French singer Michèle Torr shot to fame in 1964. However, she struggled to keep up the momentum of her first hit, despite recording top-quality material by Serge Gainsbourg and Petula Clark and taking part in the Eurovision song contest. The singer and had to wait until the mid-1970s until she really came into her own. Her 1978 single Emmène-moi danser ce soir remains the biggest hit of her career, having sold over three million copies.
She was born Michelle Tort on 7 April 1947 in Pertuis in south-east France and grew up in nearby Courthézon.
She began singing at the age of six and took part in regional singing contests. At 14, she came first in a radio competition and won the chance to sing at a Jacques Brel recital in Avignon.
The teenager headed for Paris in 1963 to further her singing career and was offered a recording contract with the Mercury label.
With the rise of the yé-yé sound, it was fitting that her debut EP should consist of French translations of international songs. Leading with Dans ma rue (originally Jackie and The Raindrops’ Down our street), the release, issued in January 1964, also included C’est dur d’avoir seize ans, a version of Andrea Carroll’s It hurts to be sixteen.
It was her second EP, however, that really made her name. Dans mes bras oublie ta peine – a version of a little-known US release by Ginny Arnell, Let me make you smile again – became a sizeable hit upon its release in May that year. The EP also contained the highly charming Je me demande, a take on a second Ginny Arnell number, I wish I knew what dress to wear.
The EP’s success prompted the release of an album, though this merely compiled her previous releases.
The catchy S’il m’aime was chosen to lead her third EP, issued in late 1964. The release was of a consistently high quality, with Moi, je serais là (a cover of Lesley Gore’s It’s gotta be you) and Viens me le dire à l’oreille (The Fireballs’ Ain't gonna tell anybody), though it failed to repeat the success of its predecessor.
In an attempt to boost her career, Mercury submitted the Christmassy-sounding Un enfant viendra to the French selection for a Eurovision song contest entry in 1965. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the contest would take place in the spring, it wasn't chosen.
Despite their quality, neither of Michèle’s next couple of EPs sold as well as expected. The first led with the French original On se quitte and also included Toi l’orgueilleux, a cover of British singer Cilla Black’s Love of the loved, and Et je l’aime, a version of The Beatles’ And I love her. The title track of the second, Dis-moi maintenant, was a take on Freddie and the Dreamers’ I’m telling you now, though the release might have fared better if the Petula Clark-penned Nous sommes faits l’un pour l’autre had been promoted above it.
A second album, issued in the summer of 1965, offered little inducement for fans to buy it, as, like its predecessor, it contained no new material.
With the hits not proving forthcoming, desperate measures were called for.
The singer was given a new blond hairdo and Serge Gainsbourg was roped in to write the excellent Non, à tous les garçons, in which Michèle rejects boys’ advances but ultimately relents (“Yes, yes, to all the boys”). Inexplicably, however, the song ended up being tucked away behind the disappointing La grande chanson on her first EP of 1966.
The other two tracks on the EP – As-tu quelquefois pensé? and Tout doucement (a cover of the Phil Spector-penned To know him is to love him) – were, arguably, also better than the lead track.
With an eye on the international success France Gall had enjoyed a year earlier with Poupée de cire, poupée de son in the Eurovision song contest, Michèle, rather cheekily, submitted entries to both the French and Luxembourg selections for the 1966 contest. Her impassioned French entry, J’ai brûlé ta lettre, wasn’t selected (possibly it sounded just too, well, French, for an international contest), though she was picked to represent the tiny neighbouring principality of Luxembourg with Ce soir je t’attendais. Despite a confident performance, however, the song failed to win over jurors and finished a lowly tenth.
Nevertheless, Michèle released an EP and an album in France on the back of her participation, and recorded the song in English, German, Italian and Spanish.
She went on to issue two further EPs that year, Le film est trop long, a take on Sonny and Cher’s Have I stayed too long, and Dandy, a version of The Kinks’ Mod-mocking song of the same name. The former was notable for Dom dom, a take on Drafi Deutscher’s German hit Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht, while the latter included Monsieur Superman, a cover of Donovan’s folk hit Sunshine Superman.
The emotional, Paul Anka-penned Pauvre coeur became Michèle’s first release of 1967, though her relationship with singer Christophe and the birth of their son proved a distraction from her career.
She would go on to issue a string of further releases over the next couple of years, including 1967’s Only you, 1968’s Mon ange and 1969’s Un homme dans ma vie and Aime. However, by this time, the fashion for covering international hits was largely over and a different approach was called for.
With fresh material, she reached the quarter finals of the French selection for the Eurovision song contest in 1970 with both Est-ce mon coeur ou le printemps and On s’aimera un peu, beaucoup.
However, it wasn’t until Michèle switched labels in 1972 that she finally found her niche. With a repertoire of emotional ballads, she went on to become a big star of the 1970s and early 1980s. Among her biggest successes were 1974’s Une vague bleue, 1975’s Cette fille c’était moi, 1977’s Une petite française (her Eurovision entry for Monaco, which finished fourth) and 1978’s multi-million seller Emmène-moi danser ce soir.
In 1979, she discovered disco, scoring a big hit with Discomotion.
She continued to record in subsequent decades and became a familiar face on French TV. She still performs live, often as part of oldies tours.
Despite a slow start, Michèle is estimated to have sold some 35 million records over the course of her career.