The original French language song was "La goualante du pauvre Jean" ("The Ballad of Poor John"), with music by Marguerite Monnot and words by René Rouzaud.Edith Piaf had one of her biggest hits with the original French version.
The song was adapted by American songwriter Jack Lawrence in 1954, and he wrote English lyrics, which are considerably different from the French. The English-language title arises in part from a misinterpretation of the French title, as "pauvre Jean" was taken for the same-sounding "pauvres gens," which translates as "poor people."
Lawrence's lyrics, which pronounce Paris in the French style, as "PaREE," are seldom heard. Most of the popular recordings of the song in the English-speaking world have been instrumentals.
|"The Poor People of Paris"|
"The Poor People of Paris" by Les Baxter & His Orchestra on Capitol 3336
|Single by Les Baxter & His Orchestra|
|Theme from "Helen of Troy"|
A recording of the tune by Les Baxter's orchestra (Capitol Records catalog number 3336, with the flip side "Theme from 'Helen of Troy'") was a number-one hit on the Billboard chart in the US in 1956: for four weeks on the Best Sellers in Stores chart, for six weeks on the Most Played by Jockeys and Hot 100 charts, and for three weeks on the Most Played on Jukeboxes chart. This recording was also released in Australia by Capitol under catalog number CP-1044. This version of the song was also the last song to reach number one before Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" topped the chart.
Baxter's version featured strings, brass, a wordless chorus, tinkling percussion, finger snapping, and a group of whistlers.
In the same year, the piano version by Winifred Atwell (Decca Records catalog number F10681) was number one in the UK Singles Chart for three weeks. In Australia, it was released as Decca Catalogue number Y 6783.