Sunday, February 10, 2013

French Retro Pop: Claude François

Claude François (1939--1978)
Imagine the daggiest thing of all time. Then double it. Then put it in a silver suit. Then add dancers! That’s the best way I can describe France’s 60s/70s national treasure Claude François, or “Cloclo” as he is better known to his throngs of adoring (now very old or dead) fans.

His hits are countless. His dance moves, unbeatable. And by “unbeatable”, I of course mean utterly insane. But having been thoroughly converted to the church of Cloclo during my time in France, I can confidently say there is no better way to kick off 2013 than with a little “Cette année-là”!

What’s that you say? This reminds you of another song? That’s because it IS another song! “Cette année-là” was first released by Frankie Valli and the Four Season as “Oh, What a Night”.

Cloclo referred to his dancers as
his “Claudettes”
But don’t you love Cloclo’s version oh so much more? (This is the part where you scream “OUI!” at your computer screen.) Me, I just love the fact that he’s taken a song about falling in love with a girl and written lyrics that describe his own apparently giddying ascent to fame and fortune. It’s just so awesomely irrelevant.

But The Clo was much more than just a fabulous dancer and a raging egomaniac. He was also a genuinely brilliant songwriter. Does this little number, entitled “Comme D’habitute” remind you of a certain Frank Sinatra tune?

Yes, it’s “My Way”! Did you know that Frank Sinatra was actually covering Cloclo’s original version? Neither did I. Funny that.

MJ and Cloclo, kings of the seventies!
Also funny that once again the lyrics of the French and English versiosns do not correspond at all! While Ol’ Blue Eyes’ track is about the indomitable human spirit triumphing over adversity, Claude’s is about a broken man in a loveless relationship that has virtually sapped him of the will to live. Indeed, the only way he knows how to exist is “comme d’habitude”. Way to depress everyone, Clo!

But CF was mostly known for his happy, toe-tapping, bottom-wiggling tunes, of which “Magnolias Forever” is a personal favourite. Although towards the end of his career (interrupted by Claude’s untimely and bizarre bathtub death at age 39), this performance of the chart-topping hit proves the man still had it! Wait till 2.06 to see him cut up the dancefloor like no French man you’ve ever seen!

The breathtaking Jérémie Renier plays
Cloclo in the movie of his life.
So why do I have such encyclopedic knowledge of this obscure French pop legend? Good question! In 2012, the film of Claude François’ life was released in France (sadly no sign of it in this year’s AF French Film Festival program).

The title? Simply Cloclo. The film? Simply one of the greatest dramas you will ever see. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll leave with a complete and unabridged knowledge of the man, the music, the legend, Claude François. To 2013!

Renier, a Belgian actor, is a Clo-clone! (2013 is also the year of terrible puns. Ahem.)

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