What have the French ever done for us?
You'd think we'd got beyond having to make patronising jokes about French pop music. You'd think so, but you'd be wrong
The first signs that French music was going to be a bit 'iffy'. He thought he was the French Elvis. He was, in fact, the French Cliff Richard.
Like a lot of French singers (Jacques Brel, Plastic Bertrand), actually born in Belgium.
Squeaky 60's pop chanteuse. Bit of a sort to boot. The first signs of a recurrent French musical ploy, henceforth known as the Francoise Hardy Plan.
Yes, her music's terrible. But what red-blooded Parisian's actually listening to her?
Smoky, croaky, lecherous old goat. Somehow managed to remain the only good thing about French pop music for 30 years, fitting a string of great
records into his taxing schedule of drinking gallons of brandy, smoking Gitanes and shagging every woman in France. Hit incredible purple patch
in late 60s/early 70s, making 'Bonnie Et Clyde' (sampled by everyone from MC Solaar to Renegade Soundwave), pervo classic 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non
Plus' (memorably covered by the cast of 'Allo 'Allo) and 'Historie De Melody Nelson', a bizarre concept album about shagging underage totty that
sounds exactly like Parisian cinematic trip-hoppers Air.
Generously chested actress who did a few numbers with Serge Gainsbourg. Then sang some of his songs as well. Heh heh. Good track: 'St Tropez',
better known as the theme music from Eurotrash. Rubbish tracks: everything else she ever did.
Jean Jacques Perrey
Somehow, in the mid-60s, amongst the MOR horrors of Francoise, Brigitte, Johnny etc., France became a centre for fantastically weird and
strangely funky early synthesiser music. Good old Jean Jacques has had a bit of a renaissance recently, thanks to the kindly ministrations
of a bunch of easy listening and big beat DJs playing his classic 'EVA'. See also: Pierre Henry, Jack Arel and Serge Gainsbourg's funkier moments.
No, not the dubious Scally indie combo, but the French Kraftwerk. Sort of. Wore space suits and scary black helmets and made 1977's 'Magic
Fly', a cod disco/electronic/Eurovision Song Contest crossover. Sort of. Spiritual forefathers of Daft Punk. Sort of.
The Gibson Brothers
Actually from one-time French colony Martinique, but produced by Thomas Bangalter's dad, the famous er... erm... Monsieur Bangalter. Their
wedding disco favourite, 'Cuba', is regularly sampled by garage types like Roger Sanchez. Most famous of a whole bunch of French disco artists.
But French music was by now such an international laughing stock that the rest of them were forced to adopt fashionably American names:
eg Ottowan, Patrick Hernandez.
The French go New Romantic. Look at them, will you? Just bloody look at them.
Squeaky 80s pop chanteuse. Bit of a sort to boot, hence adoption of Francoise Hardy plan. Made breathy jailbait classic 'Joe Le Taxi'.
'Demolition derby' approach to cover versions resulted in scary remake of the Velvet Underground's 'I'm Waiting For My Man', which can
reduce grown men to tears at 50 feet. Particularly Lou Reed.
Bom-bo-LEY-AAAA! Bom-bo-LEY-AAAA! The sound of a billion Club 18-30 holidays and a zillion tapas bars. Bizarrely popular with the Boy's
Own/Shoom set around 1988, but then so was Mandy Smith. So embarrassed at being French, they actually pretended to be Spanish. Fatal flaw
in plan: Spanish music is rubbish as well.
Hasn't actually made any records. But she could have, if she'd stuck to the tried and tested Francoise Hardy Plan. So we're printing a
photo of her anyway. Omnipresent pin-up poster babe status achieved around film Betty Blue, which featured a top soundtrack by Gabriel
Yared sampled by both Jon Pleased Wimmin and Tricky.
The Nouvelle Vague (new wave)
Without warning, a bunch of young French dance producers start drawing on the legacy of Serge Gainsbourg and French easy listening, mixing
it up with the funk of French disco and the chic of French cinema, and the beats and rhythms of hip hop and drum n' bass. The end result is
a never-ending string of fantastic records over the last 18 months: Air's 'Casanova 70', Dimitri From Paris' 'Sacre Bleu', Super Discount's
'Super Discount', Daft Punk's 'Homework', Motorbass' 'Pansoul', St Germain, Eric Rug, Snooze... A very, very strange thing has happened. French music
is at this moment quite possibly the coolest sound in the world.
Alexis Petridis & Frank Tope
back: issue august 1997