. But, just as her fame was about to spread across borders and around the world, the Second World War broke out and France was quickly conquered by Germany and Piaf found herself, along with all French citizens, living under Nazi rule. During the time of occupation, Piaf regularly performed for German officers and agreed to go on singing tours in Germany which, in the eyes of many, made her a collaborator and a traitor. However, unbeknownst to all but a select few, Piaf was actually working for the French Resistance. By taking advantage of her access to high ranking German officers, Piaf was able to relay many important pieces of information to Resistance fighters. As well, she often toured prisoner of war camps and always insisted on posing for “celebrity photos” with inmates. What the Germans didn’t know was that Piaf was turning those photos over to the Resistance who, in turn, were using the inmate’s image to make new official papers for them use if they were able to escape from captivity. The final thing Piaf did to buoy the spirits of those under Nazi rule was to write the song, “La Vie En Rose”. This song is a beautiful, haunting, lilting song that speaks of a life filled with Joy and Happiness. It was a song that was sung all throughout France by ordinary citizens, all of whom were living a nightmarish existence and all of whom who were praying for better days to come. “La Vie En Rose” filled a much needed void in French life by becoming an anthem of Hope at a time when things looked their darkest. After the War was over and the Nazis were vanquished, Edith Piaf was celebrated for her role as a singer and as an agent provocateur.
The song “La Vie En Rose” captured the imagination of people beyond the borders of France, as well. As a result, there was a stampede of well known singers who all raced to cover this song. In fact, in 1947 alone, “La Vie En Rose” charted twelve different times, by twelve different singers; ranging from unknown singers getting their big break, all the way to musical titans such as Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Even Edith Piaf charted in America with her new, updated version of “La Vie En Rose” that was now in English, as well as French. That so many singers all laid claim to this song caused me to have to reach out to my friend, Deb Wilton for clarification, when it came time for me to do the research for this post. I asked her whose music she heard in her head when she listened to this song. She replied that the Louis Armstrong version was her favourite so, I will continue with our story by talking a bit about Armstrong and his connection to this glorious song. I will, also, soon discuss why Deb nominated this song, too. It is quite the story.
Louis Armstrong is one of the giants of Jazz in America. He was born in New Orleans and was lovingly called “Satchmo” for most of his career. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and later, Little Richard, Louis Armstrong was a black musician who found favour with white audiences. Armstrong’s concerts were generally a multi-racial affair, which was noteworthy for the times because usually the races didn’t mix that often in public venues. But, Louis Armstrong’s exuberant personality and his repertoire of songs made him a fan favourite regardless of colour. But, having said this, Armstrong was a black man in a country where that could be a problem so, racism was something well known, even to someone as famous as Satchmo. Thus, when he heard the joyous strains of “La Vie En Rose”, its’ hopeful message resonated within his heart, too. In Armstrong’s skilled hands, “La Vie En Rose” was given a Jazzy, bluesy, almost soulful adaptation that retained all of the original beauty of the song but made it one that sounded uniquely like an Armstrong composition, too. Louis Armstrong’s cover of “La Vie En Rose” became one of his biggest hits and signature tunes throughout the rest of his career.
This brings us back to my friend, Deb Wilton. Deb is someone who has made a difference in the lives of me and my family members (and many others, for that matter). Professionally, Deb works as an Educational Assistant in schools. In her role, she helps students in need of additional assistance to navigate their way through their school day. It takes a lot of patience and kindness and compassion to do what Deb and other EAs do each day. Over the course of her career, Deb has worked alongside by wife, Keri, when she was a classroom teacher and Deb has worked alongside me, when I was still a classroom teacher. *(I wrote about how she helped me to gain a better understanding of a very special Christmas song in a post from this countdown that you can read here). In her family life, Deb, her husband, Larry and her two daughters, Rose and Jules, have an “open door” policy whereby they will welcome in the lonely and the friendly, alike, in good times and in down times, too. They are all very generous in spirit and in deed. In fact, Deb’s daughter, Rose, has successfully organized a project called, “The Rose Quest”, whose aim is to deliver toiletries, socks and other assorted items to people who find themselves on the margins of society. By placing a small kit of wellness items in the hands of those who often have nothing, Rose and her family and friends bring hope in a time of darkness, if even for just that short period of time. The impact of letting people feel seen and valued cannot be underestimated. That’s what Rose does, along with her entire family. In many ways, the essence of the spirit behind the song, “La Vie En Rose” runs through the veins of Deb and all her family members. It is a mantra that they have taken to their hearts and have put into action in ways that make a positive difference. So, to Deb Wilton, “La Vie En Rose” is not just a piece of music, it is a piece of her heart as well. Thus, you can imagine the scene a few years ago when, after years of scraping and saving, Deb and her family got to go on a “trip of a lifetime” to England and then, a day or so in Paris, France. It was while in France that Deb’s daughter, Jules, took out her phone and found the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and played it for her Mom, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. I am sure that there were hugs and smiles and tears and, maybe even, a dance, as the words to “La Vie En Rose” filled the air in Paris that day.
Such is the power of music to heal and to inspire and to move hearts and shape minds. “La Vie En Rose” is such a song.
Thank you, Deb, for nominating such a wonderful piece of music. Thank you, as well, for trusting me with such a treasured family story. Finally, thanks for all of your stories shared and comments given throughout the course of this musical countdown. It helped make this journey better.
So, without further delay, I will post the original Edith Piaf version of this song, along with the cover version by Louis Armstrong that Deb so adores. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “La Vie En Rose” by Edith Piaf, can be found here.
The link to the official website of “The Little Sparrow”, Edith Piaf, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “La Vie En Rose”, as covered by Louis Armstrong, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Louis Armstrong, can be found here.
The link to the official website for the organization run by Deb’s daughter, Rose, called, “The Rose Quest” can be found on Facebook. Simply search for “The Rose Quest” and you can find the page dedicated to this important project. Please feel free to check it out. If you wish to contribute to it in any way, I know Rose and her family would be most appreciative.
The link to the video for the trailer about Edith Piaf’s life called, “La Vie En Rose”, can be found here.