Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles (Avec Les Chevilles Sur Leurs Nez)

If you've ever heard the original French theme music from The Magic Roundabout, or rather Le Manège Enchanté (which, as we've already heard, and will soon hear again, is more or less the same thing but with some subtle yet significant differences), you'll know that, much like the show itself, it's broadly similar to the version you're familiar with, but at the same time subtly yet significantly different. It's built around the same chords and melody but is performed at a much slower pace, and is bolstered by some very sixties organ work and an arrangement not unlike that of a Francoise Hardy record. At one point it even had lyrics, sung as a duet between Margote and Pere Pivoine (or Florence and Mr. Rusty in 'old money'), which basically just do little apart from describe how a roundabout habitually turns round but at least sound nice and exotic in the original French. Later on, for some reason, the producers saw fit to replace it with Pollux (or 'Dougal' in old money) singing a bland song with a peg on his nose about how he was "friend of all adults and children", apparently, and which sounds about as far removed from a Françoise Hardy record as you're liable to get. Even if she was to stick a peg on her nose.

Over here on the BBC, the earliest Eric Thompson-redubbed instalments did indeed use an instrumental version of the original theme, but eschewed the delights of hastily penning some mechanic rotation-centric lyrics for Sandie Shaw (though someone at EMI's cheapo imprint Music For Pleasure later did write some, albeit not for Sandie Shaw, and yes they're every bit as unimaginative as you're probably imagining, but that's another story), in favour of swapping it for a manically sped-up reworking that sounded like it was being played on a steam-driven barrel organ held together with springs and on the verge of exploding; the only resemblance this would bear to a Françoise Hardy record would be if you were to play one at 16rpm while throwing your record player down the stairs.

This would stay in place for the entirety of its run (and indeed for the later Nigel Planer-dubbed Channel 4 remounting, albeit horribly compressed and with some nasty synth bass added, but that's another story... and one that we won't even be going near frankly), and that was pretty much it as far as music for The Magic Roundabout (as opposed to Le Manège Enchanté) went. While the original versions featured dozens of admittedly rather inconsequential songs, as evidenced by those featured in the big-screen spinoff Dougal And The Blue Cat (where they came accompanied by all manner of choreographed hoo-hah so there was pretty much no option but to leave them in place), Thompson preferred to leave the 'clean' instrumentals on the undubbed film prints simply as vocal-free backing music, and get on with the more serious business of wisecracking about mouthy plants forming unions. Though he did once see fit to incorporate a self-recorded approximation of Dylan and Brian jamming an instrumental cover of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. No, really.

How and why said worryingly haphazard 'everybody take cover!!' arrangement came to be used for the BBC redubs in place of the original themes, and indeed from whence it came in the first place, are questions to which there seems to be no straightforward answer. There's not even an easily identifiable artist credit, more a logic bomb-esque confusion of series creators and music publishers and what appears to be some initials too, so it's not so much a research dead-end as something that gives you a headache just by looking at it. But used it was, at the start and end (and sometimes in the middle) of close to four hundred editions of The Magic Roundabout, so small wonder that it's come to be so firmly embedded in the national subconscious, and indeed so powerfully evocative of a surreal pyschedelic mindset that all of those tedious rumours about it being 'about drugs' could only hope to even begin to hint at.

And here it was, at the start of the fourth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, poised ready to evoke that selfsame surreal psychedelic mindset without the aid of psychotropic substances or a peg on Mireille Mathieu's nose (or Marianne Faithfull in 'old money'). But would it work? And, more to the point, what made up the remainder of that fourth track?

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