Considering the desire by reissue labels to help the average vinyl enthusiast be able to finally afford those gems from the past that would otherwise cost them a pair of appendages, it’s a wonder it took this long for someone to get around to bring the work of Françoise Hardy back into print.
Of all the female French pop stars that blossomed in the early-to-mid-’60s, Hardy had the largest crossover appeal. Some of that had to do with her earthy beauty that fit well alongside the rail-thin fashion icons of the day and helped secure her the adoration of pop icons like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. But what really translated across all borders was her voice. Her singing was as alluring as her contemporaries’ while standing apart from France Gall’s girly chirp and Sylvie Vartan’s kittenish purr. Hardy’s voice was melancholic and direct, evoking earth tones and autumn amid the primary-color pop art of the era. She didn’t have great range, but she used it so very well, evoking joy, sorrow and longing with only the slightest changes of inflection.
Combined with the understated arrangements that bore the influence of the chansons of her home country and the pop and R&B sounds arriving from across the Channel and the Atlantic, her voice and those looks turned Hardy into an international sensation right out of the gate. Her 1962 debut single “Tous le garçons et les filles” (“All The Boys & Girls”) was a huge hit throughout Europe, and has been covered dozens of times by everyone from Eurythmics to The Dresden Dolls. And it has kept modern audiences interested in her music as a pure representation of the ‘60s pop aesthetic, as well as a reminder of how the emotion of a song can still connect even when it’s sung in a foreign language.
All of that is present in these albums, the first five full-length recordings Hardy released in her native France that are being lovingly reissued by Light In The Attic. What these LPs also offer is a chance to track her rapid evolution as an artist, and to see how the forces of the pop marketplace came quickly to bear on her work.
It’s important to note up front that when Hardy recorded her first single and subsequent album Tous le garçons et les filles, she was not yet 18 years old. So while she co-wrote (with Roger Samyn) the music for all the original songs on the album, it reveals a musician that had yet to fully absorb her influences and make them her own. The spirited “Il est parti un jour” and “J’suis d’accord” are gentle carbon copies of Bill Haley and Buddy Holly singles, and the entire thing is driven by the crisp, round tones of what sounds like a sweetly reverbed hollow body electric guitar. The rather innocent feel to the music befits Hardy’s voice. Even as she bemoans her loneliness on the title track (“I walk the streets alone/the lost soul…I am alone/because nobody loves me”) and shakes her head at her fellow young people living like there’s no tomorrow in “Le temps de l’amour” (the song that Sam and Suzy dance to in Moonrise Kingdom), it’s with an almost flat affect that can be read as indifference or resignation depending on your mood that day.
Just one year later, with the release of follow-up album Le premier bonheur du jour, Hardy reveals exponential artistic growth. The short title track that kicks off the LP is moody and relies heavily on a string section, to which she responds with a heartbroken vocal turn tinged with an icy frustration. Even on the peppiest cuts on the disc, like the twistin’ “Toi, je ne t’oublierai pas” and “Nous tous,” Hardy sounds exhausted with either the pop star trip or the dull boys she’s singing about.
This album also puts added emphasis on songs that Hardy didn’t have a hand in writing. She ably tackles a Paul Anka deep cut and a tune by the soon-to-be superstar team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, as well as a batch written by her fellow countrymen. This decision could have come down to simple time management. After the success of her debut album, Hardy was much in demand for photo shoots, promotional appearances and even a film role. Chances are she had little time to sit down and knock out a few new tunes.
The move also felt like a capitulation to a marketplace that is much like the pop and country world of today, the one where performers are handed established hits or songs by proven hitmakers to sing. It says a great deal that, around the same time as her second LP, Hardy started recorded versions of her songs in Italian, German and English to better cater to her international audience.
Hardy stuck to that template for her following three albums, but the key difference with 1965’s L’amitie and 1966’s La maison où j’ai grande was her (or her record company’s) decision to record them both in the U.K. She was already a star in England thanks to her English-language recording of “All Over The World,” which stayed in the charts there for 15 weeks, so the doors were wide open for her arrival.
For her first British-recorded album, she worked with Charles Blackwell, a writer/arranger who helped craft the genius that is “What’s New, Pussycat?” and hits by Englebert Humperdinck and Shirley Bassey. He does similarly brilliant work on L’amitie, adding some Motown/Spector flair to “Non ce n’est pas un rêve” (a track he had already written and produced to great success for Samantha Jones), takes some pages from playbook of his mentor Joe Meek with the guitar rumble of “Je t’aime” and “Dis lui non,” and one-ups the sultry soundtrack work of John Barry on the instantly catchy “Le temps des souvenirs.” Hardy responds in kind with some of her best vocal work to date, sounding at once more direct and distant on the uptempo numbers, and becoming almost ethereal during the ballads. If there’s any one album to grab of these five reissues, this would be it.
What comes through above everything else, even on the moody autumnal folk of La maison où j’ai grande, is Hardy’s ineffable cool. That is what has made her face and music so iconically connected with the era in which she arrived. And it has kept people enamored with her work for over 50 years now, making these reissues long overdue but very, very welcome and worth losing your cool over.