French yé-yé singer Sylvie Vartan was born on August 15, 1944. Yé-yé (yay-yah) refers to the style of repeating that “yeah, yeah, yeah” filler in the choruses of early rock songs. Think of the Beatles “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Vartan’s family moved from Bulgaria to France the same year that she was born when Soviet tanks rolled in. The family lived in a single hotel room where her father, no longer an embassy attaché, worked to support them for several years. Music became teenage Sylvie’s obsession, especially Bill Haley and Elvis Presley.
She began to record with French rock ‘n roll musicians and then to do covers of American hits, such as “The Loco-Motion.” Along with her former husband, Johnny Hallyday, Vartan packed the house at all the major French concert halls. (The couple had a son, David, prior to their divorce.) She released 31 songs between 1962 and 1963 and 6 of those became top 20 hits in Europe. One of her biggest hits from this era was “La plus belle pour aller danser,” composed by Charles Aznavour.
Vartan’s variety show performances featured elaborately choreographed dance routines, with the singer attired in the pop-star uniform of the 60s of short skirts and go-go boots. Before her, singers didn’t sing and dance at the same time. She recorded for RCA, and next to Elvis, was their most successful artist, selling millions of albums. In the 70s, she tried her luck with disco-style hits such as “Qu-est-ce que fait pleurer les blondes?” (What makes blondes cry?”) that soared to the top of the charts.
Since the mid-80s, she’s led a much quieter life, emerging periodically to give a series of sold-out concerts in venues around the world. Her new recording style since 2004 is jazz ballads. Vartan was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 2009.
- Song of the Week: Comme un Garçon (alliancefrancaisedeharare.wordpress.com)