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Françoise Hardy, generation yé-yé by Tristan Rutherford

Kinfolk, February 2018

 

If France’s musical revolution has a start date, it is 22nd June 1963. To celebrate the first anniversary of magazine Salut les copains (literally ‘Heh buddies!’), the journal’s parent radio station Europe 1 organised a free concert in Paris’s Place de la Nation. A few thousand were predicted to attend. However, the line-up of Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan and Richard Anthony, all of whom topped the French charts that year, attracted 150,000 revellers. Some danced on rooftops. Others perched on cornices. Many watched the spectacle from the treetops of the nearby Bois de Vincennes park as they puffed Disque Bleu (for the aspirational woman) or the filterless Gauloises beloved of Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Paul Sartre (for wannabe male artistes).

 

The following day Paris-Presse screamed the headline Salut les voyous! (‘Hello Hooligans!’). Other journals deplored the perceived violence of the blousons noirs, the men in black leather jackets, work-shy ruffians inspired by James Dean in La Fureur de Vivre – ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. Writing in Le Monde, sociologist Edgar Morin baptised them Yé-Yés after The Beatles’ lyrics from She Loves You. Even French President Charles de Gaulle chimed in: “These youngsters seem to have so much energy to spend. Let’s have them build roads.” Charley, good luck with that. For the seeds of French pop had been sown during France’s baby boom two decades before and were growing wilder by the month. The Salut les copains generation was the first in living memory never to have known war. There was hope and promise in the Paris summer air.

 

As a young girl from the 16th arrondissement, Françoise Hardy listened to innocent rockers Cliff Richard and the Everly Brothers on pirate station Radio Luxembourg. She was painfully shy and woefully naïve. An anti-Bardot who didn’t wear lipstick or smoke. And a rare victim – given the post-war period – of a broken home. Her father’s greatest contribution was to gift her a guitar for passing her baccalauréat. After answering a newspaper advertisement from record label Disques Vogue calling for young singers she found herself in a downtown studio in 1962. She laid down the track Tous les garçons et les filles "in three hours with the worst four musicians in Paris”. She was 18 years old and dared not dream of success.

 

The vinyl spun on Europe 1 during the station’s original Salut les copains radio slot, a daily show increasingly dedicated to Yé-Yé. Hardy’s singsong siren carried a naïf allure. Her voice was as shapely as a Citroën DS; as silken as melted Beurre d'Isigny. High notes haunt while melodies are as timeless as the Sully Wing in the Paris Louvre. Handwritten lyrics speak of a “happy heart without fear of tomorrow”. The doe-eyed teen that peeps from the vinyl cover sleeve matches the lyrics. Her teenage visage portrays a naturalness that could have been culled from her school leavers’ yearbook.

 

Françoise was France embodied: poised, invigorated and born unto an era  of new hope. By the following year the song has shifted a million copies and was awarded a gold disc. It was covered in a dozen languages from Swedish to Vietnamese and invigorated a Yé-Yé movement that would storm the 1960s. From timidity and diffidence, a star was born.

 

In 1963, when Hardy turned 19, her peers were on the cusp of a revolution. It was the year that chanteuse Édith Piaf and her fellow Parisian friend Jean Cocteau passed away. In their place were born shoe designer Christian Louboutin and porn star Lolo Ferrari, later symbols of a modern, sexy and more outrageous France. Within another year residents aged under 21 would make up a third of the French population, each adolescent’s disposable income a whopping 122 francs per week. That year their parents purchased nearly one million Renault 4 automobiles built in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, rendering it France’s best selling car. These Renault models included La Parisienne, a special edition with two-tone chequered sides, backed by an advertising campaign featuring elegant boulevardières in box hats.

 

The nation itself was in the midst of Les Trente Glorieuses. During this thirty-year period from 1945 to 1975 the French economy grew at a breakneck 4% per annum. Salaries rose by 200% until Parisians – if not countryside peasants – could declare themselves amongst the richest in the world. When Tous les garçons et les filles was released, one quarter of French families owned a television, and could watch the track’s dodgy pop video produced for Scopitone, a 16mm format originally made for French ‘film jukeboxes'. Four years later, in 1966, half of France possessed a TV set.

 

The Place de la Nation in Paris concert was shot for Salut les copains magazine by Jean-Marie Périer. It was an era where journalists and snappers could mix freely with stars like Hardy and Hallyday. If desire took them, they could sips pastis and grenadine tomates at Régine or Chez Castel with singer France Gall and model Anita Pallenberg. Or bag kaftans at vintage stores like Mamie Blue on rue de Rochechouart. (Paris being a ville-musée, all three timeless institutions still exist.) Périer originally trained his lens on the love affair between Yé-Yé’s star couple Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan. Their number one hits in Japan and Korea followed four TV specials and a global tour.

 

But after setting his camera on Hardy, four years his junior, Périer was struck by her naïf magnetism. Love blossomed as record sales broached a million. The photographer directed the artiste as the quintessential girl-next-door. Subsequent album covers from Le premier bonheur du jour positioned Hardy as a shyly smiling teen dressed in a knitted jersey of which her grandmother would have approved. The following year Disques Vogue released her 1964 album Mon amie la rose. Périer’s cover image highlights Hardy’s timid profile like a first-time passport photo. Only her EP for l'Amitié, released the following year, shows any hint of French sass coupled with the barest sliver of midriff, shadowing the sexier Latin quarter styles of Saint-Germain.

 

In this era of Yuri Gagarin and Jacques Cousteau, Périer also dressed his lover as both an astronaut and an ocean princess. Back in 1965 record producers and label executives were exclusively male, their female protégés marionettes in an un-matriarchal world. Other period starlets like Elsa Leroy were discovered in beauty contests. Actress-singer Kiki Caron was a stunning swimming champion. Pop was manufactured before it became real. As Hardy herself admitted: “If I'd been four feet tall and fifteen stone, I would certainly not have followed the same career.”

 

But during the mid-1960s social barriers were demolished quicker than the bidonvilles, the migrant slums for Italian, Portuguese and Algerian workers flattened to make way for the périphérique and RER. As these suburban links were constructed, 22-year-old entrepreneur James Arch came up with a system to bus partygoers into central Paris for 2 francs a time. In 1965 his aptly named Bus Palladium opened on rue Fontaine in the 9ème as a place for young men and women to snog, rock and dance le jerk. . “Everything happened at the time,” says Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, whose book Yé-Yé Girls of '60s French Pop captures the period. “Women’s liberation, Godard’s Masculin Féminin movie, a new openness about sexuality.”

 

Bus Palladium’s no-dresscode rule was the antithesis of Régine and Chez Castel – and an immediate success. Arch flyered cinemagoers queuing for Beatles’ film Help!, who rushed in after the movie’s credits. Inside Hallyday played, Mick Jagger celebrated his birthday, and Salvador Dalí dropped in with an entourage and drank only Vittel. Hardy’s full album release of l'Amitié showed the 21-year-old’s sultry smoulder on the sleeve cover, a Parisian sophisticate staring in the distance. “Françoise Hardy’s rise was independent,” explains Deluxe. “She was the first star to author her own lyrics, to write her own music. Some other female singers were puppets in a male dominated industry, but her no longer.”

 

The early dawn of globalisation brought increasing notoriety. In 1965 Hardy rereleased Dans Le Monde Entier in English as All Over The World, her lilting accent soothing a year of assassinations, coups and escalating war. Each international release had its own moniker to chime with local sensibilities: Françoise Hardy Sings in Canada; Françoise Hardy Sings in English for suspicious South Africans; and The “Yeh-Yeh" Girl From Paris! for American listeners who required more explanation than most. “Yé-Yé didn’t copy British or American rock and roll,” says Deluxe. “It was not a mere cover. It has riskier lyrics, plus jazzier French rhythms infused with European verve.” Bob Dylan dedicated a poem to Hardy. The Beatles dreamt of dating her. Périer shot a portrait of Jagger alongside his “ideal woman” – the Rolling Stone looking sly and proprietorial, the French singer appearing elegantly disinterested, as well as an inch taller.

 

Middle America took note. In an issue of LIFE, where the cover story featured Jacqueline Kennedy's reminisces on her late husband, Hooray for the Yé-Yé Girls showcased on page 39. “What the Beatles are to England, the singing Yé-Yé girls are to France,” the journal explained. Between advertisements for Kodak's Instamatic and Twist's Instant Lemonade, the magazine nailed Hardy’s profile. “She not only sings but also composes her own music. A dreamy contemplative sort…tall, intellectual and very

good-looking. Says Françoise: ‘I can't stand to wear anything that will make people look at me.’” Another American report crowed: “She looks like a gazelle in miniskirts”. France was sexier than thou and foreign musicians scrabbled for walk-on parts. Gainsbourg penned songs, in French for release in France, for Petula Clark and Marianne Faithfull.

 

The green metal Kiosque Presse dotted around Paris perpetuated the Yé-Yé myth. At the age of 19, Périer’s half sister Anne-Marie became editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle Âge Tendre (literally ‘Miss Young Lady’), a teeny-pop offshoot of Salut les copains magazine. It struck a blow for feminism by being staffed entirely by strident young women. The letters editor, Anne Braillard, was just 16. Hardy typically graced the cover. Stories inside covered the lives of Catherine Deneuve and Alain Delon, or Les vacances sportives de Sylvie et Johnny. Star tips on dating, knitting and holiday plans (are you Deauville or La Rochelle?) embodied girlish innocence and boundless positivity. In year one, monthly readership topped 400,000.

 

Hardy followed the dating tips she penned for Mademoiselle Âge Tendre. In 1966 the rising star at Disques Vogues was Jacques Dutronc, whose jerking Jagger-style bop to J'ai Mis Un Tigre Dans Ma Guitare (‘I put a tiger in my guitar’) sold 300,000 copies. Salut les copains lapped up the male soloist, who fell for his label mate the following year. The inaugural edition of Special Pop claimed that Hardy was: “More than a singer, she's becoming an universal myth with whom thousands of young girls dream of identifying”. Dutronc evidently thought the same.

 

Alas, their rockstar relationship was perhaps typique. Even following the birth of their son, Thomas Dutronc in 1973, Jacques took a year to settle with them, after a brief affair with the Franco-German actress Romy Schneider. “He set me up for an appointment, twice a month,” Hardy remembered. In her latest book, A Gift of Heaven, she claims to still feel "tenderness" for Dutronc, whom she married in 1981. "I think it's mutual. And when you have lived the best years of your life with someone, it creates a link.” Still married, they live in separate homes today.

 

Yé-Yé floundered too. After the Summer of Love came the Prague Spring and Vietnam demonstrations of 1968. Pop music sold out, became high on drugs or travelled to India for spiritual succour. In May, an out-of-touch de Gaulle presided over two weeks of strikes from the Sorbonne University to the Renault factory in Boulogne-Billancourt. Jean Paul Sartre manned barricades of paving slabs pulled up to halt the CRS riot police. "Sous les pavés, la plage!" (‘Under the cobble-stones, the beach!’). Hardy and Dutronc fled from Paris to Corsica to escape the violent mess. The demonstrations were solved by capitalist common sense as trade unions accepted a 35% increase in the minimum wage. Some workers could even afford the Renault 4 Plein Air, a door-less cabriolet that went on sale that hot summer.

 

Through the 1970s the girl-next-door cut a worldly figure. Hardy left the male world of Disques Vogue to start her own record firm. Her label’s second album release La Question addressed her instabilities with Dutronc and is considered peerless, if not exactly musique populaire. The introvert from the 16th eventually released nearly 30 studio albums. And her global Yé-Yé movement inspired Japan’s Shibuya-kei kitsch pop, collaborations with Blur and, arguably, a 14-year-old songstress named Vanessa Paradis. The naïve dancing snog in Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom could only be set to Hardy’s music – in this instance Le temps de l'amour. At the time of writing the Parisian singer-songwriter was locked inside a Paris studio. Just as restless as she was 55 years ago, Hardy is penning a new album for 2018 release. In her own words: “I never get bored. There isn't enough time in the day.”

Click to read more French travel stories from Tristan and Kathryn