When people talk about a “French touch”, they should ask themselves “but how did it happen, when did it start?”… How could the country of Mireille Matthieu and Edith Piaf become so cool, so good…
There is a long tradition of chanson, this very particular style of song where lyrics come firt and music only second, where the singer literally acts, without being as poetically serious as it uses to be in a melodie (Debussy, Ravel, Delmet), or a German lied (Shubert).
Chanson is a very popular, very French kind of song, where the story connects directly to anyone’s life. This is what Edith Piaf became famous for.
But there is another tradition, with less focus on the lyrics and more on the music, directly influenced by jazz or musical, just entertaining, somehow with a more urban feeling.
Mistinguet was THE reference of this kind of song from the 1900’s to the 1930’s. Then came Mireille and her (gay) partner on stage Jean Sablon, for pure moments of happiness. In the 1960’s, the singer Francoise Hardy, whose professor was the same Mireille, became certainly the most important singer in this tradition with simple love songs, easy to remember and gentle.
Elli et Jacno arrived at the end of the 70’s after their punk experience with the Stinky Toys. Jacno was certainly the most handsome musician of the parisian scene, writing amazing synthetic tunes with a very strong 60’s bubble-gum taste, and Elli a new Francoise Hardy of a new cosmic age, becoming famous after they wrote Amoureux solitaire for the 16-year-old idole Lio (article to come), an electronic version of one of their punk song Lonely lovers, from 1977.
The lyrics are simple. I have always dreamt to sing this song with some kind of gay attitude… Hand in hand, we walk together, people laugh, but we don’t care, we are happy…
Their previous band, the Stinky Toys, inspired partialy a Comic Book, Paris scouille t-il? by Dodo and Ben Radis. Later in the 80’s, Jacno’s music Rectangle became a commercial hit for a cocoa drink (Nesquik), another, Lozange, the opening music for the TV program Platine 45, and in 1984 the duo recorded the main songs of Eric Rohmer movie Les nuits de la pleine lune. The duo eventually splited in 1984.
In 1986, Elli became Elli Medeiros and came back with a pure parisian song, with an african touch so en vogue, Toi mon toit, which became number one among students during the demonstrations and strikes of the automn 1986. I eventually wrote the demonstration version lyrics, “De-de-vaquet/ toi toi ta loi, ta loi on n’en veux pas/ Les e-tudiants, en greve/ et De-vaquet, par terre/ chacun est a sa place/ Il n’y a pas de mystere”
Jacno died in 2009, half forgotten despite an amazing last album recorded with AS Dragon and Helena Nogueira in a kind of farewell to what Paris used to be, maybe to let the future start from scratch…
Main dans la main. Maybe the begining of the French touch.