Sunday, 28 October 2012

Beginner's Guide To French Pop

Well looky here, a new compilation of 60s Frenchness has come my way  - the Beginner’s Guide To French Pop is touted as a “Triple CD set of the most thrilling 1960s French pop from the vaults of EMI full of classic yé- yé, Beatles-esque** hits & psych-pop all with a Gallic twist & compiled by Kid Loco”

What this means, is that there is a copy writer out there who really needs to work on breaking up their sentence structures; and, more enticingly, that French DJ and homme de l'électronique Kid Loco has been let loose in the French EMI archives, given free reign to plunder long deceased labels such as Odeon, Pathé Marconi, Trianon, Ducretet-Thomson, Columbia, and La Voix De Son Maître (His Master’s Voice, to you and me).

Now, the artwork/design really doesn't do it for me (it looks like the kind of thing you can only buy in petrol stations) and the sleeve notes are minimal, no detailed artist biographies here, instead Kid Loco provides us with a pithy one-liner about each track. What really hooked me was when I saw the tracklisting and only recognised 14 of the 45 artists, and even then not all of those individual tracks. Oh yeah and the fact that it was cheapcheapcheap - Here's my money, send me the CDs!

I wasn't expecting much of Disc One (1962-64). I was wrong. Mmmm, it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling with its jazzy Hammond grooves, finger-poppin strut-alongs, Beatnik rhythm'n'blues, galloping surf guitars, exotic percussion, and big band orchestral pop. Thems were more innocent times, but I'm still getting that thrill of dropping the needle onto a crisp vinyl biscuit, hearing the pop and crackle, and then the full-on rush of those naïvely produced sounds all crammed together into a couple of minutes of treble-y hysteria. 

My faves? Les Chats Sauvages & Dick River's racey rock'n'roll surfer C'est Joli Comme; Curt Martin's Hammond instrumental re-working of Alice Dona's C'est Pas Prudent; Hector's Hong Kong, an as-unhinged-as-the-original, cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You; a sappy, pure pop with harpsichords ditty by Gérard Brent (who later played guitar for Jean-Pierre Massiera and Jacky Chalard!); and this moody, cinematic, comme John Barry, epic from Ken Lean. 

Ken Lean - La Nuit

Onto Disc Two (1965-66), and now we're swinging into more yé- yé territory: skipping past the lush orchestrations of Serge et Michele Arnaud's Les Papillons Noirs, Dani's pneumatic Ta Machine, and Christie Laume's just-on-the-right-side-of-out-of-tune L'Adorable Femme Des Neiges, you'll find some swoonsome orchestral pop and soulful big band belters, a dose of dark, sitar drenched psyché-rock, a couple of Northern Soul-style floor fillers, and even some Lee Hazlewood-esque baroque pop.

I got a bit foamy at the mouth over Les Ambitieux (who later became Les 5 Gentlemen) - an ultra-urgent beat-group calling everyone to DANSE! DANSE! DANSE! DANSE!; Ken Lean (again!) with some space-age easy-listening from WAYYY OUT; Dick Rivers (on his own this time) and coming over all dark and exotic with a bombastic sitar-psych dirge; Jennifer's John Barry-style spy-flick torch song; Regis Barly's Monsieur Qui Sait Tout - which sounds like it came from an amphetamine-fuelled Lee Hazlewood studio session; and best of all, this brassy Northern Soul femme-pop smasher, with those archetypal Gallic cascading bass runs and fuzz guitar licks all over it:

Nicole Legendre - Tu Veux Tout Changer

We've made it to Disc Three (1967-70). Phew! And we're heading into murkier, more prog-infested waters. One or two of the later tracks tend to drift off into endless, self-indulgent stoner jams, but there's still plenty of sinister, slow-burning psychedelia, trippy freakouts and popsike delights to keep you listening.

My picks are the terrifying screamo freakbeat that is Wraaaach!!! by Jacques Filh; Les Roche Martin's mysterious pop; a Jacqueline Taïeb song that was somehow overlooked  on the Complete Masterworks... comp; a delectable Donovan cover that's all cascading, minor key piano cords by Vér
onique Sanson; and two tracks from Charlotte Walters, including this punchy, cinematic popsike gem.

Charlotte Walters - Angel Of Sin

So, what did we learn? 'Beginner's Guide...' is maybe a bit of a misnomer. The budget price is sure to attract a few newcomers to the genre, but much of the music probably isn't immediate enough to hook a casual ear and make them want to dig deeper into the realm of vintage French Pop. 'Intermediate' or 'advanced level' are undoubtedly less catchy, but perhaps more accurate

Novices looking to dabble in the wonderful world of yé- yé would get a much better start with the 'best of' double CD Pop à Paris: Psyché Rock et Mini-Jupes or the more Femme-centric C'est Chic: French Girl Singers of the 1960s.

[You can get yr mitts on the Beginner's Guide To French Pop here >>]

** Fact checking types and eagle-eyed readers will notice that aside from the first paragraph I haven't once mentioned a certain ubiquitous band beginning with B. Nothing across the three discs owes very much to The Beatles at all, I can only think the term "Beatles-esque" was thrown in to the tagline as a shameless catch-all term to get a few extra sales. Either that or the Fab Four are now solely responsible for spawning any and all music that features guitars, bass, drums and vocals.


mordi said...

oooooooooooooooooooooh! and at under £7 it's certainly sounds worth getting!

good find!

Dom said...

yep, easily £7 worth of French femme pop across the 3 discs!