Saturday, 30 August 2014

Review - Johnny Hallyday: The Sound, The Fury

There is no shortage of Johnny Hallyday compilations in France, from lazy collections of well-known hits to
massive box sets, but the Anglophone audience has always been poorly served.

The Hallyday phenomenon remains something that's little understood here. At best he's assumed to be a poor imitation of Elvis in his younger days, a purveyor of French-translated anglo hits or an elderly merchant of ballads for women of a certain age.

This compilation shatters any prejudices about Hallyday, and shows that in his early years he was a formidable performer with a rock 'n' roll attitude that was second to none.

The Sound, The Fury on RPM records takes as its source Hallyday's early EPs recorded for Vogue records in 1960 and 1961, the work that established him to a French audience.

French record companies, engineers and producers were back then unfamiliar with rock 'n' roll - then probably seen as little more than a dance craze that was expected to last a summer or two if they were lucky - leading to a rawness of sound and and urgency that makes many of these recordings closer to the spirit of punk rock than to any glossy re-creation of early rock 'n ' roll.

The EP was the format of the era, a format that suited the release of urgent four track bulletins that didn't require the filler tracks of an LP and could pack more of a punch that a single.

While it's not a complete collection of Johnny's tracks for the Vogue EPs, to be honest we're not missing much by being spared his cover of Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini, instead we get a carefully curated collection of all-killer rock 'n' roll.

The release avoids the more obvious tracks, the hits and the numbers that feature on French nostalgia radio stations, and instead celebrate the iconoclastic rock 'n' roll that Hallyday introduced to France. With the looks of James Dean and a musical talent that probably surpassed even Elvis - Hallyday after all writing many of the songs on this collection - he quickly became France's first rock star.

The release comes from RPM records, whose previous collection of Hallyday's work - the first for an anglophone audience - Le Roi de France focussed on his output at the end of the 60s, a remarkable period for the artist coming to terms with a rapidly changing music scene and taking it in his stride.

The Sound, The Fury captures Johnny's year zero, and makes it clear why he became the star that he remains.

Meanwhile, Johnny Hallyday is to release a new album on November 16, two years after his last studio collection L'Attente.

He's playing live in Paris a short time before then, with shows at Bercy from November 5- 9 with Eddy Mitchell and Jacques Dutronc.

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