NOTES ON THE FRANGLAIS SONG MASTER LIST
By Benedict Sinister
Like many musicians I am a gentleman ethnomusicologist and music historian. In developing my own bilingual English/French song “Ne dramatise pas (16 Lines From Bryan Ferry)” I decided to educate myself on songs with lyrics combining French and English, in order to more deeply understand the cultural phenomenon to which I was contributing, before coming out as bilingual myself.
When I started the project of exploring English/French bilingual songs, I could think of around thirty. But I quickly learned that there are many more – enough to encourage me to start actively searching. Insodoing I found a few partial lists of under 100 songs each, but nothing approaching being comprehensive. So I set about compiling the Master List published here as the first central resource for songs in Franglais – broadly defined as combining French and English. On this site, you will find the Franglais Song Master List (https://www.benedictsinister.com/franglais-song-master-list) – by far the most comprehensive list of songs combining French and English ever assembled, with over 600 songs as at June 2020.
As well as the song titles and artists, I have included links to most popular videos of the songs on YouTube to make it as useful as possible for those who would like to immerse themselves in the genre. I have also used YouTube to help me to decide which songs to include (and which to exclude) from artists with albums full of songs combining the two languages, such as Radio Radio and Lapiro de Mbanga.
Where a song has been recorded many times, I have not included YouTube links for every recording, on the basis that this is a list of songs rather than a list of recordings. So for standards like “La Vie en rose,” I have listed the most popular version with a video link (in the case of “La vie en rose” it’s the Grace Jones version) and then noted in parentheses other artists that have also recorded the song. I have listed the best-known alternative recordings for those songs but have not endeavored to include every talent show performance and bedroom cover version on YouTube.
Whilst I have not taken on the never-ending task of listing every album track from artists whose main mode of expression is Franglais, I have otherwise been generously inclusive in the Master List, even listing songs that only include English words used commonly in French, like the English words in the titles of Vitaa and Maitre Gims’ “Game Over,” Michel Delpech’s “Pour un flirt,” Indira’s “Love Story,” Claire Laffut’s “Nudes,” Sexy Sushi’s “Le Sex Appeal de la policière,” or Coco Argentée’s “Made in Cameroun.”
I’ve equally included songs using French phrases that are also recognized as English, as in the titles of Dionne Warwick’s “Déjà vu,” They Might Be Giants’ “Extra Savoir Faire,” Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band’s “Cherchez La Femme,” Palaye Royal’s “Ma Chérie” and The Georgia Satellites’ more grammatically innovative “Mon Cherie.” Wings’ “San Ferry Ann” – its title a modest piece of Franglais wordplay on the French phrase “ça ne fait rien” – also makes the cut. The Faces and Run the Jewels both offer songs included for their title “Ooh La La,” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” is included for its use of that same phrase.
As well as four songs called “Rendez-Vous” and four called “Mènage A Trois,” twelve different songs all entitled “C’est la Vie” have made it onto the Master List, and that doesn’t include the Chuck Berry song, which I’ve listed under its more widely-used alternative title, “You Never Can Tell.” (Plus the annals of bilingual songs includes Algerian star Khaled’s massive French/Arabic hit, and Voyage x Breskvica’s lesser French/Croatian hit, also both called “C’est la Vie.”)
I have even included De La Soul’s “Transmitting Live From Mars” and Pink Martini’s “Je ne veux pas travailler” even though they are actually fully in French, so their lyrics are not technically bilingual. My rationale for including them in the Master List is that the French they use is designed to appeal to anglo audiences.
Another edge case I have included in the Master List is songs that use a French line among lines from additional languages, like Pink Floyd’s “Not Now John” which asks “where is the bar?” in Italian, Spanish and French, and Ian Dury’s “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick,” with a couple of phrases in German and French. And where songs are truly trilingual with substantial slabs of English and French, as well as another language, I felt that rather than being excluded as not bilingual, they should be celebrated as trilingual and included.
Where songs such as Jacques Brel’s “Ne me Quitte Pas” and its English adaptation by Rod McKuen “If You Go Away,” have been recorded in a single language, they have been excluded from the list. An exception has been made for those rare performances which combine elements of the versions in each language – such as Dusty Springfield’s rendition of that song, and similarly Charles Trenet’s own bilingual performance of “Beyond the Sea/La mer” at the 1966 UNICEF Gala. And versions of “La Vie en rose” entirely in French (like Edith Piaf’s and Madonna’s) have been excluded, while versions with English passages (like Louis Armstrong’s and Lady Gaga’s) have been included in the list.
I also included in the Master List a video of Claude Francois duetting with Diana Ross on a bilingual version of “Reach Out”/”J’attendrais,” though it was not released as a recording. Die-hard fans may also be interested in a film of him performing bilingual mash-ups of a few extracts of Lamond Dozier’s compositions with their author (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6ZICI5-Iv8).
In compiling the Master List, I listened to all of the songs, and in that process I was able to determine a number of common tropes and structural subcategories of bilingual songs. I have given them names for convenience.
Le club sandwich: Songs essentially in one language, punctuated by a phrase from the other. There are more English-language hit songs following this formula than any other, including: “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol, “C’est la Vie” by Robbie Neville, “Le Freak” by Chic, “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle, and “Games without Frontiers” by Peter Gabriel – although Kate Bush so butchered the pronunciation of “Jeux sans frontières” (the French title for the inter-European game show known in England as “It’s a Knockout”) that it’s generally misheard as “she’s so popular”.
Interestingly, French songs using the formula have typically not been among the popular successes, though they have certainly been successes as poetry. One thinks of Gainsbourg’s “The Initials BB”, Gerard Darmont’s “And the Winner is”.
Layer Cake. Where French songs have achieved significant popular success is where a chorus sung in one language is interspersed by raps in another. Examples include "Mon Everest," a French rap by Soprano with Marina Kaye singing the chorus in English, and "Corazon" by Maître Gims singing and rapping in French interspersed with English verses by Lil Wayne & French Montana.
An extension of this is La mille feuille – where words from one language are repeated constantly among lyrics from the other. Examples include Stanley Enow’s “Elle est la” and Charlotte Gainsbourg and Etienne Daho’s “If,” as well as “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu, which makes vast use of the neologism “merdre” from Alfred Jarry’s play Le Roi Ubu – also the inspiration for their band’s name.
La reprise. In these songs, lyrics in one language are then repeated in the other. Notable examples of this include “22” by Lily Allen and Ours, “Girls and Boys” by Prince, Melanie’s “Look What They Done to my Song,” “Poster of a Girl” by Metric, and "You Got Me" by Eskobar ft. Emma Daumas
Les murmures – French passages used in ~English songs, often spoken and mixed down like the French section of Lana del Rey’s “Carmen.” Examples include Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” and Sylvia’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s “You Sure Love to Ball” with their French adlibs murmured in the throes of passion as the songs fade. Other variations include the French cursing at the end of The Stranglers’ demand for vengeance against home invaders, “5 Minutes,” and the English fade-in and fade-out raps bookending Chagrin d’Amour’s “Chacun fait (c’qui lui plait).”
Le monologue monotone: These are songs in one language with a spoken word section in the other. For example the French female vocals reciting on Visage’s “Fade to Grey,” Prince’s “Girls and Boys,” Blur’s “To the End,” Keane’s “Black Burning Heart,” Cage the Elephant’s "Cigarette Daydreams," Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio’s “Ménage à Trois,” and at the end of "It’s a Beautiful World" by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – which Gallagher repudiated when the song was released, after learning of its apocalyptic theme.
I do not claim that the Master List is exhaustive. Happily it will never be fully up to date as there are more bilingual songs produced now than ever in history, particularly in Cameroun and on the Quebecquois rap scene. However, this Master List is by far the most comprehensive ever published as at this date (12 June 2020). No doubt it will be reproduced by others, as that is the nature of the internet. I am fine with that happening, but I would hope when it happens I am credited as the source.