When you hear the adjective “swinging”, it is almost always followed by “London”, but the British certainly didn’t have a monopoly on the vibrant youth culture of the 1960s. The French certainly played their part in the so-called youthquake. Before the decade had even begun, French new-wave directors had established a film genre as cool and rebellious as the new youth, full of good-looking characters, hip plots, and unusual cinematography. Popular music kept pace, as young French singers, informed by the rich tradition of French cabaret singers, American rock music, and English beat groups, incorporated those influences into a new sound known as yé-yé. Les années yé-yé, or the yé-yé years, were dominated by female singers like Françoise Hardy, France Gall, and Sylvie Vartan, but the new compilation Swinging Mademoiselles proves there were scores of others with varying degrees of talent and appeal.
Swinging Mademoiselles doesn’t contain music by the three best-known yé-yé singers, but instead features tracks by Jacqueline Taieb, Elizabeth, Christine Delaroche, Arlette Zola, Christine Pilzer, Clothide, Cosette, Delphine Desyeux, Jacqueline Perez, Katy David, Olivia, Stella, and Liz Brady. They’re a diverse bunch of women in terms of style and, judging from the small amount of information to be found on-line, in pedigree too. Brady is from the UK, Taieb was born in Tunisia, and Stella came from a Polish family. Pilzer and Clothide were visual artists as well as singers, while Delaroche was an actress. While Stella had a lengthy recording career, those of Elizabeth and Clothide were short-lived. Like Françoise Hardy, Taieb, Pilzer, Clothide, Cosette, and Perez were songwriters as well as vocalists.
It’s unfortunate that the insert of Swinging Mademoiselles doesn’t provide any information about these women, especially since they aren’t well known in the US. Judging by the copyright dates, the songs were released between 1966 and 1969. Some of the tracks are in the go-go style implied by the compilation’s title, but the collection is a lot more diverse than one might expect. While listening to the variety of tracks, including innocuously sexy go-go numbers and horn-filled lounge music, two famous American Nancys come to mind: Sinatra and Wilson. Tracks like Arlette Zola’s “Je Suis Folle de Tant T’Aimer” (loosely translated as “I Am Insane from Loving You So Much”) have an easy-listening vibe that recalls Wilson, so it is funny to hear, toward the compilation’s close, Katy David sing a French rendition of “Call Me” (here called “Plus Tard”). There is another French version of an English-language song, Lulu’s “I’m a Tiger”, rechristened “Je Suis la Tigresse”. A few other nods to American and British culture pop up, like when Jacqueline Taieb invokes lines from the Who’s “My Generation” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” on “7 Heures du Matin”, and Elizabeth’s mention of Steve McQueen on “Je Suis Sublime”.
Clothide serves up two different kinds of tracks, the baroque-pop “Saperlipopette” and “Et Moi, Et Toi, Et Soie”, which is musically akin to British invasion sound. Christine Delaroche’s “La Porte à Cote” is a melancholy ballad with spoken verses, while Elizabeth’s “Je Suis Sublime” is a silly bit of kitsch in which she coos about all the things she loves, not the least of which is herself. Among the best tracks is “Palladium (The Hip)” by Liz Brady, a dance song with a thick bass line, growling vocals, and crowd noises. Another is Stella’s “Pourquoi Pas Moi”, which, with its saxophone line and chorus of “yé-yé”, almost sounds like a leftover from the ‘50s. It’s a sweet, somewhat old-fashioned tune that would be well-suited to Françoise Hardy.
There are a few weak tracks on Swinging Mademoiselles, but all in all, it’s an engaging, fun listen. It’s just too bad that the packaging doesn’t reveal more about the artists and the movement of which they were a part.