Amid all of the fuss surrounding American rock and the British Invasion, France in the 1960s was secretly developing its own secret spin on the rock and pop that had been exploding elsewhere for the better part of a decade. It was not uncommon for many female artists of the era to subscribe to a specific style emphasizing Phil Spector-esque "Wall of Sound" production techniques, but several young ladies in Paris combined these techniques with folk rock elements and gentle vocal stylings. Lumped together under the catch all label "ye-ye girls," this manufactured sorority included women such as Sylvie Vartan, Jean Renard, France Gall, and finally Francoise Hardy.
While her record label marketed her as "the Gallic Petula Clark," this marketing blurb was an underwhelming simplification of Francoise Hardy's talents. Eschewing the easy road of sunny, good girl pop, Hardy instead opted to marry the dainty effervescence of her ye-ye counterparts with slightly baroque elements, such as the lush string arrangements found more commonly in the works of Edith Piaf and Scott Walker. These elements, when combined with her coquettish croon, created a coolly self-assured style that tactfully tiptoes the line between sucrose and lachrymose.
On Greatest Recordings, the listener is immediately introduced to the songs that showcase Francoise's immense talent. When one listens to songs such as "All Over the World," one of the few Hardy sings in English, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the dreamy gossamer web her vocals spin over spare, lonely notes of piano and the backing male "oohs" and "ahs" which sound as though they could have been plucked from the golden age of country music or doo wop in the early '50s. The austere arrangement of "Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour" is an exercise in beautiful minimalism; tiny tendrils of flamenco flavored guitar innocently float just below a gentle but insistent beat, while Hardy's voice is buoyed by a maudlin breeze of strings, as "Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles" gallops along with a slightly twangy bassline, bringing the slightly bittersweet tang of a heartbroken Patsy Cline to mind. As delicate as most of the songs on Greatest Recordings are, in the unusually uplifting "Maison Ou J'ai Grandi," Hardy's normally demure voice toughens and swells with an unusual sense of confidence, standing strong against the dark counterpoint of Bacharachian horn stabs.
While Francoise Hardy has remained immensely popular in her home country, it's sad to think that she has never gained the notoriety of some of the American singers of her era, such as Dionne Warwick, or cultivated a larger fanbase outside of Europe. In a relatively unsung subgenre such as French Pop, Greatest Recordings is a well chosen collection that is much like an unusual candy: if one is patient enough to venture past its bubblegum exterior, they'll be rewarded with an opulent, bittersweet center hiding just below the surface.
1. Tous Le Garcons Et Les Filles
2. Le Temps De L'Amour
3. Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour
4. Mon Amie La Rose
5. All Over The World
7. Ce Petit Couer
8. Je Ne Suis La Pour Personne
9. Il Est Des Choses
10. La Maison Où J'ai Grandi