Rock in France – A Review

In France, in the beginning there was Johnny Hallyday, 68, the musical equivalent to that other French ‘incontournable‘ the steak frites.

Johnny Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday

And like all good national treasures, he’s still around, writes Tony Smith in this  review of Rock in France.

Tony Smith,a British-born folk and pop singer and French restaurateur today launches an occasional column on our pages, discussing French Rock music — a genre that kicked off with the inimitable Johnny Hallyday.

Johnny Hallyday is a national treasure
of sorts and he’s still there. He’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea though. British visitors and residents, for instance, are generally pretty allergic to his high decibel wailings. If you’ve become separated from a friend or relative in one of those enormous French Hypermarchés that dot the country, one solution is to ask reception to broadcast Johnny’s greatest hits over the PA – that should soon see all British shoppers scurrying for the exits!

Soft-hearted Rocker with a Powerful Voice
Johnny Hallyday, real name Jean-Philippe Smet, was only 13 when he went on stage for the first time in Copenhagen to sing ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ . In 1957 he saw the film ‘Lovin’ You ‘, starring his idol Elvis Presley, and for him everything fell into place — he would become a rock ‘n’ roll star. Jean-Philippe was only 16 when he morphed into Johnny Hallyday , a soft-hearted rocker with a powerful voice, who continues to fire up French speaking audiences. Among his best known albums are: ‘Johnny Hallyday sang’ (1965), ‘Beyond Love’ (1976), ‘Lorad’ (1995), ‘Blood Simple’ (1999), ‘The Heart of Men ‘(2007) and’ It will never end ‘(2008). Now with millions of records sold, his fans remain loyal to ‘the’ teen idol ‘.

British Pop Into French Won’t Go
The British pop and blues explosion of the 1960’s hardly touched France. Rock music was an Anglo Saxon invention and the French language, ideally suited to long-winded poetry forms, as epitomised by ‘La chanson française‘ had trouble fitting in with the syncopated rock rhythms. Several French singers however, (including Johnny) made a living by scotching French lyrics onto British or American hit songs with it must be said, some pretty awful results.

In the 1970’s, British music continued to dominate pop charts worldwide while Germany produced interesting groups such as Tangerine Dream, Can, Neu and Kraftwerk. France however wallowed in sentimental variety shows, seemingly incapable of coming up with anything musically avant garde.

Wind of Change
The punk movement and the mid 1970’s reggae upheaval found few followers in France and the eighties new wave, cold wave and early techno experimentations went largely unnoticed. Early signs of a wind of change came in the form of the 1980’s monthly TV programme Les enfants du Rock, (also here), hosted by Antoine de Caunes and Jacky for Houba Houba (rock). (see video) . This excellent hour and a half long rock digest offered an exciting window to French youth on the musical world over the channel.

National service however was still claiming the nations’ youth while their British cousins freed of such compulsion, were busy rehearsing rock and forming bands. Still, thanks to this TV programme, precious seeds of sound were being sown and these started sprouting in the mid 1990’s: It was thanks to the ‘Daft Punk’ worldwide breakthrough unveiling as it did an amazing pool of talent hailing from Versailles, that French pop music finally found its way.

Nowadays, thanks to groups such as Air, Justice and Phoenix and a few cutting edge DJ’s who tour worldwide (an unheard of idea even 10 years ago) French rock/pop music is finally holding its head up high. It’s true of course that Serge Gainsbourg, Bashung, Rita Mitsouku, The Negresses Vertes, The Innocents and Etienne Daho were producing some pretty good music all through the lean years, but they were all heavily influenced by the British scene. Daft Punk showed other musiciens that it was possible for a French group to be innovative and successful. One lesson the French music scene did learn from all this: to export worldwide, either their songs had to be sung in impeccable English or alternatively should use as few words as possible! Not the sort of message L’Académie Française, is too keen on spreading!

David Guetta
And of course there is the Guetta phenomenon. France’s most successful global star and roving DJ David Guetta shocked the French recording industry when he announced April 19 he was headed for retirement.

Watch the video - click this image
Watch the Video - click the clapperboard
David Guetta’s golden disc – Nothing But The Beat
– 1.2 million copies sold –

Listen to the music of Tony Smith
Tony Smith – Barbed Wire and Leather
– To listen click the image above –

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 Meet Tony Smith

– “The Unsound ” –

Tony Smith
Tony Smith

Born in Bromley Kent, Tony Smith was singer guitarist with ‘The Unsound’ in the 1990’s, a mixed French /British group that was signed to a small label and distributed nationally by ‘Night and Day’.

Active in the anti – advertising movement in France since 2003 and Midi Pyrenees organiser for the national countryside heritage association — Paysages de France — since 2005, he has owned and run a restaurant in Montauban (near Toulouse) since 1989.

Tony Smith is currently making a return to the music world and live appearances in solo or as part of the AudioSonics UK 21, a duo composed of Sébastien Bédé music and Tony Smith, texts and vocals.

Contact 05 63 66 15 34

Download a track or two here:
February 2012


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2 Responses to Rock in France – A Review

  1. Pingback: Its Tough Life On the French Rock Circuit | FrenchNewsOnline

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