Mark Sullivan looks at the 30-year history of a classic song
‘Quand on est en amour’ is the best-known song written by the Quebec writer and singer of country music Patrick Norman, stage name of Yvon Éthier, born in 1946 in Montréal. He wrote it in 1984, and despite its country-folk character he seems to have performed it from the start in a Middle-of-the-Road style. Its success led him in 1987 to write an English-language version, ‘Only love sets you free’ with rather different lyrics.
Here is Patrick Norman singing in the late 1980s first ‘Quand on est en amour’ and then returning to the stage to sing ‘Only love sets you free’. (You can tell the era from the hairstyles.)
[Norman’s then rather louche looks recall for British viewers the fabled Peter Sarstedt of ‘Where do you go to my lovely ?’ fame]
‘Quand on est en amour’, originally a country song, was thus ‘Barry-Manilowed’ to a degree by its own composer. So it is perhaps not surprising that it went on to be covered by crooners like Frank Michael (Belgium’s Andy Williams), the rock-turned-MoR singer Marie-Chantal Toupin and the mainstream country singer Guylaine Tanguay.
Norman himself has not greatly changed his own interpretation, as shown here in 2009 (no longer looking like Peter Sarstedt).
‘Quand on est en amour’, having become an overplayed MoR standard, was ripe for humorous satire. What looked like the ultimate fate of the song was the enjoyable performance by the satirist Gilles Gauthier in early 2000s. He sang lines in voices imitating some well-known people of the time – Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Pope Jean-Paul II (beautifully done), Charles Aznavour, Peter Falk as Colombo, Bernard Landry the Parti Québecois Prime Minister in 2001-2003, and a wonderful lampoon of the much-mocked René Angelil, husband and manager of Céline Dion.
With this heritage, it was very brave of Laurence Hélie to take the song and for the first time create a true country-folk version in her debut album of 2010, where it is the final song. Her voice is perfect for the straightforward lyrics, and the arrangement blows away the MoR tone and image that the song had acquired.
The lyric, which I have translated directly into English of ‘Quand on est en amour’ is below Laurence Hélie’s fine performance here:
You can find my translation among the comments.