…oh will you never let me be?

I am convinced. Even now.  If you’re artistically inclined and spend a little time in Paris with the “right” person, your muse will come a’ calling. Penned by English writer, entertainer and Head of Variety at the BBC, Eric Maschwitz (using the ambitious nom de plume, Holt Marvell), today’s selection came to light after a fine romance with Hollywood actress Anna May Wong, who had recently departed for America.

Along with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (another Holt Marvell wonder) “These Foolish Things” is known as a “Mayfair Song” although many of the lyrics clearly evoke the City of Light.

Written one Sunday morning in Maschwitz’s London flat, with three choruses and a verse, the lyrics were dictated over the telephone to composer Jack Strachey, who quickly wrote the music.  The song was first used in a 1936 late-evening “live review” broadcast, and seemed like such a clunker that Maschwitz’s agent refused to publish it, allowing Maschwitz to keep the copyright. A stroke of luck because soon-after, popular pianist Leslie Hutchinson discovered the sheet music on a piano in Maschwitz’s office and asked if he could record it.

This time it was a huge success and Maschwitz later claimed to have earned in excess of £40,000 (a tidy sum in the ‘30s and ‘40s) from the soon-to-be standard, which has since been covered by the likes of Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby (who omitted the line, “The song that Crosby sings”), Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, James Brown, Aaron Neville, Sammy Davis Jr and many others, with instrumental jazz arrangements covered by Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Count Basie and Lester Young.

Today’s version (with lyrics that vary slightly from the original) was the title track for a debut solo album in 1973, although the singer was already a well-known recording artist.  Born and raised on a farm in County Durham, Bryan Ferry was a pottery teacher by day and a musician by night when he and some friends (including the eccentric, talented Brian Eno) formed the art-rock group, Roxy Music in 1971.

Remembered today for its musical sophistication and fascinating experimentation, as well as for its racy album covers, Ferry, who had gained renown for his sartorial elegance, managed to become involved with a heroic number of those racy cover models (most famously, Jerry Hall).  Yes, he looked good, but anyone who begins his solo career singing about the ‘sigh of midnight trains in empty stations’ has a few of the (not so foolish but) fundamental things…figured out


 These Foolish Things

 Oh will you never let me be?

Oh will you never set me free?

The ties that bound us are still around us

There’s no escape that I can see.

And still those little things remain

That bring me happiness or pain.

 A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces

An airline ticket to romantic places,

And still my heart has wings

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

 A tinkling piano in the next apartment

Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant,

A fairground’s painted swings,

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

 You came, you saw, you conquered me,

When you did that to me, I somehow knew that this had to be.

 The winds of March that make my heart a dancer.

A telephone that rings – but who’s to answer?

Oh, how the ghost of you clings

These foolish things

Remind me of you

 Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow,

Wild strawberries only seven francs a kilo.

And still my heart has wings

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

The park at evening when the bell has sounded,

The Isle de France with all the girls around it.

The beauty that is spring

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

I know that this was bound to be

These things have haunted me

For you’ve entirely enchanted me

 The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations

Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations.

Oh, how the ghost of you clings

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

 First daffodils and long excited cables

And candlelight on little corner tables,

And still my heart has wings

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

 The smile of Garbo and the scent of roses

The waiters whistling as the last bar closes,

The song that Crosby sings,

These foolish things

Remind me of you.

How strange, how sweet to find you still

These things are dear to me

That seem to bring you so near to me

 The scent of smouldering leaves, the wail of steamers,

Two lovers on the street who walk like dreamers,

Oh, how the ghost of you clings

These foolish things

Remind me of you, just you.

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