Tony Smith,a British-born folk and pop singer and French
restauranteur today launches an occasional column on our pages,
discussing French Rock music -- a genre that kicked off with
the inimitable Johnny Hallyday.
Rock in France
In France, in the beginning there was Johnny Hallyday, 68,
the musical equivalent to that other French 'incontournable'
the steak frites.
Johnny is a national treasure of sorts and he's still there.
He's not everyone's cup of tea though. British visitors and
residents, for instance, are generally pretty allergic to his
high decibel wailings. If you've become separated from a friend
or relative in one of those enormous French Hypermarchés
that dot the country, one solution is to ask reception to broadcast
Johnny's greatest hits over the PA - that should soon see all
British shoppers scurrying for the exits!
Johnny Hallyday, real name Jean-Philippe Smet, was only 13 when
he went on stage for the first time in Copenhagen to sing The
Ballad of Davy Crockett . In 1957 he saw the film Lovin
You , starring his idol Elvis Presley, and for him everything
fell into place he would become a rock n
roll star. Jean-Philippe was only 16 when he morphed into Johnny
Hallyday , a soft-hearted rocker with a powerful voice, who
continues to fire up French speaking audiences. Among his best
known albums are: Johnny Hallyday sang (1965), Beyond
Love (1976), Lorad (1995), Blood Simple
(1999), The Heart of Men (2007) and It will
never end (2008). Now with millions of records sold, his
fans remain loyal to the teen idol .
The British pop and blues explosion of the 1960's hardly touched
France. Rock music was an Anglo Saxon invention and the French
language, ideally suited to long-winded poetry forms, as epitomised
by 'La chanson française' had trouble fitting
in with the syncopated rock rhythms. Several French singers
however, (including Johnny) made a living by scotching French
lyrics onto British or American hit songs with it must be said,
some pretty awful results.
In the 1970's, British music continued to dominate pop charts
worldwide while Germany produced interesting groups such as Tangerine
Dream, Can, Neu and Kraftwerk. France however wallowed in sentimental
variety shows, seemingly incapable of coming up with anything
musically avant garde.
The punk movement and the mid 1970's reggae upheaval found few
followers in France and the eighties new wave, cold wave and
early techno experimentations went largely unnoticed. Early
signs of a wind of change came in the form of the 1980's monthly
TV programme 'Les
enfants du Rock', (also here),
hosted by Antoine de Caunes and Jacky for Houba Houba (rock).
video) . This excellent hour and a half long rock digest
offered an exciting window to French youth on the musical world
over the channel.
National service however was still claiming the nations' youth
while their British cousins freed of such compulsion, were busy
rehearsing rock and forming bands. Still, thanks to this TV
programme, precious seeds of sound were being sown and these
started sprouting in the mid 1990's: It was thanks to the 'Daft
Punk' worldwide breakthrough unveiling as it did an amazing
pool of talent hailing from Versailles, that French pop music
finally found its way.
Nowadays, thanks to groups such as Air, Justice and Phoenix
and a few cutting edge DJ's who tour worldwide (an unheard of
idea even 10 years ago) French rock/pop music is finally holding
its head up high. It's true of course that Serge Gainsbourg,
Bashung, Rita Mitsouku, The Negresses Vertes, The Innocents
and Etienne Daho were producing some pretty good music all through
the lean years, but they were all heavily influenced by the
British scene. Daft Punk showed other musiciens that it was
possible for a French group to be innovative and successful.
One lesson the French music scene did learn from all this: to
export worldwide, either their songs had to be sung in impeccable
English or alternatively should use as few words as possible!
Not the sort of message L'Académie Française,
is too keen on spreading!
And of course there is the Guetta phenomenon. France's most
successful global star and roving DJ David
Guetta shocked the French recording industry when he announced
April 19 he was headed for retirement.
David Guetta's golden disc - Nothing
But The Beat
- 1.2 million copies sold -
Tony Smith - Barbed Wire and Leather
- To listen click the image above -