Introduction to Francis Lai


Famous for his film scores, particularly for the Oscar-nominated Love Story, French composer Francis Lai has 40-odd years of experience writing music (solo or in a collaboration with other composers) for more than a hundred films made in his home country, as well as in the UK and the US; he has also penned scores for television. Lai was also responsible for writing the music of the Perry Como hit “I Think Of You”.

But Lai’s most notable achievement is undoubtedly, his work with the 1970 classic film Love Story, which he won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe as well for Best Original Score. The film’s theme music was transformed into an Andy Williams’ pop hit “Where Do I Begin.” Lai also scored for the film’s 1978 sequel Oliver’s Story.

The French film for which Lai scored in, Un homme et une femme became a worldwide success in 1966; he was then nominated for a Golden Globe for best original score and more importantly, opened opportunities for him to work in the film and TV circuit, where Lai has done much in his illustrious career.

Early life and professional career

World-renowned French composer and musician Francis Lai was born in Nice, France on April 26, 1932. When he was a child he studied and played piano. Along the way, he discovered jazz and during the 1950s he left his hometown and set for Paris. He then resided in the capital’s district of Montmarte, where he became part of the area’s music scene.

From there Lai had begun his professional music career including writing a couple of songs for Edith Piaf, for whom he also worked as an accompanist along with Michel Magne and his orchestra for a short period.

Film scoring work

As a film scorer, among Lai’s first projects was Roger Vadim’s 1964 film La Ronde (Circle of Love, which starred American actress Jane Fonda) and Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 movie Masculin Feminin. However, the work that really brought Lai into prominence was his score for the 1966 film Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman), directed by Claude Lelouch.

A Man and a Woman became a box-office success in France and later a hit in the United States as well. It eventually won the Palme d’Or award from Cannes Film Festival. Over the US, it gained a lot of nominations at the Academy Awards, winning two including one for Best Foreign Language Film. It also garnered five nominations at the Golden Globe Awards, including one for the 24-year-old Lai in the category of best original score.

Francis Lai’s winning theme for the film Love Story (“Where Do I Begin”)

The critical and commercial success of A Man and a Woman both in France and overseas opened more opportunities for the young composer. Since then Lai had been working not only in France but also in the United Kingdom and the US.

His most notable achievement came in 1970 when Lai was assigned to work on a score for the now-classic tearjerker Love Story. The film became a success at the box office, and eventually was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning one for “Best Music, Original Score” for Francis Lai.

Love Story‘s soundtrack album went #2 on the Billboard 200 album chart in 1970. American conductor and arranger Henry Mancini as well as British singer Shirley Bassey had also recorded their own successful versions of the Love Story theme.

Love Story theme was performed by Francis Lai and his Orchestra. The theme music proved to be as popular as the film that it was later made into a song. Lyricist Carl Sigman added words to the theme music, which was then re-titled as “Where Do I Begin.” There are many artists who have covered this song, but the original as well as most popular and successful version of “Where Do I Begin” came from crooner Andy Williams. His version peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard adult contemporary singles chart in 1970.

Andy Williams had also sung the lyrical version of Lai’s A Man and a Woman theme music.

Other scoring credits

Lai’s other film scoring credits include Rider on the Rain, Emmanuelle 2 and Bilitis, as well as Love Story‘s sequel Oliver’s Story. He has also done scoring for television, including BBC’s current affairs programme Panorama. He also wrote the music for Perry Como’s top 10 easy listening hit “I Think of You” in 1971 (lyrics written by Rod McKuen).

Lai is one of the most successful composers in modern times with a career spanning over four decades, thanks to the success of A Man and a Woman that paved the way for him to bigger opportunities. He has scored in over a hundred films in France as well as abroad.

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