Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The 1960s Yé Yé movement was a beautiful thing, with its gentle pop overtones, delicate orchestral arrangements and Parisian pretensions. The idea of Frenchness has since become so central to the Yé Yé sensibility, at least to its listeners who do not speak French. The greatest irony is that Yé Yé was initially perceived to be a parody of Anglo-American rock'n'roll. First coined by sociologist Edgar Morin in 1963, the term Yé Yé was seen to imitate the rock'n'roll catch-cry, "yeah yeah yeah!". The outsider influence can be observed in the astounding number of French-language covers produced throughout the Yé Yé era. It was as such that the singer Stella openly criticised the French obsession with American music. In an interview with Cha Cha Charming, she attested that the biggest casualty of the American rock'n'roll invasion was French music: "all traces of France's musical history had vanished once American pop influences infiltrated France". Yet, this purported lack of cultural patriotism seems lost on the modern day, English-speaking listener. Now that everything seems to be shrouded in an Anglo-American pop influence, that which is unique about Yé Yé is contained within the very sound of the French language.


Perhaps Yé Yé carries a greater appeal to those who do not understand French. A few recognisable words may float past, l'amour, le garçon, pourquooooi? However, the English-speaking listener develops an impression through the music itself, in its key, tempo, mood and delivery. If the listener is curious enough, they may be compelled to search and translate. If the listener is lucky enough, the lyrics (ou les paroles) may contain a poetic beauty, detectable in both French and English. France Gall's Faut-il que je t'aime (1966) contains one such moment: "C'était lui que je quittais mais c'était toi qui me manquais"; meaning, "It was him that I was leaving but it was you that I missed". At times, the song may completely lose its lyrical potency in translation. Such a discovery may lead you to believe that it was better to listen in ignorance, to learn and sing the song, happily, proudly and off by heart, not unlike a French poetry competition at school. Perhaps then, and only then, may you be at liberty to burst into song on L'Avenue de Gobelins and startle strangers with your bombastic rendition of Patricia Carli's Le Lion (1967). But I digress...

As always, I will now leave you with this week's podcast. I ask you to reflect upon what it is to have a musical impression, to have an understanding of a song that is thoroughly your own invention. Is it possible to create "meaning" from a song, without knowing what the lyrics are about? Is it possible to appreciate words that rhyme, in a language you don't understand? Moreover, is it ever possible to detach pop from the ideology of nationalism?

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Yé Yé Podcast #33
Stone - Le Jour, La Nuit
Delphine - A Bientôt Sans Doute
Patricia Carli - Le Lion
Jacqueline Taieb - La Fac de Lettres
Denise Brousseau - N'écoute Pas Les Idoles
Jany L - Herald Tribune
Petula Clark - L'Agent Secret
France Gall - Bébé Requin
Valerie Sarn - Quand Je
Tuesday Weld - Are you the boy
Nancy Holloway - Tu N'es Pas Venu
Les Fléchettes - Je Vends du Rêve

Download (43.6 MB)

3 comments:

Four Steps From The Blues said...

Thank you for this. I had been meaning to make a Yé Yé compilation for myself and had collected the songs but I just have too many other projects happening.

Is it possible to create "meaning" from a song, without knowing what the lyrics are about? Yes. A good many people have no idea what the lyrics to a song are beyond the chorus. But they build a story around that chorus and the few other words they know.

I derive meaning from a song based on what I was doing when I listened to it. Sometimes it was a song that I heard twenty times before but still associate it with one moment in time. So it often doesn't matter what the words are, the overall sound is what evokes the connection

Eleanor said...

Don! It's so nice to hear from you! I trust you are well!

I hope you enjoy the mix, it's a cull from a collection of 500 odd songs. I'm surprised it was such an ordeal!

I agree with you completely. There are a fair number of songs in French, Swedish and Japanese that resonate with me still. I find much of my attachment derives from being able to sing along too. I wail in gibberish and secretly hope the gibberish is related to matters of the heart.

Four Steps From The Blues said...

I loved it! I've come back for podcast #14. I'm disappointed that Tuesday Weld didn't live up to my assessment of her from the Matthew Sweet album cover. She was dreadful!

I've sampled songs in many different languages but French is still my favorite. German is an obvious non-starter despite the best efforts of little Peggy March but I was surprised that Italian didn't sound as sweet as I had expected.

The Scandinavian and Asian languages run a close second to French. Both are so inscrutable to me that I can treat the voices as another instrument, and you can't beat the enthusiasm of the Japanese. No matter what the heartbreak, they always sound like they're having their best day ever.