The Vogue Years
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Françoise Hardy was born on January 17th 1944 in Paris, and grew up with her sister Michele and her mother in the 19th arrondissement. She had a sheltered upbringing - because her mother worked, Françoise's overbearing grandmother looked after her, scolding her for being "too tall and too thin". At the religious school she attended Françoise was tormented for her peculiar family life. Not surprisingly, she developed an acute lack of confidence which thirty-odd years of fame and wealth have barely altered.
"To my eyes she has always symbolised the modern woman. I think she came to see me because my avant-garde style corresponds to her way of thinking." Andre Courreges
"Listening to other people's music was the only thing that interested me in my life, that really moved me. I'd love to have been a radio programmer, but I'd got myself a guitar and taught myself three chords, so I started to write songs." Extremely shy and naturally pessimistic, songwriting was more of a therapy for Françoise than a career option. She had been inspired by a radio programme launched in 1959 called Salut Les Copains which broadcast British and American rock - especially, she dug the Everly Brothers and Cliff Richard. Soon she was playing in small Paris clubs and hanging out at the Moka club with other aspiring songwriters. In 1961 she had an audition with Vogue Records, a label she picked for an intriguing reason: "I told myself it wouldn't be so hard to please the people at Vogue because I considered the recordings of Johnny Hallyday (their biggest name) to be inferior to those I heard elsewhere." Artistic director Jacques Wolfsohn was smitten with her nervous rendition of Je T'Aime Trop (a French translation of Elvis' Gotta Know) and signed her in November '61.
Until the turn of the seventies, French singles were always four track EPs, so when Wolfsohn handed Françoise a Petula Clark cast-off called Oh Oh Cheri as her first single, she was allowed to record three of her own songs to back it up. On April 25th 1962, after "three hours with the worst four musicians in Paris" Françoise recorded Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles. By mid '63 it had sold over 2 million copies. In eighteen months Françoise Hardy sold more records than Edith Piaf had in eighteen years. Holidaying in Austria during the summer of '62, Françoise came home to find she was a star. She is typically overmodest today: "If I was able to realise my dream of singing it was due to the fact that there were not many singers around. The record companies had seen the success of Richard Anthony and Johnny Hallyday and realised there was an entire youth movement in the making. They were on the lookout for any young singer, because there weren't any."
It was a happy coincidence that Salut Les Copains was launched as a monthly pop magazine within a couple of months of Françoise's first record. It was heavily picture based, and Françoise became a regular cover star. Follow-ups to Tous Les Garcons all scored well in the SLC Top 10, the only French chart at the time. The first three EPs featured charming but rudimentary productions courtesy of Vogue in-house arranger Roger Samyn. The more pop sensitive Marcel Hendrix took over the reins for Françoise's mellow Eurovision entry L'Amour S'En Va in early '63, then guiding her through twist-friendly "ye-ye" classics like Qui Aime T'Il Vraiment and Va Pas Prendre Un Tambour. American exile Mickey Baker (of Mickey And Sylvia, and 'Love Is Strange' fame) ably handled Pourtant Tu M'aimes and C'est Le Passe, both girl group styled beat, but Françoise had become obsessed with working in England. In 1964 producer Charles Blackwell got the call and Françoise's best records of the sixties were the result.
With the help of boyfriend photographer Jean Marie Perier, Françoise had become the epitome of the modern woman, always dressed in the latest fashions, independent and beautiful. Perier introduced her to Andre Courreges who created simple but impeccable clothes for Françoise. With her extraordinary figure, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Paco Rabanne were only too pleased to follow suit. Françoise was dubbed "the archetypal woman of the year 2000." In spite of an in-built mistrust of foreign language singers, Britain fell for Françoise Hardy. 'All Over The World' (Dans Le Monde Entier), was a typically fragile Françoise love song which became a UK Top 20 hit in mid '65 and a huge hit on the BBC's Family Favourites. Even more remarkable were the sales of her French language recordings in Britain - a revived Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles and the thunderous Blackwell-produced Et Meme also made the charts while her EPs and albums, all with stunning Jean Marie Perier artwork, sold extremely well. For Françoise it was a revelation.
"The moment that I realised others might find me attractive was when I worked in England; the English made me feel like this. In France I developed alongside Sylvie (Vartan) who I always thought was much prettier than me, and much better dressed. I began to believe that I too was attractive when I read that I corresponded to Mick Jagger's feminine ideal... and of course he totally matched my masculine ideal!
In England it was certainly my physique which pleased people..."
Now Françoise was an international star. Bob Dylan had dedicated a poem to her on the sleeve of Another Side Of... Then there were the fashion shoots, and the film appearances. Her first had been as Ophelia in Roger Vadim's 'Chateau En Suede' - she was bored and always had her transistor radio on set - but now she was offered roles by Jean Luc Godard (Masculin Feminin), Clive Donner (What's New Pussycat) and John Frankenheimer (Grand Prix). In London she hung out with The Beatles, David Bailey, and the Rolling Stones: "One evening I ended up round at Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg's place, and I knew nothing about drugs, dope and all that stuff! It took me a long time to realise they were totally out of it. I never know how to take my leave of people, so that evening went on forever. I found out afterwards that they were wondering what I was waiting for, if I was interested in the drugs or if I wanted to have an affair with them. Obviously it was neither of these! For me, Brian Jones was in the Rolling Stones and I'd spent an evening with him and that was just fine."
1966 was a hectic year - Wolfsohn and Perier won Françoise an American deal on the back of Grand Prix's success, while she toured all over Europe plus Turkey, Lebanon, Canada, Brazil and South Africa. Two of her most beautiful singles were released - La Maison Ou J'ai Grandi and the heartstopping Je Changerai D'avis. But by 1967 things were coming to a head. Françoise took control of her finances and set up her own production company, named Asparagus after one wag had called her "l'endive du twist". She became disillusioned with Vogue and touring was getting her down. She took to reading Proust, Celine, Ionesco and Celine, and became fascinated by astrology. Also she began a relationship with singer Jacques Dutronc - a year later she gave up touring completely to be with Jacques, declaring she was "bored stiff" with everything she'd done thus far. The ye-ye years were over.
"When I started singing, at the age of 17, 18, I had no idea of my potential, and I realised pretty quickly that I was very limited in terms of my voice. And that was enough for the sixties, to sing Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles which is a totally linear song, the same note from start to finish. But when you attempt something more ambitious on stage it's a totaly different kettle of fish. I'm not really a natural at singing on stage. On top of this I'm very emotional and could never control this emotion. And I am sedentary to an unbelievable degree. I found myself set in motion at the age of 18 and it was very difficult not to get caught up in it all. The life of filming, travelling, continual departures, made me very, very unhappy. No, I wasn’t made for that.
Starting Asparagus gave Françoise a new lease of life, and arguably her best records came out of that late sixties, early seventies period, but that's another story: these are the records that made "The Yeh Yeh Girl from Paris“ a star. When she began, Françoise Hardy’s contemporaries were Helen Shapiro and Branda Lee. Today, they seem positively antique. The Françoise Hardy of the mid sixties still looks and sounds truly modern.
Many thanks to Lora Findlay
Quotes from Françoise Hardy: Superstar et Ermite
by Etienne Daho and Jerome Soligny