Have you ever heard these classic French songs?
The French musical scene counts a lot of artists, among them we find iconic French singers with classic French songs. They are important because they inspire French modern music. Whether you are from the United States, Brazil or Italy, you know these melodies and lyrics. Sometimes American artists hum those popular old French songs on TV shows when the presenter asks them what french song they know. And what about you ? I challenge you ! I have listed for you 10 famous French songs, tell me if you’ve already smiled or cried listening to them in the comments. French rock, French variety, Jazz… Press the button and close your eyes. Let yourself be captured by the vibrant french music scene.
1. La vie en rose by Edith Piaf – 1946
Edith Piaf was a Barbie girl, a precursor lol ! “Life in Pink” is a universal love french song everybody knows around the world. Feel lucky if someone sings it to you or puts on the song : there is a sweet message ! Lady GaGa also loves one of those classic French songs. Indeed, the nominated and winning artist to the Oscar, performed her jazzy version in the movie “A Star is Borned”. I discovered Emily Watts’ cover in her langage ; it’s a bird singing with its guitar. More recently, Ashley Park sings acapella La Vie en Rose in Emily In Paris, place des Vosges.
2. La Bohème by Charles Aznavour – 1966
He’s one of the French artists to have obtained his Star on the Walk of Fame in 2017 : the iconic Charles Aznavour ! The artist is my first contact with French songs. Music lessons were good in primary school. Americans have a lot of good choices because his repertoire is RICH ! Many songs are beautiful and classic French songs.
Let’s highlight “La Bohème”. Charles Aznavour sings Paris, the old Paris he knew. It’s a nostalgic song about Montmartre. I like the song because we have all known a place from our childhood or our adolescence that is no longer what it was yesterday. The song is timeless, covered by today’s artists as the French band L.E.J. Even without song lyrics, the melody conveys emotions to us ; thanks to the talentuous French violinist Adrien La Marca. Other artists have adapted the song into their language such as Gigliola Cinquetti (an italian singer).
3. Ne me quitte pas by Jacques Brel – 1959
Jacques Brel was living his songs with his heart and his body. He often gave chills to each of his interpretations. Everything was always very well measured. Back then, artists didn’t need to know how to write a song with ChatGPT. He was a singer and an excellent performer with magnificent lyrics. “Ne me quitte pas” is about a romantic breakup. I feel like crying when I listen to it, shedding a tear with every piano note. Faouzia used to sing pop music “Pu-pu-puppet” covered “Ne me quitte pas” for her fans on Youtube. Rob McKuen wrote his english version “If You Go Away” interpreted by Helen Merill ; I like the jazzy sound. About American artists, Nina Simone also sang “Ne me quitte pas” in French.
4. L’amour, l’amour, l’amour by Marcel Mouloudji – 1963
Who speaks better of love than Mouloudji ? His French love song is a tribute to this feeling and all the emotions it provides. What a beautiful description of Love with a big L. The instrumental has also become a classic one. It’s the perfect song to use in a romance movie… or a commercial !
In France, Intermarché (a French supermarket) has understood this. “L’amour, l’amour, l’amour” accompanies a very good script : a man falls in love with a cashier. He sees that she judges all the purchases he makes at the checkout. For her, he will better select his products and learn to cook (I added the video). With little dialogue, everything goes through the images and the song. This ad breathed new life into Marcel Mouloudji’s song.
Bon entendeur created a remix of this French song making this track a piece of modern French music. Salut Salon, a band from Hamburg, Germany, also did their acoustic cover. I find it very beautiful with the choirs.
5. L’amour est un oiseau rebelle by Maria Callas – 1961
Let’s change register with French opera ! And yes, this famous French song has its place in the list. Written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, composed by Georges Bizet (inspired by “El Arreglito” by Sebastián Yradier) and sung by Maria Callas, “L’Amour est un oiseau rebelle” is taken from the comic opera, Carmen. The lyrics tell about the complexity of love ; if you try to catch it, it escapes you but if you don’t, it can come to you. It’s unpredictable like a rebellious bird. Here, Maria Callas has an amazing stage presence. It must have been a pleasure to see her in person.
Nowadays we know another bird or rather knew. You know the blue one called Twitter ! Stromae reworked the text and created a modern French song. The instrumental arranges the melody with a strange synth sound. The atmosphere is both disturbing and dancing. A stroke of genius as Stromae knows how to do.
Do you wanna dance ? If you don’t have enough with Stromae, listen to this French pop version by the British singer Claudillea. What a beautiful music video ! I love the beginning ; it’s astonishing, anchored in our contemporary era.
6. Sympathique by Pink Martini – 1999
China Forbes knows how to sing in French ! Often credited to Edith Piaf, this famous French song comes from the United States ! What a surprise ! “Sympathique” has become a classic one. The Pink Martini’s bet is successful. Maybe it’s due to the musicality reminiscent of post-war songs ?
Usually, French singers write English songs ; this time China Forbes proves the opposite. She was inspired by a poem by Appolinaire. Her lyrics match and work with the composition ! “Sympathique” is a phenomenon, used in ads but also in demonstrations by French strikers.
This French song is great for waking up before going to work (“Je ne veux pas travailler”) although the lyrics make you want to stay in bed lol. Discover a live version below, it’s so sweet ! It stimulates creativity ; Ben l’Oncle Soul, a french singer from the late 2000s, also made the song his own. “Sympathique” is also a beautiful piano piece !
7. Les Moulins de mon cœur by Michel Legrand – 1987
First written by Marilyn and Alen Bergman, composed by Michel Grand and sung by Noel Harrison for the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair“, the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” had its French version “Les Moulins de mon cœur” adapted by Eddy Marnay (lyrics) and by Michel Legrand himself (voice). The original version won a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 1969.
This song is one of my favorite French songs. Why ? Because the text is beautiful ! Well thought out, each element mentioned is circular (round in the water, merry-go-round) and is an allegory of love and life. Everything begins, everything ends and everything starts again. It is pleasant to read and recite it like a poem. The music makes it a masterpiece.
It’s a windmill that never stops spinning ! Juliette Armanet performed it at the Cannes Film Festival. What a beautiful French piano song ! It’s such a sweet and fitting cover. And it does not stop there ! Barbara Pravi and Clara Luciani, French female singers making modern French music, also play it in concert with their personal touch. They bring a new dimension to the famous French song.
8. Allumer le feu by Johnny Hallyday – 1998
Here we love French rock music ! “Allumer le feu” by Johnny Hallyday is one of his most inspirational songs that keep you motivated for life. It’s the Power of Music ! When you think about the French Legend’s career, everyone has the classic French song in mind, regardless of generation.
The message is to let go ! The French rock song brings us all together. It teaches us to overcome our differences with music. The lyrics play with a lot of images ; we find a list of actions to be carried out ! Johnny Hallyday has a unique voice from elsewhere and this song sounds like an order from heaven. I promised variety in my and your French music blog !
Little anecdote : the song “Brûler le feu” – “Burn fire” by Juliette Armanet is a nod to the French artist. I also like Louane’s cover of “Allumer le feu” with her pianist and the indie version by the French band Brigitte.
9. Je l’aime à mourir by Francis Cabrel – 1979
It’s a French song that everyone knows “Je l’aime à mourir”. Added in extremis in his album “Les chemins de traverse”, the French love song is a huge triumph for the artist. Indeed, it’s with “Je l’aime à mourir” that he appears to be to the general public in France, his previous album having been a failure.
This is a perfect description of unconditional love. And Shakira noted it ! Before her revenge song against Gérard Piqué, she sang love with her spanish version. You can find her live from Paris on Youtube. What a great performance ! Happy to know that she’s one of the artists who sang in French !
Although repetitive, the chords are effective and I get carried away, what about you ? I discovered a French cover by MOGGY to the piano if you don’t like guitar. It’s also really exceptional to see you doing your own covers! So I share XF Juan ; congratulations on your French, I love your interpretation of “Je l’aime à mourir”.
10. Djadja by Aya Nakamura – 2018
I made you a promise with my and your French music blog: to tell you about modern French music ! I can’t miss Aya Akanamura and “Djadja“. The whole planet danced to the French hit, from Rihanna to Madonna and her daughters. She is the French star discovered at the end of the 2010s. Sometimes criticized for the words she uses in her songs (her jargon), she does not care about her detractors ; she doesn’t say anything bad, but the French public isn’t used to it. Many parodies have emerged ! Aya Nakamura leaves no one indifferent and that’s what’s good.
“Djadja” is about a liar who talks badly about girls. The young woman has character and rebels against him. Why this success and how did it become a classic French song? It happened at the right time, it makes you dance and it’s something new. Honestly, after reflection Aya Nakamura is a unique french artist. It’s not like Louane of whom we can say “it’s the France Gall of her generation“.
And one success hides another one with Bilal Hassani who gained popularity thanks to his cover of “Djadja” on Youtube. The young man assumes his femininity to the point of dressing as a woman, an example for people who dare not show themselves as they would like.
Internationally, Aya Nakamura collaborated with Colombian artist, Maluma, British artist, Afro B. and Swiss artist, Loredana on this song. But what is her secret? The hits don’t stop “Pookie“, “Copines“, “Jolie nana“, “Doudou“… What will be the next famous French song ?
And of course there are still many other famous French songs ! Share your discoveries or the French songs that seem unforgettable to you in the comments ! Why not add them to the list for future readers? New songs will appear in the next articles. Stay tuned !