Richard Clayderman! God he was terrible. Or was he?
He recorded more than 80 piano albums, much loved by the elderly and those of gentle natures, who eventually died of old age or were too sensitive for this world; and their Clayderman LPs ended up in ever single charity store the length and width of New Zealand.
No one in their right mind will ever buy them. I bought some recently. Clayderman is performing in Auckland's Logan Campbell Centre on October 14-15, and I half-thought of buying a ticket; how bad could it be? I played the records. They were only kind of terrible but also actually beautiful.
There is something touching and magnificent about the presence of so many Clayderman LPs in every single Salvation Army Family Store, every Mary Potter Hospice, every St Vincent de Paul.
The albums had undoubtedly brought such pleasure. They relieved the unbearable tensions and loneliness of countless private lives. To see them in op shops is to come across old love letters, and to wonder who they were intended for, and what heartbreak they spoke to.
Let us go then, you and I, and inspect five Clayderman LPs, bought for less than a song ($1 for the lot) the other day at the Family Store next to the laundromat behind the main shopping street in Henderson.
First album - Wears A Colourful Jacket
The birth of a legend. Clayderman's 1977 debut album is actually fairly rare and really ought to fetch at least $2. His jacket is insane and the ruffled shirt is kind of awesome and it has to be said that the dude looked hot. But the focus should be on his hands. He had such soft hands and they caressed the keys with such a soft touch. He played the piano like he was whispering sweet nothings.
There's also some groovy Moog work going on; Clayderman (real name Philippe Pagès) was signed to Delphine Records in Paris, France's answer to Flying Nun sort of thing. All his material was written, composed and arranged by Paul de Senneville and his partner Olivier Toussaint. They wrote the songs that made the whole world cry. They ought to be as famous as Lennon-McCartney, Page-Plant, Carter-Brough - some might say Shayne Carter's latest album, written entirely on piano, owes something to Clayderman. Look again at the cover. That could be Shayne Carter.
Second album - Open-Mouthed With Some Candles
Such an artless cover - it looks like his beautiful hair is about to catch fire, and the competing typefaces are locked in a duel to the death - but this is the one you will always see in every charity store. His 1979 release remains his biggest-selling hit and catapulted him to world domination. His combined album sales in 1982 were a staggering 28 million. They fell for him a little bit in America, big-time in Britain and Europe, and a law was passed in New Zealand that every second home should own a copy of Reveries.
Late in the evening, in houses from Glen Eden to Glendowie, Ahipara to Lumsden, Tolaga Bay to Okarito, householders listened to Clayderman's versions of Bridge Over Troubled Water", Fur Elise, and Don't Cry for Me Argentina. He also covered Yesterday. It's hard to go right with Yesterday. Not even Metallica could make it sound less than sickening. But there are moments when Clayderman's version - those soft hands barely touching the ivory - discovers a sweetness at the heart of that awful song. The moments last not much longer than a split-second so you have to listen carefully.
Third Album - Reveries No 2
Three years passed before Delphine Records realised that the logical follow-up to Reveries was to record Reveries No 2. Clayderman looked a bit wiser and less blond. He duded himself up in a bowtie and jacket. He'd gone concert hall; he wanted respect. De Senneville and Toussaint gave him a new range of pellucid ballads such as Les Regrets and the long-winded "Les Derniers Jours D'Anastasia Kemsky".
He knew sadness. By 1982, he'd been married and divorced. He was 18 when he wed his teenage bride Rosaline. Clayderman was later interviewed by Petronella Wyatt of the Daily Mail, who said to him, "How romantic to marry so young." He replied: "Not really. She was pregnant."
(The copy of Reveries at the Family Store contained a full-colour, 22-page programme for Clayderman's 1982 New Zealand tour. "Flowers by Teleflower.")
Fourth Album - V Serious In Front Of Bad Wallpaper
Hang on - isn't that the exact same outfit he wore on the cover of Reveries No 2? The theme of Clayderman's career was duplication. He was like a franchise, the Kentucky Fried Chicken of piano music, dishing out the same tasty odes to regret, to loneliness, to first love, to whatever various nuance of romance.
But now and then he branched out. His most ambitious album is the hard-to-find Zodiacal Symphony, from 1988, which featured 12 tracks inspired by the 12 star signs. In the Google Translate English on the Delphine Records website, "If all those who listen to the ZODIACAL SYMPHONY have the feeling that they have been better understood, then Richard Clayderman's rather ambitious goal will be considered an achievement."
Other Clayderman LPs of note include his collaborations with that other op shop king of the dumped LP, James Last, and Desperado (1993), his first album recorded without strings, featuring just percussion, guitars, bass, sax, and keyboards. It was stripped back, sparse, almost brutal. It was his Plastic Ono Band moment.
Fifth Album - Blue Jacket
Some dreamer in Christchurch is trying to sell this 1984 LP on TradeMe for a buy-now price of $22! Any takers? Any suckers? Just head down to your nearest Family Store or SPCA op shop or St John's thrift store and you're bound to snap it up for 50 cents, $1 at most. It might be the best coin you'll ever spend, because the tracks range from Hey Jude to Feelings to - gasp! - his very gentle, very Pakeha version of Pokarekareana.
He may well play it live at his two Logan Campbell centre concerts. Tickets cost $99-$129. See you there.