Rain, tears and dreams: Sounds from May 1968

Rain and tear(gase)s

Exactly 50 years ago, in May 1968, promising Greek musicians Vangelis Papathanassiou, Demis Roussos and Lucas Sideras find themselves in Paris, following a failed attempt to relocate to London. There, caught up in the whirlwind of student riots and amid general unrest in the French capital, the group is christened Aphrodite’s Child and releases the single Rain and Tears.

A lyrical composition based on Pachelbel’s Canon in D major, the song became an immediate hit and reached No. 1 in the French charts, thus setting the stage for the band’s hugely successful yet short career (their final album and acclaimed psychedelic masterpiece 666 would be released in 1972).

An unlikely soundtrack to the May 1968 events in France, Rain and Tears became widely popular among those fighting and singing out on the streets of Paris, despite its English and seemingly non-political lyrics. According to Demis Roussos, however, its very title was a veiled reference to the ongoing revolt, with “rain” standing for the May rainfalls in Paris and “tears” alluding to the tear gases thrown in the streets of the French capital.

A dream longer than the night

Vangelis, who would later achieve global fame with his music scores for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, revisited the May 1968 events a few years later in his album Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit (“Make your dream last longer than the night”, a title borrowed by one of the slogans used during the May events), recorded in 1971 and released in 1972.

Only released in France and Greece, this remarkable album (originally subtitled “Poème Symphonique”) is a two-part collage of chants, protest songs, field recordings, sound effects, instrumental passages, as well as news and conversation snippets. Centering on May 1968 and inspired by the French student riots, it can be seen as Vangelis’s personal, highly evocative interpretation and musical reflection on the events.

After all, the spirit of the French May had to do not only with politics, but also the power of imagination and creativity. In the words of prominent film director Costas Ferris, who participated in the street battles in Paris (and would later pen the lyrics for Aphrodite’s Child landmark album 666), the whole May ´68 affair “was not just about street battles, confrontation and politicization. It was poetry”.

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