Françoise Hardy is, arguably, one of the most talented singer-songwriters France has ever produced. The self-deprecating star offered a more gentle, homegrown sound to that of many of her contemporaries and became a style icon for 1960s Paris.
She was born on 17 January 1944 in Paris. As she was growing up, she became interested in music and chose a guitar as a reward for passing her baccalaureat in 1961. She quickly learned a few chords and began composing her own songs. This led to her playing dates in small Parisian clubs.
That year she auditioned for the Vogue record label. Though she wasn’t signed immediately, label bosses encouraged her to take singing lessons. She duly went off to the Petit conservatoire de la musique de Mireille and in November that year, she was offered a contract with Vogue.
In April 1962 she recorded the four tracks for her first EP. Oh oh chéri was listed as the lead track, but upon its release, one of the three of her own compositions that made up the rest of the release was the one receiving airplay: Tous les garçons et les filles. The EP went on to sell over 500,000 copies that year in France alone. She took the song into the British and German charts in its original French and also recorded versions of the song in English, German and Italian. The Italian version, Quelli della mia età, went on to sell well, beating several rival versions.
At home, the follow up, an EP featuring C’est à l’amour auquel je pense, consolidated her success, though the song Le temps de l’amour has proved the more enduring track from the EP. A third EP, featuring Ton meilleur ami, soon followed.
She was invited to represent Monaco at the 1963 Eurovision song contest with her own composition, the gentle L’amour s’en va. It was here that her typically shy stage presence worked against her, though she finished a respectable fifth.
Further EPs followed that year, featuring Qui aime t’il vraiment, Le premier bonheur du jour and Le sais-tu? as lead tracks, and she took her first acting role, playing Ophélie in Roger Vadim’s film Château en Suède.
1964 kicked off with an EP of songs sung in English, entitled Catch a falling star, which was swiftly followed by Pourtant tu m’aimes.
Though billed as a yé-yé girl, Françoise had little in common with her contemporaries. As well as writing most of her material, her style was more laid back that of the rock ‘n’ roll covers favoured by stars such as Sylvie Vartan. She became increasingly interested in the beat sound emerging from England and in 1964, British producer Charles Blackwell – the man behind little-known gems by Antoinette and Samantha Jones – was asked to take over production of her songs.
First up for his touch was the pounding Et même, issued in the summer of 1964, which included C’est le passé, a cover of Dusty Springfield’s self-penned Once upon a time. The song also sold well in the UK, making the top 40 at the end of the year.
For her follow up, Je n’attends plus personne, a cover of the Italian hit Non aspetto nessuno by Little Tony, was chosen. The EP also included Pas gentille, which had been written by Marty Wilde, who was sharpening his songwriting skills in advance of penning tunes for the likes of Sandie Shaw, Lulu, The Breakaways and, much later, his daughter Kim.
It was followed with another hit, Mon amie la rose. The EP also featured the lively Je veux qu’il revienne, a version of British girl group The Vernon Girls’ Only you can do it.
Her next EP was to give her one of her best-known hits of the decade. Though Dis-lui non was chosen as the lead track, DJs opted to promote the singer’s own composition, the fragile and more typical of her output Dans le monde entier instead.
She also recorded versions of the song in both English and German. As All over the world, it gave the singer her biggest UK hit, reaching the top 20 in March 1965, and prompted a French release of English versions of four of her songs.
For her next French-language release, she issued an EP featuring Le temps des souvenirs, a version of former Vernons Girl Samantha Jones’s Just call and I’ll be there. She also raided the singer’s back catalogue for her next EP, L’amitié, recording Don’t come any closer as Non, ce n’est pas un rêve.
By this time, Françoise had become something of a fashion icon, her slender frame suiting the latest styles by top designers such as Yves Saint-Laurent and Paco Rabanne.
Turning her hand to acting again, she appeared as a secretary in the 1965 film What’s new pussy cat?, before going on to star the following year in Jean-Luc Godard’s new wave classic Masculin féminin, alongside Chantal Goya, and in Jean Frankenheimer’s Grand prix, appearing with James Garner and Yves Montand.
On the music front, she took part in Italy’s San Remo song festival in January 1966 with the delightful Parlami di te, which finished a surprising lowly 14th.
At home, after releasing the EP Tu peux bien, she issued two of her best works of the period, the lilting La maison où j’ai grandi (a version of Adriano Celentano’s Italian hit Il ragazzo della Via Gluck) and the strident Je changerai d’avis (another tune of Italian origin, Mina’s Se telefonando) in quick succession later that year.
By 1967, after issuing Si c’est ça, Françoise had decided to take control of her financial affairs, and set up her own production company, Asparagus (the name was chosen after her slim figure had prompted the observation that she was “l’endive du twist”). She signed a contract with Vogue to distribute her records.
The LP Ma jeunesse fout le camp was her first album recorded through Asparagus Productions. It spawned three successful EPs, Voilà, the charming Des ronds dans l’eau and the album’s title track.
The EP Je ne sais pas ce que je veux was issued in 1968. However, her relationship with Jacques Dutronc (who she later married) and her desire not to be without him, led her to give up touring at this point.
Her lower profile didn’t prevent the lyrically clever Comment te dire adieu, a song originally performed by Margaret Whiting as It hurts to say goodbye, with new French lyrics by singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (who had also been behind many of France Gall’s hits) from becoming one of the biggest hits of 1969. Further releases from an album of the same name followed, including the weaker, banjo-laden Etonnez-moi, Benoît.
The single J’ai coupé le téléphone gave her her last hit of the decade.
She went on to enjoy further success in the 1970s and 80s. Though she announced her retirement in 1988, she continued to write hits for other singers and was finally tempted back into the studio in 1996 to record the first of a string of new albums.