En Francais

It’s time to wear a beret, smoke a Gauloise and cycle past a roadblock with a note to ‘la Resistance’ hidden in a baguette. As well as being fond of ludicrous stereotypes I am also, as regular readers will be aware, a big fan of  cover-versions. The more unusual, the better and in this case, I’ve decided to ditch the English language altogether in hunt of those elusive (and not-so-elusive) French cover versions. It’s appropriate that this first new posting of 2013 is also Valentines day, French is after all, the language of love. With sexy chanteuses like Eileen and Francoise Hardy involved it’s hard to argue with that. It seems as if even the dullest of work-aday songs magically becomes a seductive sonnet when those dashing French types get involved.

1. Richard Anthony – Fiche le camp, Jack
This 1961 cover versions fits the mould of many French covers of the period. Essentially a song that had already been a worldwide hit in English was taken and re-shaped into a Gallic hit by a local star. Richard Anthony was a master of this approach and he had dozens of number-one hits in France by covering English-language hits. Not the most original of careers, but hey he got a private plane out of it! The video for this song is hilarious – how is that man wooing that parade of 60s dames? With French… that’s how.

2. Eileen – Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher

I came across this song on one of those ‘Tom Middleton presents’ compilations that they used to sell in Urban Outfitters (maybe they still do, I think I might be too old to be allowed in there now). There’s something much sexier about this song in French and god knows Nancy Sinatra was sexy enough with the original.

3. Blondie – Sunday Girl (French)
For some reason France was very cool in the 80s. Blondie recorded several 7″ b-side versions of their hits in French and many of their English-language songs had snippets of French included anyway (Denis?). By and large the results of the transformation to French are pretty good. Again, a hot chick singing in French is even hotter than a hot chick singing in English. Adds a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ don’t you think?

4. Sylvie Vartan – Quand Tu Es La
This is an interesting one from 1965 –  the lyrics have been completely changed to fit the melody. It’s a version of ‘The Game of Love’, originally by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and very lovely it is too. It came to my notice in the surprisingly good film ‘Ruby Sparks’ which has a very French undercurrent to it (A number of French-language sings are included in the soundtrack and the main character is speaks French a couple of times).

5. Francoise Hardy – Suzanne
I love the original Leonard Cohen version of this song. It’s probably the most romantic song I’ve ever heard – though as is usual with Cohen, I can’t claim to 100% understand the lyrics – something about oranges and Jesus? Anyway, my incomprehension is doubled by its translation into French, but hey… it’s those dusky Gallic tones again!

6. David Bowie – Héros

Just like Blondie, Bowie took part in the whole ‘France is hip’ thing in the 80s. He seemed to be more into Berlin to be fair, recording a number of German versions of his hits at the time. This version of Heroes, in French, stands out though.

7. Marie Laforet – Marie Douceur
The moment you hear those opening notes, you think you know what’s coming… but this is another song that steals the hook and melody from an English-language original and re-works the (French) lyrics to fit. In this case, it’s the Stones’ ‘Paint it Black’. Brilliant, in any dialect.

If you’d like to listen to all the tunes consecutively – you know, like an old mixtape – check out the youtube playlist.


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