Saturday, 15 June 2013

Johnny Hallyday: Ten rock 'n' roll classics (in French)

With Johnny Hallyday celebrating his 70th birthday today, and marking 50 years into his career, I thought I'd feature him on the site this weekend, focusing on his interpretations of classic rock 'n' roll songs.

Johnny is - for better or worse - best known in the English speaing world for his interpretations of songs that were originally hits elsewhere.

But these recordings gave him a unique position, in that while he's reguarly referred to as 'The French Elvis', he's also the French Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochrane. Even the French Dylan and the French Stones.

It's worth remembering that for many in France, Johnny's versions of the classic rock 'n' roll songs were the first versions of theses songs that they heard, and they remain the definitive versions.

Probably the best known rocn 'n' roll song ever is Johnny B Goode, originally by Chuck Berry from 1958. The song, covered by hundreds of artists from the Beach Boys to Judas Priest, was an obvious one for Johnny to perform, his cover a high energy version of the song that not only captured the rebellious spirit of early rock 'n' roll, but also stamped his ownership on it.

The rock 'n' roll scene gave birth to many short-lived but energetic dance crazes, and the Twist was one that was for remembered by many, and Johnny was there on the dancefloor with his interpretationof Let's twist again under the title Viens danser le twist.

Johnny's version of Blue Suede Shoes came from the early to mid 70s, when he re-visited some of the rock 'n' roll stylings of his earlier years with albums like Rock'n'Slow, Rock à Memphis and La Terre promise.

Despite often described in the English-speaking media as 'The French Elvis', Hallyday was no Elvis clone, but when he did perform songs that the King had done, his vocal performance was so assured that his version of the song could easily be interpreted as the definitive version of the song. The song Trouble was performed by Johnny as La Bagarre.

Another, in this clip from much later in his career, was the song Heartbreak Hotel, under the title A l’hôtel des cœurs brisés. This version was recorded in the mid 1980s, seven years after the death of Elvis, and it's hard to image imagine Presley in the latter stage of his career capable of a performance anything like Hallyday's.

Meanwhile, La fille de l'été dernier was Johnny's take on Summertime Blues, a classic song by Eddie Cochran. For many American singer Eddie Cochran was the best of the early rock 'n' roll stars, his songs capturing the teenage attitude of the era more successfully than anyone else. His early death in 1960 ended a career that could have seen him as the biggest rock 'n' roll star of all. Hallyday also covered 20 flight rock under the title 37ème étage.

Another Eddie Cochran song that was adapted by Johnny was Something Else, under the title Elle est terrible. The song not only has French lyrics, but there's a bit of cultural relocation, with the Champs-Elysees and Citroen cars never featuring in the original.

One song that Johnny adopted as one of his key songs was Hey Joe, a track that became popular in the 60s from the folk revival scene that emerged in the late 50s and 60s. It was performed by bands like the Leaves, Love and The Byrds, but a version by folk singer Tim Rose inspired the most famous version of the song, the debut single by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966.

Hendrix, of course, toured with Hallyday, the Experience making their first live appearance supporing Johnny in October 1966, before they even played in the UK.

Classic rock 'n' roll was very much on the menu throughout Johnny's career. Hey Joe even appearing on his 2013 release 'On Stage'.

But music was changing as the 60s went on, and one of the biggest names who came along after the initial wave of Rock 'n'Roll and electrified the music scene over that decade was Bob Dylan. Needless to say, Johnny was quick to catch on that the times were a changin', with his cover of If you gotta go, go now, under the title Maintenant ou Jamais from his Olympia 67

To round things off, here's Johnny's version of the Rolling Stones Honky Tonk Woman, entitled (C'est une) Honky Tonk Woman for the Francophone audience. The alarmning 70s staging of the song remains quite extraordinary.

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