21. JUNE 2012 - SEPTEMBRE 2012 - 457The inescapable French Party Playlist. These beloved oldies are played at every wedding reception, every dance after communal dinners, every karaoke night, every campsite, every gym class.

Once planted in your brain, they encrust themselves, popping up with the rhythm of anything that randomly happens during the day, any quotidien turn of phrase that’s been woven into their lyrics. Because that’s what kind of songs they are. If many are from the disco era, well, just remember that “discotèque” is a French word.

This is not to say these songs are bad, even though I personally dislike most of them, finding them too corny, too syrupy, too….whatever. A separate post will wax lyrical about some great French songs. There are plenty of idiotic disco and saccharine songs in every language (“Disco Duck” or “Muskrat Love” anybody?) These songs aren’t even “bad.” They are more along the lines of “Knock Three Times,” “Sugar, Sugar,” “Mack the Knife” or “Shake Your Booty”–songs that were real hits, but long ago. They’re the auditory equivalent of an old Polaroid, the colors faded, the fashions so strange. Did people dress like that? Did people listen to this?

If you ever are at a gathering and these anachronistic tunes blare out and the crowd goes nuts, now you will know why. These songs don’t dredge up warm memories for you and me. They are not in our répertoire of party tunes. They’re like a secret handshake, a password to get into the French club, and we’re not in on it (yet! you will be if you listen to them!). They’ve been copied and covered and parodied and used in films, TV shows, advertisements. We have no context, no past with them. We hear them as one-offs, as corny old songs that make crowds wild. We wonder what is going on. Especially when people born a couple of decades after these songs were hits shamelessly, loudly sing along to lyrics we can’t quite make out.

In French, a hit song is called a “tube.” These songs were tubes long ago. They have easy lyrics, which often involve “la la la la la la, la-la-la-la.” It’s good news for you if you want to join in the karaoke. Otherwise, just join the conga line. (Click on the titles to go to the YouTube video of each tube.)

Nuit de Folie by Debut de Soirée (the group’s name means Start of the Evening, and the title is Crazy Night). It topped the French charts for two months in the summer of 1988. Key lyrics: “Et tu chantes chantes chantes ce refrain qui te plait/ Et tu tapes tapes tapes c’est ta façon d’aimer.” Translation: And you sing, sing, sing this refrain that you like/and you hit, hit, hit, it’s your way to show love. ?!?!?!

Macumba by Jean-Pierre Mader. For a song that never got higher than the French No. 3 in 1984, and that for only a week, Macumba has surprising staying power, perhaps because the beat is just right for doing sit-ups. I get a stomach ache every time I hear it. Key lyrics: “Oh Macumba, Macumba, Elle danse tous les soirs/ Pour des marins largués/ Qui cherchent la bagarre, Oh Macumba.” The sorry tale of an illegal immigrant trying to make ends meet by working in the bars of a port: she dances every night/ for left-behind sailors/who are looking for a fight. I’m not 100% sure about my translation because larguer can also mean unleashed, abandoned, dumped (romantically).

Born to Be Alive by Patrick Hernandez. According to Wikipedia: It became a “worldwide smash hit” in 1979 and reached No. 1 on the U.S. Disco chart. Did you ever hear of it? Me either, until I moved to France. It was first conceived as a hard rock song! Key lyrics (it’s in English): “You see we’re born, born, born to be alive (born to be alive)/ You see we’re born, born, born to be alive (born to be alive).”

Les Lacs du Connemara by Michel Sardou. This 1981 throbbing cri du coeur about Scotland in iambic meter is Sardou’s greatest hit. Always on the playlist for late in a soirée bien arrosée, it lends itself to full-throated belting. It’s a favorite at parties of university students. Key lyrics: “Terre brulée au vent/des landes de pierre/autour des lacs/c’est pour les vivants/un peu d’enfer/le Connemara”: Land burned by the wind/lands of stones/for the living it’s/a bit of hell/the Connemara. Franco-schadenfreude for the Scots?

Les Champs Elysée by Joe Dassin. Another seeming flash in the pan with staying power: It spent two weeks at No. 1 in France in 1969. The song has a typically lilting French melody of the era, even though it originally was written in English by some British musicians (and titled “Waterloo Road,” which makes it even more ironic—the French don’t wax nostalgic about Waterloo). Dassin got the last laugh because his version lives on as an ode to the famous Parisian street. It seems like just the kind of simple, sweet tune to accompany a little soft-shoe routine. Key lyrics: Aux Champs-Elysées/ Aux Champs-Elysées/ Au soleil, sous la pluie,/ A midi ou à minuit/ Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées. Translation: The Champs-Elysées/ the Champs-Elysées/ in the sun, in the rain/ at noon or at midnight/ there’s everything you want at the Champs-Elysées.

In a similar vein, Pour un Flirt Avec Toi (For a flirt with you…I’d do anything) by Michel Delpech has the same kind of nostalgic melody, with even easier lyrics: la la la la la la la-la-la la la ….” Can’t beat that!

Gray-haired party boy Patrick Sébastien one-ups Delpech with La Fiesta, whose lyrics include not only “la la la la” but also “fou fou fou” (crazy crazy crazy) and “dingue dingue dingue” (crazy crazy crazy). Total party stuff! You’re also likely to run into his Ah Si Tu Pouvais Fermer ta Gueule (“Ah, If You Could Shut Up,” but it’s the impolite way to say shut up, so use with care), aimed at politicians, among other suggestions. Sébastien specializes in the snarky singalong genre.

And then everybody gets up to dance and sing along.

Other notables:

Johnny Hallyday started off as an Elvis impersonator, then outlived his muse. He beats another much-married septugenarian by one wife—he has had four (and married and divorced one of them twice). He didn’t limit himself to Elvis. His hits include “Viens Danser le Twist” (set to the Chubby Checker tune), “Le Pénitencier” (set to “The House of the Rising Sun”) and “Da Dou Ron Ron” (set to the Crystals tune). He still has an enthusiastic, increasingly geriatric fan base. Hallyday, along with Eddy Mitchell and Jacques Dutronc, known collectively as  “les Vieilles Canailles” (the Old Rascals–a French version of the Rat Pack) will wind up their concert tour at this year’s Festival of Carcassonne, appearing July 5.

Michel Polnareff has become a meme thanks to his curly platinum shag hairdo and big white-framed glasses, rather than for his songs. He wrote the soundtrack for “Lipstick,” which starred Margaux Hemingway. You should know his photo from his peak if you want to understand sight gags in advertisements.

Corde à Sauter by Moussier Tombola. This one is from 2011–not an oldie! His smile is infectious, as is his energy. You will want to jump rope right along with him. The song is played at 1,000 decibels at all those indoor kid centers where children climb walls and go down inflated slides. Learn the choreography! More fun than the Macarena.

Even though Patrick Sébastien makes me queasy with his slighty sleazy, snickering jokes, he does have a party song that I find funny, maybe because it pokes fun at the entire party-song genre:

Les Sardines

Pour faire une chanson facile, facile, (to make a song easy, easy)
Faut d’abord des paroles débiles, débiles, (You must first make the lyrics stupid, stupid)
Une petite mélodie qui te prend bien la tête, (a little melody that gets in your head)
Et une chorégraphie pour bien faire la fête, (and a choreography that’s good for partying)
Dans celle là, on se rassemble, à 5, ou 6, ou 7 (in that, we get together, 5, or 6 or 7 of us)
Et on se colle tous ensemble, en chantant à tue tête. (and we stick all together and sing our heads off)
Ha ! Qu’est-ce qu’on est serré, au fond de cette boite,* (Ha! Aren’t we squished together, in the bottom of this can)
Chantent les sardines, chantent les sardines, (sing the sardines, sing the sardines)
Ha ! Qu’est-ce qu’on est serré, au fond de cette boite, (Ha! Aren’t we squished together, in the bottom of this can)
Chantent les sardines entre l’huile et les aromates. (sing the sardines between the oil and the herbs)
Bien sûr, que c’est vraiment facile, facile, (of course, it’s truly easy, easy)
C’est même complètement débile, débile, (it’s even completely stupid, stupid)
C’est pas fait pour penser, c’est fait pour faire la fête, (it’s not made for thinking, it’s made for partying)
C’est fait pour se toucher, se frotter les arêtes, ** (It’s made for touching, for rubbing the bones)
Alors on se rassemble, à 5, ou 6, ou 7, (and so we get together, 5, or 6 or 7 of us)
Et puis on saute ensemble en chantant à tue tête, (and then we jump together and sing our heads off)
Ha ! Qu’est-ce qu’on est serré, au fond de cette boite, (Ha! Aren’t we squished together, in the bottom of this can)
Chantent les sardines, chantent les sardines, (sing the sardines, sing the sardines)
Ha ! Qu’est-ce qu’on est serré, au fond de cette boite, (Ha! Aren’t we squished together, in the bottom of this can)
Chantent les sardines entre l’huile et les aromates. (sing the sardines between the oil and the herbs)
Et puis,… pour respirer un p’tit peu, on s’écarte en se tenant la main, (and then…to breathe a little bit, we spread apart and hold hands)
Et puis, … pour être encore plus heureux, (and then… to be even happier)
On fait là, là, là, en chantant mon refrain ! (we go la, la, la, singing my refrain)
Là, là, et les mains en l’air, là, là ! (la, la and hands in the air, la la)
Là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, là, ……..

Any to add?

*This is a pun: a boite is a box or a tin can, but it also is a night club.
**another pun, you figure it out; prepubescent humor.


33 thoughts on “French Ear Worms

      1. My reaction as well. There is a Connemara pony, a nice solid little horse about 14-15 hands, much loved for pony clubs and early jumping.
        As for the rest, it’s going to take a while to go through those links. Not feeling brave enough to do all at once.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh Lordy … that is a very thorough trip through the worst of French music. When in my flat in Cantal, my ‘parc’ contains the Salle de Fête …. you can imagine how many nuits blanches I have passed with not one but all of these beating out of the open doors and venturing into my eardrums via the bedroom window and how many miles and miles I have pounded the next day trying to dislodge the ear worms! I thoroughly enjoyed this homage even if it is a slightly masochistic enjoyment!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lol. Not only do you need to know how to sing along to these — or at least to the chorus, because most people just mumble the verses — but it is also necessary to know how to dance the Madison.

    Aux Champs Elysées is the one that comes to me as an earworm most frequently.

    And not that it makes any difference to your point, but Connemara is in Ireland 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely loved the one by Patrick Sebastien. We need another protest march in Washington, DC, to belt out that one to our “President”. But, then, he probably wouldn’t understand it anyway. This post brings to mind the perennial “Stairway to Heaven” and “Proud Mary” of US wedding receptions–aarrgghh! Penny

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At Pilates today, one participant was hoarse from singing at her son’s 18th birthday party yesterday. I asked about the playlist, and all these were on it! Plus some.


  4. Oh my gosh, I loved these! My daughter’s kindergarten class had to sing Aux Champs-Elysées a few years ago, so we also found Le petit pain au chocolat, which we sang with ridiculous abandon. It’s just fun and goofy. (Interesting fact: Joe Dassin was born in New York City.)

    A classic song that most French people also know is La maison bleue, about a house that the singer, Maxime LeForestier stayed in when he visited San Francisco in the early 1971. Well, I think it’s actually a pretty song, and we visited the house a couple of years ago. It has a plaque on front, and it’s a little destination for visiting French people. This is the song: https://youtu.be/ZP70mgXK7xc Here is the blue house in San Francisco: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_(chanson_de_Maxime_Le_Forestier)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you for these!
      I love the way they get kindergarteners to sing these old songs. Mine had to do “Si Tu Vas À Rio,” made famous by Tino Rossi. Hilarious when sung by little people.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is fascinating. These mechanisms are always much more obvious to someone who was born to or lived in another culture. It falls into the same box as the mass celebration of holidays – a means to create or reinforce social cohesion. Lalala doesn’t require people to choose tribes, so for that short time everyone can lower their defences 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I laughed out loud at the title, my friend trust me there are a lot of “ear worms” here in the states as well. I have heard many of these songs that you have so kindly linked to for our listening enjoyment, while visiting France on past trips. Thanks for the laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Boy, the things I don’t know about French culture. When we belong to a group our customs seem obvious and normal. But when looking in the windows from outside, not so much. Fascinating. And funny.

    Also loved Mr. Marveilleux’s observations.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There are so many you could add, that are played in parties for Bdays, weddings, etc… anything by Claude François, Indochine’s “L’aventurier”, Emile&Image songs (or Gold songs, these are 2 bands that united together), Gilbert Montagné’s “sous le soleil des tropiques”, Thierry Hazard’s “danser le jerk”, Marcia Baila by Rita Mitsouko, etc…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It seems ear worm tunes are quite often done by flash in the pan acts- one big hit and they’re never heard of again. I was in a shop the other day, heard something from the eighties on the radio, that one about being spun around like a record, and had that damned tune stuck in my head the rest of the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. These are great — I need to study them because I think learning French songs (or any language you may be studying is a great way to improve}. Merci!

    Liked by 1 person

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