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MUSIC

Top of Les Pops: Ten famous singers who recorded songs in French

Flexing their vocal chords in the language of love has proven too irrésistible for some of the biggest names in the music history, but how good did their French actually sound?

Top of Les Pops: Ten famous singers who recorded songs in French
Photo: AFP/Youtube

English may have long ruled supreme in the global music industry but a surprising amount of legendary pop stars have tried their luck at singing in French. 

Why is very much up for debate. It could be because they wanted to expand their international following, or maybe they just lost a bet with their old French schoolteacher.

In any case, these decisions have given way to some harmonious hidden gems and some musical faux pas. We’ll let you be the judge of who deserves top prize for best musical performance by a non-native French speaker.

Eurythmics – Tous les garçons et les filles

British synth-pop duo Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart gave a positive 80s twist to Françoise Hardy’s 1962 classic 'Tous les garçons et les filles'.

Lennox has recorded other songs in French (including a Christmas carol) and seems to have a good grasp of the language.

Robbie Williams – L’amour Supreme

The charismatic and equally controversial former Take That singer covered his own song 'Supreme' in French and it sounds surprisingly good (although that may be because the original is one of his best).

Robbie is no Kristin Scott Thomas but the lad from Stoke-on-Trent still has a little je ne sais quoi when he sings in French, sounding pretty good also in another French version of one of his songs – Time On Earth – which he recorded in 2017.

David Bowie – Héros

Bowie’s 1977 signature hit 'Heroes' – a story of love separated by the Berlin Wall – actually has a French and German version cover recorded by Ziggy Stardust himself.

Under the title 'Héros – David Bowie chante en France', a limited number of copies must’ve been sold at the time as the vinyls are now going for €80 on Amazon.

It’s hard to say whether 'Héros' sounds any better or worse that its original English version but the French government liked it enough to make Bowie a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1999.

Michael Jackson – Je ne veux pas la fin de nous

The King of Pop decided to turn one of his lesser-known ballads 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' into his very own French hymne à l’amour.

Titled ‘Je ne veux pas la fin de nous’, the song’s lyrics and title are completely different to the English version (perhaps because they were written by Jackson’s French friend Coco DeCroix) but the smooth, soft voice remains unmistakably his.

Eartha Kitt – C’est si bon

If there’s any French song on this list that the singer is instantly known for it’s the flirty 'C’est si bon' and its glamorous diva Eartha Kitt.

The song was composed in 1948 by Henri Betti, getting his inspiration from a women's lingerie shop in Nice, but it was Kitt who added the extra va-va-voom to it in 1953, making her version an instant classic.

The way she purred, sometimes growled while rolling her Rs in French won Kitt great admiration across her performances in Europe, perhaps her most signature seductive sound.

The Beatles – Michelle

The story goes that when Paul McCartney wrote ‘Michelle’ he ran the lyrics past his friend Ivan Vaughan, whose wife was a French teacher.

It ended up being more of an English ballad with a few lines in French, such as “ma belle” (my beautiful) and rather ironically “sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble” (words that go very well together), as if McCartney had decided to use a side note written by the French teacher because it just happened to rhyme.

 

Blur – To the End

Oasis’s alt rock nemesis Blur didn’t worry too much about their street cred when recording this version of their 1994 lesser known song 'To the End' in French.

Damon Albarn doesn’t quite seem to hit the high notes as easily in this one, and his cockney drawl doesn’t do his French accent any favours, but we take our hats off to Blur for giving it a go.

 

Blondie – French Kissing in the USA

By the sounds of it Debbie Harry is a bit of a Francophile. She’s recorded at least three versions of her songs in French and she seems at ease singing in la langue de Molière.

The only thing she seems to struggle with is translating the choruses into French – 'Sunday Girl', 'French Kissing in the USA' – preferring instead to stick to the original versions.


Grace Jones – La Vie en Rose

Supermodel and singer Grace Jones added a tropical, modern twist to Edith Piaf’s classic in 1977, one of countless music stars who have covered 'La Vie en Rose' since its initial release in 1947.

Jones gives a powerful performance and sticks to the original French lyrics for most of the song, occasionally slipping into English.

Barring Louis Armstrong’s saxophone homage to Piaf’s eternal song (which he added words to in English), this version is one of the best ones out there.


Dusty Springfield : Demain tu peux changer

The British pop folk starlet absolutely nails this French version of her hit 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow', as part of a French-themed four track EP which also includes 'Je ne peux pas t'en vouloir' ('Losing You'), 'L'été est fini' ('Summer is Over') and 'Reste encore un instant' ('Stay A While').

The leading female propellant of blue-eyed soul has impeccable pronunciation and could quite easily have given Francoise Hardy or France Galle a run for their money in their mother tongue.

Bravo, Dusty!

.
 

Member comments

  1. Ahhhh, thank you The Local France for bringing us this fantastic article. It brought back so many lovely memories to my French partner and I. Brilliant thanks!! 🙂

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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