Ria Bartok quit her native Germany to record a string of cover versions of international hits in neighbouring France in the 1960s, but lost out time and again to competing versions by established stars.
She was born Marie-Louise Pleiss in Einbeck, in Germany, on 28 January 1943.
Her father was an opera singer, who sent his daughter to Paris to finish her education. After leaving school, she took a job as a medical assistant before turning her attention to music.
In 1963, the young blonde released her first EP, for the Ricordi label, featuring N’importe quoi, a cover of A whole lot of nothing, and Parc’que j’ai revu François, a cover of Dickey Lee’s I saw Linda yesterday, which lost out to a version by the king of French pop, Johnny Hallyday.
Her charmingly accented delivery attracted the attention of the RCA label, where she moved for the follow up, an EP featuring the original composition Frankie. However, when it too failed, she switched to Columbia.
Her first release on the new label was Coeur, a stab at Heart, penned by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, which lost out to a version by Italian star Rita Pavone. The EP is also interesting for including Sans amour, a cover of Cliff Richard’s Lucky lips, and the original composition Diggedle boeing.
In 1964, her fourth EP featured Seule parmi les autres, a version of The Elektras’ All I want to do is run.
Her next release saw her record Ce monde, a version of Umberto Bindi’s Italian hit Il mio mondo (also a hit for Britain’s Cilla Black as You’re my world). However, in France, Ria found herself in the familiar position of losing out to another version of the same song, this time by label mate Richard Anthony.
She came closest to having a hit later that year with Et quelque chose me dit, a version of US singer Earl-Jean’s I’m into something good, which had given Herman’s Hermits a big hit.
Its relative success prompted her to release a version of the song in Spain, Algo bueno me va a pasar, and to record material for other European markets.
In her native Germany she released two solo singles in 1964, Blue navy blue and Zu Schade dafür, a version of US singer Tracey Dey’s Ska doo dee yah, and a duet with French star Gilbert Becaud, Es ist nie zu spät, which appeared on the B-side of Becaud’s Wo ist die Liebe zu Hause 45.
For the British market, she recorded an English version of Diggedle boeing, See if I care, and in Italy, she issued È un bugiardo the same year.
Returning her attention to France, she released arguably her three finest EPs in 1965.
First up was Tu la revois, a version of the Tokens’ Goffin and King-penned He’s in town, which Ria helped write the French lyrics for. The EP also included her take on Shirley Matthews’ Canadian million seller Big town boy, Quand reviendra le garçon que j’attends.
Sandie Shaw’s You can’t blame him was picked for an overhaul for her second EP of the year, becoming Je ne peux pas le blâmer. The release also featured Je ne veux pas qu’il me quitte, a version of UK-based US girl group Goldie and the Gingerbreads’ Can’t you hear my heartbeat and N’y touche pas, a version of little-known Becky and the Lollipops’ My boyfriend
Finally, Un baiser – her take on the Honeycombs’ That’s the way – became the lead track on her last EP of the year. For many fans, Action, a version of the song of the same name by Paul Revere and the Raiders and also included on the release, is another highlight of the release.
Despite their quality, none of these registered with the French record-buying public and Ria left the label.
She moved to Canada in 1966, returning to Paris only at the end of the decade.
Sadly, she died in her home in Paris in early 1970, in a fire investigators say was caused by a cigarette.
With thanks to Jordi Serra Morales for additional research.
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