There was a brief period in the mid-2000s when I suddenly went international in my tastes. Or, at least, French. I have always loved the sound of the French language, I have always loved French in song.
Despite this, I have been unsuccessful in actually learning French. My wish to take it in high school was derailed by a scheduling problem that landed me in the highly useless alternative of German, which I took for 3-1/2 years. I was good at it (it’s a simple language with absolute rules), could speak it passably, but had essentially no interest in the language, history or culture. Even though I gained family who spoke German, I happily let my knowledge completely slide. In later years, we started spending vacations in Montreal, and I occasionally made a stab at picking up French; I even took it for a year and a half at community college. (Our instructor for two semesters was Haitian, which didn’t help my pronunciation in Quebec any.) The visits to French Canada were too infrequent, and other opportunities to actually speak the language just absent, and so I never pursued it as I wanted to.
But I still love listening to it. And when Carla Bruni’s “Quelqu’un Ma Dit” made a little bit of a sensation around 2004, I was one of those was captivated by the utter simplicity of this type of French pop. There were a few other examples too, and then I moved away from it, on to whatever was next.
As I just wrote recently, I really became aware of the Yé-Yé girls just a few years back, as France Gall’s charming video for “Laissez Tomber les Filles” popped up in my YouTube feed and I became quite enamored of the simple, sweet singing style. So when my friend at Forever Changes decided to stock some French pop reissues, I decided to relieve him of his stock. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one — one Saturday early in this year I was surprised to find that someone else in this town beat me to his copy of this record! Happily, he was able to find me another.
Listen, there are times when you need to listen to something sweet, uncomplicated, and perhaps unintelligible, and boy does this fill the bill. Originally released in 1962, this is pure pre-Beatles pop. Unlike some of the other French singers, Françoise Hardy wrote nearly all the songs on this debut herself, and they’re lovely. The accompaniment is simple, and so is Hardy’s voice, creating the template for the breathy French vocal.
Interesting to note that the first several albums by Hardy were all released simply under her name — no album title to differentiate. Later they were titled from whatever had been the most popular song.