Many English songwriters have realized that the best way to strengthen international relations is to enter into a musical alliance. The obsession with all things Gallic is shared by many top Britpop bands, who have sought to add a little je ne sais quoi to the glitz of their pop song perfection. The language of love is the best way to heighten a mood from ‘London Loves’ to ‘Ooh La La.’
Pulp has been most overtly influenced by swinging Parisian pop. During the height of the 1990s, they looked like they practically stepped out of a 1960s Scopitone. Pulp have only one French language song, a cover of the 1967 classic ‘Le Roi des Fourmis,’ recorded for a Michel Polnareff tribute album. Very true to the original, it’s a highly energetic blast of pop buoyed by that irresistible glossy Pulp sound. Jarvis Cocker charms his way through the badly-sung French lyrics somewhat endearingly. Hopefully his years of living in Paris left him with more linguistic confidence.
In 1998, Russell Senior, a self-proclaimed Serge Gainsbourg fan, worked with a group called Baby Birkin. The concept of Baby Birkin harkened back to the original French-British collaboration, Serge Gainsbourg and his muse, Jane Birkin. Baby Birkin’s only album, ‘Classée X,’ consisted of Gainsbourg-penned songs, including ‘Dents de Lait, Dents de Loup;’ ‘Jane B;’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’ While Russell’s fine Northern voice did not feature on the album, he did provide guitar and violin for those last two songs. More notably, he was also producer and co-arranger for the record and subsequent singles. Here is ‘Orang-Outan’, originally sung by Jane Birkin for the album, ‘Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin.’
Eight years later, Jarvis Cocker appeared on an English language tribute to Serge Gainsbourg called ‘Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited.’ His performance of ‘I Just Came To Tell You That I’m Going’ (‘Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais’) with Kid Loco was the highlight of the record.
Blur are another bunch of Francophiles. Their song, ‘To The End,’ has a French refrain that was expanded on two alternate versions. The original version that appears on the album, ‘Parklife,’ features Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab on backing vocals. The second version of this song is entirely in French, including Damon Albarn’s lead vocals. This was released as a b-side for several formats of the ‘Parklife’ single. While both versions are magnifique, the best is ‘To The End (La Comedie).’ This has backing vocals sung by the legendary Françoise Hardy and feature most verses in French.
The video is a pastiche of the French New Wave film ‘Last Year At Marienbad,’ complete with subtitles.
‘La Comedie’ with Françoise Hardy
Not to be excluded from showing off their love of French culture, Suede performed a French translation of their song ‘The Power’ live in Paris. ‘La Puissance’ is included on the ‘Dog Man Star’ reissue. Brett Anderson’s sensuous voice is by far the most pleasing to listen to in French.
After Suede entered into hiatus, Brett Anderson recorded a lovely duet with Jane Birkin called ‘Les Yeux Fermes.’
He also duetted with French singer Emmanuelle Seigner on his song, ‘Back To You.’