My Life in Paris: Musical Memory Lane

My Life in Paris: Musical Memory Lane

A record-shopping spree has Theadora singing along to some old favourites of French music.

Like all true love affairs, it started with a kiss. After finding a Derniers Baisers record by Mike Shannon’s Les Chats Sauvages at the Porte de Vanves flea market, I got hooked on vintage 45s. It didn’t take long. Years ago my mom had given me her old portable hi-fi player, so after a quick rummage through the closet and a much-needed dusting, I could not only admire the Wild Cats’ cover art, but spin my little rescued 45 over and over, much to my neighbours’ annoyance, I’m sure. That night with Les Chats turned me into a full-blown fan of that whole yé-yé boy band: Mike, John, James, Jack and Willy. Yeah-yeah, I was hooked.

And the beat goes on

It wasn’t just the smooth voices, though Wild Cats frontman Mike Shannon’s velvety vocals did do something to me. Listening to the arm drop gave me shivers each and every time I waited for the needle to find its groove. By the end of the week there was only one direction: back to Porte de Vanves to dig for more retro-mod gold.

I was unstoppable. My nights with Les Chats Sauvages led me to their first frontman, Dick Rivers, and his irresistible jump’n’shout version of Do You Want To Dance?. Then Rivers led me to balladeer Adamo’s smooth, high-register Tombe La Neige. In turn, Adamo led me to one of his opening bands: Les Surfs. Performing mostly English pop covers, this yé-yé band from Madagascar was a firm favourite in France throughout the 1960s. Cuteness personified, these fab four brothers and their two sisters could play and sing in Italian, German, Spanish and English, as well as French. Footage of the band survives, too.

YouTube lists several romps, including a 1964 British Pathé clip of E Adesso Te Ne Puoi Andare, their version of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Want to Be with You. Floating down the Seine outfitted in turtlenecks, skipper hats, skinny trousers and pea coats, the band looks every bit as radiant as the Paris landmarks they visit. I haven’t been able to listen to their ticker-ticker beat without feeling an urge to do it all over again.

Supremely dangerous

Still roaming YouTube, I came across amazing 1965 footage of The Supremes strutting their stuff amidst real-life Paris traffic on the Champs-Elysées while singing Where Did Our Love Go?. Florence, Mary and Diana had come to Paris for Berry Gordy’s Motortown Revue at the Olympia. Each frame is full of joy, mixed with just a frisson of fear (they barely avoid getting run over more than once). It’s pure cinéma verité since I am sure they filmed with no permits and no security, just the three of them and a cameraperson. Despite the glares of passers-by and le flic showing up to give them un poussé, the trio stays on beat, never missing a step.

Better than the Beatles

It turns out that they were strutting in the Beatle-booted footsteps of the Beatles, who’d caused commotion on the Champs-Élysées the year before. In January 1964, the band was booked for three weeks at the Olympia before travelling to New York for their first American performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Headlines yelped: “Les Fab Beatles in Paris! The Beatles stopped traffic on the Champs-Élysées today. French fans mobbed the Merseyside pop group on their first sightseeing stroll in Paris. Followed by crowds of admirers of all ages and press photographers, they walked down the middle of the road while drivers hooted as they tried to get through!”

Girls in the crowd screamed, “Comme ils sont beaux! Aren’t they handsome?”. Not everyone in the crowd agreed, the reporter shared. One local yelled back, “They are not as good-looking as Johnny Hallyday!”
And just like that, I had a new 45 to hunt for. Johnny Hallyday’s 1960 debut T’aimer follement. Hello, Johnny. After a few spins, I’m already head over heels in love. Again! And to think it all started with a kiss. Perhaps the Beatles got it wrong. Maybe money can buy me love.

Theadora Brack has lived in Paris since 2003 and is the author of the blog.

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : © THEADORA BRACK

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After 10 years at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Theadora moved to Montmartre in 2003 to write for the travel website She founded her own blog, "People, Places and Bling: Theadora's Field Guide to Shopping in Paris."

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