Lai’s plaintive piano melody for “Love Story,” the 1970 tearjerker that made stars of Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, was his biggest hit, earning him an Oscar and a Golden Globe. His soundtrack recording was all over radio in early 1971, reaching no. 37 as a single and no. 2 as a soundtrack album. When lyrics were added to the melody, Andy Williams sang “Where Do I Begin” to no. 7 on the charts that same year.
The score almost didn’t happen. Lai initially turned down the assignment, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. But French actor Alain Delon, who had seen a cut of the film, called Lai and convinced him to delay his summer vacation.
Delon and producer Robert Evans flew to Paris with a print, screened it for him and, said Lai, “I came out of the screening incredibly moved. I went straight home, sat at my keyboard and wrote that theme that very night.”
Lai had already achieved a modicum of fame with his romantic theme for “A Man and a Woman,” French director Claude Lelouch’s art-house hit of 1966. The combination of Lai’s accordion and the wordless “da-ba-da-ba-da, da-ba-da-ba-da” vocals of a male-female duo struck a chord with record-buyers, propelling the soundtrack album to no. 10 on the American charts.
Here is Samba Saravah, sung (and spoken) by Pierre Barouh, from the self same A Man and A Woman soundtrack, which has an effortless sense of cool.