Saturday, 25 May 2013

Johnny Hallyday: Ten great French versions of English songs

Johnny's English language covers, particularly in the 1960s, saw him established as a one-man embodiment of rock 'n' roll in France, and if you could imagine if some of the best songs of Chuck Berry, Elvis and others were  being attributed to one artist, you can begin to see why.

An early hit for Monsieur Hallyday, was L'idole des jeunes, one that became an early signature song for France's voice of Rock 'n' Roll. The song, under its English title Teenage Idol was originally a hit for Ricky Nelson. While very much a ballad, it established Hallyday as an artist capable of sensitivity, a female-friendly romantic character that contrasted effecively with his macho bad-boy rock 'n' roll rebel image.

There were many French versions of English hits in Johnny's early repertoire. As it was never thought that rock 'n' roll would last, and was little more that another dance craze, record companies wanted to cash in on the 'craze' quickly, and if a song had been a hit in the US it was a good indication that it could quickly meet with similar approval with a domestic audience.

His version of Lets' Twist Again, entitled Viens danser le twist, appeared on his second album Salut les copains, along with an English language version of the song.

But Johnny was more than just an act that re-purposed American music for a french audience. his performances showed that he was every bit as capable as the original artists he was covering, even when they were the best in the business and the songs were widely recognised classics. One such song was La Bagarre, a version of the Elvis song Trouble. While regarded as one of the Elvis's finest moments, Johnny's performance is every bit as good as anything The King was capable of.

Other songs, again instantly recognisable numbers, were handled by Hallyday with a swagger that showed him as a master of the genre. His version of Johnny B Goode saw the song retitled Johnny Reviens, Johnny effortlessly taking ownership of one of rock's most iconic songs.

Another proper rock 'n' roll classic was the song Elle Est Terrible, a version of the song Something Else by Eddie Cochran, one of the finest rock'n' roll performers. It featured on his 1963 collection Les bras en croix. The song changed a few of the references in the original, which certainly didn't feature a Citroën or the Champs Elysées.

A later hit in the 60s for Johnny was this great version of the track that was originally titled Black is Black, a hit for the band Los Bravos in 1966. The original reached the top five in the USA, and number two in the UK. Ironically, they were a Spanish band with a German singer, who recorded the song in English in the UK. Johnny's version of the song was number one in France for seven weeks in 1966. The classic 60s TV presentation of Johnny's version of the song is prettty groovy too. It appeared on his 1966 album La Génération perdue, reckoned by many to be the most significant in his career.

Another late 60s classic was his version of the song Hush, retitled Mal. This era saw Hallyday make the move from being a teenage pop star with a rock 'n' roll background to being a mature rock star. Music was becoming more complex, more assured of its cultural significance. With the likes of the Beatles moving in a direction than inspired movements like progressive rock, and artists like Dylan pushing the boundaries, there was a mood that encouraged experimentation along with a confidence that it mattered. Hallyday, who'd toured with Hendrix and recorded with Jimmy Page, moved to embrace the changes that were afoot with vigour.

The song was written by Joe South and was a minor hit in the US for Billy Joe Royal, but it would be a huge hit for British rock band Deep Purple who recorded it for their 1968 debut album.

There would be other covers of English language songs in the decades to come. The 1970s saw collections like country Folk, Rock from 1972, along with Rock à Memphis and La Terre promise from 1975 rely extensively on French covers, along with 1976's Derrière l'amour collection.

one of the highpoints of this - along with Hallyday standards like Gabrielle and Requiem pour un Fou is the wong Joue pas de rock’n’roll pour moi, a song he's continued to perform. The song, with its musical nod to the Elvis hit His Latest Flame, was originally a hit for long since forgotten soft rock act Smokie.

He would again in 1979 record a collection of songs in 1979 that featured French covers of English songs, which produced the song Le bon temps du Rock And Roll, another song that quickly became a signature song for Hallyday.

But maybe one of the best he's ever done was his cover of the song House of the Rising Sun. Johnny had hit with his version of the song in 1964 under the title Le Penitencier.  While the song was well-known as a folk song, thought to have possibly been an English song taken to the US by emigrants. Many versions of the song were recorded, inclusing one by Bob Dylan on his debut album, but it was popularised in 1964 by UK band The Animals, with the song a number one in the UK and the US.

Such was the success of his version of the song that it continues to be one of the conrnerstones of his back catalogue.

No comments:

Post a Comment