The French Connection
Pop à Paris – a CD Revue
I've wanted to review this album because this series is so typical of the French pop music from the sixties that I've been previously describing in my articles. Previous private comps like Ils sont fous ces Gaulois and Swinging Mesdemoiselles, and the official breakthrough comp, Wizzz! Psychorama Français, opportunistically inspired it. Put out by major label Universal alongside another major label series called Femmes de Paris, it tries to cash in on the recent interest instigated by Brit critics, most notably "Mojo" magazine (as always, French sheep have to wait for the seal of approval from the English authorities in order to launch any type of official marketing project). Sasha Monett of the Swinging Mesdemoiselles has been contacted to conceive the next volume three of this particular series and there's more to come, like a special volume on French Freakbeat next year.
Vincent Palmer, ex-guitarist/leader of Bijou, a French band equivalent of the Flamin' Groovies and Dr. Feelgood from the late seventies punk years (and a rather cheesy band from today's standpoint among punk-retro rockers), is the mastermind behind Pop À Paris. He's also a staff writer at retro-magazine "Juke Box," which I've mentioned before in some of my previous articles. His official version is that he decided to compile these records from his own collection that he had randomly collected, while searching through old jumbo sales in salvation army shops and bric-à-brac secondhand bazars all over the country during his touring years. Like I said, I suspect a more mercantile decision with the opportunistic inclusion of Pierre Cardin models displaying couture and swagger on each cover and CD gatefolds (some sort of deal-sponsoring from the famous fashion Maison, no doubt), which are ultimately out of place here (real amateurs would've preferred original pics from the artists and document photos of the original minets, with French dollies swingin' on the dancefloor of the Paris discotheques like the Bus Palladium or Regine's)!
Nevertheless, you'll find some truly wonderful tracks of the era among these grooves, mostly in the novelty or variety field! As a bonus, you get the accurate liners from one of the more sympathetic rock critics from our shores, one Christophe Conte, staff-writer from the snubby "Inrockuptibles" mag--one general introduction identic on every booklet, and a more specific revue for each volume of the series. I have to add that the record repros picture content of the booklets inside the gatefolds is a shameful assemblage . . . a botched-up job. To begin with, the liners and pictures are missing from the vinyl editions, which are the real meat when you consider the general wants of the record collectors, who are the true clientele for these sort of projects the world over.
Secondly, the CD editions, while containing the explicative booklets (which points out that the marketing office of Universal preferred to focus on the general neophyte CD buying johns) and extra useless Pierre Cardin model photos, a lot of the eye-popping cover repros are shamefully missing, while they were quite easy to obtain for the most part. This is especially true considering something as ready as the cover of the Michel Polnareff EP containing the classic French ‘60s Punk manifesto, "Ne Me Marchez Pas Sur Les Pieds," is missing. Everybody could've dug that up on the floors of every bric-à-broc stand here for less than a nickel! However, on the plus side you do get, for the first time, the tracks reissued from the original Mono masters. "Chante" (a French cover of "I Can Only Give You Everything" by Ronnie Bird) never sounded so good in all it's fuzz glory, and something like "Psychasténie" (the rare sitar beat instrumental from the original soundtrack of classic French '67 cult movie "Le Pacha") is now a real dancefloor monster!
So, in this particular curious case, the CD gatefold digipack editions are the collector ones to get. They’ve even edited a special DoCD resume for people who might not want to bother picking up the whole series of five. How clever, it shows how much they know about the buying public . . . nothing! Now on with the record revue, individually:
Volume 1 - Contact:
The album begins with a swing in the instrumental version of the classic "Get Out of My Life, Woman" by Johnny Hallyday's (the French "king" of rock, Tom Jones imitator and all round cheesecake) backing band, The BlackBurds, featuring British expatriate arrangers Micky Jones and Tommy Brown. You know, "the State Of Micky and Tommy," the best backers Johnny ever had, if you exclude one time Steve Marriot, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Johns outside of their Small Faces for the recording of Johnny's '69 album from his mid-sixties period. One can find them on the b-side of his Generation Perdue EP. It's a groovy dance floor number, so typical of the uptown "minet" crowd doing the Jerk!
Next is one of the most prominent and talented of the French pop composers, Michel Polnareff with his "Le Roi des Fourmis" (The Ant King), a true French Pop classic (he looks truly "Ace Face" mod on the EP cover).
Then there is Chantal Kelly, so cute in her cover cameo, with a song that suggests a typical wink of the times prior to Frisco hippies, "Notre Prof' d'anglais" (Our English Teacher'; To sir with Love!), an upbeat girl-group number with it's trumpettin' brass and 'lalalas'; oh, he's such a playboy!
The 'Swingin' Mesdemoiselles' are the true stars (or, should I say "starlets?") of this series. As for me, they tend to get on my nerves! Jean Mareska steals the tune of the Stones' "Sittin' on a Fence" and sticks it underneath lyrics that has nuthin' to do with the original. (Actually, I'm not a fan of the sacred Stones; sorry, you ‘60s monks out there.) But it does point out one of the typicalities of "Ze Frenched Biet," which is the minet Pop crooner à la Dutronc; the orchestra's led by Bert Kaempfert. How "EZ" can it get? (Not my cup of tea, lads).
What follows is one of the super stars of the collection, Sex Kitten posing on the cover as a biker mama with the b-side of her ode to Harley Davidson's "Contact." It’s not only the title of this volume, but a true ‘60s electro-pop, pioneering masterpiece reminiscent of the "Barbarella" futuristic fashion wave. (You should see her in the clip of that song, resplendent in her Paco Rabanne outfit and singing robot-like inside a highly designed SciFi spaceship decorum . . . breathless! Watch it all in her hour-long '67 TV special, "Le Show Bardot," now out on video. It’s a true ‘60s TV Pop classic similar to Nancy Sinatra's "Moving with Nancy," a track famously written by the pride of this nation's composers, Serge Gainsbourg. Zowee!
Next is Chris (or, "Long Chris" as he was tagged) with "Plan de Fugue" (Runaway plan), another local Dylan copyist more famous for being part of Johnny Ha-ha-llyday's mafia (he had to have one like King Elvis) and one time stepfather. Johnny married his cute and ultimately dull brunette of a daughter, old enough to be Johnny's own daughter in the '80s, Adeline! This is a typical showbiz practice: marrying girls half your age! A practice instigated here by "dirty old man," showbiz shark/crook and ex- con ‘50s Jazzman, Eddy Barclay. "Affole-toi Marie" (Liven-up Mary) fares much better as sitar-toned, '20s-styled-Bonnie and Clyde-type ballad by another swingin' mademoiselle, Pascale Audret. But, watch out for Johnny's incredible cover of the Small Faces "My Way of Giving" (Je n'ai jamais rien demandé). Not bad of a cover, but I can't help but cringe each time I hear his cheesy retard voice. Again, much better is "Vous n'avez rien Compris (You Didn't Understand a Thing)" by still another mademoiselle, Virginie. (Don't these girly French surnames make your mouths foam, you tigers?)
Next, the dreaded Claude François or "CloClo" for his legions of fans here, forever mourning his '79 death by electrocution in his bathtub. He’s a true cult MOR singer; in fact, the original author of all time MOR classic, "My Way" (Comme d'habitude), who left behind a lovely blond bombshell ex-model of a wife! I dunno which I loathe most, him or the "Johnny" guy who, on this album, covers the Barry Ryan Mor classic, "Eloise." Why is that creep on this? I know they need to score sales, but this is the kind of featuring that ultimately alienates hardcore '60s fans, the true core of the buying public for this kind of project. Ah, but again, a typical French way of doing things.
But lucky for us, next comes a true classic from one of the queens of Swingin' Mesdemoiselles, "7heures du matin," by Jacqueline Taïeb. It’s a novelty song about having to choose between a blue or red Shetland pullover, waking-up mornings to the sounds of "My Generation," and wishing Paul Mc Cartney wuz here to help-out!
Then, Claude Channes, a "minet," sings sarcastically about making love not war, "L'amour pas la Guerre" while yawning. Next a terrific number à la Dutronc's 'Hippie, Hippy Hourah" with organized fuzz riffs! Elsa, while pretty cute with her straight long hair and big blue eyes, is not a "Mademoiselle," rather a beatnick chick, a buddy gal of Michel Polnareff and Antoine, hanging around the same Seine river barges and left banke coffee shops with her social commentary, "Bizarre."
Henri Salvador, a French West-Indies mulatto, one time jazzman and cofounding father of rock'n'roll in France with Boris Vian, parodies dedicated followers of fashion with "Carnaby Street," a classic dance novelty number. But, Delphine follows-up with a real treat! A cover off We The People's "In The Past" with different lyrics actually featuring We The People's backing track "La Fermeture éclair" (The Pant’s Zipper), a sexy tale about chastely guarding one girl's zip from the lusty hands of boys! (This kind of number is what such a comp is all about: digging-up for the general public true underground classics worthy of French nuggets, if there ever was such a thing!)
French Beat King, Ronnie Bird, makes his first appearance here with a song from his classic (and best) '68 EP, Le Pivert; he sounds much like Polnareff here . . . long live king Ronnie! And, another girl-sung killer again: "Les filles, c'est fait pour faire l' amour" (Girls are made to make love to), a monster fuzz cover of Capitol's "We Got a Thing that's in the Groove," with obviously different lyrics (these adaptations of foreign hits are a French specialty).
Fernand Raynaud, a famous French comic nut comedian, covers a French soul-pop hit by Nino Ferrer, "Oh! Hé! Hein! Quoi"; stoopid but novelty fun! Next, France Gall, the internationally acclaimed 'swingin' mademoiselle' queen and role model for your April March adopted by ours at Tricatel, with the generic theme to the foremost cult pop French TV show. "Dim, Dam, Dom": "Dady da da," a true classic upbeat French Pop! (What powerful nostalgia!)
Monty, another of our classic pop singers (think Noël Deschamps, Eric Charden and Erick St. Laurent), sings, curiously enough, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny" in the bombastic mode characteristic of French adaptations with different lyrics, "Le Collège." Then, Stone, the future Cher of our Sonny (Eric Charden), sings a typical swingin' mademoiselle number slightly delic, "Le Nénuphar" (Water Lily). We close this decidedly important first installment with a classic French groove "chanson" with its all important Lyric wordplays by the master himself "l' anamour" (analove or, 'free love'), the missed Serge Gainsbourg.
Hell! These records are so richly comped with important cultural facts that it's hard to skimpily pass them by.
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