RPM, an imprint of Cherry Red Group, has recently issued a number of sets exploring the world of sixties French pop. Now the label has recently turned to the heavier side, with Vive Le Rock and Roll, a 22-track anthology dedicated to the country’s rock-and-roll scene.
As detailed in Kieron Tyler’s extensive liner notes to this collection subtitled The Unruly World of French Rock and Roll 1956-1962, France didn’t cotton to the rough-and-tumble genre immediately. Bill Haley and the Comets took the U.S. by storm in 1954 and 1955, with Elvis Presley following in 1956. Great Britain had immediate answers to the U.S. rock craze with the emergence of future musical theatre star Tommy Steele in 1956 and Cliff Richard in 1958. Though France’s first rock and roll record was issued in ’56, the nation didn’t fully embrace the sound until Johnny Hallyday’s 1960 breakthrough.
Vive Le Rock and Roll isn’t arranged in chronological fashion, but the compilation does include what’s considered to be France’s first rock and roll record: 1956’s “Rock and Roll Mops,” released by Henry Cording (a.k.a. singer-actor Henri Salvador) and His Original Rock and Roll Boys. Co-written by Boris Vian and future stage and film composer Michel Legrand (The Thomas Crown Affair, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), the novelty-esque song didn’t kickstart a craze. But more R&R records followed; some of the choice examples from the latter half of the 1950s are reprised here from artists including accordionist Charles Verstraete and the vocal-jazz/skiffle group Les 6 Trognes. The latter group employed a clarinet, perhaps inspired by the French success of jazz player Sidney Bechet, on their recording of Wynonie Harris’ “Rock a Billy.” Gabriel Dalar’s French version of “Fever,” from 1958, also showed the influence of jazz on the nascent sound of French rock and roll.
The presence of rock and roll grew in France due to a confluence of events – among them the adoption of a R&R show on the Europe 1 radio station, the arrival of The Twist, and the opening of a nightclub in Paris spotlighting the style – but the ascendancy of the form in France can largely be attributed to Johnny Hallyday. RPM previously collected Hallyday’s The Sound, The Fury compilation, but two of the artist’s home demos are included here: “Je Me Sens Seul” (a.k.a. “Heartbreak Hotel”) and “Tutti Frutti,” both from 1958. Following the March 1960 release of Hallyday’s debut EP in France, imitators sprang up along with original voices inspired by him. Female rock-and-rollers began to emerge, too, including Gillian Hills and Nicole Paquin. Brit rock-and-roller/professional wild man Vince Taylor also makes appearances on this collection with his renditions of “Baby, Let’s Play House” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” both from his first French recording session in 1961. Rock and roll was here to stay.
This fascinating collection, boasting newly remastered sound by Simon Murphy and a 10-page full-color booklet with Kieron Tyler’s liner notes, is available now from RPM Records. It can be ordered at the links below!
- Twist a Saint-Tropez – Les Chats Sauvages (Pathe EA569, 1961)
- Si Seulement – Les Chaussettes Noires (Barclay 70395, 1961)
- Hello Josephine – Les Daltons avec Long Chris (LCD 101, 1962)
- Baby Let’s Play House – Vince Taylor et ses Play-Boys (Barclay 70395, 1961)
- Le Rythme Du Rock – Jackie Seven (Disques Vogue EPL 7802, 1961)
- Oh, Les Filles! – Les Pingouins (Decca 451101, 1962)
- Gong-Gong (I’m Blues) – Danyel Gerard accompagne par les Danger’s (Polydor 21850, 1962)
- Rock and Roll Mops – Henry Cording and His Original Rock and Roll Boys (Fontana 460518, 1956)
- Rock Rock – Charles Verstraete et son ensemble Musette – Rock Rock (Pacific 90119, 1957)
- Rock a Billy – Les 6 Trognes et leur ensemble Bastringue (Pretoria S45 B403, 1957)
- En Dansant Le Twist – Gillian Hills (Barclay 70428, 1962)
- Mon Mari C’Est Frankenstein – Nicole Paquin (Polydor 21819, 1961)
- Ils Croient a Leur Danse – Gelou (Bam EX 279, 1962)
- Dalton City – Les Daltons (LCD 101, 1962)
- Sweet Little Sixteen – Vince Taylor et ses Play-Boys (Barclay 70394, 1961)
- Oncle John – El Toro et les Cyclones (Vogue EPL 7019, 1962)
- Be Bop a Lula – Les Chaussettes Noires (Barclay 70369, 1961)
- Le Jour “J” – Les Chats Sauvages (Pathe EA 485, 1961)
- Je Me Sens Seul (Heartbreak Hotel) – Johnny Hallyday (home demo, 1958)
- Tutti Frutti – Johnny Hallyday (home demo, 1958)