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French Pop Song of the Week: 1969 French Hit in the U.S.

posted July 27, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music translation world literature

In the summer of 1967 American songwriter Paul Anka was visiting France. One day, as the story goes, Anka, already a huge success in the United States, was glancing at a television, and by chance he saw the French pop star Claude François singing “Comme d’habitude” (”As Always”), which had just been released. Taken by the melody, Anka found an album of Claude François’s, returned to the United States, and eventually wrote English lyrics for the song. The words are those of a man reflecting on life at the end of his career, and Anka wrote them with Frank Sinatra and Sinatra’s image in mind. In 1969 Sinatra released Anka’s English version, called “My Way.”

Thus were the origins of one of the most successful pop songs in American history. Popularized by Frank Sinatra, “My Way” has since been recorded by more than a thousand other singers. But as explained on this French television program, in France it wasn’t initially a big hit for Claude François, who cowrote the song with Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibaut. The French lyrics are also completely different, expressing a weary routine in a relationship.

Below is a video of Claude François and Mireille Mathieu singing “Comme d’habitude” in 1973. By this time even Elvis had a version of “My Way.” François and Mathieu end this short version of the song with lines from Anka’s English lyrics.

Following the video is a translation of the original French song. (For a video in which Claude François sings all the French lyrics, click here.)

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French Pop Song of the Week: Apollinaire’s “Le Pont Mirabeau”

posted April 9, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in authors music poetry translation world literature


Although poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) is not a pop lyricist, the words to one of his best-known poems, “Le Pont Mirabeau” (”The Mirabeau Bridge”), were put to music by Marc Lavoine, pictured above on the cover of his CD titled simply Marc Lavoine (2001). “Le Pont Mirabeau,” the first track on the CD, is a bridge in Paris that spans over the Seine River. Apparently Apollinaire had to walk over the bridge to get to the home of painter Marie Laurencin, his girlfriend from 1907 to 1912. It is also the bridge where poet Paul Celan likely killed himself in 1970. His body was found miles downstream.

Below is Lavoine, since the 1980s a successful French actor and crooner, singing “Le Pont Mirabeau.”

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French Pop Song of the Week: “Mon amie la rose”

posted March 31, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music poetry world literature


As another hint of the upcoming books under our own imprint, we are starting today the French Pop Song of the Week. Writers live in the bubble of their own language, landscape, and culture. While waiting in a grocery store line or taking an escalator in a department store, French writers hear songs that Americans or Brits, for example, would not recognize. French music influences French writers, whether they wish it or not, just as growing up by a sea washes a permanent tint over a person’s sensibility.

There are a fair number of French singers who imitate Anglo styles, which is not surprising, as American and British music dominates the market in much of the world. But the French have tenaciously clung to music in their own language. Since 1994 at least 40 percent of songs on French radio stations have by law been required to be in French, and sales of French music in France, though varying from year to year, usually do not stray far from the percentage heard on the radio.

Is there anything distinctive about French pop music? Listening to the radio, I usually know before someone begins singing if the song is Anglo or French. The range of French pop is too broad to generalize, but there is often a romantic, epic, though ambivalent quality that settles in your spirit in some notable French way.

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Comparing Covers of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

posted May 6, 2009

Posted by Anne Healey in book design

Speaking of Europa and their big hit The Elegance of the Hedgehog . . . It’s interesting to compare how a book’s cover design varies from country to country. For instance, here are, from left to right, the U.S., U.K. hardcover, and French editions:


hedgehog-us  hedgehog-uk  hedgehog-france1 


I was used to seeing the U.S. version (published by Europa), so the more staid U.K. cover (published by Gallic Books) surprised me. I like it — it’s fitting that the wrought-iron design evokes the lobby of an older, upscale building, because the book’s about a girl’s friendship with a concierge. But it’s not super-obvious at first — it could just seem like an abstract design. And the French cover couldn’t get any more French than this. (Full disclosure: I’ve been blogging about French things, and I’m a bit of a francophile, but I don’t speak French!) It’s the classic off-white cover that in France signifies Literature With A Capital “L.” Indeed, it’s part of Gallimard’s venerable Collection Blanche, founded 98 years ago. Francois Luong gave an insightful analysis of the French book aesthetic on his blog last year–check it out. Merci, Francois! 

While I’m at it, here are the Spanish and Japanese editions. thinks that the Spanish translates to English as “The Elegance of the Sprocket Wheel.”


 hedgehog_spanish  hedgehog-japan