English may have long ruled supreme in the global music industry but a surprising amount of legendary pop stars have tried their luck at singing in French.
Why is very much up for debate. It could be because they wanted to expand their international following, or maybe they just lost a bet with their old French schoolteacher.
In any case, these decisions have given way to some harmonious hidden gems and some musical faux pas. We’ll let you be the judge of who deserves top prize for best musical performance by a non-native French speaker.
Eurythmics – Tous les garçons et les filles
British synth-pop duo Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart gave a positive 80s twist to Françoise Hardy’s 1962 classic ‘Tous les garçons et les filles’.
Lennox has recorded other songs in French (including a Christmas carol) and seems to have a good grasp of the language.
Robbie Williams – L’amour Supreme
The charismatic and equally controversial former Take That singer covered his own song ‘Supreme’ in French and it sounds surprisingly good (although that may be because the original is one of his best).
Robbie is no Kristin Scott Thomas but the lad from Stoke-on-Trent still has a little je ne sais quoi when he sings in French, sounding pretty good also in another French version of one of his songs – Time On Earth – which he recorded in 2017.
David Bowie – Héros
Bowie’s 1977 signature hit ‘Heroes’ – a story of love separated by the Berlin Wall – actually has a French and German version cover recorded by Ziggy Stardust himself.
Under the title ‘Héros – David Bowie chante en France’, a limited number of copies must’ve been sold at the time as the vinyls are now going for €80 on Amazon.
It’s hard to say whether ‘Héros’ sounds any better or worse that its original English version but the French government liked it enough to make Bowie a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1999.
Michael Jackson – Je ne veux pas la fin de nous
The King of Pop decided to turn one of his lesser-known ballads ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ into his very own French hymne à l’amour.
Titled ‘Je ne veux pas la fin de nous’, the song’s lyrics and title are completely different to the English version (perhaps because they were written by Jackson’s French friend Coco DeCroix) but the smooth, soft voice remains unmistakably his.
Eartha Kitt – C’est si bon
If there’s any French song on this list that the singer is instantly known for it’s the flirty ‘C’est si bon’ and its glamorous diva Eartha Kitt.
The song was composed in 1948 by Henri Betti, getting his inspiration from a women’s lingerie shop in Nice, but it was Kitt who added the extra va-va-voom to it in 1953, making her version an instant classic.
The way she purred, sometimes growled while rolling her Rs in French won Kitt great admiration across her performances in Europe, perhaps her most signature seductive sound.
The Beatles – Michelle
The story goes that when Paul McCartney wrote ‘Michelle’ he ran the lyrics past his friend Ivan Vaughan, whose wife was a French teacher.
It ended up being more of an English ballad with a few lines in French, such as “ma belle” (my beautiful) and rather ironically “sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble” (words that go very well together), as if McCartney had decided to use a side note written by the French teacher because it just happened to rhyme.
Blur – To the End
Oasis’s alt rock nemesis Blur didn’t worry too much about their street cred when recording this version of their 1994 lesser known song ‘To the End’ in French.
Damon Albarn doesn’t quite seem to hit the high notes as easily in this one, and his cockney drawl doesn’t do his French accent any favours, but we take our hats off to Blur for giving it a go.
Blondie – French Kissing in the USA
By the sounds of it Debbie Harry is a bit of a Francophile. She’s recorded at least three versions of her songs in French and she seems at ease singing in la langue de Molière.
The only thing she seems to struggle with is translating the choruses into French – ‘Sunday Girl’, ‘French Kissing in the USA’ – preferring instead to stick to the original versions.
Grace Jones – La Vie en Rose
Supermodel and singer Grace Jones added a tropical, modern twist to Edith Piaf’s classic in 1977, one of countless music stars who have covered ‘La Vie en Rose’ since its initial release in 1947.
Jones gives a powerful performance and sticks to the original French lyrics for most of the song, occasionally slipping into English.
Barring Louis Armstrong’s saxophone homage to Piaf’s eternal song (which he added words to in English), this version is one of the best ones out there.
Dusty Springfield : Demain tu peux changer
The British pop folk starlet absolutely nails this French version of her hit ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, as part of a French-themed four track EP which also includes ‘Je ne peux pas t’en vouloir’ (‘Losing You’), ‘L’été est fini’ (‘Summer is Over’) and ‘Reste encore un instant’ (‘Stay A While’).
The leading female propellant of blue-eyed soul has impeccable pronunciation and could quite easily have given Francoise Hardy or France Galle a run for their money in their mother tongue.
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