Jacques Brel is alive and translated, sort of
I was working on various things while listening to music in the background, and the song "Marathon" came on, from the 1968 cast recording of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. As Wikipedia puts it, the song is "a charming encapsulation of the United States in the 20th century (mentioning, among others, Charles Lindbergh and Sacco and Vanzetti)." (Lyrics)
I've been listening to this album since I was in high school or college, but it never occurred to me until now to wonder: why was a Belgian singer/songwriter in the 1960s writing a song about the American ideas of the various decades of the 20th century?
That seemed possible, but it also seemed possible that the original song was (for example) a European view of those decades, and that the translators had substituted corresponding cultural references.
So I went and checked. And I was startled and amused to learn that in fact the original song had nothing to do with the decades of the 20th century, nor with history or pop culture, American or otherwise.
It's called Les Flamandes (lyrics), and it's about why and how Flemish people dance at different ages/stages of life (or maybe specifically Flemish women, I'm not sure). (I gather that the background of the song is deeply imbedded in Belgian ethnicity-politics--one YouTube commenter says that Brel was making fun of people with negative attitudes toward the Flemish, for example--but that discussion is beyond the scope of this entry.)
The two songs' lyrics both feature dancing, and both cover a century or so, but beyond that there's no resemblance.
I'm always intrigued by translations that take big liberties, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a "translation" that so completely ignores the original; really, this is more like a filk, in the sense of a different set of lyrics to the same tune.