Posts Tagged Johnny Hallyday

It’s not easy

I don’t get out much. Neither, of late, do I get here much, which is a constant cause of disappointment and regret, for me at least. I’m always eager to please the audience, so here is another clip of Johnny Hallyday (I might not necessarily be pleasing my audience).

I love this song. It’s a kind of male-oriented, rocky-poppy-disco-y I Will Survive in which Johnny affirms he’s not died from sadness yet, thanking his concrete morale – while conceding he doesn’t know how he’s managed it, and a rhyming confession that “J’ai de nouveaux amis, qui s’apellent le blues et l’ennui” (“I’ve made new friends, called blues and listlessness” – genuine, mouthful-of-tea-spurting, laugh-out-loud funny the first time I heard it).

This live, though mimed (oh, Johnny…), performance is from the very early 1980s I think – check out the hair, the abrupt ending, everything. I love it. And not in a ‘I love it because it’s so bad it’s good’ way, in a genuine way.

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Eddy et Johnny

Here, Eddy Mitchell (supported ably by Johnny Hallyday) laments the lack of true heros worthy of admiration, taking aim at the worlds of rock and roll, politics, and religion as he does so.

The lips may be miming, but, more importantly, the hips are swinging and the eyes are sparkling.

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The French Elvis (4)

And so we finish in 1999, with Un Jour Viendra (A Day Will Come), a string-laden, heart-felt, bitter-sweet love song. This song, co-written by Johnny’s son David, was released during my time in France, and I have pretty vivid memories of it, and the accompanying video, which can be described in the following thought process:

Ah, a pretty waitress… And there’s Johnny, playing his guitar… The waitress is being ogled by some horrible bloke. What a cock… Wait, now she’s taking her clothes off and having a shower. Am I now the cock who’s ogling her?… Johnny’s still playing, where is he? A Roman ampitheatre?… Oh, she’s off somewhere. But her moped won’t start… What lorry driver in his right mind wouldn’t stop to give her a lift??… Ah, she’s sorted out now… She’s very friendly with that security guard, where’s she going?… There’s a big crowd, is it for a concert… It seems to be the same place as Johnny… Wait, he’s gone, and there’s loads of strangers around… Who have they come to see? Oh of course: it’s Johnny in concert! Hurray! Now I get it…

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The French Elvis (3)

Back in time by 10 years, it’s 1966 (do keep up). A cover of Los Bravos’ Black Is Black, this was another massive number 1 for Johnny.

This is a very enjoyable video, with lots to talk about. The dancers stay just the right side of amateurish (they’re so nearly synchronised), while Johnny himself looks like some kind of wax-faced animatronic. Gone is the audience-pointing, hip-wiggling funster of 1960; we are instead witness to Johnny seeming to be glued, at various points, to a white pillar, a black pillar (trying to shake or sway himself free), and the floor (his arms swing, his knee moves, but he won’t be freed), while at about 2:20 he signs directly to one of the dancers, and looks like a shy teenager in a nightclub trying to chat up an attractive young lady, complete with visible nervous swallow.

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The French Elvis (2)

Forward now to 1976, and a number one, sold gold hit. In France.

Gabrielle tells the story of a love-hate relationship, in which Johnny portrays himself as some kind of chained-up sex slave.

I couldn’t track down a ‘proper’ video for this song, though I did find one with lots of lovely photos of Johnny. This one on the left is my favourite. I can’t decide whether that’s a bottle of alcohol or aftershave in his hand.

Either way, he’s clearly been drinking it.

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The French Elvis (1)

It really is lazy to describe Johnny Hallyday as ‘The French Elvis’. But I will not apologise for it, and I will continue to do it, most probably for the duration of this Theme Week.

Despite every instinct in my body and mind (and ears), I love Johnny Hallyday. I love what he represents to France, I love the love France has for him (apart from when he decides to live in Switzerland and stops paying taxes to the Elysée), and I love his style.

Here we see him in an authentically flickery 1960 clip, playing “Souvenirs, Souvenirs”, his second single and his first big hit. A fairly straightfoward early rock and roll love song (which reminds me of the Ren and Stimpy theme tune towards the end of its middle eight), it’s worth noting his confident gestures towards the (unseen) audience, his very Elvis-esque hip-swaying, and also the on-screen graphics’ mis-spelling of his name. This seems apt, as legend has it he went by the name of Johnny Hollyday until a promoter inadvertently gave him what would be his final pseudonym on a bill poster even earlier in his career.

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Mister Eddy

It’s probably fair to say that French music has, understandably, never had much of an impact on the collective British consciousness (you’ll note I’m assuming such a thing exists), and I would guess that songs such as Joe Le Taxi and Je t’aime… Moi non plus are still the flag-bearers.

Pushed a bit further, the nation might have half-heard of some guy called Johnny Hallyday (but none of his songs), probably along with the tag ‘the French Elvis’ (indeed no less a source than Wikipedia mentions this in its very first paragraph on him). For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought of Hallyday as the French Cliff Richard (still alive, just, and a national treasure, of sorts), but for one small yet important difference in their lives – whereas Cliff found God, Johnny found women and drugs.

A French singer I particularly like, and hence am sharing him with you, dear reader(s?), is Eddy Mitchell. Born Claude Moine (sorry to surprise you about him having changed his name) in 1940s Paris, his first steps into music were with Les Chausettes Noires (The Black Socks), before setting off on a hugely successful solo career, which began with his first album in 1963 and continues to this day (he has promised that 2010′s Come Back won’t be his last yet).

As with most of his contemporaries, Eddy was and still is hugely influenced by American blues and rock and roll – Les Chausettes Noires had hits with covers of Be-Bop-A-Lula and Johnny B. Goode (‘Eddie sois bon’), while his 2006 album, Jambalaya, was a declaration of love and sympathy for New Orleans, then recently hit by hurricane Katrina. He is well-regarded among his American idols, with Little Richard and Dr. John contributing to Jambalaya (Monsieur Hallyday also makes an appearance, and is a close friend of Eddy’s). His long-time (essentially, since forever) collaborator is Pierre Papadiamandis – in a kind of reverse Elton John/Bernie Taupin arrangement, Eddy writes the lyrics and takes the glory, while Pierre composes the music.

On a personal level, I first heard Eddy thanks to the TV being on in the background one day while I was living in France. One of his contemporary hits was playing (it was either J’aime pas les gens heureux (I Don’t Like Happy People) or Ton homme de paille (Your Straw Man – watch out for the ubiquitous Johnny Hallyday at the start of that clip), but I’ll be utterly damned if I can remember which), and it instantly drew my attention for its combination of airplay-friendly music, distinctively smooth-yet-gravelly vocals, and lyrics which over time came to reveal a beautiful melancholy. Soon after I was on a car journey with a colleague, who had just bought the new Eddy Mitchell album (1999′s Les nouvelles aventures d’Eddy Mitchell) and played it in full two or three times on the journey. I was hooked, and the album, on which the listener is taken on an aural journey through Memphis, Hollywood and New Orleans, finishing in Paris, is still a favourite of mine.

Eddy retains a special place in the heart of the French public – who refer to him as Mr Eddy or, less obviously, Schmoll - for his distinctive crooning voice (as in the all-time classic, heart-breaking Couleur menthe a l’eau), and his frequent anti-authority views. This latter was perhaps best evidenced with his hit Pas de boogie woogie, critical of the Catholic church’s attitude to pre-marital sex. In 1970s France, this was a bold stance to take and led to no little criticism.

Eddy, for me, is the epitome of effortless, classic French cool. One day, I will finally get round to exploring his successful film career.

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