J’ai du bon tabac

You may know the traditional French song ‘J’ai du bon tabac’.

J’ai du bon tabac dans ma tabatière
J’ai du bon tabac, tu n’en auras pas.

J’en ai du fin et du bien râpé,
Mais ce n’est pas pour ton vilain nez.

J’ai du bon tabac dans ma tabatière
J’ai du bon tabac, tu n’en auras pas.

The thrust of the thing is, I’ve got some good tobacco but you can’t have any.

I first came to know it as a boy, as we had it on a 45 rpm record, performed by the Maîtrise de l’O.R.T.F. Part of the appeal of the song, and many like it, is that the melody, being simple, lends itself to multiple interpretations and reharmonisations.

A few months ago, pondering the validity of a version for piano or piano duet, I did a bit of casual playing around with it on my own piano:

This version by Les Quatre Barbus, whose arrangements I don’t always care for, is attractive and bitonal:

A harmonisation with chords I and V alone might be a pretty tedious thing, but the Québécoise Madeleine Chartrand turns it into something beautiful and exhilarating and enormously cool, and a pop song, which in essence is what it is:

Best of all? This French children’s show (probably late ’60s). Nounours the bear is down. He has many woes and feels misunderstood. But Dada the horse brings him some tobacco and a pipe to make everything better:

Nounours and the Quatre Barbus prefer ‘fichu’ to ‘vilain’, which I fancy is a more emphatic word with which to condemn the addressee’s nose. Too emphatic, perhaps. Bonne nuit les petits.


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