La Vie en Rose: Chanson Française for the Summer
Our ‘Colorful Chanson Française’ playlist highlights a selection of timeless French classics through the novel lens of color with 14 famous songs with a color in their title. From Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” to Indochine’s “Pink Water”, (re)discover these gems while pondering the colors that inspired them.
1. Edith Piaf, "La Vie en rose" (1947)
You have probably already heard of this classical song by Edith Piaf. The biopic about the French singer, La Môme in France, was released as La Vie en Rose in English speaking countries, further increasing this song's already huge international popularity. In the decades since its release dozens of artists from Louis Armstrong to Aretha Franklin and even Cyndi Lauper have covered this iconic piece of chanson française.
2. Barbara, "L'Aigle Noir" (1970)
After the cheerful pink tone of the previous song, we switch to a much darker atmosphere with Barbara’s "Aigle Noir". This song was a huge success when it came out, in 1970. While listening to this song, not only will you picture a fantastic ebony eagle, but you might comprehend the significance of French expressions such as “broyer du noir”.
3. Christophe, Les Mots bleus (1974)
This poetic song makes interesting use of the blue color. Blue words are words you say with your eyes, according to Christophe. Indeed, why bother to utter words and sentences, when all the important things can be conveyed through one’s gaze. This conception of language seems appropriate for a singer who started his career by singing catchy rock’n’roll tunes “en yaourt”, which means the lyrics where made up words that resembled English.
4. Eddy Mitchell, Elle avait les yeux couleur menthe à l’eau (1980)
Eddy Mitchell was a member of the very first French rock band, Les Chaussettes noires. In order to stick to the mythic image of the rock’n’roll singer, he changed his name, Claude Moine, to one that sounded more American. But when he started his solo career, Eddy Mitchell became more of a crooner, in the tradition of Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. This song is a perfect illustration of this shift, and remains one of his most famous tunes.
5. Michel Sardou, Rouge (1984)
Michel Sardou’s fifty-year-long career is profuse and diverse, and his songs’ themes vary from poetic descriptions to socio-political criticism.“Rouge” would belong to the first category. It presents a beautiful description of the color red, associating it with imagery such as Rimbaud’s blood on a notebook and a Mediterranean sunset.
6. Jeanne Mas, En rouge et noir (1986)
“En Rouge et Noir” is Jeanne Mas’s most famous hit. The 80s star uses red and black as a banner for emotional liberation. Mas was the first woman to perform in the famous Paris concert hall Bercy, and one of the first three women to win a Victory of Music Award.
7. Jean-Jacques Goldman, Entre gris clair et gris foncé (1987)
Jean-Jacques Goldman’s songs always make you want to sing and dance along. This popular singer is well known for his charity work, especially his part as cofounder of Les Enfoirés, a group of French singers and musicians performing to raise funds for the Restos du Coeur, an association helping the homeless. “Entre gris clair et gris foncé” uses colors as metaphors for the intensity of human emotion. Green hope, red anger, white innocence are blurred by the leveling of modern society, and everything turns to gray.
8. Michel Berger, Le Paradis blanc (1990)
“Le Paradis blanc” is Michel Berger’s last solo song. "Le Paradis Bland", or the white paradise, can be understood in several different ways. The first sounds of the tune are whale vocalizations, and we might think that white heaven refers to the purity of nature and serene snowy landscapes. But the color white also arouses a feeling of nostalgia, the remembrance of childhood memories…
9. Noir Désir, Tout l’or (1991)
Noir Désir is a controversial French rock band, though often considered one of the best in the country. Their poetic lyrics have clear literary inspirations. Noir Désir also deal with socio-political issues. In “Tout l’or”, laconic phrases seem to convey the abruptness and fragmentation of a violent society, where all colors disappear except for gold.
10. Pierre Perret, Vert de colère (1998)
Pierre Perret is known for his seemingly childlish songs that deal with surprisingly serious themes and issues. “Vert de colère” is a pun on the color green. It refers to the French expression “vert de rage”, literaly “green with anger”, but also to green as the color of nature and ecology. The song couches a sharp criticism of industrial pollution in a cheerful melody.
11. Debout sur le zinc, Marée noire (2004)
Debout sur le Zinc is a relatively young French rock band, who take inspiration from Roma, Yiddish and a range of near Eastern musical traditions. It is interesting to compare “Marée noire” to the previous song in this playlist, as both deal with ecological problems. Debout sur le zinc’s lyrics focus on a a very specific ecological catastrophe: the oil spill.
12. Indochine, Pink Water (2006)
Indochine has had several waves of success over their thirty-plus year career. Soon after their debut in 1981, they had several hits including “L’Aventurier”, which remains popular to this day. In the 2000s, the band had a renaissance. There are three different versions of "Pink Water" – one in French only, one entirely in English, and finally a bilingual version. Below is the French only version, but don’t hesitate to check out the two others!
13. Francis Cabrel, Le cygne blanc (2008)
“Le cygne blanc” is a beautiful song dedicated to Camille Claudel, an important French sculptor who spent thirty years in a phychiatric hospital. "Le cygne blanc", or the white swan, is an allegory for Claudel and her innocence. In the same album, Des Roses et des orties, Francis Cabrel interprets a translated version of Bob Dylan’s “She belongs to me”. Although he only sings in French, he is a huge Bob Dylan fan, and even recorded an entire album of his translated songs, in 2012.
14. Julien Clerc, La Rue blanche, le matin bleu (2008)
To finish our colorful playlist, let’s dive into a Paris that has not yet woken up. Julien Clerc takes us to the French capital draped in the white and blue tones of the early morning hours, when the streets are still almost empty. So you can listen to this last song, and meditate on the significance colors have in the way we see our world – a significance that French singers seem to have thoroughly understood.
Michel Berger is not available on Spotify in the US.
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