The Edmondson Blog

Les Trois Cloches - The Jimmy Brown Song

Edith Piaf and Les Compagnons de la Chanson first recorded Les Trois Cloches in 1945. The song is based upon an old Swiss folk song and was rewritten into French in 1940 by Jean Villard. Les Compagnons appeared with Piaf in the 1947 film, Neuf garçons ... un coeur (Nine boys ... one heart), from which the clip above is taken. The outstanding plaintive voiced lead tenor of Les Compagnons is Fred Mella, leader of the group through its entire near-four-decade history.

THe song was translated and rewritten into English, renamed The Three Bells, (The Jimmy Brown Song) and recorded by The Browns in 1959. The recording was produced by Chet Atkins (which just goes to show how long some people have been around in the pop industry). The Browns had good chart success with the song on both sides of the Atlantic.

The English version is not a direct translation from the French. Translated accurately, the first verse and chorus start to tell the story of Jean Francois Nicot:

A village deep in the valley
Remote, almost ignored
Here on a starry night
A new born is given to us.
His name is Jean Francois Nicot,
He is chubby, soft and pink.
In the church, handsome little man
Tomorrow you will be baptised.

A bell rings .. rings
Its sound echos and echos
Saying to an astonished world
"Its for Jean Francois Nicot."
Its to welcome a soul
A flower which opens with the day,
A feeble, feeble flame,
So weak it asks for,
Protection, tenderness, love.

The English version tells the story of Jimmy Brown:

There's a village hidden deep in the valley
Among the pine trees all forlorn
And there on a sunny morning
Little Jimmy Brown was born.
So his parents brought him to the chapel
When he was only one day old
And the priest blessed the little fellow
"Welcome, Jimmy, to the fold".

All the chapel bells were ringing
In the little valley town
And the songs that they were singing
Were for baby Jimmy Brown.
And the little congregation
Prayed for wisdom from above
"Lead us not into temptation,
Bless this hour of meditation,
Guide him with eternal love."

Interestingly, The Browns were not the first to record an English language version of the song. The very famous boogie-woogie Andrews Sisters recorded a very moving & dramatic version for Decca Records in 1951 with Gordon Jenkins' orchestra & chorus. The very sophisticated arrangement was probably ahead of its time, as it did not meet with much success and no video clip is available.

1 Responses to “Les Trois Cloches - The Jimmy Brown Song”

  1. # Blogger Dr. T

    Thanks for posting this. I just found The Three Bells on Youtube and learned that Edith Piaf sang a French version.... so I looked up the lyrics and they seemed even more beautiful than the Browns' lyrics, but I haven't had French in 23 years. Can you post the rest of the translation of the French lyrics? They look amazing in French, but I have to skip every third word or so...  

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