Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash
?I Will Follow Him? is a truly multi-generational song. If you?re older than me you?ll think of Little Peggy March. If you?re a bit younger you?ll think of Whoopi Goldberg. And if you?re younger still, you?ll think of Toulouse and iPhones.
For extra bonus points, if you?re a sophisticate, you might even think of Petula Clark.
?I Will Follow Him? reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 for Little Peggy March in 1963, just a month after her 15th birthday?to this day, she?s youngest female artist to hit the top spot on the Hot 100.
1963 was a good year for youngsters ? in August that same year ?Little? Stevie Wonder, as he was billed at the time, scored a Billboard Number One too, at 11 years and 189 days old?to this day, the youngest male solo artist to do so.
But ?I Will Follow Him? started out as an entirely different song?that?s where Petula Clark comes in.
Originally the song we would come to know as ?I Will Follow Him? was an instrumental called ?Chariot?, performed by Franck Pourcel and his Orchestra.
Then English singer Petula Clark recorded a set of French lyrics, written by Jacques Plante (no, not the hockey player), over the music originally composed by Franck Pourcel and Paul Mauriat. Petula Clark?s version of ?Chariot? reached Number One in France in 1962.
In case you?re wondering, ?Chariot? was an entirely different song to ?I Will Follow Him?. The English lyrics aren?t a translation, it?s a completely different song.
However you?ll recognise the tune right from the off. And Petula Clark is one of my favourite singers, so this is as good an excuse as any to link to one of her performances.
It?s a lovely song, whether or not you understand what she?s singing about, although if I were you I wouldn?t spend to long trying to work out what?s going on in the video? https://youtu.be/RSxS40jeDW0
A great tune was a wonderful starting point, but outside French-speaking markets even a singer as good as Petula Clark was going to struggle to get a hit.
Thankfully that?s where lyricist Norman Gimbel comes along. He?s probably best known for ?Killing Me Softly With His Song? and a string of theme tunes to hit TV shows, including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Wonder Woman. But, largely by chance, Norman Gimbel also had a nice sideline in putting English lyrics to great tunes originally sung in a different language, such as ?The Girl From Ipanema?.
?I Will Follow Him? was one of those projects. In conjunction with Arthur Altman, he fashioned Petula Clark?s ?Chariot? into an English-language million-seller for Little Peggy March.
I will follow him, follow him wherever he may goThere isn?t an ocean too deepA mountain so high it can keep me away
That verse popped into my head the other day as I watched a TV commentator complain about ?the lack of leadership? in the world at the moment.
While I understand the point he was trying to make, if you ask me the world is more troubled by having too many willing followers at the moment than it is by not having enough leaders.
It seems a slavish devotion to ?our guy? or ?our woman? is brainwashing us to overlook their failings, however serious.
It?s no longer socially acceptable to disagree with ?our side? in even the mildest tones, on the pain of being ostracised, thrown out of your community, cut off from your friends, losing your job and everything you stood for.
Men and women who I?m prepared to believe are fully acquainted with the difference between right and wrong choose to pull their punches instead of publicly challenging some pretty reprehensible behaviour out of, to put the most charitable interpretation possible on it, a misguided sense of loyalty.
Politically, this is true on both left and right. And in business, having everyone ?singing from the same hymn sheet? has become an article of faith for CEOs and HR Departments alike.
The world?s problems are not caused by a lack of leadership. They?re caused by an excess of followership.
People who play only to their own crowd represent an inward-focused, backward looking agenda. With the issues we?ve got to deal with in the world, that?s the last thing we need.
Ironically the best expression of what we need at the moment can be found in a TV commercial. No, I?ve not gone completely off-base ? the most accessible and best-written summary of what the world needs at the moment was in Apple?s Think Different TV commercial from the late 1990s. (Here if you?d like to see it again https://youtu.be/cFEarBzelBs)
To paraphrase, it?s the people who don?t blindly follow party orthodoxy or bone-headed leaders without question who change the world?in fact, nobody else ever has.
We will come back to Apple again in a moment, but we?re not done with Little Peggy March yet.
Although ?I Will Follow Him? was a million seller in the US, that was her only big hit there. She had a handful of minor hits in the US during 1963 and 1964, but approaching the scale of ?I Will Follow Him?.
However she became very popular in Germany and had a range of hits there, from the mid-1960s through to the end of the 1970s.
The next iteration of ?I Will Follow Him? came in 1992 with the Whoopi Goldberg film Sister Act.
This was an interesting choice of song for a film about a group of nuns. In Little Peggy March?s song, the ?him? was some imaginary childhood sweetheart who was presumably going to sweep her off her feet and be the love of her life until the end of her days.
For Sister Act, the ?him? was really the ?Him?. Changing just one word of the song flipped the message of ?I Will Follow Him? from a teenage love story to a song of devotion to the Almighty.
Depending how old you are, you could even be forgiven for not realising ?I Will Follow Him? was ever about anything other than religious devotion, if Sister Act was the first time you came across it.
It was almost like Norman Gimbel had written the lyrics for precisely that purpose?although there some tiny changes to the wording and the verses were moved around a little from the Little Peggy March version.
The line ?ever since he touched my hand, I knew? in the original became ?ever since he touched my heart, I knew?, for example. But mostly you?d hardly notice the subtle switches to the devotional?
I will follow him, follow him wherever he may goAnd near him I always will beFor nothing can keep me awayHe is my destiny
The team from Sister Act did a really nice job with ?I Will Follow Him?. It starts with a lovely vocal arrangement over the bare minimum of piano accompaniment, switching part-way through to the rollicking high-intensity gospel-style finale.
The voices are beautiful and as long as you?re not too troubled about the imagery of the Pope grooving away as the nuns sing, there?s a lot to like in the Sister Act arrangement? https://youtu.be/pFSCVfDpdZQ
You might have thought there was nothing else that could be done with ?I Will Follow Him? by now. Isn?t a million-selling Number One record and the high-intensity finale of a top-grossing box office smash enough for any one song?
Well, no it isn?t?which takes us back to Apple again, funnily enough.
I know it?s easy to sneer, but Apple made a visually beautiful commercial using balloons to signify people getting closer together through communication. A lonely balloon drifts across fields, mountains and streams in search of a soulmate before becoming a symbol for the benefits of what Apple called ?expressive messaging? on their iPhone 7.
OK, I admit we lapse into more obvious commercial objectives towards the end, but Apple?s ?Balloons? commercial is visually beautiful. (Here if you?d like a reminder? https://youtu.be/jvkGryt_30E )
Bringing us back to where we started, the important aspect of that commercial isn?t its beautiful photography, impressive though that is, but the fact that Apple used ?I Will Follow Him? in their commercial?albeit in a very different version to both Little Peggy March?s version and the treatment by Sister Act?s cast.
Our final take on ?I Will Follow Him?, for the iPhone commercial, was by Toulouse.This time it?s a really tender, wistful song of someone setting out on a long journey to find their true love.
?I Will Follow Him? really has something for everyone?from Franck Pourcel?s orchestral hit, to Petula Clark?s French vocal Number One, to Little Peggy March?s million-seller, to the cast of Sister Act with both their (near) a cappella and gospel choir treatments, right through to a tender song of love and hope from Toulouse.
I?m sure there must be many songs which have been popular in a wide variety of musical styles, but I can?t think of many which have been so successful in quite such a wide range of musical treatments? and indeed languages.
So, all credit to Franck Pourcel and Paul Mauriat for the French original, along with Arthur Altman and Norman Gimbel who took ?Chariot? and made it into ?I Will Follow Him?.
Whichever version you prefer, ?I Will Follow Him? is a great song. So let?s go back to where it all started, for us non-French speakers at least.
Here?s Little Peggy March with her 1963 Billboard Number One, ?I Will Follow Him??
If you?ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today?s track here? https://open.spotify.com/track/3GQETOg4ZXyQ1jEFqfMoac