The Greatest French Chanson Songs – Part 1

What is French Chanson Music? And why is it so important to French culture? La chanson Francaise translates as the French song. And it is really any song that is sung in French, but it has come to mean a whole lot more than that. The romance of Paris and the era around the WWII seems to define French Chanson. Songs that evoke the old times and a world long gone is the basis for chanson, reminders of smoky cafes, garrick apartments and small winding cobblestone streets all are part of this typically French music genre.

The best way to really describe chanson is by the songs that will forever be remembered using this distinctive music genre. In this blog we will highlight the greatest chanson songs that have ever been and the artists that sang them.

La Vie en Rose – 1946

Probably the best known and loved French song ever made, La Vie en Rose is French chanson, it defines everything about the French chanson genre and leaves nothing behind. Sang by Edith Piaf she created the song after being spotted singing on the streets of Paris in 1935. She was born to a street acrobat and singer and that theatrical background stood Edith in good stead for what was to come. Piaf specialized in ballads and took her audience through an emotional roller coaster when they saw her perform. La Vie en Rose means life is pink but is used in a way that suggests living life in rose tinted glasses, always looking for the best in things. Her lyrics during the war years suggested a life of struggle and trouble times, pining the loss of loved ones. The song is entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame and has featured in many blockbuster movies including Natural Born Killers, La Vie en Rose and French Kiss.

J’attendrai – 1938

The songs J’attendrai and Sombreros et Mantilles were released by Rina Kelly in 1938. Because of WWII she left the French music scene and eventually immigrated to Canada in 1954. J’attendrai means I will wait for you, and was actually written by an Italian, Dino Olivieri. The melody is arranged around the beautiful Puccini piece, The Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly. And the lyrics tell the story of a loved one, and the anxious wait for his return from a remote destination, all to prevalent during the war years.

Le Mer – 1946

Charles Trenet released the wonderfully melodic Le Mer in 1946. Trenet was renowned for singing self-penned songs from the late-1930’s to the mid-1950’s. La Mer was supposedly the result of a long train journey, and as Trenet passed through the scenic countryside he composed the song. The song has an almost a timeless nature to it, it is funny, bright and very catchy. The song has been recorded over 400 times by different artists and in a multitude of different languages. One of the most famous was by Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea.

Charles Trenet

We continue this blog in part two of the greatest ever French chanson songs where we feature songs from Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and Frehel.