Many French girl singers of the 1960s contented themselves with cover versions of UK and US hits. But Chantal Kelly had a seemingly endless supply of original catchy tunes at her disposal, penned by some of the top names in the music industry, including
Jean-Jacques Debout, Joe Dassin and André Popp. However, she failed to rise into France’s premier league of pop princesses. Even a new wave-styled comeback as Chantal Bassi in the early 1980s failed to secure her rightful place in the history of French pop.
She was born Chantal Bassignani in Marseilles, in the south of France, on 8 April 1950.
She had an interest in music from an early age, and as a teenager she took singing lessons. Her vocal coach was the mother of Cris Carol, a singer who had issued a number of records herself, starting off with Fiche le camp, Jack, a version of Ray Charles’s Hit the road, Jack, in 1961.
Chantal’s teacher was so impressed by her protégée that, in 1965, she sent a recording of her performances to the Philips label. Label bosses were keen to sign up the singer – with Cris Carol as her chief songwriter.
Styled in up-to-the-minute white knee-length boots and mini-dress, Chantal was launched into the world of French pop with the unusual Caribou. The song was the lead track of her first EP, though, for many, the standout track of the release was Ne perds pas ton temps. In it, young Chantal rejects a call to work, insisting that she should
sing and dance instead.
The follow up, Notre prof d’anglais, another Cris Carol composition, was issued in the summer of 1966. It brought the singer greater success – and an enduring fan base amongst connoisseurs of French femme pop. A terrific beat record, the song came with backing vocals from what sounded like a host of fellow students and it became a small hit. The gentle, atmospheric Le château de sable and the Joe Dassin-penned Je n’ai jamais vraiment pleuré, both also included on the EP, are often cited as fan favourites too.
Her third EP proved just as catchy. Issued in November 1966, the highly rated Interdit aux moins de 18 ans was the title track.
The song also became the opener of an LP, which brought together most of her previous releases. Perhaps disappointingly, the album contained no new material. Included on both the EP and the LP was Des plaines et des bois, which had been co-written by André Popp, the man behind hits for a multitude of stars, including France Gall, Marie Laforêt, Vicky and Brigitte Bardot, amongst others.
Popp was also responsible for Attention, coeur fragile, arguably the best track of Chantal’s first EP of 1967, La fille aux pieds nus. The Jean-Jacques Debout composition Arrête le temps, also included on the release, has enjoyed a lasting popularity too.
By this time, she had also cut her teeth on the live circuit, appearing as the warm-up act for stars such as Jacques Dutronc, Johnny Hallyday and Michel Delpech.
The highlight of her second EP of 1967 was the catchy lead track, C’est toujours la même chanson. However, when it, too, failed to garner much interest from Gallic record buyers, Philips lost interest in the singer and she was dropped by the label.
She would have good reason to be bitter – her records were better than many that had been far more successful. However, she has since dismissed much of her material from this period.
It didn’t take long for her to find a new contract. She joined the small Mouloudji label in 1968 and released two singles, Fragola and La chanson du coucou. Neither song bore much resemblance to her previous work, as they were simpler, folk-styled offerings, with backing provided by Los Incas.
She disappeared from the music scene after that, and opened a fashion boutique in Corsica. However, in 1980, she won a new contract with CBS in 1980 under the name Chantal Bassi, and issued an album and a single, A peine inhumaine, though without success.
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