The ‘French Elvis’ hoping to conquer the US at 70

He’s been described as the “French Elvis Presley”. Now after a glittering 50-year-long career, Johnny Hallyday has finally turned his attention to the English market at the ripe old age of 70 and for that he earns the title of French Face of the Week.

The 'French Elvis' hoping to conquer the US at 70
French singer Johnny Hallyday performs in Bordeaux on June 2, 2013. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS TUCAT

Who is Johnny Hallyday?

Ask that same question to any French person, and you’re guaranteed to get an expression of blank amazement.

Suffice to say, he’s a superstar in France and indeed Quebec, but he’s practically unknown elsewhere.

During his career, which spans half a century, the rocker has completed 181 tours, had 18 platinum albums and sold more than 110 million records.

Despite announcing his retirement in December 2007, the star continues to perform to sell-out stadium-sized venues, only in France of course.

“I’m not doing any more tours until 2015 – except at the end of the year in Vietnam, Japan and China,” Le Point quoted him as saying recently.

Why is he in the news this week?

At the grand old age of 70, the French national treasure is finally planning on trying to tap into the English market.

This week, Le Parisien announced that the star will be recording his 50th album “entirely in English” in September. There have even been suggestions that he will sing with Matthew Bellamy, the singer of the British rock group Muse.

It is not yet known whether the songs will be originals or adaptations of songs from his last album, L’Attente (‘The Wait’), released in November last year, which has so far sold 400,000 copies.

“I’m hoping for some duos with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi and others,” Hallyday was quoted as saying. “[It will be] an album targeted at the United States and England.”

According to Le Point, it’s “an old dream that never materialized” for the rocker.

Whether McCartney, Wonder and Bon Jovi will agree to perform alongside Hallyday, we'll just have to wait and see.

Will this be the first time he will sing in English?

No, he has sung before in the language of Shakespeare, as they call it in France, but it wasn’t the smartest move in his career.

In 1962, Hallyday released the album Hallyday Sings America’s Rockin’ Hits, which he recorded in Nashville. But it sank without a trace.

As French news site Le Point put it, the American public just didn’t warm to the Elvis “clone” with a strong French accent.

Two decades later, in 1984, he tried again with ‘V.O’ ; and ten years later, with ‘Rough Town’. Both albums failed to take off overseas.

More recently, in 2012, the 69-year-old gave his first full UK concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, dressed “all in leather like a botoxed Terminator”, as one journalist put it. The crowd, who naturally were predominantly from London's thriving French community, were reportedly “in raptures” as the star belted out classics including ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix.

Didn't he get sentenced to jail recently?

Er.. no, well not exactly.

In June, Johnny Hallyday impersonator Michel Pacchiana was jailed after he got into a vicious fight with Serge Gainsbourg lookalike Denis Colnot.

The two had reportedly been engaged in a turf war since the summer of 2011 when Pacchiana (Johnny Hallyday), moved into Colnot’s (Gainsbourg’s) neighbourhood in Epinal.

Things turned nasty when Colnot took offence at Pacchiana performing at parties in the area.

In July 2011, Colnot stabbed Pacchiana in the throat, just missing an artery, resulting in his conviction.

What does he have to say for himself?

Quite a lot it would seem, judging from the 216 pages of his autobiography released in February this year in which he recounts the story of his life to novelist Amanda Sthers.

Here's an excerpt: “The first time I went up on stage, I didn’t want to get down again. The first time I made love was in the hall of my building, in a rush with my neighbour on my corridor. The first time I said ‘dad’, was when I was talking about myself. The first time I said ‘mum’, I was 50 years old. The first time I died, I didn’t like it so I came back.”

We’ll let you make your own mind up about his literary ability.

Meanwhile, why not sit back and watch this song from his latest album. After all, he is a singer. Don’t forget to let us know what you think of France’s latest export in the comment’s section below.

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8 of French duo Daft Punk’s most memorable moments

One of the era's defining dancefloor acts hung up their helmets on Monday, as French electronic music stars Daft Punk announced their retirement in a typically enigmatic fashion with a video showing one of them exploding in a desert.

8 of French duo Daft Punk's most memorable moments
Photo: AFP

From Da Funk in 1995 to Get Lucky in 2013, Daft Punk became the torch-bearers for French house music across the globe, winning six Grammy awards and pioneering the monumental sound-and-light shows that came to characterise the electronic dance movement (EDM) of recent years.

They did so while almost never revealing their faces — the ubiquitous helmets became another much-copied trope of EDM stars, but also afforded Thomas Bangalter, 46, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 47, a freedom from the fame that quickly encircled them.

“We have daily lives that are a lot more normal than the lives of artists who have the same level of fame as us, but who might be attached to being physically recognised,” Bangalter said in a rare authorised documentary by the BBC in 2015.

Here are some of the highlights of their career – although for our money nothing will beat the French army band’s performance of a Daft Punk medley at the Bastille Day celebrations in 2017, in front of president Emmanuel Macron and a plainly bemused Donald Trump.

1. “Daft punky thrash”

Bangalter and Homem-Christo met at school in Paris before an inauspicious start in music with the rock band Darlin’, which also featured a future member of the French indie band Phoenix.

One review in the British music press dismissed the band as “daft punky thrash” — which struck a chord with them.

Reemerging as an electronic outfit, they met with instant success.

This interview from 1995 is one of the few images of their faces:

2. Their signature look in “Around the World”

Early singles “Da Funk” and “Around the World” became club fixtures, and led to massive sales for their debut album “Homework” in 1997.

It was in the video for “Around the World” that they first donned the helmets that would become their signature look. It mirrored the tight control they exercised over every part of their career, which included ownership of their master recordings.

3. “One More Time”

They followed up with the even more successful “Discovery” in 2001, which spawned the hits “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

There were some distinctively left-field choices in the years that followed, including producing the 2003 film “Interstella 5555” by Japanese anime master Leiji Matsumoto, which featured music from “Discovery”.

4. Human After All

While their next album in 2005, a more sombre “Human After All”, received mixed reviews, these were quickly forgotten amid the euphoria of their live shows over the next two years.

This included a headline appearance at US festival Coachella in 2006, performed inside a giant LED pyramid. EDM fans still speak about it with an almost religious reverence.

5. Tron soundtrack

In 2010, they released a soundtrack to the Disney reboot of Tron, which picked up a Grammy nomination.

6. “Random Access Memories”

But no one predicted the massive success of their last album, 2013’s “Random Access Memories”, for which they gave up their usual makeshift home rig for a full commercial studio– and used entirely live instruments.

The resulting work dominated album-of-the-year lists and helped lift their total worldwide sales to 12 million. It won four Grammies the following year including record of the year for “Get Lucky”, the millions-selling lead single featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers.

Their appearance at the Grammy Awards show was their last public appearance for three years.

7. “I Feel It Coming”

They showed up one more time for the Grammy ceremony in 2017, alongside The Weeknd, after collaborating on the Canadian artist’s most recent album.

Despite the Twittersphere erupting in excitement last month amid rumours they would rejoin The Weeknd for the Super Bowl half-time show, that did not in the end materialise. 

8. “Epilogue”

The video titled “Epilogue” announcing their split used footage from their cult 2006 film “Electroma” in which one of the robots sets the auto-destruct of the other.

A cutaway then reads “1993-2021” with two robot hands making a circle around a sunset.

Their publicist, Kathryn Frazier, confirmed the news to AFP by email, without giving a reason for the split.