Françoise Hardy

TrackAlbum
Tous les garçons et les fillesTous les garçons et les filles
Comment te dire adieuComment te dire adieu
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureuxMa jeunesse fout le camp
Tu ressembles à tous ceux
qui ont eu du chagrin
Soleil
Fleur de luneSoleil
Chanson d'OLa question
Le martienLa question
La beauté du diableLe danger
Duck's BluesClair-Obscur
Dors mon angePersonne d'autre

Francoise Hardy photo 1

 

 

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Françoise Hardy playlist

 

 

 

Contributor: Kevin Acott

She’s said she’ll never sing again. She almost certainly doesn’t have long to live. And – assuming you haven’t already – I think you need to bring her into your world.

The child in me (Françoise Hardy can inspire magical thinking) reckons that, if you listen while she’s still sharing the world with us, then some of the joy her music can bring – some of your new-found love – might reach out to her, send her something good, send her just a little of what she deserves. And all our lives will be fuller. Because some people live lives that jump abruptly from dazzling light to oppressive darkness. Some people have a life-long beauty whilst seeing themselves as ugly. Some people have a stubborn, gentle, otherworldly, apologetic fuck-youness. And a few of them turn it all into something great.

A close friend of mine died a couple of years ago. We knew for a while that what he had was terminal. Back when we were kids, I’d got him into Alex Harvey and Be Bop Deluxe and The Clash and Bob Marley and he’d got me into Schubert and Sam Cooke. He once gave me a cassette recorded from the radio which had just one song on it: Anarchy In The UK. He hated it. I loved it. As we got older, he became (to my continuing astonishment) a fanatical Procol Harum fan, and one of the cleverest, most creative people who ever lived. And as I grew older, I became a lover of Jacques Brel and Billie Holiday and Nick Cave and Nina Simone. But not Procol Harum. Never Procol Harum. Though I really tried.

He never really got Françoise. One day, near the end, I stumbled across the Scopitone (an early video) for her first single, Tous les garçons et les filles, released the year both my mate and I were born. In it, she’s another beautiful young 60s French woman, serene and comfortable and a little bland in that beauty. But there’s a couple of seconds right at the end where she stares at the camera, stares into the viewer’s heart, into all of us – defiant, demanding, knowing, glorious. It’s a hint of a darkening and a deepening. It’s a hint she’s already left this teenage nonsense behind.

I knew my mate would like the video if he watched it, thought he might be moved by it, maybe even understand Françoise Hardy (and me) more as a result. And he did like it. He really liked it. But what I hadn’t counted on was that he would hate it too: he told me watching that last-seconds stare made him think about all the things he’d missed and would never enjoy, that he would die without having felt that … Frenchness, that wise, wild, ethereal vitality, that challenge. It was one of the saddest moments of my life.

There’s always been that bittersweet element both to her life and her music. It’s wrapped up in her Parisian toughness and sense of wonder, her grasping after more, her desperation to be herself, and that harsh knowledge she brought with her from childhood that we only have ourselves. Everything on her terms. Which means that, despite her occasional (mostly awkward) forays into singing in English, she did what she wanted to do, right from the start. And ‘popularity’, ‘celebrity’ meant (and mean) nothing to her.

In France, they love that. In France, partly as a result, she’s iconic (and, for once, that’s really not a misuse of that word). She epitomises France, being French. Over here, and in the States, except for a couple of years in the 60s, she’s largely stayed peripheral, occasionally floating into view as she’s connected with Serge Gainsbourg or Iggy Pop or Damon Albarn. Very few people now know her name in the UK or US. In France, everyone does.

So what about the music? The first thing to say is she’s not a great singer. And … um … she’s a great singer. She lacks the grit and depth of, say, an Aretha or a Billie, and she lacks the soaring purity of, say, a Karen Carpenter. Instead, she talks, she whispers, she works with and transcends the limitations of her voice and, somehow, every word, every sound she makes (sometimes she’s sung nonsense, leaving meaning way behind) is directed at YOU. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t understand a word. She’s singing because she likes the sound of her own, elegant, voice, the sound of what that voice means. And she hopes you do too. Though if you don’t, you suspect, it doesn’t really matter to her.

 

Let’s begin with that debut single. For English people of a certain age, the first few bars of 1962’s Tous les garçons et les filles (unlike those last few seconds of the video) may remind you of the Trumpton theme, or the Magic Roundabout theme, or … let’s face it, there’s a kid’s-song, playground silliness to it. Françoise, eighteen-year-old Françoise, is wishing she could find a nice-looking boy who will be true to her, who will teach her about love – a boyfriend like all her friends have. It’s fluff, mostly, typical of the first wave of yé-yé music that too often took more from Paul Anka than from Elvis in its Gallification of American music. But … it’s also a lovely pop song, and she wrote it herself, and that stare at the end … even without the benefit of that video, you can hear that stare – she’s going to do more than this, you can tell, she’s going to be more than the men in the recording industry would like her to be. At one point, she talks about her soul existing in sorrow: something’s not right, not pop-perfect here, even here, even right at the beginning. And that’s fantastic.

Two million copies of the single later, Hardy was modelling, flitting backwards and forwards to London and New York. She quickly became something of an icon of the Swinging Sixties. Dylan was infatuated with her, wrote her poems and love-letters and, possibly, Just Like A Woman about her. Jagger was mad about her, pursued her. And Serge Gainsbourg – of course – was there too, eventually writing the words for the shivering-sad, sexy Comment te dire adieu in 1968 (to English ears, the most French and the most 1960s record ever made). “Our sleepless nights, our grey-blue mornings …”

As the 60s progress, there’s an increasing depth to Hardy’s stuff, an increasing confidence as she swerves away from expectations. The textures and lyricism of Chanson (in which the melancholy poetry of words was so often seen as more important than melody) are merged with an Anglo pop sensibility, in which melody is so often more important than lyrical meaning. French music would never be the same again.

Despite her shyness, her stubbornness, her determination to be herself, she collaborated, right from the beginning and – right from the beginning – she recorded cover versions that became hers, wholly. She reached back as well as forward, always. “There’s no happy love …”, she sings on 1968’s Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux, a 1940s Louis Aragon poem that had previously been set to music by George Brassens, “… I carry you in me like a wounded bird”. Here, more than anywhere, she hints softly of the violence and trauma of the Nazi occupation, of the choking, bloody clouds of war, of her own birth in 1944, of the old France’s ruin.

By her tenth album, Soleil, released in 1970, Hardy had sat herself firmly down a long way away from her yé-yé days. Tu ressembles à tous ceux qui ont eu du chagrin (re-recorded thirty years later on Clair-Obscur) exemplifies the sophistication, the warm, exquisite ferocity of grown-up Hardy.

As Altamont and the death of hippy dreams held a mirror up to rock music’s absurdly idealistic fantasies, and as what had started as a crooked French colonial adventure in Vietnam became an American war, so, increasingly, she withdrew, and began to layer her music and her lyrics, started to weave something new. Her albums became less obviously collections of singles; death became a key character in her songs. In Fleur de lune, she’s a sinister, luring mermaid/siren, talking of “waves that taste like blood”.

In 1971’s Chanson d’O, from her saddest, strongest album, La question, she eschews lyrics altogether; the homage to The Story of O clear and proud in its shadowed sexuality, its blurred cries and moans. Here, the emotion, the physicality of her voice renders language irrelevant – the opposite of earlier French Chanson, the opposite, too, of much popular music. She’s spoken in recent years of the absolute centrality of this ‘sonority’ to her, the significance of the sounds of words. Melody first, yes. But the sound of the words a very close second.

There’s always a certain weirdness floating around Hardy. Le martien, another track from La question, is odd, really odd, odd and lovely and haunted: a Martian comes down to earth and asks for her hand in marriage, whisks her away. What would her mates have made of that back in 1962?

 

Time passes and we change. After the triumph of La question, she removed herself, largely lost sight of her muse. There were some really good songs throughout the late 70s and 80s, but she was dipping in and out, doing stuff sporadically, when she felt like it, and … there’s something missing in most of her albums from this period. She flirts with disco and funk and synth-pop, and/but much of it – most of it – is wide of the mark. Those few good songs were well-crafted, well-sung, but not much from that period has ever touched me. Not much seems to have touched even those who loved her back then. Let’s fast forward …

By 1996’s Le danger, Françoise Hardy was 48 and embedded in the French cultural psyche. She’d had a son in 1973, and eight years later married (and later separated from, though has never divorced) the singer Jacques Dutronc. For many years, Dutronc’s alcoholism and Hardy’s depressions and anxiety and self-isolation had brought new pains, new sadnesses, only rarely new inspirations. Le danger felt like a partial comeback, though – a bit over-produced, a bit unconvincingly MOR-rocky in places, but La beauté du diable exemplifies the best of it: its seductive melody, its intelligent pop-craft, its clever, sweetly melancholic lyricism.

It was the year 2000 that saw the real comeback, however flawed: with covers, duets, collaborations, Clair-Obscur was a reinsertion of Hardy’s music into the contemporary and a sly revisiting of her 60s stuff: and when it worked, it really worked. Co-written with Alain Lubrano, Duck’s Blues is one of the three or four stand-outs, all of which are coolly insistent, slow-swinging, late-night, black and blue.

Four curate’s-eggy albums followed, before her last one – almost certainly the very last album she’ll make – 2018’s triumphant Personne d’autre. On this, the now 70-year-old Françoise brought together melody, sound and meaning in a melancholic, saudade-soaked whole that offered an embrace of both life and death, a whole that looked in the mirror and accepted every flaw, every regret, a whole that mourned for us all, that sonically stared at the listener like she had 56 years before. Try to listen to Dors mon ange and feel nothing …

So. She’s not perfect, of course – her music can stray (particularly in those middle years) into the bland at times, her politics can be a little befuddling, she’s obsessed with astrology, and, most unforgivably, she did that awful duet with Iggy Pop (if you haven’t heard it – DON’T! – forget I even mentioned it), but none of that really matters. The story of these ten tracks, of Françoise Hardy, is a story of quiet strength, of the joys and pains of love, of the physical and the spiritual, of a singular joining-together of (and transcendence beyond) cultures. The darkness, the delicious obstinacy, the passion and the exquisite embracing of both life and death in Jacques Brel and Léo Ferré and Nina Simone and Nick Cave (and, who knows, Procol Harum?) was there in Hardy’s music in 1962 and is there still.

In the next world, I hope my mate meets Françoise. I know he’ll be kind to her and she’ll be kind to him. I know she won’t put up with any nonsense. And I also know they’ll both smile a lot and love a lot.

 

Francoise Hardy photo 5

photo Jean-Marie Périer

 

This post is for Paul, who – despite his love for Procol Harum – was the finest friend, mentor and literary, artistic, spiritual and emotional guide anyone could ever have.

 

 

Françoise Hardy represented Monaco at the Eurovision Song Contest in the UK in 1963 with her song ‘L’amour s’en va’ – it finished 5th.

 

Françoise reached No.16 in the UK chart in 1965 with her song All Over The World – it is perhaps her best known song in English.

 


‘Il ragazzo della via Gluck’ was a hit for Italian singer Adriano Celentano in 1966. This is Francoise’s interpretation, ‘La maison où j’ai grandi’, with lyrics by Eddy Marnay, from the 5th June 1966 episode of the French TV show ‘Douches écossaises’. That same year, Verdelle Smith sang an English version ‘Tar and Cement’ which became a #1 hit in Australia.
 

 

Francoise Hardy photo 4

 

 

‘Rendez-vous dans une autre vie’ from her 27th studio album, ‘L’Amour fou’ (2012) which consists mostly of her own songs.

 

‘Le Large’ (written by La Grande Sophie) from Françoise’s 28th and final studio album ‘Personne d’autre’ released in April 2018.

 

 

Francoise Hardy photo 3

 

 

Francoise Hardy photo 2

 

 

Françoise Hardy official website

Françoise Hardy (Wikipedia)

Françoise Hardy Discographie 1962-2007

Françoise Hardy – Les années Vogue

Françoise Hardy fansite (history, music films, photos)

“Françoise Hardy – Catch A Rising Star”
by Graham Welch (founder of the great Ready Steady Girls! website) and Daniel Lesueur (Kindle Edition)

The Bob Dylan song that links him to Françoise Hardy

Françoise Hardy biography (AllMusic)

Kevin Acott is a London-based writer, lecturer, photographer and whiskey-drinker. He’s a passionate lover of Stax and Motown, of punk, of country music, and of weird 70s stuff. His first-ever gig was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band; his next one will be Einstürzende Neubauten. He continues to campaign for the original members of Slade to be knighted, and to watch Spurs in the forlorn hope they’ll stop disappointing him. This is his website and he’s on twitter @Speranza6162

TopperPost #1,001

3 Comments

  1. David Reilly
    Dec 29, 2021

    Many thanks Kevin for this piece. I have loved the music of Francoise Hardy for a very long time indeed and enjoyed reading your take. I am about to put the playlist together. Inspired. Cheers!

  2. Andrew Shields
    Dec 30, 2021

    Superb Toppermost and very very well-written. Just the kind of introduction I was looking for – thanks again.

  3. Ilkka Jauramo
    Jan 9, 2022

    Thanks for this deeply emotional and personal Toppermost. Many of her melodies are old Russian songs in minor key. I grew up with these melodies sung by Russian choirs. I try to unlearn it now and enjoy Francoise Hardy’s versions instead. It will not be more French than this.

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