Released to coincide with the anniversary of the singer’s death from electrocution in the bath aged just thirty-nine in 1978, this three CD set provides an excellent overview of Claude François’ career and neatly divides up his periods with different record companies by CD. Internationally, his major claim to fame is as the co-author of the original version of a song, ‘Comme d’habitude’ (‘As always’), that would have new English lyrics added by Paul Anka and then became a world wide hit through Frank Sinatra, ‘I did it my way’. However, in his native France, François scored many hits and reworked several 1960’s sings in English into French after first starting on the French Riviera, invariably backed by an orchestra while performing at luxury hotels. An early cover came in 1962 with a French language reading of the Everly Brothers‘, ‘Made to love (girls girls girls)’, which was turned into, ‘Belles! Belles! Belles!’. Other songs from the formative part of his career similarly focused on translating early pop and rock ‘n’ roll and these included, ‘Si javais un marteau (‘If I had a hammer’)’ and, ‘Marche tout droit (‘Walk right in’)’. By 1963, the singer was headlining the Olympia in Paris and had set up his own show featuring his very own female dancers that became known as ‘Claudettes’ and this was part of his lavish stage show. It was in 1967 that,’Comme d’habitude’, first became a hit in France, but the early 1970’s were a traumatic time and the singer collapsed on stage from exhaustion. A new market was emerging in the 1970’s and François had the commercial acumen to change with the times and start to veer into new territory. He took a leaf out of the Bee Gees book and created his own version of the disco sound, influenced by the whirling strings of the Philly sound on, ‘Laisse une chance à notre amour’ (Leave a chance for our love’), a mid-tempo soulful groove in, ‘Quand la pluie finira de tomber’ (When the rain stops falling), but especially and, now regarded by a younger generation as his greatest contribution, the anthemic French disco stomper that is, ”Alexandrie, Alexandra’, devoted to the place in Egypt where he was brought up as a child and ironically it was released in France on the very day of his burial. Two versions are available here, the shorter 45, and the newly remixed, longer 12″ take, which is eight minutes ten of elongated dancefloor pleasure. With a bongo intro that leads into fully orchestrated accompaniment, and François really letting go
In spite of sixty songs on offer, there are still some omissions such as the singer’s take on ‘Massachussetts’, by the Bee Gees re-titled, ‘La plus belle chose du monde’, and other songs that became renowned including, ‘Où s’en aller?’, ‘A part, la vie est belle’, ‘Le spectacle est terminé’, et ‘Les anges, les roses et la pluie’. On the other hand, for collectors, there are some previously hard to find songs that were either B-sides, or quite simply relegated to album titles. The former would include, ‘Quand la pluie finira de tomber’, while, ‘Six jours sur la route (Six days on the road)’, does not normally feature on other anthologies. Completists may well favour the more subsantial 20 CD box set that covers everything, but for most three CD’s of sixty songs will more than suffice. As much of a cultural institution as a mere popular singer, the life of Claude François has spawned controversial biographies and a universally praised biopic film starring Jérémie Renier, that gives a real flavour of the inner torments that plagued the singer. Even now, Claude François has the capacity to surprise and earlier this year his relationship with a young Belgian woman came to light with a now thirty something daughter, Juliette Bocquet, that the world was unaware of.
It is interesting to contemplate how the 1970’s French music scene could make space for François and Johnny Hallyday, as well as what remained of the classic French chanson tradition, and an entirely new generation of singer-songwriters from Lavilliers to Souchon.