“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.
For this feature, we use random.org to pick a random number that corresponds to one of (currently) 1,082 number-one hits. I rolled #199, and grew quite excited as I began scrolling through the list. #199 falls in 1968, smack in the Beatles heyday, just following recent chart-toppers like “Penny Lane” and “All You Need Is Love.” Other iconic standards of the era from “Respect” to “Light My Fire” lie right around #199 – and #200 is “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” A golden era for the Hot 100’s pole position.
Well, not entirely. As you might guess from the mustacheoed photo above, #199 bucks the trend a bit. Rather than getting a cutting-edge classic pushing rock and pop music forward, I landed on the easy-listening instrumental “Love Is Blue,” as performed by French conductor Paul Mauriat. It inexplicably topped the carts for five weeks – that’s a week longer than “Dock of the Bay” would! It does make Mauriat the only French lead artist to ever top the Hot 100, which I suppose is something.
Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue” is, itself, a cover. Composer André Popp wrote the music a year before under the French title “L’amour est bleu.” Greek singer Vicky Leandros beat Mauriat to the song by a few months, entering it as Luxembourg’s entry into the 1967 Eurovision song contest. Her version came in a respectable fourth, with Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet on a String” taking the prize that year.
Having just missed landing on any number of rock classics, I was ready to hate this song. But it hooked me. Though it hardly sounds like what we think of as a number-one hit today, “Love Is Blue” proves quite charming in its unassuming way. A pleasant melody gets enough oomph from the horn stabs to keep the energy up, and the prominent harpsichord flourishes at least hint at the psychedelic movement going on elsewhere. Sure enough, several other versions bring the song fully into psychedelia. So we’ll start there.
The Quests – Love Is Blue (Paul Mauriat cover)
One of the most popular bands in Singapore’s history, The Quests recorded “Love Is Blue” in
1970 1968. It blends Doors organ with wah-wah guitar and touches of surf-rock. It’s only a matter of time before Quentin Tarantino digs this out for a movie soundtrack.
Marty Robbins – Love Is Blue (Paul Mauriat cover)
The covers database SecondHandSongs lists over 25 covers that came out the same year as Muriat’s, by everyone from Jeff Beck to Bing Crosby. Most were instrumentals, but the song did have lyrics. Two sets, in fact, written first in French by Pierre Cour, then translated into English by Brian Blackburn. It’s the latter that country legend Marty Robbins draws from on his 1968 cover, turning “Love Is Blue” into the sort of orchestral ballad that Glen Campbell might have sung.
Heather – Love Is Blue (Paul Mauriat cover)
Want a version with the lyrics and the psychedelia? Singer Heather – about whom I can find next to no information online – teamed up with The Thunderbirds for one of her only releases. She sounds like another one-named singer of the time: Melanie. And, like the Quests, she hailed from Singapore as well. Big song there, apparently.
The Dells – I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love Is Blue (Paul Mauriat cover)
Posies founder Ken Stringfellow introduced me to this one last year. He captured the cover’s power beautifully: “The Dells managed to burn off the passivity of the original composition and distill it down to the most important part: Pain. And Passion. In their hands it becomes a dazzling blue flame of disillusionment and telling us just how fucked it is. Um… these were black Americans in 1969. They knew. The rainbow is gone.”
Edgar Cruz – Love Is Blue (Paul Mauriat cover)
Covers drop off precipitously after the 1960s ended. Only the occasional YouTube guitarist seems to cover the song today. The only good 21st-century version I could find comes from Oklahoma City acoustic guitarist Edgar Cruz, who played a seriously impressive finger-picked version on a 2002 live album.