This decade has seen lashings of CD releases for fans of 1960s French pop, like Femmes and Gentlemen De Paris, Sunnyside Café's Pop à Paris series, Girls In The Garage Vol. 10 ('Groovy Gallic Girls'), Atomic Café's French Cuts, Wizzz!, Magic Records' Sixties Girls series and recently, La Belle Epoque. But prior to any of these, there were some exciting 90s comps that launched this stuff from obscurity to a worldwide audience. Ils sont fous ces Gaulois! was one of the first, introducing listeners to sensational French freakbeat and garage sounds. Following it a little later, two of the most well-known comps, Ultra Chicks (Vol. 1, 1996) and Swinging Mademoiselle (Vol. 1, 1999) were the first to compile songs only from French 60s girls (along with a lesser known one, 1997's Belles! Belles! Belles!).
These collections are largely responsible for making many music lovers weak-kneed fans of female French 60s pop - as well as making the original cuts highly collectable. What is that makes this music so addictive? Discovering the French scene is like suddenly doubling the possibilities of what there is to discover musically from the 60s. It's like uncovering an entire secret world of quality music that is both familiar and exotic. Some only hear something silly and disposably cute in this material, and claim that at best these are exactly like Anglophonic tunes but with French vocals, therefore not worthy of special devotion. To the cynical, we devotees are only fetishists who like this music for its novelty factor and/or think something is automatically cool because it's French. To them I'd say - listen closer and perhaps you'll hear the unique appeal that makes the rest of us feel like we've discovered hidden treasure.
Plenty of incredible French pop and rock music was performed by both male and female vocalists of the era, but there's something about the female contributions that is especially intriguing. There's a unique expression of femininity that strikes the listener, something quite different to what we're used to hearing in 60s pop. Though distinctly French, it defies the stereotypically Gallic images we have of the dramatic, lovelorn women of chanson, or overtly sexual types like Brigitte Bardot. There is something naturally girlish and subtly sensual at play here. There's also a tomboyish rock 'n' roll spirit and overall sense of fun free-spiritedness present. The singing style is simultaneously coy, sexy, excitable, coquettish, fun, bold, confident, witty and smart. Many qualities were celebrated in the female voice on French recordings that are less typically present in other 60s girl pop, allowing roles other than the cheerful nice girl or the soulful diva. Fragility, cheekiness and detachment are less familiar elements to our ears that are often quite noticeable in these songs, and clearly considered desirable qualities for a female singer to express. There's also something a bit punk about how the vocals are often not perfectly in tune, and how there seems to be more emphasis on self-expression than technical proficiency. And aesthetically alone, there's an enormous appeal to hearing the French language sung over a rock arrangement in either a high, sweet-toned voice, a lower, sultrier voice, or a combination of both.
Though it would be foolish to deny the lusty undercurrent beneath much of the music sung by the perfectly-coiffed, matching-outfitted American girl groups, English-language female pop was still dominated by the ideal of the good-natured, well-behaved, pretty, pert and somewhat asexual girl. Even those that hinted at something more sensual had to present it convincingly wrapped up in this image. One of the most fascinating insights that French female 60s pop holds for me is that French girls - at least those performing pop music - seem to have had more free reign both to possess a sexual identity, and to express it. Sure, much of the compiled music is more from the fringes, but girls like Dani, Elsa Leroy and Zouzou were bonafide pop stars. Even the most popular girl of the era, the relatively straight-laced Sylvie Vartan, was distinctly sultry and pouty, and never smiley and wholesome. Sheila, up there in the popularity stakes alongside Sylvie, seems to be the only singing star created in the image of Anglo-American starched, good-girl appeal, but with her insanely overdone hair and manic perkiness, she is almost a Frankenstein-like concoction of all that is meant to be acceptable in a female pop star.
The two Swinging Mademoiselle volumes brought us a concentrated dose of all that made French 60s female pop great. Each disc benefits from a certain cohesiveness of sound and attitude, each full of girls who bring a purring, sweet, rockin', delicate sensuality to these perfectly catchy pop ditties. That's not to say there's not variety: every singer brings her own unique personality and delivery.
The songs have little flourishes that make them a cut above typical pop. The touches of psychedelia here and there, the unusual arrangements, the amusing themes and the afore-mentioned spirited vocal stylings mean there's never a dull moment here.
Below is my interview with Thierry, tastemaker behind the Swinging Mademoiselle comps, transcribed from our email exchange, followed by the tunes from Swinging Mademoiselle Volume 2.
Spiked Candy: How did you first get interested in the pop/rock songs performed by French girls in the 60s?
Thierry: Actually, I was not too much in French 60s at the beginning. When I was 15/16 years old in 1979 I came to music listening to punk-rock basically (Ramones, Clash, Buzzcocks, etc...) and by this time I had no interest in 60s music what so ever.
Then I became to realize (in the mid-80s more or less) that what I like in Punk rock was already there in the 60s. Meaning: Energy, melody, simplicity... And then I begin to discover the 60s music with comps like Back from the Grave, Pebbles, etc... But still I did not pay attention to French 60s, for me it was all bad yéyé music, more close to show business than Rock'n'roll. Then listening to a comp called Girls in the Garage, I noticed a tune from Jacqueline Taïeb, 7 am. I was amazed by the fact that she was French. Knowing that I start a bit to look for old French 60s record, discovering first the easy stuff to find - Nino Ferrer, Jacques Dutronc... of course I always knew them, they were famous, but I did not pay attention to their music before (and it was great indeed finally).
Then came out the first volume of a compilation callled Ils sont fous ces Gaulois, it must be around 1991 (you see it's all about compilations ha, ha).
I was completely smashed, there was great stuff in the French 60s and then I really start to look for French 60s records and very fast I became more interesting by the French girls, and I noticed too, very fast, that the French 60s touch was the girl side, something special that everybody likes and not only the French people.
SC: What inspired you to put the Swinging Mademoiselle compilations together?
T: In fact I was interesting to create something of my own, like the Back from the Grave series. Those US garage bands were not punk bands in the 60s, this is the guy who comped this with his 80s point of view that decided that those 60s teens bands will please 80s punk fans.
I did exactly the same with French 60s girls, it's from my 90s point of view that I picked songs from the past and create "a Swinging mademoiselle sound". This sound did not really exist in the 60s. Those girls were just trying to sing and get famous.
But with a look 30 years later it's more easier to pick songs and create something new (in a way). I'm almost certain than if I knew the 60s (I was born in 64), I would not have noticed all those girls. You need the distance that time creates.
And the other thing is that I wanted to do, is create compilations for foreign people. I was sure that the 60s French girls sounds could please foreign people, and I was right. That's why too I did wrote the liners in English first. And I wanted to prove the world (well the world of 60s music lover not the whole world of course) that in the 60s there was not only good music in England and in the US. There was good music everywhere and of course in France.
To make foreign people discover French 60s was best accomplishment. Swinging Mademoiselle sold very well in the US, in Japan, in Europe... (for that kind of 60s comps I mean, don't get me wrong).
SC: What sort of response have you had from listeners, DJs, etc over the years to your compilations? They seem to have been very important in bringing awareness of this music to a wider audience.
T: The success was amazing much more than I can imagine for that kind of comps. Maybe too much for me in a way, I was just (and still are) a passionate record collector. Suddenly all 60s DJ were playing French 60s all over the world. And the amazing thing too is that my comps pleased also far beyond the 60s music world. I guess there is something really special in French 60s girl touch who always works.
And one of the bad side of that, is that original 60s French record became very sought after and became very expensive.
The thing too is, that because of my comps (along with others called Ils sont fous ces Gaulois) some French major record label realized that there was an audience for unknown 60s french pop, mainly because of the good reviews that I had in British magazine (like Record Collector).
But anyway it creates a buzz and they came out comps like Pop à Paris which are legit but maybe not really good. I think I can be proud of that in a way cause French 60s became more famous, but the legit comps who came out, directly inspired by mine were a bit poor, cause of course those people did not understand what people really likes in my comps and they tried to mix unknown artist with more famous like Johnny Hallyday and of course it's a bit of a different sound.
But basically I'm very happy of what I did cause there is now some people all over the world (like you) that pay attention to the French 60s music.
Swinging Mademoiselle Vol. 1 - go here.
- Liz Brady - Palladium
- Elsa Leroy - Quelle foule, quelle foule
- Adèle - J'ai peur parfois
- Clothilde - La Ballade du bossu
- Claire Dixon - Je n'ai besoin que de tendresse
- Zoé - Avant qu'on ait 20 ans
- Violaine - Dam dou ah
- Zouzou - Tu fais partie du passé
- Jocy - Les Dix Premiers
- Dani - La Fille à la moto
- Aline - Censuré
- Jocelyne - Nitty Gritty
- Christine Pilzer - Ah-hem-ho-hu-err
- Caroline - Bach ou jerk
- Christie Laume - Agathe ou Christie
- Cettina - Cettina
- Tienou - Pop Art
- Tiny Yong - Huit jours par semaine
- Danielle Denin - Je lis dans des yeux
- Madeleine Pascal - Dieu n'est pas vieux
- Eileen - Ces bottes sont faites pour marcher
- Zouzou - Il est parti comme il était venu
- Dani - La Machine
- Caroline - Mister A Gogo
- Adèle - Et la la la la
- Elsa - Des gens se retournent
- Christie Laume - Rouge-rouge
- Liz Brady - L'amour se voit sur ton visage
Buy: Once you are sufficiently addicted, you'll probably want to buy whatever you can get your hands on by these ladies. Try these releases:
Femmes De Paris Vols 1, 2 & 3:
CD Universe has the best price I could find on these (Amazon is stupidly high for Vol. 3). (Update: You can now get Vols 1-3, along with Gentlemen de Paris, as a boxset). Thierry actually put together Volume 3 and says it's what he would have done had he made a Swinging Mademoiselle Vol. 3.
Magic Records' Sixties Girls series: These compile EPs from mostly obscure girls, although Françoise Hardy does show up on Vol. 1. The only source to obtain multiple songs from the more elusive French artists like Clothilde, Cléo, Christie Laume and Liz Brady. Their newest release (
Vol. 5) features Elsa, Elsa Leroy and Christine Pilzer. (Update: All now out of print).
Magic Records' Artist Comps: Of the artists posted here, Magic Records have released collections of the entire works of
Pussy Cat, Stella, and Tiny Yong. (Update: None of these are in-print anymore, but RPM have issued Pussy Cat's complete works as Boof! The Complete Pussy Cat and some of Stella's output on Stella (Expanded Edition)).
Tip: Try Aquarius Records for buying Magic Records stuff outside of France. International shipping from Magic is quite high, and probably prohibitive unless you're buying a ton of stuff. (Update: You can contact Magic Records to work out a better postage price on small buys). If you're out of luck with Aquarius, Amazon France stocks Magic releases and has more affordable shipping. Amazon US and CD Universe have the CDs at higher prices, but depending on where you live and what you buy, it may work out cheaper.
Pop à Paris series: Not too favourably spoken of above! Still, there are some highlights on these comps, and they're the only in-print sources for some artists.
La Belle Epoque US / UK: A new release, there is a lot of crossover here with other comps. But the sound quality is AMAZING (the best yet for some of these songs - Christie Laume's 'Rouge rouge' sounds incredible), it's readily available and affordable, and the liner notes are excellent. (Update: Now out of print on CD, but available to buy in digital formats).
Dani - Best Of: Boomerang, L'Intégrale: L'Intégrale is much better than Best Of: Boomerang, but has disappeared from the Magic Records site, and is expensive elsewhere. Not sure where you can still find Boomerang for sale.
Zouzou - L'Intégrale: Also now expensive and unfortunately there is a fair bit of filler on here. But there's hope - I got my copy on Ebay for $1!
Jocelyne - Twistin' The Rock: Sadly, seems not to be available anywhere anymore, but you might be lucky and come across a copy.