While flipping through my collection of vintage French magazines the other day, I came across an interesting little segment in the October 1966 issue of Salut les copains, France's enormously popular and influential youth music magazine that launched in 1962 to complement the radio show of the same name. It features Françoise Hardy sharing her ten current favourite songs, as part of a running segment where popular music stars were asked to create their own 'hit parade'.
Hardy's tastes encompassed a variety of popular genres of the time, from the easy listening of Frank Sinatra and Petula Clark to the garage rock of Syndicate of Sound and The Troggs, whose 'Wild Thing' she calls "breathtaking". Most of the picks here are from the USA and UK, as was more fashionable by that time than homegrown music. Hardy, though, was no bandwagon jumper and had long been a fan of Anglo-American sounds. She often had the chance to hear new British music when she ducked across the channel to record an album or play some venues, and she mentions buying Syndicate of Sound's 'Little Girl' in London and seeing Dusty Springfield perform 'Goin' Back' on Ready Steady Go! A couple of her fellow Gallic singer-songwriters are represented here in Michel Polnareff ("She could have cited any other of Michel's songs, she loves them all equally"), and Antoine, who had debuted nearly a year earlier and transformed the local scene.
I've playlisted her choices so you can immerse yourself in what the wonderful Ms Hardy was grooving to 50 years ago:
It's my first post of the new year and, though late to the game, I wanted to share my favourite music from last year. 2016 was a notoriously terrible year (not that this year is exactly peachy so far!), but thankfully the same can't be said of the music that came out last year. It was, to quote Lisa Simpson's insensitive future fiancé, like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt. I feel spoiled by the amount and variety of quality music I've been enjoying from last year's offerings. There are the gorgeous vintage European pop sounds of The Yearning and Lia Pamina, the visionary retrofuturism of Adrian Younge, the moving, classic songwriting of Big Smoke, the raw garage rock of The Mystery Lights, some fresh takes on dream pop, and many outings in psychedelic-influenced, experimental pop. Some of these albums have quickly become all-time favourites, not just favourites of the year. Below is a playlist of songs from my most-loved releases of 2016, including albums, singles and EPs, in no particular order. A list of my top eleven albums (I could not narrow it down to ten!) of the year – again, in no specific order – follows it.
Click next to tracks for individual players | Show all
- Britta Phillips - Daydream (Luck Or Magic)
- Big Smoke - Honey, I (Time Is Golden)
- Margo Price - Hands Of Time (Midwest Farmer's Daughter)
- Kadhja Bonet - Fairweather Friend (The Visitor)
- The Yearning - When I Lost You (Evening Souvenirs)
- Le Super Homard - Maple Key (Maple Key)
- Gloria - Show Me Your Trail (Gloria In Excelsis Stereo)
- Lake Ruth - Helium (Actual Entity)
- Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn - Ready To Love (Something About April II)
- Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - A Wonderful Seed (Until The Hunter)
- Julia Jacklin - Pool Party (Don't Let The Kids Win)
Name your price download.
- Beverly - Victoria (The Blue Swell)
- Nice As Fuck - Door (Nice As Fuck)
- The Limiñanas - Dahlia Rouge (Malamore)
- The Mystery Lights - Follow Me Home (The Mystery Lights)
- Gaye Su Akyol - Eski tüfek (Hologram İmparatorluğu)
- La Femme - Le vide est ton nouveau prénom (Mystère)
- Lia Pamina - Créeme (Love Is Enough)
- Cat's Eyes - Everything Moves Towards the Sun (Treasure House)
- Innerspace Orchestra - One Way Glass (One Way Glass single)
- Whyte Horses - Peach Tree Street (Pop Or Not)
- Charlie Hilton - Pony (Palana)
- Prudence Rees-Lee - Fair Witness (Fair Witness single)
- Olympia - Smoke Signals (Self Talk)
- Juniore - Panique (Panique single)
- September Girls - Quicksand (Age Of Indignation)
- Heron Oblivion - Your Hollows (Heron Oblivion)
- Delphine Dora - Alpha centauri (Le Fruit de mes songes)
- Morgan Delt - Sun Powers (Phase Zero)
- Charles Bradley - Ain't Gonna Give It Up (Changes)
- The Honey Pot - Almost Exactly Beautiful (Inside The Whale)
- Beautify Junkyards - Constant Flux (Other Voices 08 single)
- Lush - Lost Boy (Blind Spot EP)
- Exploded View - Stand Your Ground (Exploded View)
- Bat For Lashes - In God's House (The Bride)
- Adrian Younge presents The Electronique Void - Black Noise (Black Noise)
- TOY - Dream Orchestrator (Clear Shot)
- Jarvis Cocker - Theme From "Likely Stories" (Likely Stories EP)
- The Galaxy Electric - Nightmares (Everything is Light and Sound)
- Jenny Hval - Female Vampire (Blood Bitch)
- Leonard Cohen - Traveling Light (You Want it Darker)
- John Cunningham - I Can Fly (Fell)
- Paul Kelly - Sonnet 73 (Seven Sonnets & A Song)
- The New Lines - Love and Cannibalism (Love and Cannibalism)
- Mild High Club - Homage (Skiptracing)
- COTE - London (London single)
- Samara Lubelski - What's Up Rider (The Gilded Raid)
Top 11 albums:
Like so many, I am angry, confounded, saddened by the state of the world. 2016 just keeps kicking us in the arse. I won't spill any trite words about the power of music in troubled times. I don't even think making ourselves feel better is entirely the point. I'm wary of self-tranquilising to the point of becoming numbed or complacent; we need that sense of horror and anger to foster meaningful action. Anger, I think, is not something to be afraid of if it is not hateful or violent or self-destructive. That said, I'm aware good people need to draw strength from where they can – to be inspired, to experience catharsis, to feel soothed, to preserve their mental health – in order to be effective, to go on, to heal. And that's where music can come in. What I like to turn to runs the gamut from angry and cynical, to inspiring and thought-provoking, to calming and reassuring. Here are a few songs I thought I'd share.
Starting at the angry, cynical end of things, Jarvis Cocker's blunt song 'Running The World' from 2006 pulled no punches in describing exactly who has the power in the world, and is unfortunately truer than ever. The song is an incisive, darkly funny critique of capitalism and politics.
Barry McGuire's classic scathing protest song, 'Eve Of Destruction', perfectly captured the countercultural mood of its day. Written by nineteen-year-old P.F. Sloan, it was a number one hit for McGuire in 1965, and it's hard to imagine anyone spitting out these lyrics of disgust and frustration better than he does in his blistering growl. Many of the lyrics are, obviously, specific to political circumstances of the time, but much of it still resonates and could apply as readily today. Particularly potent is McGuire's delivery of the line about religious hypocrisy: "Hate your next-door neighbour / but don't forget to say grace." Also, message aside, I am a fan of the fact the word 'coagulating' is incorporated into a rhyme.
It's interesting when a work of art's message feels relevant again and you find its meaning becomes clearer than before. I guess I always saw this as a somewhat fatalistic song about impending doom in an age of atomic fear, but now it's hitting me as a rebuke against complacency, against refusing to see potential catastrophe, and against the normalisation of things that should rightly invoke alarm. Sloan saw it as "a love song to and for humanity" and "a prayer" and hoped it would help "open a dialogue", but instead he and McGuire were ousted from the music industry.
"This is a cold war, you better know what you're fighting for" sings Janelle Monáe so powerfully on 'Cold War', from her 2010 Afrofuturist pop masterpiece, The ArchAndroid. The line 'I was made to believe there was something wrong with me' always chokes me up, and now more than ever, too many are afraid of their children growing up to feel like this. Monáe has said of this and other songs of hers: "I try to create songs that are uplifting because this world can drive you insane". 'Cold War', though it faces a sense of pain and injustice head-on, is not a bitter resignation; it ultimately uplifts:
So long, Leonard. Thank you for the achingly beautiful words and music.
A guest mix by Jonathyne Briggs, author of a fascinating and highly recommended book on French pop history, Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities, and Pop Music, 1958-1980 (Oxford University Press, 2015):
1971—the transition. The destruction of Les Halles in Paris began in 1971 in order to make way for a more modern marketplace, and this action symbolizes how the French found themselves in a period of transition. Just prior to the economic and social problems that would emerge with the oil shocks of 1973, the French were still very much enjoying the economic boom of the economic miracle and continued to embrace new ideas and technologies, albeit with some hesitation manifest in the protests against expanded military bases at Larzac. The Events of 1968 and the death of Charles de Gaulle were just a few years past and the centenary of the Commune reminded many of the revolutionary hope symbolized by the student protests and strikes. In the realm of popular music, French audiences continued to fragment with more and more stylistic influences emerging in different subgenres with the appearance of new artists. And yet, established artists began to experiment with new styles and ideas. 1971 in many ways is a watershed moment in French pop, in which the adventurousness of the French underground is echoed in the music of more popular acts and there was a moment of brief harmony of leisure and introspection. – Jonathyne Briggs
- Stone et Charden “L’avventura”
- Serge Lama “Superman”
- Jean-Jacques Perrey “Baroque Hoedown” (1971 rerelease)
- Michel Polnareff “Computer’s Dream”
- Serge Gainbourg “L’hôtel particulier”
- Catharsis “Masq”
- Leo Ferré “La solitude”
- Françoise Hardy “La question”
- Johnny Hallyday “Fils de personne”
- Alan Stivell “Pop Plinn”
- Dalida “Mamy Blue”
- Nino Ferrer “La maison près de la fontaine”
- Claude Nougaro “Un grain de folie”
- Catherine Ribero + Alpes “Diborowska”
- Jacques Higelin “Aujourd’hui Blues”
- Mouloudji “Le Temps des cerises”
Radio Télévision Suisse has an excellent online audiovisual archive which includes a number of videos featuring 1960s French pop stars. You'll find all the big names like Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, France Gall, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Sheila and Jacques Dutronc, as well as some rare clips of more obscure artists. There is much to explore on the site, so here are a few of my picks:
Tucked away twelve minutes into a May 1967 episode of news magazine Carrefour is a performance by yé-yé girl Chantal Kelly (I've clipped out her part above). One of my favourite French pop girls of the era, she remains puzzlingly uncomped and unreissued. I wrote about this nine years ago, mentioning she'd only made it onto a couple of compilations, and nothing has changed since. It's hard to understand, as her songs are as worthy as those of the most beloved and frequently reissued girls. Unlike some singers saddled with tame rehashes of American and British hits, Chantal got to record quality originals by top songwriters (the above song is co-written by André Popp), including some highly inventive songs like 'Caribou'. There is more than a whole LP's worth of material begging to be anthologised – someone make it happen.
The rest of these videos are embedded from the RTS site, so require Flash:
Wow, this is twenty incredible minutes of Françoise Hardy in London in 1965. The footage includes Hardy recording her album L'amitié at Pye studios, and walking around the city with her then-boyfriend, photographer Jean-Marie Périer.
Each episode of the Swiss series Chansons à aimer focused on a single music artist, giving the subject a chance to showcase a handful of their songs and be interviewed at some length. In this 1969 episode, Michel Polnareff performs 'La poupée qui fait non', 'Jour après jour' and 'Pourquoi faut-il se dire adieu'.
In this clip from Show Tom Jones, which aired on French television on July 30 1966, Serge Gainsbourg performs his marvellous 'Qui est "In" qui est "Out". The show was a one-off special hosted by Tom Jones and mostly features performances by him, but some French artists show up as well, including Françoise Hardy, Eric Charden, Zouzou and Pussy Cat. There are a mix of live and lip-synched performances – Gainsbourg's here being the latter, though he is as charismatic as ever.
Who needs fancy effects when you have Gainsbourg, a razor blade and some large paper signs? I enjoy his manner here, a mix of his natural shyness and an amusingly affected disinterest. This is one of my favourite Gainsbourg songs – it has that groovy organ, great guitar and a relentless stomping beat, and there's the nerdly satisfaction of the way the first two lines of each verse end with "in" or "out" syllables. And nothing beats upbeat cynicism in pop, of which Gainsbourg is of course the master. But amidst the thick cynicism here – which I think you can feel even if you don't understand the lyrics – there is something about the melody I find oddly moving. I get strangely emotional when I hear this song, both because of that quality and just because I find the song so overwhelmingly good.
Though Gainsbourg's appeal and a sense of emotional connection to his songs transcend language, there is something key those of us who don't speak French miss out on. Luckily, there are some resources that help bridge that gap. My Own Role is an excellent collection of English translations of Gainsbourg's songs, but sadly 'Qui est "in" qui est "out"' is not there. But there is a good translation on the blog French One Song At A Time, though it's worth noting "le Cashbox" in the lyrics actually refers to the music charts magazine Cashbox. There's also Mick Harvey's English cover 'Who Is "In" Who Is "Out"' from 1997's Pink Elephants. I love Harvey's versions – the translations are faithful while being carefully adjusted to suit the English language and to preserve rhyming schemes. Happily, he has just released a new album of Gainsbourg covers, Delirium Tremens.
I have a couple more clips from this show up on Youtube: Marianne Faithfull singing 'Si demain', and Françoise Hardy performing 'La Maison ou j'ai grandi' & 'Il est des choses', briefly chatting with Tom Jones between songs.
out of print
- February 19 2017
- February 2 2017
- December 24 2016
- December 23 2016
- November 25 2016
- November 19 2016
- November 11 2016
- October 29 2016
- October 7 2016
- September 1 2016
- August 29 2016
- July 30 2016
- July 19 2016
- July 14 2016
- Sat, Jun 25 2005
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