Kind reader Carl read my mind by sending me this song a while back, as I was going to post about missing out repeatedly on getting the Jany L single. The story: I saw the single on Ebay a few times for 1 or 2 dollars/euros and though it looked alluring, I was always too short of funds to risk forking out international postage for a record I hadn't heard. Eventually, a copy came up for the same price, with a sound file that let me hear its brilliance, so I bid. It went for £25 - well out of the budget of a shallow-pocketed collector from a country with a weak dollar! (That would have been about $60 Australian, plus up to $20 postage). The next copy went for about the same and since then, any I've seen always reach an inhibitory final price. Elsewhere was even worse, with copies ranging from 50€ (e.g.
here and here) up to 243€ ( here)! Needless to say, I was kicking myself for not taking a risk and getting it cheap before I'd heard it.
But there's a happy ending: I finally nabbed a copy - settling for one with writing on the sleeve - for a decent price. The scribbling is right over her face, but I restored her untainted beauty in the scan above. (The white glare under her nose and on her chin is how the sleeve actually looks; the writing was on her cheek and nose).
Who was Jany L.? Yet another mysterious mademoiselle, so many of whom cut one or two fabulous 45s, then seem to never have dabbled in music again. Jany's entire output was just two singles. 'Le Restaurant Chinois' is on a label called Germinal, and I wondered if it had anything to do with Germinal Tenas, the producer/songwriter behind girls like Clothilde and Christine Delaroche, known for his unusual arrangements and interesting touches.
But it looks like my theory was wrong. The A-side is written by Jany L. and Bernard Kesslair, the B-side by Jany, G. Dayvis and J. Appel and production credited to 'L.P.I'. Kesslair, who wrote for pop stars like Claude François, Johnny Hallyday and Michèle Torr as well as being a classical and film soundtrack composer, was the arranger on both tracks. So no sign of Tenas here.
Still, with its use of a stand-out quirky sound - in this case, the xylophone playing the familiarly kitsch Western idea of Chinese music - amidst a sweetly upbeat orchestral pop-rock arrangement, along with its cheerful brass accents and Jany's soft voice, it's certainly a stylistic cousin to cult favourites like Clothilde.
Cutie Jany sings about the thrill of eating with chopsticks at Chinese restaurants. "When I have no money, I only have bowl of white rice. But with chopsticks, even rice is super!" Bamboo shoots are a struggle, she tells us, but Peking Duck is real exercise!
Does the stereotypically cartoonish 'Oriental' part cross the line into being offensive? I'd say it sits in the same place as some of the more well-meaning tracks on the compilation Chop Suey Rock, which features 60s garage bands performing songs in the same vein. Though other songs among its inclusions more clearly cross the line, they are all collected in a good-humoured way with a knowing nod to the political incorrectness of the times. There's a certain innocence in 60s pop culture's fascination with the seemingly exotic, even if sometimes executed in a less than desirable way. It's that sense of innocence, the harmless lyrics (unless there's a subtext my poor knowledge of French means I'm missing?) and the fact that the part in question suits the overall arrangement, rather than being a garishly comical sore thumb, that prevents this song being offensive, to my mind. But I'm sure to some, simply the inclusion of such a clichéd sound evokes such nightmares as Mickey Rooney's turn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
- Jany L. - Les Madeleines
- Jany L. - Herald Tribune
The B-side doesn't quite match the magnificence of 'Le Restaurant Chinois', although that's inevitable. But 'Les Madeleines' still stands up as an elegant piece of light baroque pop. 'Herald Tribune', her other single, is also not in the same league, but has its own fun charm and highlights more of the beguiling quality to her voice. Are her cries of "New York Herald Tribune!" possibly a tribute to Jean Seberg's character in À bout de souffle (Breathless), or simply another reference to these newspaper girls? Like so many French pop songs of the time, again the theme is the ubiquitous presence of American influence, but whether this is of the adulatory variety, or the mocking one, I can't tell (but I'm always happy to be enlightened by French-speaking readers!). Either way, it's a shame Jany, clearly talented at both songwriting and performing, didn't give us more. Thanks again to Carl, who also provided both these mp3s.