- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 1: The 1930s, 40s & 50s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 3: The 1970s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 4: The 1980s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 5: The 1990s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 6: The 2000s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 7: 2010-2016
With France’s postwar reconstruction finally over, a renewed sense of optimism and energy started to exude from young people in the 60s. Fashion, cinema and music reflected this state of mind: Nouvelle vague cinema and pret-à-porter are emblematic of this period, although after the 1968 events, young people would be largely influenced by the hippy culture (known as baba cool in French). French music is marked by the emergence of yé-yé, (from the English “yeah yeah”), which became a global phenomenon and gave the world some of the best all-time songs.
These are some of the most memorable songs of the sixties:
16) Gilbert Bécaud – “Et maintenant” (1961)
Also known as “Monsieur 100,000 Volts” for his energetic performances, Bécaud remained a popular artist for nearly fifty years. “Et maintenant” is about a love deception: in the song, despair and commotion go in crescendo (so does the music) ending with a last tragic verse: “I really have nothing left”. It was a huge success; a 1961 release by Bécaud himself in English known as “What Now My Love” became an instant hit in the UK and USA.
17) Françoise Hardy – “Tous les garçons et les filles” (1962)
This song (means “All the Boys and Girls”) is about the feelings of a young woman who hasn’t found love, and her envy of the couples that surround her. It quickly became a success; Hardy also recorded it in English, Italian and German. It has been covered many times and featured in several films.
18) Georges Brassens – “Les copains d’abord” (1964)
This prolific singer/ songwriter/ poet, who wrote and sang more than 100 poems and recorded 14 albums, is known for his anarchist ideas and his black-humored texts. Les copains d’abord, an anthem to friendship, has become one of his most famous songs. It was initially written for the film Les Copains.
19) Enrico Macias – “L’amour c’est pour rien” (1964)
Algeria-born Macias was forced to leave his country during Algerian War of Independence, going into exile in France. He has not been permitted to return to Algeria ever since, hence his nostalgic, oriental-influenced songs: “Adieu mon pays” (Goodbye my country), “L’oriental” (The Oriental), among others. “L’amour c’est pour rien” (Love is for free) is a more romantic, light song.
20) Alain Barrière – “Ma vie” (1964)
After getting known from his participating in 1963’s Eurovision Song Contest, Barrière released his first album, Ma vie (My life), from which the title-track became a huge hit.
21) Charles Aznavour – “La Bohème” (1965)
With his unique voice, Aznavour is one of France’s longest standing stars, usually compared to Frank Sinatra; he has recorded over 1200 songs in 8 languages. “La Bohème” is Aznavour’s signature song, it’s about a painter who recalls his young years in bohemian Montmartre.
22) Christophe – “Aline” (1965)
This romantic ballad describes, in a poetic way, the feelings of a man whose love, Aline, is gone. It was an instant hit in several countries and is Christophe’s most famous song, followed by -so romantic- Oh mon amour.
23) Sylvie Vartan – “La plus belle pour aller danser” (1965)
Sylvie Vartan is considered one of the most productive and famous yé-yé artists. This song (means “The most beautiful for dancing”) is one of her most successful hits, not only in France, but also in other countries such as Japan.
24) Adamo – “La nuit” (1965)
Belgian artist Salvatore Adamo (also known as Adamo) was one of the 60’s most famous artists; in fact, he is the best selling Belgian musician of all times and is regarded as one of the most commercially successful musicians in the world. “La Nuit” (The night) is one of his definitive songs together with “Tombe la neige” and “Inch’Allah“.
25) Hervé Villard –“Capri c’est fini” (1965)
This song (means “Capri it’s over”) talks about the break-up of a relationship that had started in Italian island of Capri, a very popular summer destination during the 60s. The song became a huge French and international hit in the summer of 1965 along with Christophe’s hit song Aline.
26) Mireille Mathieu – “La dernière valse” (1967)
Mireille Mathieu was one of the most recognizable French singers in the 60s -and she still is! She has recorded over 1200 songs in 11 languages, with more than 150 million albums sold worldwide. This song is the French version of The Last Waltz, and became a hit not only in France, but also in the UK, where Mathieu was invited to sing at the Royal Performance for the Queen Élisabeth II.
27) Jacques Dutronc – “Les cactus” (1967)
Dutronc is one of the most popular performers in the French-speaking world, although little known in English-speaking countries. He’s among the artists who started as opposition to the lightness of “yéyés”, representative of a genre that would be lately known as garage rock.
Don’t get fooled by the seemingly meaningless lyrics of this song (“The whole world is a cactus, it’s impossible to sit down”), Dutronc sharply criticizes conventionalism, bourgeoisie and “the selfishness and individualism arising from capitalism”.
28) Claude François – “Comme d’habitude” (1968)
After its release in 1968, this song became increasingly famous, being played constantly in radio and TV. While in Paris, Paul Anka happens to hear this song, he buys it and writes English lyrics. And just like that, an all-time classic was born: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way“.
29) Joe Dassin – “Les Champs Élysées” (1969)
This is one of Dassin’s first hits, who would become extremely popular during the 70s. Curiously, this so Parisian piece is an adaptation from an English song. It has been lately covered by Zaz.
30) Georges Moustaki – “Le Métèque” (1969)
Egyptian-French (of Italo-Greek origin) Moustaki became known for the poetic, simple and romantic songs he composed and often sang. During his forty-year long career he gave France some of its best-loved music by writing about 300 songs for some of the most popular singers. This autobiographic song was a massive success: Métèque is a pejorative word that was commonly used to call immigrants of Mediterranean origin.
31) Zanini – “Tu veux ou tu veux pas” (1969)
With his signature little mustache, bucket hat and glasses, Zanini would become well-known after his huge hit “Tu veux ou tu veux pas” (You want to or you don’t), which is actually an adaptation of Brazilian Wilson Simonal’s “Nem vem que não tem”.
32) Johnny Hallyday – “Que je t’aime” (1969)
This is “French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday’s most iconic song, which remains to date one of France’s favorite songs. It was such a success that frenzied fans would often go crazy, shout and faint; Hallyday was forced many times to be “rescued” by a police car to escape the enthusiasm of his fans.
33) Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin – “Je t’aime moi non plus” (1969)
In English the song title means “I love you – me not anymore” and is about two lovers’ impossibility of physical love. It became an instant hit in many countries, but due to its explicit sexual content it was banned in many others.
Gainsbourg came up with this song when Brigitte Bardot asked him to write “the most beautiful love song he could imagine”. And he did it: to me, this is one of the most erotic songs ever recorded.
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