Tuesday, April 16, 2024

French Pop: From Music Hall to Yé-Yé by Gareth Jones, an exceptional and indispensable book

Few books can serve as both an enjoyable reading experience and a reference guide such as this one, a thorough investigation and documentation of the history of French Pop music, which is also the story of the modern music industry

French Pop: From Music Hall to Yé-Yé by Gareth Jones, an exceptional and indispensable book

Few books can serve as both an enjoyable reading experience and a reference guide, with hundreds of side notes to complement it. This is the case of French Pop by Gareth Jones, a thorough investigation and documentation of the history of French Pop music, which is also the story of the modern music industry.
Jones travels back to the nineteenth century, where he discovers the foundations of Pop music through names that have become obscure to the general public over the years. It also provides insight into the socio-cultural historical context that aided in the popularity of several waves of new musical styles. These names had a significant influence and impact in the early twentieth century, gradually outlining a path that is still followed today.
The author focuses on the first half of the twentieth century, ending in the early 1960s (where he promises to continue in two more volumes,) when the Pop and Rock music revolution was in full swing, giving birth to the Yé-Yé movement, which led up to names like Françoise Hardy, Johnny Hallyday, and Claude François, among many others, a path that was blazed by the 1950’s names from the French chanson such as Jacques Brel, Gilbert Bécaud, Georges Brassens and going further back, Yves Montand, Édith Piaf, Juliette Gréco, Maurice Chevalier, Marianne Oswald (a”chanteuses réaliste”) and Charles Trenet. among countless others. All of these names come together at some point when musical styles such as Jazz, Blues, and Rock N’ Roll begin to germinate more intensely in Europe, each in their own time. Accurately, Gareth Jones explains in detail how sounds from the other side of the Atlantic reached France and the European continent in general, as well as the need for new generations of listeners to explore these sounds with which they increasingly identified, and the “resistance” of established names to the popularity of new musical waves such as Rock, which they ironically “accidentally” helped to impose throughout their careers. It is a period when poetry commences to merge with music, among various art movements, and the vibrant underground scene of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés bars and cafes, from the discomforting and impenetrable Serge Gainsbourg to the unexpectedly enchanting Juliette Gréco, two top names in French music who crossed borders all over the world.
But Jones does not overlook the “background players”, to whom he devotes as much attention as the big names, thus building one of the most comprehensive Pop and Rock music books of all time.
French Pop, beautifully illustrated with rare photos, posters, album covers, and labels, includes also a valuable glossary of names that allows the reader to use this book as a reference when they want, as well as a rare guide to some of the key records in the history of French Pop, and a guide to French Pop songs covered by other artists across the globe. A precious sharing of Gareth Jones’ extensive enthusiast work.
This is a book for any serious music fan and for anyone who wants to deepen their knowledge of music and history, not exclusively French. Over 500 pages of pure knowledge, French Pop: From Music Hall to Yé-Yé is an exceptional and indispensable book.

From Django Reinhardt and Édith Piaf to Françoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg, French pop has long fascinated the outside world. This book, the first in-depth history published outside France, travels from music halls, jazz cellars and cafés to discothèques and teenage parties to tell the tale of how the French transitioned from accordions to electric guitars, from Maurice Chevalier to Johnny Hallyday, from the existential angst of Left Bank chanson to the effervescent joy of yé-yé. Across dozens of performers from Sacha Distel to Sylvie Vartan, and hundreds of recordings, this is the story of how the French fused their native traditions with the best the world had to offer – tango, jazz, swing, exotica, rock’n’roll and folk – and emerged in the sixties with their own unique and much- loved spin on the pop music conquering the world.



The 1962 “Tous les garçons et les filles” by Françoise Hardy, it’s an enduring milestone in French Pop music



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David Warren

David Warren an editor and author for Pop Expresso and in the free time enjoys making instrumental music - davidwarrenmusic.com -  and to learn about history and cultures. Reach out at david@popexpresso.com

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