This week’s Song of the Week is a bit different. As an ode to Euro 2016, and the large inclusion of French artists so far on Song of the Week, we’re having a French musical special, celebrating two famous classical French artists!
Over the two months or so we’ve been doing Song of the Week, French artists have featured three times out of thirteen, which is more than any other nation except Australia. Without realising it, I’ve slowly fallen for the French style, and while you are reading this on Monday I will currently be in Paris taking part in the cultural festivities that come with one of sports grandest international sporting events. Euro 2016 is in full swing, and after watching it for weeks now, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the country and its beautiful culture.
For football fans in the UK there is a tradition that coverage of major international sporting events on TV are accompanied with classic theme songs that are in tune with the culture and emotion of the tournament. This tournament has unearthed two pieces of classic French music, and I would like to share them both with you this week. Also, the two introductions have really split opinion in terms of which is better, so I’ve got them to show you too!
The first is a song called La Mer, and is by Charles Trenet. Born in 1913, and working through World War II before dying in 2001, Charles’ was a renowned singer/songwriter at a time when it was more common for singers like himself to be given songs to sing. Trenet made a point of writing every song he ever performed, and had his greatest times during the 1950s when he moved to America.
La Mer – meaning “The Sea” in English – was released originally in 1945 when it was written by Trenet but sung by Roland Gerbeau. However, it wasn’t until a year later that Charles Trenet performed it himself, which is when it achieved unexpected success. The song has since become somewhat of a symbol for France across the world, particularly in film and TV where it has been heard in all sorts of shows, from The Simpsons to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The song is even performed by Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz in the film A Life Less Ordinary (1977).
Here is the intro to ITV’s Euro 2016 coverage, on which this song is featured. The inroduction features cartoon-style posters, featuring the locations of the tournament alongside its star players. Charles Trenet provides the background music.
As you can imagine – you could guess even before listening – this is a stereotypically smooth, cheerful and happy piece of French music. It’s a song beautifully performed by a natural performer that reminds you a lot of the music of the time – the likes of Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong (who he met while living in New York), for example.
The second song for the TV coverage is Edith Piaf’s La Foule. Although, the truth is that it isn’t, but we’ll get to that.
Edith Piaf is a huge name in France, bigger than almost anyone else. Born in 1915, Edith was a legendary cabaret singer in France, and is still regarded as not just one of the best female artists to ever emerge from the country, but one of France’s greatest international superstars.
Famous for her autobiographical songwriting and excellent storytelling, her life is still celebrated today. In 2007 a film about her life was made – the Academy Award winning La Vie en Rose starring French actress Marion Cotillard, for which she won multiple personal awards.
The song La Foule was released in 1957, and is one of her most famous pieces of music, despite that fact that she didn’t create it. The original song was composed by Angel Cabral, and the original Spanish lyrics written by Michel Rivgauche. She heard it performed by Alberto Castillo in 1953, and along with Rivgauche created a French-speaking version which revived what was an old classic and took it to new heights. The song talks about the woman having a chance meeting with a man in the middle of a festive crowd. She falls in love at first sight, but the crowd that had given her the man eventually takes him away again, and she loses him in the sea of people.
The song, while beautiful, is very raw and emotional compared to Charles Trenet’s offering. While it is beautiful in its own right, it’s certainly not made for TV intros. The song the BBC introduced to us through their intro, and that you can hear below, is a version performed by London-born singer (and Brit Awards’ Critics’ Choice 2016 nominee) Izzy Bizu, which is also a fantastic song in its own right.
As you can tell from the intro, and the use of that sphere that was really popular among photographers in 2015, the BBC have gone for something much edgier. It isn’t a song that would be instantly linked to France in the way you do when listening to Charles and watching the former introduction piece. However, what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in emotion and power, and for me the song (both of the, by Polie and Bizu) and the introduction are just about more memorable than ITV & Trenet’s solid offering – although I must say that the first intro is definitely growing on me…
Which song was your favourite (if you had to choose, of course) – the classically smooth, classically French La Mer; Edith’s powerful Le Foule; or Izzy Bizu’s modern rendition of the classic? Let us know below!
I hope you have the time to really sit back, take in the music and admire the French culture that has been built for generations by people such as Trenet and Piaf. I once said that the French were the kings of disco/DJ music but maybe, with these songs and others featured on Song of the Week, they have a case to being one of the major music powerhouses of the world.
As always have a great week, with lots of love from The Culture Cove, and from Paris!