One of the quintessential sounds of France is that of an accordeon playing the Java. It is a kind of jerky waltz and was a feature of the bals musette, dance sessions in Parisian bars and cafes run by immigrants from the Auvergne and Italy from the 1880s onwards. It was regarded as somewhat immoral, as couples on the crowded floor would dance with their hands on each other’s backs, straying ever lower (cf. le bas de son dos in the last line of the first song).
My first song, by Claude Nougaro (1929-2004), is about a conflict between the old and the new, the former being the Java and the latter the jazz of the 1960s. Le Jazz et La Java (Sorry about the video! Last.fm have discontinued full-track streaming.) The song alternates between the two styles of music, with some particularly deft work with the brushes by the jazz drummer.
Il y a de l’eau dans le gaz: there’s trouble brewing.
J’écoute béat: I listen open-mouthed / rapt / “sent”.
V’la = voila.
Râler: to rattle, usually with reference to drawing one’s last breath.
Ses p’tit’s fesses en bataille: two cats in a bag?
Du pareil au même: six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Se saouler, se noircir: both mean “to get drunk”; a pun (intended?) on the latter, with the reference to Harlem, would be the literal meaning of “to blacken” or “black up”.
Staying with the Java, my second song is an example by Georges Brassens. Le Bistro is about an old bistro in a crummy part of Paris (un coin pourri). The house red (ce petit bleu lourd de menaces) is not for the faint-hearted. The patron is described merely as large and disgusting (un gros dégueulasse) but we get the picture. His wife, on the other hand, serves behind the bar with (quote) all her charms, from top to bottom, in the right place (unquote). Woe betide any besotted customer who steps out of line – the patron is ready with a flic-flac to the face.
L’est = Il est = Il y a: there is
Si t’as le bec fin: in this context, if you have a fine nose for wine.
La fine fleur: the “cream”.
Viennent en rang commes des harengs: the customers line up (to gawp at the barmaid) like a row of herrings.
Fontaines Wallace: a reference to drinking fountains donated to Paris by a British millionaire. See Eau de Paris
Bouge: dump, hovel, low dive, sleazy bar.
Palace: not a “palace” (palais) but a specific term for a luxury hotel.
Appas: charms (pun: appât: bait).
Qui fera…les cornes: who will cuckold…(the patron).