BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE FRANCOPHILES: Françoise Hardy

Hardy 1965

Que voulez-vous? Five key albums from the biggest chanteuse of ‘60s French pop culture resurface via those astute arbiters of cool, Light in the Attic. And yes, we want ‘em.

BY BILL KOPP

Looking back on the 1960s, it’s easy to understand why certain countries didn’t get whipped up in the era’s rock and pop revolution quite to the extent that we did in the USA and Great Britain. Spain, for example, was still under the fascist dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and would remain so until the middle of the following decade. And there was always the issue of a language barrier (though British groups like The Who were massively popular throughout Scandinavia).

No country in Western Europe had a more insular pop culture scene in those days than France. Even The Beatles got a (relatively) tepid response when they played at the Paris Olympia in January 1964, a time when they were the biggest thing ever a mere 200 miles away in London. The French marketplace always preferred their pop stars home grown, so much that they minted their own ersatz Elvis Presley, Johnny Hallyday. The acts who succeeded in France were ones with a distinctively French sensibility, like Serge Gainsbourg. And the biggest chanteuse in French pop culture was Françoise Hardy.

Her magazine-model good looks coupled with a somewhat shy persona suggested a deep, inward-looking character. Hardy was a sensation not only on the strength of her music, but because she wrote her own songs. It’s worth remembering that recording acts coming up with their own material were virtually unheard of until The Beatles started doing it: Frank Sinatra wasn’t a songwriter, nor was Elvis (some suspect co-credits notwithstanding), and even The Rolling Stones were primarily a cover band until 1966’s Aftermath, their fourth album.

In those days in France, the format du jour (sorry!) (You’re excused. – Social Manners Ed.) or perhaps de rigueur (apologies again!) (Ditto. – SME) was the Super 45, a seven-inch disc known pretty much elsewhere as an EP (extended play). Hardy released a long string of these, each with its own color picture sleeve. And as was – or became – standard practice, every time she accumulated three of these Super 45s, French label Vogue would compile and release a long-playing twelve-inch record, eponymously titled. Five of these albums are being reissued by Light in the Attic.

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Tous Les Garçons et les Filles (aka Françoise Hardy) (1962)
When Hardy released her debut album in November 1962, she was a couple months shy of her nineteenth birthday. For the disc’s twelve tracks, Hardy penned the lyrics (and co-composed the music) for all but two. Though the arrangements for most of the songs featured orchestral backing (Roger Samyn and His Orchestra), the music was spare and straightforward, a sort of polite, pop-leaning version of folk.

But not American folk: from its very start, Hardy’s music displayed the influence of French chanson, the Gallic equivalent of English music hall. Hardy sang completely in her native language, and the music followed the cadences of French (as opposed to shoehorning lyrics into a song written in English, the practice followed by most every other non-English-speaking pop act of the era).

Hardy’s deadpan delivery has a cool, aloof air about it, an approach that one suspects influenced German vocalist Nico as she began her own recording career later in the decade.

Some of the music on the record has the character of café jazz; the spare “Ça a raté” (“It Missed”) has little going on beyond Hardy’s vocal, a bit of woodblock percussion, and hollow-body electric guitar. The minimalistic approach of this and the other cuts on Tous Les Garçons et les Filles are effective in their simplicity, placing Hardy’s voice front and center.

“Oh oh chéri” (“Uh oh”), the record’s sole cover (“Le temps de l’amour” was written for Hardy) has a vaguely country-and-western feel, filtered through French sensibility. “Le temps de l’amour” has hints of surf-n-spy textures, with its reverberated guitar and out-front electric bass; it’s representative of the sort of music one of its authors, Jacques Dutronc, would make once he scored a record deal of his own in 1966. (Long a pair, Hardy and Dutronc legally married in 1981.) “Le temps” is as close as the record ever comes to anglophone ideas about rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, the arrangement and instrumentation on the disc sounds to American ears like nothing so much as the incidental music on the United Artists soundtrack LP for A Hard Day’s Night.

“On se plaît” (“It Delights”) has a stiff, clip-clop arrangement that once again harkens back to chanson/music hall traditions. The bouncy “”Il est parti un jour” (“He Left One Day”) puts a good deal more echo on Hardy’s voice, and uses a more ambitious arrangement that changes tempo and key, and gives the solo instrumentals more prominence. Jacques Wolfsohn‘s production on the album is crystalline, and the recording is either monaural or (very unimaginative) stereo, which seems about right for an early 1960s recording.

Françoise Hardy was retitled after its single Tous Les Garçons et les Filles for its UK release in 1964, and The “Yeh Yeh” Girl From Paris for its US release some three years later; the disc reached #36 on the UK album chart, and the single “Tous les garçons et les filles” (“All the Boys and Girls”) charted there similarly. For the 2015 CD reissue (and its vinyl counterpart to follow in early 2016), the album goes with Tous Les Garçons et les Filles as its title.

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Le Premier Bonheur du Jour (aka Françoise Hardy) (1963)
A critical and commercial success at home (and modestly so beyond France’s borders), Hardy’s debut led quickly to a follow-up album. Released in October 1963 and again featuring only the artist’s face and name on the cover, not unlike a fashion magazine (so that’s where Peter Gabriel got the idea!), the album is now known (and titled on the new Light in the Attic reissues) as Le Premier Bonheur du Jour (“The First Day Happiness”) after its single. (In the UK the record was released 1964 as In Vogue.)

Nearly half of the record’s twelve tunes are solo Hardy compositions (both music and lyrics). The arrangement approach expands in many directions from the relatively monochromatic character of the debut. More ambitious and prominent orchestration are hallmarks of the single and “Va pas prendre un tambour,” another Dutronc number.

Hardy and producer Jacques Wolfsohn seem to have absorbed some influences from outside France for both their musical approach (“Va pas” sounds a bit like a Ricky Nelson track) and the songs themselves. Both Paul Anka (his “Think About It” rewritten here as “Avant de t’en aller” [“Before You Go Away”]) and Burt Bacharach/Hal David (Timi Yuro‘s 1962 hit “The Love of a Boy” translated to “L’Amour d’un garçon”) are drawn upon for material. Anka’s tune features prominent backing vocals (likely overdubbed by Hardy), something rarely found on previous Hardy tracks.

The Françoise Hardy original, “Comme tant d’autres” (“Like Many Others”) is peppered with some well-placed jazzy organ fills reminiscent of Brian Auger. Another original, the gentle “J’aurais voulu” (“I Would Have Liked”) makes effective use of nylon-string guitar; the arrangement conjures visions of Hardy strolling contemplatively through a field while she sings.

The exceedingly brief (1:43) “Nous tous” (“All of Us”) displays some peppy drum work that threatens to – but never quite does – rock out. Hardy’s trademark delivery keeps things firmly in check. “L’Amour d’un garçon” features brass, horns and soulful girl-group styled backing vocals (definitely not Hardy), and while on paper that description suggests an arrangement that could overwhelm the singer, such a thing never happens. On the outro, Hardy comes closest yet to singing in English with a couple of “woah-oh” vocalizations.

The melodramatic “L’Amour ne dure pas toujours” (“Love Does Not Always Last,” another original) is like nothing in Hardy’s previous work. Assertive organ work all but duets with the vocalist; even when other instruments and wordless backing vocals join in, the song is all about the dialogue between Hardy and the haunted-house keyboard. A French adaptation – by Hardy – of the Connie Francis hit “It’s Gonna Take Me Some Time,” “On dit de lui” (“It is Said of Him”) features some out-front twangy guitar (with wah-wah pedal!) and wop-dat-doo-wop backing vocals that suggest a French Jordanaires.

A few months after her second album’s release, Françoise Hardy cut and released an Italian-language album, appropriately titled Françoise Hardy canta per voi in italiano. Not included in Light in the Attic’s new reissue series, the album featured re-recordings of selections from Hardy’s first two long players.

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Mon Amie la Rose (aka Françoise Hardy) (1964)
Hardy kept up both her release schedule and her practice of self-titling all of her albums with this October 1964 disc. Again recording with Jacques Wolfsohn as producer, this disc – her most varied yet — found Hardy working with the Charles Blackwell Orchestra. What she did change was the recording studio; leaving for the first time (at least for her francophone releases) the confines of Studio Vogue, Hardy crossed la Manche and landed at Pye Studios in London, the same place that The Kinks cut their records in those days.

Again featuring a mix of originals and outside compositions, Mon Amie la Rose relies more on French composers for the latter. Released stateside with different cover art in 1966 as Maid in Paris (and elsewhere as Fantastic Françoise), the disc features the hit “Dans le monde entier.” An English-language version of the song (“All Over the World”; hear it below) became a hit in English-speaking countries including the UK, where it went Top 20 in the spring of 1965.

The record’s sound moves closer to a sort of Gallic folk-rock; the shimmering, insistent acoustic guitars and soaring massed vocals of “Je veux qu’il revienne” (“I Want Him Back”) aren’t radically different from The Seekers or even The Mamas and The Papas. With its country and western feel – including syrupy strings and moaning chorus vocals – Hardy’s original “Tu ne dis rien” (“You Say Nothing”) feels like a Marty Robbins tune. And “Et même” (“And Even”) unabashedly horns into Phil Spector‘s wall of sound territory, with rumbling tympani and perhaps more instrumentation than is found on any other Hardy song. Hardy remains calm and controlled and above it all, somehow. The sexy go-go ambience of “Pourtant tu m’aimes” (“Yet You Love Me”) traffics further in girl-group sound, and its arrangement seems custom-made for a film soundtrack.

“Pars” (“Leave Off”) is an understated, acoustic number that leaves the modern-day listener wholly unprepared for the next track (on the original record, this is the point at which listeners had to flip the disc). “Je n’attends plus personne” (“I Expect Nobody”) is Hardy’s French adaptation of an Italian tune, “Non aspetto nessuno” (a slightly different translation yields “Not Expecting Anyone”). Featuring some shockingly nasty fuzz guitar riffage, it starts out sounding like some sort of French blues. But as the tune unfolds, it heads in a completely different adult-pop direction, albeit with that fuzz guitar, buried as it is under strings. But then the guitar solo hits – courtesy of a studio musician called Jimmy Page — and it’s a crazed, amped-up, hard rocking thing that must have knocked Hardy’s longtime fans out of their chairs. The drums swing pretty hard, too. The sounds on “Je n’attends plus personne” are nothing short of radical for 1964.

The remainder of Mon Amie la Rose lets listeners catch their breath after that stylistic left-turn. Pizzicato strings and a folk rock approach not unlike Lulu are hallmarks of “Nous étions amies” (“We Were Friends”). A Spanish flavor pervades the title track, which closes the album.

Predating the multiple-language release strategy that Apple Records would employ for Mary Hopkin, Hardy followed up Mon Amie la Rose with yet another foreign-language disc, this time singing in German: In Deutschland was released in September 1965. Unlike Françoise Hardy canta per voi in italiano, this record featured new songs alongside German-language versions of earlier material. (The Light in the Attic series focuses strictly on Hardy’s French releases of the era, so In Deutschland is not part of that set, and is not covered in detail here.)

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L’Amitié (yet again aka Françoise Hardy) (1965)
By all accounts, the half-originals/half-covers approach was working well for Françoise Hardy. So was the idea of having twelve – not eleven, never thirteen — songs on each album. And the idea of mixing musical exploration with more traditional arrangements had been serving her well. So it’s little surprise that in those respects, L’Amitié follows the path laid out on previous discs, right down to the returning Charles Blackwell Orchestra.

The record opens with “Ce petit cœur” (“This Little Heart,”) and finds Hardy’s musical backing sounding very much like The Stone Poneys backing Linda Ronstadt on Mike Nesmith‘s “Different Drum.” Notably, the Stone Poneys record was released some twenty months after this record.

“Tout ce qu’on dit” (“Every Word”) doesn’t rock as hard as “Je n’attends plus personne,” and the electric guitar parts are, for most of the tune, put deeper into the mix, but this new tune doesn’t sport all of the traditional pop trappings of the earlier tune, either. Furthermore, this song marks one of the earliest instances of the singer breaking out of a limited range of notes; she starts low and quiet, and lets her voice soar – albeit briefly — as she heads into upper registers: it’s the sound of an artist maturing.

But as with earlier albums, Hardy seems to want it both ways; the title track may feature twelve-string guitar, but it’s otherwise very much a piece with her more subdued, rainy-day melacholy balladeering. And it’s that very quality – not her occasional forays into folk-rock and rock — that international labels sought to market. That explains the international title of this disc, The Warm Romantic Voice of Françoise Hardy (for the USA it would be titled Françoise…Françoise Hardy).

Still, the occasional rock flourishes continued to creep into Hardy’s work. “Je t’aime” (“I Love You”) was an early composition by Mick Jones (later of Spooky Tooth and later still of Foreigner), with lyrics by Hardy. The song is standard-mode Hardy, but with brief flashes of fuzz guitar here and there. Wide-screen production is the most remarkable thing about “Ce n’est pas un rêve” (“This is No Dream”). The arrangement swells and recedes repeatedly, and features prominent orchestration and female chorus vocals.

The chipper arrangement of “Quel mal y a-t-il à ça?” (“What Harm Did He?”) is pure sixties pop, and in retrospect seems a good candidate for inclusion on Hardy’s next album, a — you guessed it — collection of her songs in (finally!) English, the not-so-imaginatively titled Françoise Hardy Sings in English. Alas, no. But that May 1966 LP would deliver the English-language hit “All Over the World.”

P.J. Proby‘s “Just Call And I’ll Be There” (written by Charles Blackwell, he of the selfsame orchestra) is transformed into “Le temps des souvenirs” (“The Time for Memories”) and a characteristically sentimental arrangement for Hardy. The record ends with “Dis-lui non” (“Tell Him No”), another understated tune with bits of twangy electric guitar scattered about.

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La maison où j’ai grandi (aka Françoise Hardy) (1966)
In October 1966, Hardy released this, the last of five LP titles officially bearing only her name. Still recording at Pye, this time she enlisted the services of the Johnny Harris Orchestra; once again Claude Wolfsohn produced the sessions. The English translation of the disc’s most popular track — the one providing its unofficial/alternate title – is “The House Where I Grew Up.”

Ennio Morricone‘s exhilirating “Se Telefonando” is recast as “I Change My Mind,” and though it’s a bit slower than Mina‘s version from earlier in the same year, it’s still possessed of grandeur. Hardy’s increased use of a wider vocal range stands up well to the fluttering harps and strings. And on her original “Si c’est ça” (“If This Is”), she displays more emotional range – occasional pauses for emphasis and such – than is typical of her earlier work.

“Rendez-vous d’automne” (“Autumn Rendezvous”) sounds very much like its title suggests: melancholy and, well, autumnal. Its arrangement is faintly reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” recorded more than three years later. With its plucky harps, “Je serai là pour toi” (“I’ll Be There For You”) seems loosely based upon – or at least influenced by – Johann Pachelbel‘s “Canon in D Major.”

Throughout the disc, Hardy does seem to have retreated from any and all of the rock-leaning tendencies she might have displayed a mere two years earlier on Mon Amie la Rose. Electric guitars are largely absent, and even the brass is scaled back in favor of strings and tinkling harpsichords, both of which seem to be all over the soft-baroque pop of La maison où j’ai grandi. “Surtout ne vous retournez pas” is typical of the record’s many tunes in 3/4 time featuring heavenly vocal choirs. It’s all pleasant enough, but something of a letdown after the adventurous-by-comparison albums that came before.

The disc closes with the (unofficial) title track, a French adaptation of the Italian tune “Il ragazzo della via Gluck” (“The Boy of Gluck Street”). While the twelve-string opening flourish suggests listeners might be in for something adventurous, it’s a traditional pop song with a singalong feel and lots of strings.

La maison où j’ai grandi would be released worldwide with its double-exposure cover art intact, the first time one of her records wouldn’t be repackaged for international distribution. (Below, watch a classic live clip.)

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Françoise Hardy would go on to release more than two dozen studio albums (not even counting compilations), and maintained a regular release schedule for many years; her most recent album of new music is 2012’s L’Amour fou (in English, Crazy Love), and features all original music. These days, Hardy, now age 71, does not tour, and – as ever — gives very few interviews. Fortunately for those interested in going deeper than merely appreciating the music, each of the five new Light in the Attic reissues feature informative essays based not only on Hardy’s two(!) autobiographies — 1991’s Notes Secrètes and 2008’s La Désespoire Des singes Et Autres Bagatelles (loosely translated in English as Despair Monkeys and Other Things of Little Importance) — and her 1986 authorized biography, but also upon a rare interview with liner notes essayist Kieron Tyler in November 2014. (Hey! Kieron’s an old buddy of mine! –Social Media Ed.]

The Light in the Attic CDs of these five francophone albums were released on October 16; vinyl reissues will follow in late January 2016. Details: http://lightintheattic.net/artists/1184-francoise-hardy

Franse zangeres-actrice Francoise Hardy in Amsterdam *16 december 1969

Franse zangeres-actrice Francoise Hardy in Amsterdam
*16 december 1969

 

 

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