Jacques Brel – Amsterdam

Fantastic! I just love this power. I seem to have had a bit of a French evening tonight… French and English lyrics below…

New Translation Here by Jillian Greenwood!


Jaques Brel – Amsterdam

David Bowie – Amsterdam

Paroles françaises

English Lyrics

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui chantent
Les rêves qui les hantent
Au large d’Amsterdam
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dorment
Comme des oriflammes
Le long des berges mornes
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui meurent
Pleins de bière et de drames
Aux premières lueurs
Mais dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui naissent
Dans la chaleur épaisse
Des langueurs océanes
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui mangent
Sur des nappes trop blanches
Des poissons ruisselants
Ils vous montrent des dents
A croquer la fortune
A décroisser la lune
A bouffer des haubans
Et ça sent la morue
Jusque dans le coeur des frites
Que leurs grosses mains invitent
A revenir en plus
Puis se lèvent en riant
Dans un bruit de tempête
Referment leur braguette
Et sortent en rotant
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dansent
En se frottant la panse
Sur la panse des femmes
Et ils tournent et ils dansent
Comme des soleils crachés
Dans le son déchiré
D’un accordéon rance
Ils se tordent le cou
Pour mieux s’entendre rire
Jusqu’à ce que tout à coup
L’accordéon expire
Alors le geste grave
Alors le regard fier
Ils ramènent leur batave
Jusqu’en pleine lumière
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui boivent
Et qui boivent et reboivent
Et qui reboivent encore
Ils boivent à la santé
Des putains d’Amsterdam
De Hambourg ou d’ailleurs
Enfin ils boivent aux dames
Qui leur donnent leur joli corps
Qui leur donnent leur vertu
Pour une pièce en or
Et quand ils ont bien bu
Se plantent le nez au ciel
Se mouchent dans les étoiles
Et ils pissent comme je pleure
Sur les femmes infidèles
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Dans le port d’Amsterdam.
In the port of Amsterdam
There’s a sailor who sings
Of the dreams that he brings
From the wide open sea
In the port of Amsterdam
There’s a sailor who sleeps
While the riverbank weeps
With the old willow tree
In the port of Amsterdam
There’s a sailor who dies
Full of beer, full of cries
In a drunken down fight
And in the port of Amsterdam
There’s a sailor who’s born
On a muggy hot morn
By the dawn’s early light
In the port of Amsterdam
Where the sailors all meet
There’s a sailor who eats
Only fishheads and tails
He will show you his teeth
That have rotted too soon
That can swallow the moon
That can haul up the sails
And he yells to the cook
With his arms open wide
Bring me more fish
Put it down by my side
Then he wants so to belch
But he’s too full to try
So he gets up and laughs
And he zips up his fly
In the port of Amsterdam
You can see sailors dance
Paunches bursting their pants
Grinding women to paunch
They’ve forgotten the tune
That their whiskey voice croaks
Splitting the night with the
Roar of their jokes
And they turn and they dance
And they laugh and they lust
Till the rancid sound of
The accordion bursts
Then out to the night
With their pride in their pants
With the slut that they tow
Underneath the street lamps
In the port of Amsterdam
There’s a sailor who drinks
And he drinks and he drinks
And he drinks once again
He drinks to the health
Of the whores of Amsterdam
Who have promised their love
To a thousand other men
They’ve bargained their bodies
And their virtue long gone
For a few dirty coins
And when he can’t go on
He plants his nose in the sky
And he wipes it up above
And he pisses like I cry
For an unfaithful love
In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam
Updated on the Ides of March

I’ve added the David Bowie version in parallel as a comparison and tabulated the page for neatness.. I think Bowie did this at about the time he was doing the Baal stuff. This layout should help Mr Mole with his French oral… You’ll see that not everything is a literal translation. That’s how languages work; it’s all in the attempt to convey meaning and feeling between human beings. Precision isn’t necessary here.

However, precision in meaning is necessary and the English translation could be a lot better as it’s somewhat sanitised in feeling compared to the original. A lot of the coarseness has been removed, the innuendo and double-entendres etc

If someone has a better translation, please let me know!


By Strangely

Founding member of the band Crawling Chaos from the North-East of England

11 comments

  1. I have just written another version of the English lyrics to this song. I think they are better, closer to the original in many places, less romantic and more seedy, as JB intended.

    I will be performing them for the first time on March 16th.

    If you are interested you can contact me.

  2. is there any one who can name such magnificent performs
    conducted by Brel??!!

    I would like to hear more performs by him

  3. Bowie's version is pretty accurate. What everybody seems to overlook is the fact that Amsterdam is not anywhere near the sea. Brel was really singing about the port of Antwerp. Belgian as he was, but found it very difficult to find anything to rhyme with it, so he changed the song title to Amsterdam

    1. Good points @Freddy.
      I never knew that about the title. I'm now racking my brains for the appropriate rhymes to Antwerp and have so far got nowt apart from the stupidly obvious.

      However, you're wrong about Amsterdam as Amsterdam was a major port until recent times – it's how it got it's wealth, after all. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amsterdam In my mind, that's the sort of period that I think the song is being sung around, i.e. when Amsterdam was a major port. In those times, Amsterdam was lot closer to the sea as well because of the Dutch skills in pushing the sea back. In fact, in my mind I see this period as being before the creation of Belgium in the mid 1800s and the fact that Holland, Belgium & N.E. France cover several different nationalistic language groups even now makes me think that Brel wasn't particularly set in where he "lived".
      I'll have to read up more on him I think so thanks for getting the mind juices going!.

    2. Antwerp is more than 4 times further from the North Sea than Amsterdam. Antwerp is connected by the Scheldt river, 88 kilometers to the sea. Amsterdam is connected by the "Noordzee Kanaal" (opened in 1876), 21 kilometers to the sea.

      Nevertheless it's quite probable that his inspiration for the song came from Antwerp.

  4. No Walker yet, apart from what I have. A couple that really stand out are Mrs Murphy and, oh crap, my mind is shot. Something about a street or terace or something. I never really have the passion to remember song names just their contents. If I remember, I’ll come back and edit

  5. If you were up to speed with Brel, you would know that Scott Walker covered a considerable amount of his songs. FYI
    me

  6. LOL.
    I think you’re in lerv Paul.

    Did you get any vinyl for Mr Walker? Have you tried the stinky piss record shop in Bridgwater (a.k.a West Quay Records)? His stuff’s so old he’s probably got some mint ones in there.
    Rees

  7. Thanks so much for putting this info together in one place. It saves me so much time as I can use it as a sign post to other places. Brel was such a wonderful artist and you truly are a wonderful person. Thank you. 🙂

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