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The Best Of Jacques Brel: Top 10 Songs

Updated on May 19, 2014

My Top Ten Songs of Jacques Brel:

Jacques Brel was widely known for mastering the musical art of modern chanson, and for his unique, intelligent, and thoughtful writings, which are often acerbic, eccentric and provocative. His musical artistry and superb performances sent a rippling shock wave throughout the world of music, first resonating in France and Belgium, and, quickly afterwards, to the rest of the world, where he had major influence over rising stars of the time like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.

As a tribute for Jacques Brel, I've curated some of his best songs to share with you. So, If you are not a Francophile, you might just be after listening to his charming chansons written in fluent french; an enthralling experience. Without further ado, here are my top ten songs of Jacques Brel in downward order:

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Brel's Dan les port d'Amsterdam is a narrative song about profligate sailors living their mundane, shallow life at the port of Amsterdam while reveling with whores. The peculiarity of this song emits through the words - very harmonious in sound, replete with rhymes, and a true mastery of the French language. What I also like about this song is its crescendo effect, climaxing with an abrupt outcry facing the perfidiousness of the scenery. Overall, Brel delivers an extraordinaire stage act with one of the greatest performances you will ever witness in your life. It is very cathartic to watch and to listen; a must for all.

YouTube: Dan les port d'Amsterdam

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And now to Jacques Brel's most famous song Ne Me Quitte Pas. I don't think a top ten would be complete without this song. In this song, Brel writes a sentimental, heart-breaking tale about romance and forlorn love. Love is presented as a kingdom, but, ironically, it seems more brutal and cruel to watch it pounding at the heart of the desolated.

YouTube: Ne Me Quitte Pas

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Brel takes us back to his childhood, growing up. It isn't a merry reminiscence, but rather resembles a mournful psychotherapy session. He laments the absence of his parents who are more preoccupied by frivolities than his own emotional state. As a child, he is lonely with no parental care, dreaming about the outside world and looking for company and friendship.

The melody, the piano and the song writing is phenomenal; the sounds and the Lyrics are inexorably and emotionally moving.

YouTube: Mon Enfance

Discography of Jacques Brel


2 CD 40 songs total with English Translations. A great collection of his songs including some of his greatest hits: Ne Me Quitte Pas, Mon Enface, Quand On N'a Que L'amor and more.

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

A musical film featuring Jacques Brel songs.


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"Fils de cesar ou fils de rien. Tous les enfants sont comme le tien" Translates to: " Sons of cesar or sons unknown. All of the children are like your own."

This is a humanistic song, promoting human solidarity and equality. In it, a thoughtful message to us all: we are all alike; whether sons of the great Cesar or sons of the poor, all are equally valuable.

YouTube: Fils de...

Scott Walker Singing Brel (English)

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It's hard not to be enthralled by the next piece. Brel amazes us with an impressive skill of rapid singing accompanying suitably the waltz style of dancing.

YouTube: Valse a Mille Temps

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This is another fascinating song, in which Brel attacks human "civilization," and blaming it for the deprivation of human life and the natural world of its liberty. It is a sardonic, astringent criticism on human society and on the debauchery of human life thanks to the "civilized" world. It starts with religion intolerance, hate mongering groups, sex industries having to reduce physical love to a commodity, and culminating with the creation of weapons of mass-destruction, the final bankruptcy of humanity. A criticism that is still pertinent today, and will be for generations to come.

YouTube: Les Singes

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Brel was a staunch atheist, and one could say - he loved to mock religion. He was consistent in his scorn for religious doctrine through his writings,

rejecting the absurdity of a personal god at any possible opportunity. Here is a great quote from the next song:

"Ah si j'etais diable en les voyant parfois

Je crois que je me ferais chatrer

Si j'etais Dieu en les voyant prier

Je crois que je perdrais la foi

Par les bigotes"

"Ah, If I had been the devil and had to have to see them often, I think I would have castrated myself. If I were god seeing them pray, I think I would lose my faith, because of the bigots."

He gives a hilarious performance, mimicking religious bigots and mocking their hypocritical pretense.

Dailymotion: Les Bigotes

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Brel's acrimony towards the bourgeois is blatant in this song. He derides their lifestyle, and condemns their condescending demeanor and their fake facade. Here is another bonus song where Brel's denigration of the bourgeois class reaches its climax when he compares them to "cochons," i.e., pigs.

Dailymotion: Les Bourgeois

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Brel have always been notorious for his bad relationships with women. This song epitomizes Brel's view on relationships, and rejects woman need to rule over men.

He has been mocked for his horse-like teeth, exploited financially and drained mentally; he attacks back with a witty remark in the end of the song.

Dailymotion: Cheval

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In the next song, Brel criticizes men irrevocable need to war and their innate militarism. During his time in the military, his sense of self, his individualism, has been demolished by the rigorous demands of the army. Au Suivant is Brel's example of complete surrender to the army, while forsaking one's individuality for a "transcended" cause.

Dailymotion: Aux Suivant

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This song exemplifies another aspect to Brel's usual performances - their theatrical show. Brel uses humor, irony, sarcasm and theatrical stage act to entertain the people who come to watch him, and he never fails to do so. This is a suitable, lasting piece to wrap this tribute to a great historical singer.

Dailymotion: Le Pendu

Your Favorite Song by Jacques Brel

Which one of these songs is your most favorite?

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    • aaxiaa lm profile image

      aaxiaa lm 

      5 years ago

      Lovely list!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I enjoy reading your lens, great job!


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