20 February 2015

A French song about a road trip

Eddy Mitchell is the stage name of a French singer and actor whose career started in the early 1960s. He was born in 1942 in Paris, and his real name is Claude Moine. More than fifty years ago, he was the leader of a 1950s-American-style rock and roll group called Les Chausettes Noires — "the black socks." Mitchell's musical idols were Bill Haley and the Comets (Rock Around the Clock) and Gene Vincent (Be-Bop-a-Lula).

Mitchell later started a solo career based on covers of American country music and French ballads. His songs usually tell a little story, and you hear some of them on French radio nearly every time you turn it on. He has also acted in many films over the past three or four decades. He no longer performs live on stage, but he still has a recording career. As far as I know, despite his love of American country music, he doesn't speak English. He has won the French equivalents of the Oscar and Grammy awards for his work. You might call him "a country crooner."

Here's one of his titles that you hear often. It's a cover of a Tom T. Hall tune about Memphis, Tennessee. In French, it's called Sur la route de Memphis. The image of an American sheriff driving his hand-cuffed, down at the heels prisoner toward Memphis while drinking a beer in the car, with his crazy-eyed German Shepherd dog (un chien-loup) sitting on the front passenger seat (la place du mort), is striking.



J'écoutais le disc-jockey
Dans la voiture qui me traînait
Sur la route de Memphis,
Sur la route de Memphis.

 

Et la radio me vantait
Un truc débile qui m'endormait,
Sur la route de Memphis,
Sur la route de Memphis.

 

Je viens vers toi.
Tu m'attends dans ta robe blanche.
L'amour en province
Ressemble un peu à un dimanche.

Sur le siège avant, le chauffeur
Buvait de la bière en regardant l'heure,
Sur la route de Memphis,

Sur la route de Memphis.
 

A la place du mort, un chien-loup
Me jetait un regard un peu fou,
Sur la route de Memphis,
Sur la route de Memphis.


Je viens vers toi, mais pas dans une Rolls blanche,
Dans un costume un peu élimé aux manches.
J'ai le droit de me taire et d'fumer
En gardant mes menottes aux poignets,
Sur la route de Memphis,
Sur la route de Memphis.

 
Pour une fois les flics ont gagné.
Vers chez toi je ne fais que passer,
Sur la route de Memphis,
Sur la route de Memphis.

I've said this many times, but nobody seems to pay me much attention: one of the best ways to get a grasp on French pronunciation and learn a lot of grammar, vocabulary, and expressions is to listen to French popular music. Even if it seems hokey to begin with, it's worth the effort to listen and learn.

26 comments:

Carolyn said...

Ken, we do pay attention! Didn't I just buy a cabbage under your influence? When I open the fridge I see it and think of you.

But I haven't been able to use your hint on learning French through songs. My grip on French just isn't strong enough to understand the lyrics I hear, let alone learn grammar. I was totally lost with "Jupe en laine" even though I know what a jupe is. Who would have thought somebody would write a song about a wool skirt? I still don't know if Julien Clerc is up late worrying about his wife, lover, or daughter.

One of my problems as a perennial French learner is that I can't always tell, in the stream of speech, where words stop and start. Another is that words I've pronounced to myself aren't pronounced that way by French people.

I can make a fool of myself only a few words into a sentence, whenever I stop to consider the gender of a noun or the tense of a verb. It doesn't stop me from talking in France, and I'm always impressed by the politeness and patience of most French people when dealing with somebody like me who is language-challenged.

I'll be learning French for a long time.

Back to music. A couple of times I heard on France Bleu a cover of Riding on the City of New Orleans sung in French, kind of bluegrassy if I recall correctly. I’d like to know who sings it but Google hasn’t helped.

Ellen said...

The same is true of lyrics in English. I used to use songs when I taught English. You can't understand the lyrics and if you find them on the Internet and read them, they're just as corny as this. This is why, for learning French, I love Laurent Voulzy and Alain Souchon -- although they have only just recorded an album together, they have been a music (Voulzy) and lyrics (Souchon) team for over 40 years. Most of the time you can understand the words, especially if it's Voulzy singing, and the poetry is usually wonderful. Souchon slurs a bit more and sings at a faster clip. Also, for French, Maxime Leforestier. Ken has written about him. So have I (http://ellenlebelle.blogspot.fr/search/label/Maxime%20Le%20Forestier)

Ellen said...

Could it have been Roch Voisine: http://www.musictory.fr/musique/Roch+Voisine/City+Of+New+Orleans?

Ken Broadhurst said...

I think it's Joe Dassin's song: Salut les amoureux ! The refrain says "on s'est aimé comme on se quitte..." Yes, a City of New Orleans cover. City of New Orleans was a Steve Goodman (Chicago songwriter/sinder of the 1970s). The first year I lived in Illinois, near Champaign, I had a little house/apartment that was not more that 100 yards from the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks, where the City of New Orleans passed every day on its way between Chicago and N.O. Arlo Guthrie covered Goodman's song and made it famous nationwide (and beyond, I guess).

Roch Voisine is a Canadian singer whose songs are good. He sings in French and in English. His City of N.O. cover seems to be just in English. I don't know if there's a French version that he sings.

As for pronunciation and comprehension of the French language, it's true that discreet words are not the fundamental building block of spoken French. While English is spoken mostly as a series of separate words, French is spoken as a series of phrases or "breath groups". Words in such word groups blend into each other by elision (s'il instead of si il, etc., and little like English contractions such as can't and don't) and, especially, liaison (les-z-uns et les-z-autres, un-n-acteur, un grand-t-homme, il est-t-arrivé, etc.). French words flow into each other while English words stay isolated.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I agree about Souchon and Voulzy. I feel like I grew up with them. I remember going to see the two of them perform at L'Olympia in 1978 or early 1979. And Maxime Le Forestier, I certainly grew up with him. He has a honeyed voice and has written so many great songs.

Back in the '70s, pre-Internet, I spent a lot of time transcribing songs like these to try to figure out what they meant. You couldn't just look up the lyrics. Brassens, Moustaki. Hardy, Gall, Berger, De Palmas, Montand, Patachou, Piaf... the list is endless. I love Laurent Voulzy's songs on the album entitled Caché Derrière, including Le Pouvoir des Fleurs, Le Rêve du Pêcheur, Paradoxal Systéme, and the title song Caché Derrière. And also his earlier song Le Soleil Donne.

Seine Judeet (Judith) said...

I hear ya (no pun intended). And, with lyrics so readily available online, the comprehension is much faster. It changes everything if you can see the lyrics the first few times you hear the song.
With this in mind, when I ran across this song (by "Black M")-- which is much more up my students' alley-- I went in search of the lyrics. And... look at the mess of grammar mistakes I found! Every version I found had these mistakes or more. I know that one could, then, use this as a teachable moment, but I don't like the kids to have errors in front of their faces throughout a whole lesson. Poo!

In 1981, we all went to a taping of Eddy Mitchell for a radio show, I think -- probably you organized it? Did Walt go? Do you remember? I probably remind you of this any time you bring up Eddy M. :)

Carolyn said...

Ellen and Ken, thanks. It wasn't Roch Voisine though I do like his version. Ken, I could look at Joe Dassin's hairstyle all day but the version I heard, only twice, was more bluegrass than sweet pop.

I think City of New Orleans is THE great American song. I'd be happy to hear other opinions.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Is this the one, Carolyn?

Christelle Berthon

Ken Broadhurst said...

And do you know the original version?

Steve Goodman

Dean France said...

Hi, Ken. Actually, Eddy Mitchell appeared on stage just this past November at Bercy, along with Johnny Hallyday and Jacques Dutronc. The show ( «Les Vieilles Canailles») was billed as "Un Rat Pack à la française".
The station I love listening to, Chante France, frequently plays their classic songs.

Evelyn said...

Just thinking about The City of New Orleans makes me feel about 20 again! I lived in Nashville six years and picked up a liking for country music. Saw Johnny Cash and June Carter once when they had their tv show downtown. Willie Nelson sings the City of New Orleans well.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Dean, do you also listen to Nostalgie Chansons Françaises? All French music all the time. Get it on TuneIn Radio.

I had a chance to go hear Eddy M. sing at Bercy in 1997, but for a bunch of reasons I passed it up, and I'll always regret it.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Judy, I don't remember that Eddy M. event so I guess I wasn't involved. Tant pus pour moi.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I went to a huge Johnny Cash concert in Champaign IL in the mid '70s. It was fun. Elvis performed there around the same time, but I missed that one.

Funny coincidence: the other day, examining all the nooks and crannies of my "new" Citroën, what did I find in a little side pocket of the car's trunk but a forgotten CD of Johnny Cash's greatest hits. Makes me really wonder who the car's previous owner was.

Carolyn said...

Thanks for sticking with this, Ken. Still no dice. I liked Christelle Berthon's version, but it's not as simple as the version I remembered (okay, maybe at this point I should say mis-remembered).

The Steve Goodman original is my favorite because it's so straightforward.

I officially give up.



The Beaver said...

Ken

The French version of Roch Voisine is " Salut les Amoureux " IIRC

Ken Broadhurst said...

Sorry we didn't find the version of the song that you are looking for.

Tim said...

Is it a car or a time-machine...?

Ken Broadhurst said...

The CD case had a price sticker in pounds sterling on it. Maybe there's a time distortion between the U.K. and the U.S.

Dean France said...

Hi, Ken. Yes, I also listen to Nostalgie Chansons Françaises, but normally with the myTuner app. There's nothing better than going out for a long walk on the trails around Seattle with music direct from France being piped into my headphones!
I really like Eddy's version of Burt Bacharach's song, "Always something there to remind me" (or "Il y a toujours un coin qui me rappelle" in the French version). As you remember, the band, Naked Eyes, had a big hit with that song in the early 1980's.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Dean, do you know the song you mention sung as a duo by Aaron Neville and Eddy Mitchell. I just found it on YouTube.

Tim said...

"time distortion between the U.K. and the U.S.".....
not forgetting France...
why £s.... it gets stranger...
cue deep dum-dum-dumty-dum music with a synthesiser making wah-wahs in the background...
it is another Mouldy&Skuller moment.

Tim said...

The Truth IS in the Glove Compartment.....

Evelyn said...

You bought that car in a fever hotter than a pepper sprout lol! I just saw a couple of youtubes of June and Johnny singing that song. The first one I googled showed them young and dressed for Sunday School it looked like- the later ones showed long hair and such. Can't get over your finding Johnny hidden in your new car.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I copied that Johnny Cash disk into our iTunes library (discotheque?) today. I aready had all the tracks anyway. I'm going to take the CD back to the dealer who sold me the Citroën. He's in touch with the Citroën's previous owner, so he can give the CD back to the person it belongs to.

I went on a fast drive in the Peugeot this morning, on curvy roads thru the vineyards. It was fun. The car runs great.

Autolycus said...

When I was at school, vocab learning wasn't exactly harmed by trying to keep up with the French hit of the day - Françoise Hardy (but Petula Clark's Que fais-tu là, Petula-a-a? was cheating a bit). More recently, I got very familiar with the dictionary trying to work out the lyrics of Fréhel's Tel qu'il est:
http://www.youtube.com/embed/J9FlGjcWIfQ