Fans of the peculiar charms of French-born songstress and actress Claudine Longet may know the beguiling 'Electric Moon' from her 1971 album, We've Only Just Begun. The song was written by Donovan – whose brilliance and versatility as a songwriter tends to be seriously underrated, in my opinion – and produced and arranged by Nick DeCaro. Assigned by A&M Records to work on Longet's music in 1966, DeCaro was the chief architect behind her brand of lush easy-listening, arranging and/or producing seven of her eight albums (including 1974's Sugar Me, which remained unissued until 1993). Andy Williams, Longet's then-husband, liked DeCaro's work so much, he hired him to work on his own records.
- Claudine Longet - Electric Moon (1971)
- Claudine Longet - Como la luna (1971)
Longet also released a Spanish language cover of 'Electric Moon' as 'Como la luna'. She appeared on a show called Estudio Abertio on Spain's TVE around early October 1971, performing this and the B-side 'Mucho tiempo mas', a cover of Linda Ronstadt's 'Long, Long Time'.
Donovan never released a version himself but, according to this EIL listing, did record a demo acetate for Longet. The only recording of Donovan performing the song to have surfaced is in a 1970 film called There Is An Ocean, which was unreleased until its inclusion in the 2005 box set, To Try For The Sun.
The film, coming in at just thirty-five minutes, documents Donovan and his band Open Road spending time in the Greek Isles, where they played a few intimate gigs to small crowds of locals. There are a couple of songs including 'Electric Moon' that we don't see performed live, but instead are played over shots of the beautiful island scenery; I don't know if this means they aren't from any of the live sessions. This song sounds similar in composition to the live songs, with the simple line-up of acoustic guitars, bongos and finger cymbals. Unlike the live songs, there is some added bouzouki, but the instrument and a player would not have been hard to come by in their surrounds. What makes me think it's either from a different session, or enhanced later, is it sounds like both parts of the vocal harmonies are Donovan.
The Longet fansite Cuddle Up With Claudine (no, thank you) describes Longet's version as "an attempt to match the sing-along, gypsy feel of Mary Hopkin's memorable “Those Were the Days.”" Though it's a very apt comparison, Hopkin's hit reflects the Russian folk sounds of the song it was based on, whereas 'Electric Moon' has always sounded distinctly Greek to my ears (though the dramatic violin does add a certain Russian feel at moments). With its finger-snapping rhythm and touches of bouzouki (or something bouzouki-like – perhaps a mandolin mimicking one?), it's hard to mistake its Greek influence. So hearing Donovan's version in this Greek setting seems befitting.
What's more, I discovered that in The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan writes of a direct Greek inspiration for the song, which he in fact wrote during the tour that was captured in There Is An Ocean:
The distant music of a taverna came drifting over the water and I picked up my guitar. The minor strain of a sad Greek tune started in me. As I watched the lovers courting in the shadows, I felt that same longing.
A French cover, 'Il faut toujours croire à la chance' ('One must always believe in luck'), was released by a singer named Marie in December 1971. Her version – which scraps the Mediterranean feel and has completely different lyrics – was a minor hit in France, reaching number twenty-three and staying in the charts for seven weeks (according to this). I can't see any evidence that either of Longet's versions charted, so Marie's may well have been the most successful recording of 'Electric Moon'.
Marie was Marie-France Dufour, a singer who started her recording career in 1970 and released a number of singles and one album over the next decade. She scored a big hit with 'Soleil' in 1971, which tied for first place at the annual Rose d'or d'Antibes festival and went on to spend several months in the charts, peaking at number two and becoming the eighth highest-selling local single of the year. Another song of hers, 'Souviens-toi de moi', also did well that year and at one point she had both songs in the top ten simultaneously. In 1973, Marie represented Monaco in the Eurovision Song Contest, placing eighth. She married Lionel Gaillardin from Il Était Une Fois, a 1970s rock band whom she financially backed and helped launch to huge, overnight success. In 1980, she voiced Éponine on the original concept album of Les Misérables. Marie made one more album in 1988 as Marie Marie – the same name she'd used on her first solo single from 1970. Sadly, she died of leukemia at just 41 years old.
There's a Facebook fan page for Marie which has some sources of more info about her, like this magazine profile from 1971, or this post by someone who knew her in the 1960s. From these, I learned Marie was a nature-loving, anti-racist pacifist who briefly worked as a nurse's aide in a psychiatric clinic before following her dream to make music. The friend who posted about her talks about how they started a band in 1965 (which I believe was unusual for women in France at the time – at least there are very few recorded works from bands that include women), and that later she was inspired by the events of May 68 to return to music and sing about things she believed in. I'm glad I found this page – which oddly, was completely by accident as I was preparing this post – as Marie has mostly been forgotten, with just a few sparse, dry facts about her to be found. These stories about her brought to life a lovely talent gone too soon.