This is a great 2-CD set of 34 songs containing 10 of Brel's best ever. If you need translations, you might also buy Infiniment (B0002PUHGU), a 2-CD set of 40 songs containing abridged translations by Amazon.com reviewer Thelma F. Blitz for all 40, including 24 of the 34 songs on "Jacques Brel [Limited Edition]." 7 of Jacques Brel [Limited Edition]'s top 10 songs are translated in the Infiniment liner notes.
To improve your knowledge of French, you may also want to purchase a book with all of Brel's French lyrics as well. I recommend the book "Jacques Brel, Oeuvre Integrale" published by Robert Laffont S.A. in 1982 (ISBN 2-221-01068-X or -8). More readily available from Amazon.com is the collection of Brel lyrics in the book "Tout Brel" (ISBN: 2264033711).
Best Songs on Disc 1:
"Amsterdam" is one of Brel's most famous songs. It's about the sailors who disembark in this Dutch port and how they deal with the vicissitudes of their lonely lives and the dreams that haunt them once they reach the shore.
"La Fanette" is Brel's poignant song of teenage love found and love lost one July on the beaches of the Belgian coast. Brel acknowledges she was beautiful, and he was not, but he sang up a storm for her to prove his love and she loved him back. Then he laments how he could ever have been crazy enough to believe all the things he thought they'd share together, and laments that he believed that much in himself, as he describes how he found out the hard way their relationship was over.
"Ne Me Quitte Pas" is Brel's most famous torch song, in which he uses exquisite imagery to press his suit with a girl who has already left him, descending in the end into abject desperation as he struggles to maintain a link, any link at all, with the object of his love. Frank Sinatra was moved to sing an English version of this song ("If you leave me"), which unfortunately doesn't do justice to the stunning poetry of the French original. This is my favorite song of the entire Jacques Brel repertoire because of the power and the haunting beauty of the poetry, Brel's impassioned voice and the evocative music!
"Quand On N'a Que L'amour" (When We Have Only Love) is Brel's quintessential theme song (circa 1960) for idealistic young lovers who believe that love conquers all, in stark contrast to Brel's later more jaded songs, ranging from "Le Prochain Amour" (on the 2-CD collection Infiniment) in 1961 to "La Chanson des Vieux Amants" (Song of the Old Lovers, Track 15, Disc 2) in 1967. "Quand On N'a Que L'amour" strikes a similar tone of optimism as another Brel song, "Au Printemps", which is not included in this collection.
Best Songs on Disc 2:
"Le Plat Pays" (The Flat Country) is Brel's nostalgic homage to his home country of Belgium, sung with great affection in French and in Flemish, the two national languages of Belgium. Although he grew up in Belgium, he spent nearly his entire musical career in Paris, France.
"Les Vieux" (The Old People) evokes a ticking clock as a metaphor for the passage of time. It paints a painfully honest portrait of life in the twilight years, set to the beat of a grandfather clock, a triangle and a small orchestra.
"Marieke" is a nostalgic song about a first love that played out on the beaches of Belgium one summer in his teen years. It alternates charmingly between Flemish and French, the two national languages of Belgium.
"La Chanson des Vieux Amants" (Song of the Old Lovers) is a wonderful nostalgic look back at a romance of 20 years: all the storms the couple has endured, and "the sweet tender marvelous love" that continues today even as their "tender war" persists. To me, Brel's passionate singing and the wonderful piano and orchestral accompaniment evoke all the romance and nostalgia of a World War II era Casablanca, making this one of Brel's greatest classic songs.
Other highly recommended Jacques Brel CDs you can find on Amazon.com include:
Title (ASIN#) No. of Songs
Infiniment (B0002PUHGU) 40 songs with great English translations
Quand On N'a Que L'amour (B00000IYC9) 49 songs
Vol. 1-Special Edition (ASIN: B000042OFF) 16 songs
Les Flamandes (B000006UOA) 21 songs
Les Bonbons (B0000AKOLD) 14 songs
Ballades Et Mots D'amour (B00003Q56T) 30 songs
Master Series: Jacques Brel (B0000046O5) 16 songs
Volume 1 - Grand Jacques (B00000DXQY) 15 songs with "Sur La Place"
Grand Jacques Integrale 172 Titres (B000025BD8) 172 songs (10-CD set)
What's even more fabulous than the CDs, however, is the 3 volume DVD set released in 2003: Jacques Brel: Comme quand on etait beau. (ASIN: B0000AQJPR). The set includes 7.5 hours of live and staged performances as well as interviews and home video footage. Everything that the heart of a Jacques Brel fan desires to capture the essence of this very theatrical artist in a way that an audio-only recording can not.
Also of great interest: the VHS video "Jacques Brel" (ASIN: B0001P1XG4), a video biography on the life and music of Jacques Brel. Full length documentary features extensive live footage and interviews with Brel himself as well as his daughter and associates. It is also available on DVD, but only from Films Media Group.