The Fires of Brel

Few artists understood and exuded the flames of passion quite like Jacques Brel. Born in Brussels in 1929, Brel went on to become a successful actor, poet, and singer-songwriter, and his own brand of passionate songs influenced many artists during his lifetime. Although Brel died in 1978 at an early age of 49, his legacy still remains strong today.

Brel’s songs weren’t just words put to music, his performances weren’t just renditions; his songs were fervent, poetic, philosophical tales and Brel lived, breathed, and felt the passion of every word on stage.

His songs have been widely translated and covered in English by many artists most notably: Scott Walker, David Bowie, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, and Marc Almond. Here is a comprehensive list of cover versions.

Some of Brel’s most famous and widely covered songs include:

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Here is Brel’s emotional performance of perhaps his most famous song Ne Me Quitte Pas — meaning ‘don’t leave me’, its English translation of If You Go Away, although very popular, seems to lose Brel’s passionate desperation and gives in to sad resignation instead. It has been covered by many artists including Dusty Springfield.


Covered by Scott Walker and was included on his album of Brel covers Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel.

La Chanson de Jacky

This version by Marc Almond entitled Jacky was a Top 40 hit for the singer and featured on his 1991 album Tenement Symphony.

Quand on N’a Que L’amour

Translated as If We Only Have Love, this song has been covered by many artists including Johnny Mathis and Nana Mouskouri.

La Mort

Translated as My Death it was covered by David Bowie in his 1973 film Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.

Le Moribond

Of all the translations I’m familiar with, this one is probably the oddest. Brel’s original is sung by a man whose time has come, and we find him sneering and bidding farewell to his cheating wife and friends. It is most famously translated as Seasons in the Sun and covered here by Terry Jacks in 1974, however this version replaces the brilliant cynicism of the original with sun-kissed sentimentality.

And while we’re talking about flames of passion and emotional performances we have to mention the wonderful and legendary Nina Simone whose spirit and fragility were evident in every note she played and sang; she was a rare talent who is still sadly missed.

Here is Nina Simone’s entrancing version of Ne Me Quitte Pas.

© 2016 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Flames


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