In the early years of my blog, I used to have a running feature where I'd post two versions of the same song. I've been meaning to revive it for some time, and I finally am! Now called Double Take (previously it was Double-Up), you'll find all the old posts from this feature here. I hope to keep this up, because I love exploring different takes on the same track. It's especially interesting when you get into the world of foreign language covers, where a different cultural approach to a song, or it simply being sung in another tongue, can completely transform the feeling of a song.
In that spirit, today's Double Take selection is a special festive edition, featuring two covers – one in English and one in French – of Roger Miller's 1967 Christmas single, 'Old Toy Trains'. Written by Miller, it's such a lovely song that brings up childlike joy and the simple, nostalgic pleasures of receiving toys for Christmas. It is, in my opinion, underrated as a Christmas classic.
The first version I want to share is Glen Campbell's cover, recorded for his 1969 album That Christmas Feeling:
More specifically, I wanted to share the somewhat hidden gem of a video below – hidden in that it doesn't come up (at least for me) on Google video search when I look for Campbell's version, and doesn't have nearly as many views as it should. But if you're not familiar with the song, have a listen to the album version above first, to hear the track in its full glory.
The clip is from a 1969 Christmas episode of his variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and in it he sweetly sings 'Old Toy Trains' to his infant son. Yes, this is as schmaltzy as possible and maybe a strange choice after I railed against cheesy sentimentality in the previous post! Yet kitsch something up and it becomes more palatable to me, for some reason.
The song is followed by an introduction to Campbell's family – with his wife sporting an impressive sixties hairstyle! – and then an even schmaltzier fireside rendition of 'There's No Place Like Home'.
Now onto my favourite version of 'Old Toy Trains'. 'Petit garçon' is a French cover by Greek icon Nana Mouskouri. The song was originally adapted into French and recorded in 1968 by Graeme Allwright, a New Zealand-born folk singer-songwriter who was based in France. One of his most notable works is an album of French adaptations of Leonard Cohen songs. He passed away at the age of 93 earlier this year.
Mouskouri recorded Allwright's adaptation on her 1972 French children's album, Pour les enfants. I love her version because it's just so delicate and pretty, with her crystalline voice and some exquisite harmonies. Mouskouri also recorded the song in English, but it's the French version that's particularly magical.
Below she performs the song on a TV special broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1972 called L'arche de Noël. She's joined by chanson legend Georges Brassens (I nearly said accompanied by him on guitar, before I noticed he doesn't play the guitar he's holding at all here!), who also performed on the TV special.
I'm a big fan of vintage French TV music shows, if it wasn't obvious, so wherever I can find a vintage TV clip for a French song, I'll favour sharing that. Here, the setting with the children's audience is pretty heartwarming, and the live performance shows off Mouskouri's flawless voice. However, again it's worth listening to the studio version as well, for the full effect of what a stunning song this is.
Do you have a favourite version of this song? Or your own Christmas 'double take'? I love to hear from my readers, so please leave a comment if you'd like to chime in :).
Update: I found the full Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour Christmas Special from 1969 can be watched for free on TubiTV.