Holiday playlist - 30 top modern French songs

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best french musicThis playlist of the top 30 French songs is a great way to kick off your holiday in France this summer. Hopefully you will have come across some of the songs, but maybe some of the French singers will be new to you. The playlist features French and Canadian artists such as Christophe Mae, Manu Chu and a fabulous French rock band called BB Brunes.

Sorry, there is no Dance music (Daft Punk or David Guetta), Hip Hop or Metal (mainly because as an old Mod, this music leaves me absolutely cold). I have quite an eclectic taste in music (I think), although my wife sums it up as 'shit music'. I do prefer artists who write their own music and I am a sucker for a distinctive voice. There are some notable absentees on this French music playlist which which will leave any French native absolutely aghast. But I wanted to limit the playlist to around 1 hour. So apologies in advance all French people, but there is no Indochine, Air, Mano Negra (although the lead singer Mano Chao is included), and certainly no Jean Michel Jarre or Johnny Halliday. 

Also, I have to admit that I don't get a lot of French music. A lot of it is heavily lyric based and I think if you are not a native French speaker, the references can pass you buy. In addition, the image of French music as dominated by guys strumming a gutar and singing in a Gaulloise rasping voice is unfortunately not to far wide of the mark. My good friend Xavier has tried in vein to convert me, but I think he has finally admitted defeat. There is one Johnny Halliday song that I like (Allumer le Feu) and there are a couple of beautiful songs by Georges Brassens.

I have taken this choice of 30 songs from my own Youtube playlist (30 French songs) that I always stick on when I am writing articles. I have added the songs over the last 5-6 years. There is no real theme or particular style of music, it is just what I have picked up over the years. The list is in no particular order.

You can access the full playlist here: 30 Modern French songs

 

 

30. Joyce Jonathan - Ça Ira

This is a pure unabashed happy song. It was played a bit to death on the radio in France about 5 years ago, but I still like it.

Joyce Jonathan is a bit of an modern internet sensation. She uploaded some songs to MySpace when she was just 16 and then it all went a bit mad for her. An album followed when she was just 18 (produced by the guitarist of the famous French rock band Telephone) and that went to #1 in the French charts (and gold within 6 months). 

Her songs have featured on a number of TV shows, including Gossip Girl. This particular song was released in 2013 and it won her the NRJ Music Awards for best female singer and best song.

It is easy to dismiss Joyce Jonathan as just a pop singer, but she does have very clever and funny lyrics.

 

 

 

 

29. Telephone - Un autre monde

This is very old school French rock. You cannot underestimate how massive Telephone were in the 1980s in France. They were the alternative French rock group that led a break away from the, frankly, terrible French music on the 1970s. There is not a house party in France that does not get going without Telephone being put on. Well certainly the house parties that we go to.

I can't say that I am a massive fan of Telephone myself. But if I created a playlist of the Top 30 French songs and I didn't include this, then there certain French friends of ours that wouldn't speak to us again!

 

 

 

 

 

28. Tryo - L'hymne de nos campagnes

If you are coming to France then you need a song which is a.) clearly French in sound; b.) you have no idea what they are singing about; and c.) as catchy as hell. This song hits the spot on all 3.

Although you won't pick it up on this particular song, Tryo are actually a French Ska-Reggae band, playing mainly acoustic songs. Normally, I am not a big fan of white guys singing reggae, but I make an exception with Tryo. They grew up in a rough part of Paris and their songs are politically charged, in a similar fashion to The Beat and The Specials - 2 great Two-Tone bands from the UK in the early 80s.

You don't need to understand what they are singing about, but if you are curious, it goes something like this:

"If you were born in a housing estate I dedicate you this poem

Hoping that the bottom of your dull eyes

You can see a little blade of grass

And the man must make the difference

It is high time to take a break

To trade this morose life

Against the perfume of a rose

{Chorus:} This is the hymn of our countryside. Of our rivers, of our mountains. Of the life of man, of the animal world"

 

27. Inna Modja - C'est La Vie

I love this upbeat track. Inna Modja comes from Bamako in Mali, a former French colony. She had a big hit in France in 2011 with a song called French Cancan. She is largely unknown outside of France and Mali, which is a real shame.

Growing up in Mali, she had quite a varied musical background, covering everything from her father's old soul records (Ray Charles and Otis Redding) as well as female Jazz singers (Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan). Her brothers were into Trash Metal and Hip Hop and her mother encouraged her to sing in the local Church choir. She was also a neighbour of the famous Malian musician, Salif Keita, and she sang for a time with his Jazz Swing group.

She writes all her own songs and she has managed to create a Disco/Soul/Swing sound, which captures a lot of her early influences.

 

 

 

26. Opa Tsupa - Les deux Guitares 

Whenever I hear this song I think of Absinthe. A scruffy little cafe on the Left Bank. Two destitute musicians playing for their lunch. And the barman cleaning all the glasses at the bar. This song has elements of Dr Zhivago,  Django Reinhardt and Jean de Florette rolled into one. If anything conjures up an image of life in Paris in the 1920s and 30s, it is this song.

Opa Tsupa were a 5 piece band composed of guitarists, mandolin players, a violinist, double bass and banjo player. Although all the members of the band were from France, they did have a strong Gypsy and Balkan music influence.

I just love the way the song starts off slow and then picks up towards the finale. 

 

 

 

 

25. Corneille- Parce qu'on vient de loin

This guy has an amazing voice. He was born and raised in Rwanda and at the age of 17 he witnessed his parents and siblings being assassinated (his father was a politician). He then escaped Rwanda for Germany, before moving to Quebec.

This song dates back to 2002 and was popular in France at the time. The title of the song translates as "Because we come from afar" and is basically about his life as an orphan and an immigrant.

 

 

 

 

 

24. Superbus

Superbus is a five-piece French band formed around the charismatic Jenn Ayache on lead vocals. Ayache, is the daughter of a famous French actress (Chantal Lauby) 

Superbus released their first album in 2002 and they have picked up a series of European music awards. They have so far released 5 albums.

This particular song was released in 2009. I think it has echoes of Telephone.

 

 

 

 

 

23. Rose - Ciao Bella

Ciao Bella is a song taken from the first album of the French singer-songwriter, Rose. This was the first CD that I bought in France. Rose was born and raised in Nice, but she later studied to be a lawyer and then became a teacher in Paris. However, she continued to write and perform songs in small venues. She released the song La Liste in France in 2006 and it just went huge. An album followed, which went to #5 in the French charts and then her career took off.

I think what I liked about it was that for someone who was struggling to learn French at the time, it was quite easy to pick out the lyrics and understand what the songs were about. 

 

 

 

22. Malted Milk - Brand New Man

Malted Milk play quite an eclectic mix of Soul, Funk and Jazz. I really love the Brass work on this song. This particular song has a real old Soul feel about it and the guitar reminds me a bit of Robert Cray. There is another artist that they really remind me of, but I can't think who it is. It will come to me.

Originally from Nantes,Malted Milk originally started off playing old-style Blues music. But they later developed this into more of a Jazz-Soul-Funk style. 

The band are almost constantly on the road and they are really popular at the summer Jazz festivals circuit in France: Nice, Mirebel, Vienne, Jazz à Luz, Marciac and Jazz à Juan.

 

 

 

21. Luke - Soledad

Well, you've got to have a bit of punk on a playlist. This is a great track to play when you are getting ready for a night out or if you are going for a run. Luke is a French rock band from the South-West of France in Aquitaine.

They enjoyed a bit of success in France on the back of an Alternative Rock scene in the late 90s. This tune was released in 2004. I think that there is a bit of the Buzzcocks about them.

The 'God' of French rock music, Johnny Halliday, once complained that the French language was not suited to rock music because it was difficult to bend it and shorten the expressions to fit the melody. Well, I beg to differ, I think this track just does it perfect. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the Top 20-10 French rock songs:


 

 

20. Alcest - Autre Temps

I have included this song for 2 reasons. Firstly, the band are local boys, coming from a town up in the Cevennes mountains (Bagnols-sur-Cèze), just an hour north of where I live. The second reason, is that both musically and lyrically, it is just brilliant.

Alcest are actually a French metal band and I have to say that their other stuff leaves me cold. But this song hits the spot. When I say that this is probably one of their light, more upbeat tracks, then you get a good idea what their other stuff is like.

This song was released in 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

19. Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains - La Fille Aux Cheveux de Soie

This is such a beautiful song that I had to include it in the playlist. Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains are a French/British band operating out of Bristol in the UK and Brussels in Belgium. The band is led by François Marry, who used to play with Camera Obscura.

The band have released 3 albums all of which have been praised by the music critics. This particular song was released in 2014 from the album Piano Ombre. The song title translates as the "The girl with the silk hair". 

 

 

 

 

 

18. Stuck in the Sound - Tender

Stuck in the Sound is a French indie band from Paris. I wouldn't say that they have been majorly successful in France, but this record did get a lot of airplay. I just love the singer's voice.

A lot of their other stuff is more in the mode of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden - grunge-sort-of-music. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17. Sidoine - On Ne Vit Qu'Une Fois

Sidoine actually took part in the French version of the Pop Idol TV Show (Star Academy). He was eliminated in the semi-finals. But unlike most of the other contestants, he did have some relative success with this song he released in 2013. I think it is quite catchy. I saw a comment on YouTube which said that he was the French Harry Styles, which I think sums him up perfectly. Possibly a one-hit-wonder? But you never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. Malajube - Luna

Maljube are actually from Montreal, Quebec. They sing purely in French, yet they became one of very few Quebec bands who achieved success in the rest of Canada.

If you watch the video to this song it is actually quite dark and depressing, as well as pretty surreal. It starts off with a girl looking at a homeless guy lying in the street and ends up with a synchronized swimming display and then the homeless man (who turns out to be a life guard saving her from drowning. Watch it if you don't believe me.

But I really like the melody on this song. I can't really compare to anything else I have heard.

 

 

 

 

 

15. Rose - la liste

This was the first CD that I bought in France. When we arrived it was on the radio all the time and you just found yourself singing along to it. To me it is a typical French song. But I really like her voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 14. Monogrenade - Ce soir

I really don't know anything about this band except that they are another band from Quebec. I don't think that they are still together. But is a lovely song

 

 

 

 

 

 

13. Renan Luce - La lettre

I don't think that you could get a more French sounding song if you tried. Acoustic guitar, rasping vocals, complex lyrics - but it is great to listen to.

It is no surprise that Renan Luce counts Georges Brassens and Bob Dylan as his greatest influences. He was brought up in Brittany, but then went to study in Toulouse (at the same University where my eldest son is now studying). He then moved to Paris and started getting support slots on a number of tours.

This song was released in 2006 and is probably one of his more famous songs.

 

 

 

 

 

 12. Ben L'Oncle Soul - Petite Soeur

This has got a great Motown feel about it (and he is actually signed to Motown Records). The singer has a really good voice. He originally started off in a Gospel group and he got his name because he used to wear bow ties all the time and his friends thought that he looked like the guy on the Uncle Ben' Rice box.

Ben L'Oncle has played at all the major Jazz festivals in Europe, as well as the Montreal Jazz festival. He is also a regular on the Jools Holland show in the UK.

He also does a great soul version of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. 

 

 

 

 

 

11. Carla Bruni - Quelqu'un m'a dit

This is Carla Bruni, as in wife of the former French President. I have no idea how she ended up with him. She is a former model, about 7 foot tall and at the time a good song-writer. Unfortunately, for the both of them their marriage seemed to but both their careers on a downward spiral. Sarkozy started off his Presidency in a blaze of positive initiatives and I had high hopes that he would make France much more business-focused. But he seemed to just run out of energy. Maybe having a stunning wife 20 years his junior was just too much. I remember saying to a friend of mine, Olivier, how disappointed I was in Sarkozy. He just shrugged and stated in a matter of fact way that the reason was that "He was up all night shagging". There was not doubt about is. This was not an hypothesis, but a clear statement of fact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the Top 10-1 modern French songs:


10. Guillaume Grand - Toi et moi

I just love the video to this song. This song was released in 2010 from Guillaume Grand's debut album and it went to #4 in France. I really don't know much about him and he doesn't seem to have done much since his first album. But this is a really lovely song and I like his voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Vanessa Paradis - Divine Idylle

Yes, confession time. I have loved Vanessa Paradis ever since the days of Joe le Taxi. I think that it is the gap in her teeth and come to bed eyes. But this is one of her later songs from 2007 and it is an absolute belter. Even if you don't like Vanessa Paradis, you will soon be humming along to this song. She released the song just midway through her relationship with Johnny Depp. 

The song and the album won her the Best French female artist award in 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Joyce Jonathan - Je ne sais pas

Another very attractive French singer. Pattern emerging!!! This is the second Joyce Johnathan song on the playlist. Yep, guilty as charged. This was the song that made her really big in France. It catapulted her from a relative unknown singer-songwriter to the premier league, almost overnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Cali - Elle m'a dit

Cali is very big in France. He does have an interesting background. He actually played professional rugby for Perpignan, but he quit that after seeing U2 in concert. His first band were a punk group called  Pénétration anale - which really doesn't need any translation at all. But he comes from the small spa town of Vernet-les-Bains (where the local population has an average age of 106). So can you imagine the band playing at the local bar? " . . . everybody put your hands together for the local boys, Anal Penetration!!!" 

This isn't one of his more famous songs, but I really like it. It came out in 2003 when he released his first solo album (whatever happened to Pénétration anale ?). He is a very good live performer - lots of stagediving, getting the audience singing along, slagging off French politicians, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Kyo - Le Graal

Kyo are another popular band in France. They have had a couple of #1 albums in France and they have won plenty of French music awards for Best French Band and Best Album of the year. They were also instrumental in setting up a popular AIDS/HIV charity which has really endeared them to the French public.

To me they remind me a bit of The 1975. This song is from their comeback album in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Zaz - Demain c’est toi

The French singer, Zaz, is absolutely huge in France. This is not one of her most famous songs, but I think it is a beautiful song. It doesn't matter what language it is sung in. You still get the sense that it is a poem to a young unborn child. Zaz, is a French singer-songwriter who mixes jazzy styles, French variety, soul and acoustic. She has an amazing jazz voice, perhaps demonstrated best on her first hit 'Je veux' which is another great song.

For a few years she sang with a variety of Blues and Jazz bands,  as well as touring with a musical theatre group. She released her first album in 2010 (which went double platinum) and since then she has had a string of Top 10 albums and toured extensively throughout Europe.

 

 

 

 

4. Christophe Maé - On S'Attache

Whenever my wife catches me watching videos of Joyce Jonathan or Vanessa Paradis, she makes it perfectly clear that she will be leaving me for Christophe Maé. There is no 'might' about it, this is a definite 'will' be leaving you for Christophe. This particular song brings back such fond memories of a great French friend of ours. Cynthia has a great singing voice and her version of this song is just as good as the original.

The song also reminds us so much of our second summer in France. The song was played wherever you went, especially at the beach bar in Cap d'Agde we used to go to. He has a lovely voice and he is a local boy (to us). He grew up in Carpentras, near Avignon.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Manu Chao - Me gustas tu

Manu Chao is THE Alternative French artist in France. He was the lead singer of the hugely successful French band, Mano Negra. His family is originally from Northern Spain, and they left Spain during Franco's dictatorship. Manu Chao sings in a variety of languages including French, Spanish, English, Italian, Catalan, Portuguese and Greek.

Manu Chao was brought up in Paris and started his musical career busking on the streets and subway. He formed Mano Negra with his brother and for 5 years they toured extensively throughout Europe and the States and were a mainstay of the festivals and University touring circuit.

His later music is heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban music and his travels throughout South America.

 

 

 

2. Totorro - Chevalier Bulltoe

This is a bit of a strange choice. Totorro are a French band from Rennes, in Brittany. The  band purely play instrumentals - which makes it great not having to translate the lyrics.

They remind me a bit of Two Door Cinema Club or Bombay Cycle Club. There is no doubting that they are great musicians and the video to this song is really clever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. BB Brunes - Dis Moi 

BB Brunes are my absolutely favourite French rock band. I first heard this song when I arrived in France in 2006 and I never tire of listening to it. Just from the opening chord sequence you know that it is going to be a classic song. I just love the heavy bass and the infectious chorus, it is just a great rock song. It could be sung in any language and it would be a hit. The simple guitar work reminds me a bit of the Violent Femmes or the Stray Cats.

Amazingly, Dis-moi didn't even reach the charts in France (although the album it was taken from did reach #8 in the charts). Our French friends are amazed that we even know the song or have even come across BB Brunes. The song needs to be played loud and with a few drinks inside you.

 


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