When we featured this song, “Love Is Blue,” it had been on the back burner at PopularSong.org for a while, after publishing a feature/tribute article on legendary vocalist Al Martino to commemorate his passing. While we were assembling that piece, we uncovered the fact that one of his chart hits from the late 1960s (when Martino was a constant on the “Easy Listening” charts) was “Love Is Blue.” This led to a little side study: “Who was Paul Mauriat?” “Who wrote this thing anyway?” “Where did it come from?” and last but not least, “Just how big was this song?”
The answer to that final question, as you’ll see, is best described as “huge.”
In reality, “Love is Blue” isn’t American Pop at all…but rather French pop, or more specifically, Popp. The song was originally penned by in 1967 by Andre Popp, who was sort of a French version of Herb Alpert. The original lyrics for “L’amour est bleu” were penned by Pierre Cour, but not used in the English versions. Cour is more than just a forgotten footnote in American pop; he later collaborated with Roger Whittaker on songs like “Durham Town” and “The Last Farewell.”
The song was recorded by Greek vocalist Vicky Leandros for entry in the annual Eurovision Song Contest, and garnered her 4th place for her efforts. Leandros recorded alternate vocals for various European languages; the song hit across the continent but had yet to cross the Atlantic. That changed later in the year when orchestra leader Paul Mauriat — sort of a French Bert Kaempfert — gave the song an easy listening slant.
Mauriat was known to many US listeners as a French easy listening bandleader, emphasizing saxophones. Oddly enough, his largest seller prior to “Love is Blue” was a pop number called “I Will Follow Him,” recorded by Little Peggy March. The song topped the Billboard charts in 1963, and stayed there for three weeks. Don’t look for Mauriat’s name on the label; he used a pseudonym “Del Roma” so as not to clash with his easy-listening image.
Easy or not, Mauriat’s soaring treatment of “Love Is Blue” rocketed to number one on the US pop charts in 1968. It stayed there for five weeks, an instrumental earwig wedged between the forgettable “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers and the blues/pop standard “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding.
Following Mauriat’s success, Brian Blackburn created English lyrics for the song. Blackburn changed the message somewhat; the original compared love to colors blue and grey, as well as wind and water. The new English version went through a list of color metaphors only, such as green for jealousy, culminating in black.
Al Martino is widely accepted as having the most successful US vocal version, but that is somewhat incorrect. Although he peaked at #3 on the Easy Listening charts, Martino’s vocal fared didn’t fare as well on the Hot 100, where it only rose to #57. Another artist who charted with the song — and would later understand the lyrics all too well — was Claudine Longet. Then the wife of the legendary Andy Williams, Claudine would gain infamy in the odd “accidental” shooting death of skier Spider Sabich. Her recording peaked at #71 and spent a few weeks on the Hot 100, which is about the same amount of time she spent in an Aspen jail cell.
Jeff Beck did an unusual rock recording of the song, it made a brief foray into the Hot 100 and disappeared. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 101 Strings put a version on the Easy Listening charts, perhaps for those listeners who felt Mauriat was too edgy. (A little humor there, but indeed, the Mauriat album cover was quite scandalous at the time). Other recordings that received substantial airplay were done by Johnny Mathis, Ed Ames, and on the country side, Marty Robbins. Robbins’ recording is largely regarded by critics as one of the best, but oddly enough it was never released as a single.
The most successful US “pop” vocal version was actually a medley recorded by R & B stalwarts The Dells. It was coupled with “I Can Sing a Rainbow,” and released a year later, so it differed substantially from the knee-jerk cover versions recorded as vocals. The Dells reached #22 on the pop charts, which is the highest position for the song other than Mauriat’s monster hit. For those who are really into obscure trivia, The Dells had another cover hit the charts later in 1969 with the aforementioned “Dock of the Bay.”
Purists reading this will question how we can call “Love Is Blue” an American pop standard. Although the song is French in origin, recorded by a French bandleader, its place in popular culture is secure. Recorded by everyone from Sinatra to Longet, used in cartoons, commercials, movies, and television, “Love Is Blue” is a fixture in the soundtrack of American life. It is only fitting that in a nation of immigrants, one of the most beloved melodies is also an immigrant.