Almanac Music: The French Connection



Liberty Leading the People, by Eugene Delacroix, oil on canvas, 1830. Louvre, Paris. [Wikimedia Commons.]


Almanac Music: The French Connection


Bonjour, mes amis!


This is the time of the year when things French are to the fore, as the three-week Tour de France cycling classic is currently in full swing, with a world-wide audience observing both the cycle race itself and the vision of France it presents to the world.


This piece is about songs with a connection to France, for example, in terms of language or some some other aspect of content. Readers are encouraged to contribute their own choices of songs with a French connection – a proviso here being that these songs were in some sense successful in English-speaking countries.



‘Michelle’, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, performed by The Beatles (1965)


This much-covered Beatles ballad with an extensive use of French lyrics (translation supplied by the wife of a friend of McCartney) was mainly composed by Paul McCartney, with some help with the non-French words from John Lennon. The song first appeared on the Rubber Soul album.





‘Where Do You Go to My Lovely?’, written and performed by Peter Sarstedt (1969)


This stylish, evocative, folky waltz tempo song by Britisher, Peter Sarstedt, is full of French references. The first verse is a good example, where French dancer, Zizi Jeanmare is mentioned, as is Balmain the fashion designer, the Boulevard St Michel in Paris, and Sacha Distel, French singer, musician and actor.


For me, this song is a classy example of nineteen-sixties popular music. It has been theorised that the number was inspired by Sophia Loren (who grew up poor in Naples (like Marie-Claire, the main character in the song), but the composer has denied this many years after writing it, saying that the song was about a one-time wife of his.






‘Waterloo’, written by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson, performed by ABBA (1974)


This catchy, bright and melodic Eurovision Song Competition winner (1974), in which the historic battle lost by the French in 1815 is cleverly compared to a romantic relationship, was composed by the Scandinavian answer to Lennon and McCartney, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaelus, with lyrics by Stig Anderson. It helped launch ABBA to international stardom.






‘Lady Marmalade’, written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, performed by Labelle (1974)


This disco-soul song was a worldwide hit for Labelle. The sexually suggestive repeated line ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?’(‘Do you want to sleep with me tonight’) doubtless contributed to the song’s ‘raunch appeal’ and general success. Lead singer of Labelle, Patti Labelle, has said she had no idea of the sexual nature of the French part of the song when she recorded it, as she didn’t know any French then. (Yeah, right.)






‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’, written and performed by Kate Bush (1978)


In the context of her overall body of work, ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’, from Bush’s first album, The Kick Inside, is a slight, minor song. Nevertheless, in its dreamy, ethereal way, it still contains that hard-to-articulate Kate Bush magic. The French bits of this song are contained in the words of the title, repeated a number of times in the song itself – and also in the use of the words ‘boudoir’ and ‘reverie’. ‘What are the purpose of these French bits?’ is a good question to ask – in part, to accentuate the song’s sexiness is a reasonable answer.





‘Marseilles’, written by John Brewster, Rick Brewster, and Doc Neeson, performed by The Angels (1978)


This heavy pub rocker by Oz band The Angels, from their second album Face to Face, contains numerous French references (e.g. ‘box of French cigars’, ‘black beret’ and the French language itself are mentioned in the opening lines). It represents Marseilles as an exotic, colourful French location to which to be taken away.






‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, written by Lou Deprijck and Yvan Lacomblez, performed under the name of (see below) Plastic Bertrand (1978)



This international faux-punk hit is basically a nonsense song full of French language. For a good sense of this, consider the opening two verses and chorus:




‘Yam ! Bam !
Mon chat Splash gît sur mon lit
A bouffé sa langue
En buvant tout mon whisky
Quant à moi, peu dormi, vidé, brimé
J’ai dû dormir dans la gouttière
Où j’ai eu un flash, uh uh uh uh
En quatre couleurs


Allez hop ! Un matin
Une louloute est venue chez moi
Poupée de cellophane, cheveux chinois
Un sparadrap, une gueule de bois
A bu ma bière, dans un grand verre
En caoutchouc, uh uh uh uh
Comme un Indien dans son iglou


Chorus: Ça plane pour moi …




Yam! Bam!
My cat Splash is crashed out on my bed
He’s swallowed his tongue
From drinking all my whisky
Whereas me, not much sleep, drained, pissed off,
I had to sleep in the gutter,
Where I had a vision
In four colours


Come on, let’s go! One morning,
A chick came to my place
Cellophane doll, (with) Chinese hair,
A bandaid, a hangover,
Drank my beer, from a big glass
made of rubber
like an Indian in his igloo


Chorus: Everything’s awesome for me … (from Lyrics Translate website)


To add to the story, the character known as Plastic Bertrand did not actually sing the song in the studio recording; instead, this was done by Lou Deprijck, the record’s producer and co-composer, according to Wikipedia.






‘Voulez-Vous’, written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, performed by ABBA (1979)


This is a solid, professionally crafted and performed disco song by ABBA, from the album of the same name, but there isn’t really anything particularly distinctive about it. It was a minor hit, compared to many other more successful songs from the band.





‘C’était toi (You Were the One)’, written and performed by Billy Joel (1980)


This inclusion of French lyrics in this song, from Joel’s Glass Houses album, always struck me as a bit put on, pretentious. Recently, in a brief Entertainment Weekly article on the internet, by Tom Sinclair, I read that even Joel himself came to the conclusion that the song sucked.





‘Je ne sais pas pourquoi’, written by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, performed by Kylie Minogue (1988)


Another international chart success from England’s Stock, Aitken and Waterman ‘hit factory’, this light-as-fairy-floss pop number by Australia’s Kylie was known as ‘I Still Love You (Je ne sais pas pourquoi)’ in Australia and New Zealand.





‘She’s So High’, written and performed by Tai Bachman (1999)


This pop-rock number by Canadian, Tai Bachman, from his self-titled first album, barely qualifies in terms of inclusion in the current context, but scrapes in because of its reference to the historical French figure of Joan of Arc in the soaring, uplifting chorus:


‘’Cause she’s so high
High above me
She’s so lovely
She’s so high
Like Cleopatra
Joan of Arc
Or Aphrodite …’







So, Almanackers, it’s that time once again! Over to you. Your responses to this topic are most welcome. Please add your own choice of a song (or songs) concerning the ‘songs with a French connection’ topic in the comments section, along with anything else you’d like to say.




[Note: Wikipedia has been a good general reference for this piece, particularly when it comes to checking dates and other details.]



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Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, was published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    First one I thought of is ‘Je T’aime’ by Abigail from 1973. Her cover version more subdued than the Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourough original.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Col.

    Ah yes – I think every red-blooded Australian male of a certain vintage would remember Abigail’s rendition, subdued or otherwise!

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    “Chanson Frogoire (The French Song)” by Greg Champion.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Luke, for putting Champs in the thread – it’s a typically witty, funny song from him.

  5. rick kane says

    You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie) or Teenage Wedding, Chuck Berry
    The French Inhaler, Warren Zevon
    Call Me, Blondie
    7 Seconds, Youssou N’Dour and Nenah Cherry

  6. Kevin Densley says

    What a fab bunch of songs you’ve put forward, Rick – all of them!

    To single out one, I’ll mention Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ – what a songwriting master that man was, especially when it comes to telling a story. It’s an utter delight, this song.

    Your mention of ‘Call Me’ also reminded me of another Blondie song with a French connection, ‘Denis’.

  7. “Free Man in Paris” from Joni Mitchell’s sublime Court and Spark album.
    “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper (JP Richardson) – killed on the same plane crash as Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. Subsequently also a hit for Jerry Lee Lewis.

  8. Matt Zurbo says

    Cracker piece! And hilarious!

    My 5 year old daughter recently discovered Ca Plane Pour Moi, which has the backing music of Jet Bot Jet Girl by the Damned, and was a hit when i was a kid. I don’t have the heart to tell her the song is a brutal tale of a gay man who is so in love he agrees to have aa sex change for his partner, only to discover his partner is now seeing an actual girl. So I stopped her playing it. NOW you ell me (a person who can’t speak a word of French), the lyrics were changed for the French song!? Haha, 40+ years, I never knew! Back on the playlist, I guess. Cheers!

  9. “Cafe On The Left Bank” by Wings (off the ‘London Town’ album)

  10. Another good one is “Bataclan” by the Cat Empire, off their brilliant “Rising With The Sun” album.
    It is a tribute to the venue in Paris which was attacked by terrorists in November 2015. It had a profound effect on the band, as they had played there many times. The introductory verse is completely sung in French.

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks PB. Two beaut songs.

    Something slightly morbid about the Big Bopper; apparently, his son (born two months after his death) was able to get his father’s body exhumed for detailed examination. It was buried in some kind of wonderfully sealed coffin, and Bopper junior remarked upon the condition of his father’s corpse with words along the lines of ‘Dad was in pretty good shape’. Given that the cause of death was basically that Bopper Snr had broken every bone in his body, this sounded so weird – though of course he meant the funeral people had done their job well.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Matt. Thanks for comments. I think Ca Plane Pour Moi is interesting in various ways; for example, I read that Joe Strummer had quite a bit of praise for the song, calling it ‘a bloody good record that will get any comatose person toe-tapping.’

  13. Kevin Densley says

    Thank you for you additions, Smokie. Good ones! I knew the Wings song, and had heard about the Cat Empire one, which I will now listen to.

  14. Liam Hauser says

    The Electric Light Orchestra hit Hold On Tight includes a verse in French:
    Accroche-toi à ton rêve
    Accroche-toi à ton rêve
    Quand tu vois ton bateau partir
    Quand tu sens ton cœur se briser
    Accroche-toi à ton rêve

    Also, Belinda Carlisle sings an entire album in French. It’s titled Voila.

  15. Peter Crossing says

    Rick K cites Chuck Berry’s brilliant You Never Can Tell (above). For many years I thought the coolerator mentioned in the song was a word made up by Chuck.
    A few more
    The French Song – Lucille Starr – made the charts at the height of Beatlemania
    Hold on Tight To Your Dreams – I prefer Lil’ Band O’ Gold cover version rather than ELO original mainly because of Steve Riley’s accordion
    and from way back
    Waterloo – Stonewall Jackson
    Petit Fleur – Sydney Bechet (Chris Barber and Acker Bilk)

  16. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Peter, for this interesting and varied bunch of songs. (Well, there you go, another song called Waterloo!)

  17. “(Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star” by Bil Wyman.

    We could go on the hovercraft
    Across the water
    They’ll think I’m your dad
    And you’re my daughter.

    Oh dear.

  18. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Liam.

    Thanks for your contributions.

    If you were able to go on the SBS ‘Mastermind’ TV show with ELO as your topic, I think you’d win!

  19. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Mickey.

    I thought Wyman’s song was amusing when it first came out – I haven’t changed my mind. What a hoot!

  20. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    A couple of tunes as I sulk after the Crows dismal season-ending effort.

    Give Paris One More Chance – Jonathan Richman
    French Kissing in the USA – Debbie Harry
    Psycho Killer – Talking Heads

  21. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Swish. Thanks for these – three really top songs.

    My team, Geelong, and not exactly where I’d like them to be at this stage of the season, but at least they’re on the improve.

  22. Dave Nadel says

    Eric Bogle’s No Man’s Land also known as the Green Fields of France. One of the best anti-war songs of the 20th Century. Covered by many folk acts but none as heartfelt as the original.

  23. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Dave, for mentioning this beautiful, moving song.

  24. Dave Nadel says

    News sources have reported that Jane Birkin died last night.
    Jane Birkin (as mentioned above) did the hit version of “Je t’aime….moi non plus” with her then husband and the writer of the song Serge Gainsbourg in 1969.

  25. Kevin Densley says

    Hi again, Dave. Sad to hear about Jane Birkin, described as actor, singer and style icon in an obituary piece. She will be remembered.

  26. george smith says

    May I recommend La Mer by Charles Trenet, brought to life so delightfully by Mr Bean, who again was evoking the spirit of Mr Hulot, Jacques Tati.

    And compare the English version, Bobby Darren’s Beyond the Sea. One is full of childlike wonder on viewing the sea south of France, the other is full of Sinatra-like smarm.

  27. Kevin Densley says

    Lovely post, George. I’ve listened and watched every artist you’ve mentioned. Fine material – I even like Darrin’s version, too.

  28. Rick Kane says

    I was checking to see if the following song had already been mentioned when I chanced on a couple of comments to note. So let me respond to those great comments first.

    Peter C mentioned Lil” Band of Gold – how good are they! Saw them at the Newport Substation and they blew us away.

    Thinking about Liam’s mention of the Belinda Carlisle album in French can I contribute Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, à Paris: Martha Wainwright’s Piaf Record. Yes, the same Martha Wainwright with the impeccable pedigree and the brilliant song, (about her dad), Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, which in a previous era, may have been describe as, excuse my French.

    The song I wanted to contribute was Chanson D’Amour by The Manhattan Transfer and you can’t half guess my age by this embarrassing contribution.


  29. Dave Nadel says

    If it makes you feel better Rick, I actually remember the original Chanson D’Amour which I heard as a child in 1958. Mind you it made so little impression on me that I had to look the performers up on Wikipedia. They were named Art & Dotty Todd.

  30. Kevin Densley says

    Great, Rick.

    Many thanks for the follow-up material, including the Manhattan Transfer song – and you’re almost exactly my age! Not sure how I feel about my relatively new ‘decade’.

  31. Kevin Densley says

    Lady Gaga: ‘Bad Romance’ (2009) …

    The French bit in this song is ‘Je veux ton amour, et je veux ta revanche. Je veux ton amour…’ The translation to English of this section: I want your love, and I want your revenge. I want your love…’

  32. Jane Greenwood says

    Oh, wow, Rick, thanks for all these songs! I am reminded that I was once a member of the staff quintet, ‘Barbershop Quartet + 1’ at the school at which I taught, singing all sorts, including Manhattan Transfer songs, such as Chanson d’Amour. Good stuff. And yes, I still love Trenet’s La Mer …

  33. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Jane, for your comments about my ‘French Connection’ piece.

    Thanks again, Rick, and all who contributed in the ‘Comments’ section.

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