American-born Eileen struck pop gold with her French, German and Italian versions of the worldwide smash hit These boots are made for walkin’. However, at times, her transformation from folk singer to pop star risked seeing her become a glorified tribute act for Nancy Sinatra.
She was born Eileen Goldsen on 16 May 1941 in New York, in the United States. After graduating in French from the University of Los Angeles, she took a job as a French teacher.
In 1963, she headed for Paris. Her career in music began when she was asked to translate some American folk songs into French. But she decided that she not only wanted to translate the songs, she also wanted to record her translations.
She was offered a contract with the AZ label, and Prends ta guitare became the lead track of her first four-track EP, issued in 1965. Her accented delivery proved charming and the song Le métro de Boston, taken from the release, picked up some airplay.
The frog sound effect-filled (yes, really) Un grenouille dans le vent became the lead track of the follow up, issued later in 1965. These first two releases are largely – and wisely – overlooked by fans of her later work.
Also in 1965, she also married Jacques Robinson, from the Europe 1 radio station.
It was her third French release that set in motion a transformation in her career. The EP, issued in 1966, led with the folk-styled Mon frère le poisson but is notable for the inclusion of two songs penned by Lee Hazlewood, which Eileen translated and performed as Ni jamais and Texas.
Hazlewood was the writer of much of US singer Nancy Sinatra’s material, and in 1966, Frank Sinatra’s eldest daughter scored a US chart topper with These boots are made for walkin’.
It was common practice at the time for international successes to be re-recorded in other languages by local singers. In Germany, the Vogue label was keen to issue a German version. As no German release was planned for Nancy’s original, label bosses also wanted to issue an English version.
So the search began for a singer who could perform both versions.
Vogue acted as the distributor for AZ, and the companies’ links meant that Eileen was pushed to the head of the queue for the job. To gain permission for the release, Vogue’s Larry Yaskiel contacted the US publisher – only to find it was none other than Micky Goldsen, Eileen’s father. He gave the go ahead, but on the condition that nobody know of his connection with Eileen.
Eileen went into the studio and recorded both an English and a German version of the song. Her German pronunciation suffered from what linguists call second language interference – that is, she sang German as though it were French.
Promotion on TV programmes such as Beat-Club and Musik aus Studio B helped both versions sell, and the German version, Die Stiefel sind zum Wandern, reached number 40 in the charts in April 1966.
Her success was hampered, however, by the release of the original in Germany, where it topped the charts. It also proved a big hit throughout the rest of Europe, reaching number one in the UK and the top five in both France and Italy.
The AZ label went ahead with the release of Eileen’s French version of the song, Ces bottes sont faites pour marcher, which also sold respectably. In a move that risked casting Eileen as a Nancy Sinatra tribute act, the B-side of Nancy’s release, The city never sleeps, was also translated into French and included on Eileen’s EP as La ville ne dort jamais la nuit. However, any suggestion that she had abandoned her roots was countered by the (lamentable) inclusion on the EP of Est-ce un fantôme, a version of A windmill in old Amsterdam.
Eileen went on to record her hit in Italian as Questi stivali sono fatti per camminare too.
In Germany, the so-so Teenage summer was issued as the follow up through AZ’s Hit-Ton partner. The B-side, Das wird mir nicht mal Leid tun, was another Nancy Sinatra cover, this time of How does that grab you, darlin’? When the single flopped, no further 45s were issued.
In France, AZ chose to release Katty Line’s take on How does that grab you, darlin’? (Ne fais pas la tête), so instead, a freshly blonde Eileen was teamed with Mickey Baker for her 1967 follow up, Love is strange, a reprise of Baker’s 1957 US hit as half of duo Mickey and Sylvia.
Eileen and Baker found themselves back in the studio together again in 1968 to record Hard times, a song that appeared on the soundtrack to the film La permission.
Any cool points that Eileen may have amassed over the previous couple of years were squandered with her next solo release, La p’tite flute. The EP marked a return to her folk roots, though it is still able to raise a smile amongst fans.
Two further singles, Midi, c’est l’heure de manger and Tout le monde est fou, were issued in 1969 before Eileen’s recording career ground to a halt.