Often overlooked by yé-yé fans because of her later, more traditional material, French singer Nicoletta nevertheless recorded some great pop and soul numbers in the early years. She is best known for her hit Mamy blue, France’s biggest-selling song of 1971.
She was born Nicole Grisoni on 11 April 1944 in Vongy, in eastern France. Her mother suffered from mental health problems, and so she was raised by her grandmother.
After leaving school she moved to Paris and began DJ-ing in nightclubs. It was here that she was spotted by the artistic director of Barclay records, who offered her a recording contract with the Riviera label.
She issued her first EP in 1966. It featured the unpleasantly raucous L’homme à la moto, a version of US group The Cheers’ Black denim trousers and motorcycle boots, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, as its lead track. (Edith Piaf had also recorded the song.) The EP also contained Ça devrait arriver, a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I put a spell on you, and Pour oublier qu’on s’est aimé, a song originally released by a then-unknown Nino Ferrer. The EP wasn’t a hit, but Nicoletta only had to wait a few months for her breakthrough.
It came in the form of La musique, a cover of the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil-penned Angelica, which gave her a top ten hit in the early autumn of 1967.
The EP is also noteworthy for its other tracks, particularly Vis ta vie, a superb version of Shirley Ellis’ dance floor favourite Soul time, and the original 32 septembre.
She followed it up with Les orgues d’antan, a version of Procol Harum’s A whiter shade of pale, albeit less successfully.
Further releases included Je ne pense qu’à t’aimer, her take on US group The Young Rascals’ How can I be sure. (Nicoletta’s version inspired Dusty Springfield’s later recording of the song.) But it was really the powerful Il est mort le soleil, which had been included on the EP and was also issued as a single, which proved the greater success. It returned her to the top ten and inspired a cover by American singer Ray Charles entitled The sun died.
Her success marked the very end of the French record-buying public’s love affair with the yé-yé girls. Although Nicoletta recorded some great pop/soul tunes, her material moved increasingly towards that of the traditional chanteuse, showcasing her tremendous vocals.
The emotional Une enfance and her version of the easy listening standard Fly me to the moon, Il ne me restera rien, provided further hits in 1968. She undertook her first tour that year, in a somewhat unlikely move, sharing a stage with the king of French rock ‘n’ roll, Johnny Hallyday.
That year, a further EP featuring Le Luxembourg, a cover of MacArthur Park, proved less successful than its predecessors, though Liberté mon amour, gave her another hit in early 1969.
Quand on a que l’amour, which had been a hit for Jacques Brel over a decade earlier and was released in the late summer of the same year, proved equally successful. She also issued an EP entitled Jeff, with music from a film of the same name starring Alain Delon and Mireille Darc.
She spent four months in the charts at the beginning of 1970 with the massive hit Ma vie c’est un manège, a version of Does anybody miss me.
A year later, she indulged her passion for gospel music. Her church-flavoured Mamy blue became the biggest-selling song of 1971 and is still associated with the singer today.
Further hits included Harmonie later that year, Aie, aie caramba and Glory alleluia, another gospel number, in 1974, and L’amour violet in 1976.
After taking a few years off to raise a family, she made a triumphant return in 1983 with Idées noires, a duet with Bernard Lavilliers which sold around 1.5 million copies.
Renewed interest in the singer gave her a new platform from which to sing Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and, of course, gospel songs. She went on to release a couple of albums of new material in the 1990s.
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