One of the problems music aficionados have from time to time is a song that get stack in their head and stubbornly will not let go. We are a breed that stores thousands of musical phrases in our head, and sometimes cannot sort out what a familiar piece of music is. This likely happens to many folks, but a music aficionado will obsess about such an annoyance until the mystery is solved while countless sleepless nights are endured. Here is one such tale that led me to discover music history nuggets I was not familiar with.
It all started when one day I was listening to some good music as I was driving back from work and a sliver of electric organ sound on one of the songs reminded me of an old melody I have not heard since my childhood. It was a schmaltzy little ditty and might as I try I could not remember the origin of the tune. What is that damn song? As good as Google is, looking for a piece of music played on an electric organ several decades ago will not get you far. A few days later the first clue revealed itself. I vaguely remembered something about the music being played in a film. Brain cells now inspired to demonstrate they are not dead, another memory transpired of a French film about a witch. I was on a mission now. Typing feverishly “electric organ French film witch” yielded nothing useful. I added 70s, 60s and 50s to the query. Nothing. I switched to the images view, maybe some visual will trigger my memory. You cannot imagine the amount of horror movie posters that came up. And I thought this genre was an American phenomena. I guess B movies can be made anywhere given their low budgets. I started scrolling down through pictures of vampires, girls minimally cladded and screaming, people at the full spectrum of lunacy. But wait, one picture caught my eye. A blonde, generous cleavage (ok, that is not unique) in a movie called “The Blonde Witch”. The image was familiar although the name of the actress, Marina Vlady, did not ring a bell. But that was enough information to keep digging. I found that the original name of that movie is La Sorcière, a French movie from 1956 directed by André Michel.
On YouTube I found a few clips of this rarity and on one of them – Aha! – the nagging melody came up.
Turns out that the film score was written by Norbert Glanzberg, a Polish Jew who escaped to France when the Nazis came to power. At some point he was arrested but secretly released with the help of actress Marie Bell who participated in the French resistance. It is said that Edith Piaf provided the financial backing to the affair. After the Second World War Glanzberg wrote a few songs for Piaf, among them the well-known Padam Padam. In the 50s we became a prolific film composer and wrote over 20 film scores. One of them was for the movie La sorcière.
Mystery solved? Not yet. The familiar melody from La sorcière is played with an orchestra, harp and flutes. Where is the electric organ? Back to more Googling. Looking for additional performances of this soundtrack I found the holy grail. That aged electric organ sound came through with the schmaltzy melody that somehow became haunting when played on that instrument. The performer was Virginie Morgan.
I had to find out more about this organ player who stole many of my nights. But no. Nothing came up on this Morgan lady. Zip, other than the fact that she made countless of other recordings for the French label Ducretet-Thomson during the 50s until the label was acquired by London Records. How can someone who made so many recordings remain unknown and with no Google entry? I will spare you my toils, but after perusing Google’s back pages (seriously, who looks beyond Google’s first or second search result pages?) I found the info nugget that solved the final part of this mystery. Virginie Morgan was the pseudo name of Spanish Organ player and bandleader Miguel Ramos who moved to France in the 50s and used a mock name to sell more records. Still mostly unknown outside of Spain, Ramos recorded numerous albums, scored film music, arranged, accompanied other artists, and played in many pop and jazz concerts.
So – mystery finally solved. I lost sleep for a 1956 melody composed by a Polish Jew who fled to France to a B movie about a blonde sorcerer, played by a Spanish Organ player who also moved to the same land in the 50s and used a pseudo girl name. All in a day’s work. I can have my nights back.
Here is that 50s electric organ by Miguel Ramos (aka Virginie Morgan):