Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The Pied Piper" by Crispian St Peters

One of the songs I can remember from my very early childhood is "The Pied Piper" by Crispian St. Peters. I remember that we had the single, which I assume my sister had bought (my sister was 17 years old when I was born). Given that it was one of the few singles we had, we played it quite often.

"The Pied Piper" was written by Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld, who performed together as The Changin' Times (Kornfield would later to be one of the men who would plan and produce the Woodstock Rock Festival in 1969. The Changin' Times recorded "The Pied Piper" in 1965. Sadly, they did not have a hit with the song. It would take English pop performer Crispian St. Peters to turn the song into a hit.

Crispian St. Peters was born Robin Peter Smith. He had played with a number of obscure bands in England. He struck out on his own in 1965, signing with Decca Records. It was in 1965 that he recorded "You Were On My Mind," which was first recorded by Canadians Ian and Sylvia in 1964. His version would hit #2 in the United Kingdom. He released his version of "The Pied Piper" in 1966. It became a major hit on both sides of the Pond. It reached #4 in the United States and #5 in the United Kingdom.

Of course, the song owes its title to the legend of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. The legend tells how the town of Hamelin was infested by rats in 1284. A man dressed in multicolour clothes (hence the descriptive "pied") showed up one day in town claiming to be rat catcher. He told the townsmen he would rid their town of rats. In turn the townsmen of Hamelin promised to pay him. The man accepted the deal and then set forth playing his pipe. The rats followed the Piper, who led them into the Weser River. Although the Pied Piper had rid their town of rats, the townsmen of Hamelin would not pay him.

The Pied Piper was naturally angry and then set about taking his revenge. While the townsfolk were in church on Saint John and Paul's Day, the Pied Piper began playing his pipe again, this time drawing the children of Hamelin to him. He then led all of the children save one or two (the legend varies on this point) into a cave where they were never seen again. According to the legend, one of the children was lame and could not follow the Piper, while the other was deaf and could not hear the music. There are a more sinister version of the legend, in which the Pied Piper led the children into the Weser River to drown like the rats. There is also a kinder, gentler version of the legend in which the Piper returned the children after the townsfolk paid him.

The legend appears to have some antiquity. The earliest reference to The Pied Piper may have been a stained glass window in the Church of Hamelin. The window was described in accounts as early as the 14th century and as late as the 17th century. Constructed around 1300, the window depicted The Pied Piper and several children dressed in white. The earliest written version of the legend appears in the Luenberg manuscript from around 1440–1450. Jobus Fincelius mentioned the lgend in De miraculis sui temporis in which he identifies the Piper with Satan. The legend is mentioned fairly regularly from that time forward. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem based on the legend in 1803. The Brothers Grimm published the legend in their book Deutsche Sagen. It was in 1842 that Robert Browning wrote a poem based on the legend.

While the legend centres on the Pied Piper luring children away, the song appears to deal more with the relationship between a man and a woman. The woman appears to be afraid of making a commitment due to the way in which she views the world ("...always contemplating what to do...," "It's your mind/and that's all that's trickin' you."). The man addressing the woman in the song proclaims himself to be The Pied Piper, although he is not using the term to mean that he intends to mislead, but rather to open her eyes. From the point of view of the song, then, The Pied Piper was not someone who misled the children of Hamelin, but someone who opened their eyes to other possibilities.

For those who have never heard the song, here is a television clip of Crispian St. Peters from the Finnish television show Ohimennen, courtesy of YouTube.

As to Crispian St. Peters, he was never able to follow up the success of "The Pied Piper." Having no more hits, he was dropped by Decca Records in 1970. Since then his output has been sporadic. While he had only two hits, he will forever be remembered as the man who sang the song "The Pied Piper."

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