Something slightly different on Centrelinked this week as we celebrated Bastille Day with a few French tunes to get folks in the right frame of mind. I was never going to be able to cover a century of chanson in 45 minutes so it was a case of playing a few personal French favourites. And Joe le Taxi.
This is what went to air (with some reasons why if you like that kind of thing)...
Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher - Eileen: French versions of English songs were all the rage in the 1960s (with some coming the other way such as My Way/Comme d'habitude) and Eileen's take on These Boots are Made for Walkin' is still one of the better Franglais floor fillers from 'les Années Ye-Ye.'
Joe le Taxi - Vanessa Paradis: not strictly one of my favourite French songs but included because it represents the first time I was ever encouraged to listen to pop music by a school teacher. Without Mlle Paradis I might never have taken the time to listen to other French music so she deserves some kudos for that (although not for the terrible dancing in the film clip).
Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi - Jacques Dutronc: One half of the most beautiful couple in French pop, Jacques Dutronc is so ace he's even included in the lyrics for Brimful of Asha. Other notable hits include Les Cactus and the Spencer Davis-esque Le Responsable but it's Et Moi's... kooky commentary on Parisian existentialism ("50 million Vietnamese, and me and me and me... I think about it then I forget about it") that I come back to most.
Comment Te Dire Adieu - Francoise Hardy: although more famous than her husband, Mrs Dutronc is as much known for her unquestionable beauty as she is for her music. The gentle Tous les Garcons et les Filles was her biggest hit but Comment te Dire Adieu is a slightly jauntier affair. It's actually another French language adaptation - Serge Gainsbourg creating new lyrics for It Hurts to Say Goodbye. The favour was returned by a solo Jimmy Somerville who covered the French version in 1989.
Noir et Blanc - Brigitte Bardot: if you can get past the eccentric old racist she became there is always something genuinely thrilling about seeing BB in action. It's like watching a James Dean or Marilyn Monroe film instead of just seeing them on airbrushed posters in IKEA, with Bardot every bit as iconic in French culture as Monroe and Dean are to the USA. She can sing and dance a bit too as I found out watching Divine BB, an anthology of her music from 50s show tunes to psychedlic collaborations with Serge Gainsbourg. The black and white clips are a revelation, with Noir et Blanc starting as Carry On-like call and response about getting attention from men but morphing into a cautionary tale of BB's blackened soul in less than 2 minutes.
7 heures du Matin - Jacqueline Taieb: I discovered this tale of French teenage life in the Sixties from a great compilation called Pop a Paris which gives a good representation of Ye-Ye music. I especially like it for her singing along to English and American bands (notable Elvis and the Who), her lustful thoughts about Paul McCartney and the important discussion about toothbrushes...
Le Poinconneur des Lilas - Serge Gainsbourg: always one of my favourite Serge songs, it was given new life when I discovered this 1958 film clip, complete with full lyrics in English. Please watch it. You'll be glad you did. If I'm ever asked to present Rage this will be first up.
Favourite Song - Vincent Delerm (avec Neil Hannon): a disarmingly sweet take on cross-channel relations which sees Delerm and the Divine Comedy's frontman singing in each other's language about listening to foreign language pop songs as teens and not understanding a word. Sandwiched here because of Hannon's pleading "Un poinconneur des lilas? What does that mean?" (see above).
Requiem pour un Con - Serge Gainsbourg: even playing two songs doesn't do Gainsbourg's legacy justice, but between Poinconneur and Requiem (1968) you at least get an idea of the musical journey he made in less than a decade. From arch Camus-infused chanson traditionelle to nasty proto-hip hop beats in the blink of an eye, it's not unreasonable to view Serge as an equal peer of the Beatles at this time. His Frog Chorus moments were to come but by then his mark was well and truly made.
Goutes mes Frites - Valerie Lemercier: back in 1995 Lemercier was most famous for being the rather shrill woman in the time travel movie Les Visiteurs who hollers "Hugggggg" to great comic effect. I'm not sure what led her to record an album of songs but this tale of sisterly support over a bowl of chips has remained a favourite of mine ever since.
Non Non Non Non (Je Ne Suis Plus Saoul) - Miossec: another one from the school of '95 Christophe Miossec exploded into the consciousness of French music fans with Boire, an album of short, simple, grown up songs played with an raw intensity. Think Lloyd Cole played by Arcade Fire with some gallic instrumentation and you're partway there. 'No No No No (I'm Not Drunk Anymore)' is one of the lighter numbers on Boire. It's that good.
Vous - Camille: despite a sizable audience for French film in Australia, Camille Dalmais is one of the few French language artists to have broken through into Australian popular culture. Her album Le Fil was a standout in 2005 with Ta Douleur even making the JJJ Hottest 100. That doesn't happen with many non-English language songs, never mind ones with such unique instrumentation as these. I picked Vous because I had 45 minutes and it is short, but it is a neat example of the album as a whole.
Johnny Rep - Mickey 3D: Johnny Rep was a gangly Dutch footballer who played in the famous Holland teams of the 1970s, as well as alongside superstars like Michel Platini at Saint Etienne. He shares a similar kind of cult place in European footballing culture as George Best and Robin Friday but without the drink and drugs. I mention this to explain why this indie strummer by (the terribly-named band) Mickey 3D breaks into football commentary over a piano accordion riff half way through. Still, you don't need to speak French to know it's a great song.
L'Empire du Cote Obscure - I AM: there is a long and wonderful tradition of French language hip hop which has given a voice to generations of French youth in ways traditional French music never could. Sadly I don't know anything about it, apart from people love MC Solaar. However, I can tell you that if you stick samples from Star Wars to a huge bass line and your rhymes is dope [(c) "the kidz"] then I'll lap it up in spades. I AM's tune also offers a cute linguistic lesson; references to 'Dark Vador' a reminder that French people don't do "th" sounds. Que la Force soit avec toi...
Rue St Vincent - Yves Montand: what better way to conclude than with France's very own Frank Sinatra? Montand was already a world famous crooner and actor when I first saw him as the despicable Cesar in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. He reminded me of my Grandpa, but a mean version. Who knew then that a man behind such a performance of bastardry could produce one of the most perfect songs of love ever recorded. It was another film - Wes Anderson's Rushmore - that brought this song to me and I'm glad I can now reconcile the two sides of Yves in my head. Rue St Vincent's simple beauty is only rivaled by Donovan's Sunny Goodge Street in my affections. Lush.
Here's a couple more that I love just as much but just didn't have time for:
Ondule - Mathieu Boogaerts: real time videos are a bit two a penny now but this one from 1995 has always stayed with me, with Monsieur Boogaerts launching his career with a well timed hair cut and close shave. Imagine if it had gone wrong. But it doesn't. Great little lo-fi tune too.
Le Deserteur / J'suis Snob - Boris Vian: Le Deserteur was played to us at school by our French teacher Mr Hargreaves as a listening exercise. This is probably because Vian enunciates his reasons for declining an offer to join the army with such clarity that even us with our basic French could understand every word he said. Still, it's always stayed with me and it led me to other Vian numbers like the gauche J'suis Snob which is a far better song but probably not the best for impressionable Yorkshire teenagers.
Des Attractions Desastres - Etienne Daho: in the UK Daho is mostly known for his gimmicky collaboration with Pete, Bob and Sarah on He's On the Phone as 'Saint Etienne Daho' but he was a star in his own right in France, especially after the success of the album Paris Ailleurs, from which this is the opening track. Comme Un Igloo from the same album is equally ace. It's grown up pop music, which I guess is what attracted the Saints to work with him in the first place.
Mathilde - Jacques Brel: another staple of gallic cool, inspiring Gainsbourg, Scott Walker, Marc Almond, Jarvis Cocker and especially Neil Hannon, Brel is an icon of French chanson. My own introduction to Brel came courtesy of a young lady called (yes) Mathilde, who was horrified that I had no Brel in my collection and bought me a Best Of for my birthday. Listen when you need a bit of thunderously paced high drama in your day.
C'est Le Vent, Betty - Gabriel Yared: I was a little young for the Betty Blue phenomenon that affected many (mostly male) students in the late 1980s but I will admit to a healthy interest in the famous movie poster, a copy of which was to be found in my best friend's brothers room when we were growing up. I suspect I'm not the only person who can visualise Beatrice Dalle's lips on request without hesitation. When I was old enough to watch the film itself (known as 37.2 Degrees le Matin in France) it wasn't just Mlle Dalle that stuck in the memory thanks to Gabriel Yared's haunting soundtrack. Rolling piano refrains and reverb heavy electric guitar can sound a little dated now, but it still transports me back to the world of Betty and Zorg and their little beach hut. Just before Betty burns it to the ground.
The astute amongst you will have noticed a distinct lack of French dance music in this list. These duties were ably fulfilled by Mrs Custard on her show immediately after mine with more Air, Daft Punk, Cassius, Bob Sinclair and Stereolab than you can shake a baguette at. Just goes to show why you need to tune in to 98.8 North West FM on Saturday mornings.
Anyway, joyeux 14 Juillet to you all. Hope you had a great one, wherever you are. Normal Centrelinked service will resume next week with an Olympic inspired show about GOLD!