French Songs for a Sunday Afternoon
Top 15 French Oldies
In france the oldies aren’t reserved for 2am right before everyone leaves the bar, these beautiful french songs, are still played daily on the radio and still tug on the heart strings of the french youth. This attests to the immortality of true art. These songs are the link to the past, a culture and an outlook that the french still cling to with affinity and endearment. I’m going to give you guys a tour starting in the 50s until about the 80s of some of the very best french oldies; a little trip down memory lane. As I said before, these song don’t need me to revive them. They’re all still a big part of the french culture, and rightly so. Have a listen, and be transported to a time, where love was shouted from the rooftops, and heartbreak was personified through the stanzas of these poetic masterpieces.
Jacques BREL – Ne me quitte pas
I’m going to start with my all time favourite singer, Jacques Brel. I discovered “Ne Me quitte pas” when i was about 15, and Brel is actually one of the reasons why I fell in love with french culture. This song has been covered by Nina Simone and Sting, and is one of the most beautiful break-up songs ever written. The title, do not leave me says it all. What I love about Jacques Brel is that, you can feel his emotion, his pain becomes yours. You can see it in this video which has english subtitles :
He openly shares his utter despair at the thought of his “bien aimée” leaving him. And offers her pearls of rain from countries where it does not rain. He proclaims that he wont cry anymore and he won’t speak anymore and that he would be content to hide in a corner just to listen to her sing and laugh, and begs her to let him stay in the shadows, but just not to leave. It is really such a powerful song, you don’t even need to be able to understand the words, and that is true for all true art, it transgresses languages and ideaologie, hitting you right at the core.I chose this song, because it is a masterpiece, but there are so many others by Brel, my second favorite would be La Fanette, where 2 best friends, fight over a girl.
Léo FERRÉ – Avec le Temps
This song is another tear-jerker, that has been interpreted by many other singers such as Celine Dion and Henri Salvador. Avec le temps means with time; he says With time, everything goes away, even the best memories in the end loose their charm. I like to think that he is trying to reassure himself, that his pain will one day come to an end, and that with time, his pain will be at come point bearable.
Jacques Brel was from Belgium and Léo Ferré was from Monnaco, but both created songs that are french national treasures.
George BRASSENS – Quatre vingt quinze pour cent
Brassens is definitely one of the coolest french singers, originally he was just a song writer, and didn’t think he had a good enough voice to sing, but his voice and his humor are very atypical, and it’s one of the reasons why he is so beloved. His lyrics were satirical, poingant and even naughty. In this song “Quatre-vingt quinze pour cent” translated as 95 for 100, Brassens says that 95 times out of 100, women are bored when they have sex, and whether or not she says it, the man who believes he pleases her sexually, is naïf!
BARBARA – Dis, quand reviendras-tu?
Barbara is another national treasure, who has been said to emulate the sparow-like voice of Edith Piaf or trémolo, a trembling effect. Her poetic songs, stem from a dark past. her most famous song, L’aigle noir, or the black eagle is a poetic metaphore of her abusive father, in a later song called Nantes, she sings about her dying father, who she arrives to late to see one last time. In the song Dis quand reviendras-tu – Say when will you come back she, a beautiful love song, she asks her lover when will he come back, and reminds him, that all time lost can never be made up.
Charles AZNAVOUR – Emmenez-moi
Charles Aznavour still sings today, and is a french icon who was born in Paris in 1924. The song emmenez moi is a classic, which people still sing in parisian bars, at the top of their lungs in big groups reminiscent of long summer days. Aznavour, talks of wanting to wash off the gray of the nothern skies, and be taken away to the ends of the earth, to other marvelous countries, where it seems that misery would be a touch more bearable under the sun.
Michel POLNAREFF – Love Me Please Love Me
This is also, one of the first french songs that I used to listen to when I was younger. The crooner Michel Polnareff was a rebel and a beatnik in the 60s. He is well known for being exiled to The United States and writing the famous song, a letter to France during his time in the US.
Claude FRANÇOIS – Comme d’habitude
Claude François is probably one of the biggest french Superstars!My favourite is the 70s disco hit Alexandrie Alexandra. He suffered a tragic death, being electrocuted in his own bathtub. His most song famous song Comme d’habitude – Like Always is one of the most covered songs in the world, Frank Sinatra’s My Way being the most famous.
Jacques DUTRONC – Il est cinq heure, Paris s’éveille
Jacques Dutronc is probably the french version of the beatles, he proabably had a lot of panties thrown at him. He admits in his song the Idol, to having lots of girls throwing themselves at him and scaling “the rooftops”. Many of you may have first been introduced to him with the Song “Les Cactus”, featured in the 2009 feature film Youth In Revolt. My favourite is, Il est cinq heure, Paris s’éveille; It’s 5 o’clock, Paris is waking. If you ever pull an all nighter in Paris, or as the French call it ‘une nuit blache’, make sure to listen to this song, while strolling the quais of the seine, as the sun rises over the rooftops.
France GALL – Laisse Tomber Les Filles
France Gall is franc’s sweetheart. You might be familiar with the english version of her song “Laisse Tomber Les Filles” by April March called Chick Habit. In lasse tomber les filles France Gall urgers “the girls’ to forget about it, as one day they’ll get dropped and cry. You have to wonder if she took her own advice, when she found herself in a love triangle with her husband Michel Berger and another famous french singer Veronique Sanson. Il jouait du piano debout – he played the piano standing up is another very poplar song.
Michel BERGER – Le groupe du pianiste
Another french anthem. The piano player’s groupie.
Véronique SANSON – Ma drôle de vie
Joe DASSIN – Et si tu n’existais pas
A beautiful french love balad entitles “And if you didn’t exist”, Joe Dassin, asks why would I live.
Marie LAFORÊT – Viens Viens
The beautiful Marie Laforêt in this song, begs her husband to come back after he has ventured off with a lover. She does beg, and even goes to say, that her mother is even more beautiful than before, anything to bring him back.
Daniel BALAVOINE – L’Aziza
David Balavoine is another exemple of a singer who’s life was cut too short. He has a lot of great songs like “Mon fils ma bataille” or “SOS d’un terrien en detresse” but my favourite is L’Aziza; meaning my darling in arabic. A love song about a young arabic woman where he says your colors, your words, everything is ok for me, I want you if you want me. This song has a strong message about peace and understanding.
And last but not least…
Serge GAINSBOURG – Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais
Serge Gainsbourg said it all when he said Sea Sex and Sun, he makes you want to smoke countless cigarettes and be the rebel “poète maudit” that you always knew you could be. While listening to Gainsbourg, you get this sudden urge to want to change that world, stop everything and become that carefree soul that resides deep in your inner self, and do every and anything that makes you happy. I like this song a lot.. I came to tell you that I’m leaving. He adds, your long sobs won’t change anything. Gainsbourg was definitely one to tell it like it is. Like when he burnt a 500 franc bill on live TV to show, how much he was taxed by the government.
Let me know in the comments, if there’s a song you think I missed that deserves to be on the list!