Posted by: kaleidophonic | October 7, 2011

Expo 67 (Pt. 2)

It’s Friday! Let’s celebrate with some music from Expo 67!

 

Yesterday I wrote a short review of a book I’m working my way through, Expo 67: Not Just a Souvenir, remarking upon how the editors say a lot about the rich visual record of this event, but don’t have much to say about the sounds of Expo. Today I’m going to continue this discussion, focusing on the official theme song of Expo.

Early in 1966, the Expo organizers announced that they intended to hold a world-wide competition for the official theme song. The Expo offices were flooded with submissions over the subsequent year – according to the album jacket produced for the winner, over 2200 submissions, from 35 countries! A finalist was announced Nov. 27th 1966: “Un jour, un jour / Hey friend, say friend”, composed by Montreal songwriter Stéphane Venne. Venne had been writing songs since the early sixties, but winning the Expo theme song competition gave his career a real boost. Over the next few decades he was involved in the SuperFrancoFête concert in Quebec city in 1974, and organized a theme-song competition for Montreal’s 1976 Olympics. He also co-wrote the theme for the popular film Les Plouffes, for which he and Claude Denjean won the Canadian Film Award for best song and film music in 1982, and in 1984 he wrote the theme for Quebec City’s 375th Anniversary. He was also involved in record production and radio, as well as producing several albums of ‘Quebecois’ background music (or muzak), and commercial jingles.

45 rmp sleeve "Un jour un jour"

Although “Un jour un jour” was recorded by a variety of artists, the official Expo version was performed by Donald Lautrec. The previous year Lautrec had been named “male singing discovery” at a Montreal music gala, and had recorded a handful of popular tunes (including one called “Le Ska”!).  The official Expo 45 rpm featured Lautrec’s French performance on side A, with the English version on the B-side.

At some point in 1966 or ’67 a video was shot featuring a bilingual version of “Un jour un jour…”, with the lyrics alternating between French and English. Previously the song had existed in two separate versions. The video for this bilingual version featured  Lautrec as the pilot of an Air Canada aircraft (pretty airline hostesses at his side), and served partly as a showcase for the modern facilities at Dorval airport. Check out the video below.

 

The centrality of Canada’s national air-carrier here reflects a major theme of Expo: that of Canada’s modernity. Air travel, by the 1960s, had become relatively affordable to the masses, a sign of post-war affluence (as well as cheap gas prices!). Air Canada was a central player in Expo – they had their own pavilion, and were the official airline of the exhibition.

The Air Canada Pavilion

Venne’s composition was heavily promoted and received a lot of airplay, but it was not without controversy: the lyrics of the song made no direct references to Expo, Montreal, or Canada.

In an interview for CBC radio’s Centennial Diary, Venne was asked to comment on this fact. He defended the theme by pointing out that France’s national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, made no mention of France; and that furthermore there were only two national anthems that included the country of origin in the lyrics – one of which was “O Canada”, which had only very recently been adopted as Canada’s national song.

The lyrics to Expo’s theme song were clearly meant to evoke Canada (with references to wide open spaces and two oceans) as well as Expo, with references to a party on an invented island. It also evoked a sense of the psychedelic – this was 1967, the technicolor Summer of Love and height of the counterculture’s popularity. “Sorti de notre têtes, ” the song went, “toutes aux couleurs de l’été”. (Trans: “Out of our heads, all in colours of the summer”).

But the critics had a point: how effective could “Un jour un jour” be, as promotional material, if it didn’t mention Montreal or Expo explicitly?

Luckily, Venne’s song wasn’t the only one written to celebrate Expo. In a few days I’ll post some more stuff on this topic, featuring the kaleidophonic sounds of Expo.

Until then, stay tuned!

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