WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

French Swinging Mademoiselles special on Crayons to Perfume

Thanks to DJ GirlGroupGirl for inviting me to present my perspectives on the French Swinging Mademoiselles during two episodes of Crayons to Perfume, a weekly show featuring girl group sounds 1960-69 !!!

Katty Line

My show is called the Atomic Jukebox. Below are the texts that I read at the beginning of the shows, just for the record. The shows will appear live on the Ichiban stream, and then be archived. I will put links to the archives below when they are available. The archive pages include a full setlist. Thanks for listening !

Show 1 archive

Show 2 archive

I'm going to spotlight French 60s music. Its history is long and complicated, and its problems are numerous, so I am going to summarize. If you want the full story, buy me a drink some time.

You might hope I'm gonna do a show with some great 60s soul, R&B and garage from France. But I can't, because basically there isn't any. While Americans, and to a limited extent the British, were turning out tens of thousands of incredible records in the 60s, the French simply were not.

The explanations are long but boil down to, on one hand, control of the artists, media and record labels by a handful of people and corporations seeking to exploit a lame and uninformed public, and keep them that way, and on the other hand, a cultural impediment to rock n roll. Can you imagine Frank Sinatra doing a convincing reggae record ? No. Well, culturally speaking, and with a few exceptions, the French can't do rock n roll.

However, there was one thing they did do well, a certain category of female vocal music now known as the "Swinging Mademoiselle" style (with various spellings), a term coined by a certain Sasha Monett who put out a series of outstanding compilations with that name. At its best, this style is comparable to what would be called "pop music" in America, like Nancy Sinatra or Tom Jones, featuring a vocalist rather than a group, often with sappy orchestral accompaniment, often a bit precious or with a novelty angle, and very far from garage, soul or r&b. There is a lot of mediocre material, but a few remarkable records as well, and a very few that really stand out.

Thanks, in particular, to several excellent compilations, you have probably heard the handful of really brilliant pop hits that came out of France in the 60s. I'm going to go a little deeper today, in the Swinging Mademoiselle style, and I have some cool songs to play. But I'll be a little critical again and say that, while you may get excited and imagine that these songs are the tip of a fantastic iceberg of thousands of groovy tunes, I would say that's not the case. There are some more good ones, but not a whole lot.

Liz Brady

In the last episode I talked about some of the problems that affected French music in the 60s : cultural impediments, centralized control of the industry and the attraction of adapting Anglo-saxon hits rather than writing their own.

I mentioned that there are some excellent compilations available that feature the best of what the French produced in the 60s. The Swinging Mademoiselle series (3 volumes) is, of course, indispensable. Other compilations that feature the Swinging Mademoiselle sound you're hearing today include :
Girls in the Garage vol 10, 12
Pop à Paris vol 5
Ultra Chicks
Femmes de Paris
Ace C'est Chic! series (3 volumes)

If you are interested in other French 60s music, you can also check out
Gentlemen de Paris
Psychegaelic
Ils Sont Fous Ces Gaulois
Wizzz
Pop à Paris

And sorry if I came off as negative or sarcastic about the limited amount of good French 60s music, but it's simply the truth. There are perhaps 30 good compilations of French 60s music out there (counting both male and female vocals). My friends, who are literally the experts in the field, all agree that there is basically no good stuff left that's not on a compilation.

Another part of the French story is the Scopitone, a sort of jukebox that projected 16mm sound films that what we now realize were the precursor to video clips. This unreliable gadget came and went in 10 years, but they happened to be the right 10 years. With the imperative to fill the machines, the company filmed many of the French artists of the 60s. You can see them now on YouTube, and the 16mm reels have become collectible.



Jacqueline Taïeb

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