Trenet wrote the lyrics of “La Mer” on a train in 1943 while travelling along the French Mediterranean coast, returning from Paris to Narbonne. He supposedly wrote the song in ten minutes, on toilet paper supplied by SNCF (National Corporation of French Railways). The music is based on “Heart and Soul“, a popular song at the time, with music by Hoagy Carmichael and lyrics by Frank Loesser, published in 1938. He was assisted with the tune by Léo Chauliac. It was originally published by Raoul Breton.
It was not until 1946 that Trenet recorded the song. Trenet explained in an interview that he was told that “La Mer” was not swing enough to be a hit, and for this reason it sat in a drawer for three years before being recorded. When it was released in 1946, it became an unexpected hit, and has remained a chanson classic ever since.
- “La Mer” is perhaps Trenet’s best known work outside the French-speaking world, with more than 400 recorded versions.
- English lyrics, unrelated to the French lyrics, were later written by Jack Lawrence and entitled “Beyond the Sea“.
- The English version has been recorded by many artists, including Benny Goodman, Mantovani, Roger Williams and Gisele MacKenzie, but Bobby Darin‘s version released in 1959 is the best known by many, reaching #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song reached the top 40 twice prior to the Darin version (Goodman’s version in 1948, Williams’s in 1955).
- In the videogame BioShock and its sequel BioShock 2, the song is used throughout the game on jukeboxes and loud hailers. The song can only be heard in the special edition of BioShock 2
- At the start of World War II, Trenet was called up. He was in barracks at Salon-de-Provence until he was demobilized in June 1940, when he moved back to Paris.
- In 1963, Trenet spent 28 days in prison in Aix-en-Provence. He was charged with corrupting the morals of four young men under the age of 21 (they were 19). His chauffeur claimed that Trenet was using him as a pimp. The charges were eventually dropped, but the affair brought to public light the fact that Trenet was homosexual.
- On 21 May 1999, he returned to the forefront of the music scene with a brand new album entitled Les poètes descendent dans la rue (Poets Take to the Streets).Nearly sixty years after writing La Mer, Trenet released fourteen new tracks. Following the success of the album, Trenet returned to the live circuit. His concerts proved a huge success, fans in the audience breaking into rapturous applause.