Diving into Yé-Yé tonight by way of Sylvie Vartan – one of the most prominent of the tough-n-scruffy Yé-Yé girls of the early 1960s. For those of you not familiar, Yé-Yé is actually a French genre, a hybrid of French Chanson and Rock n’ Roll – laced with a certain quasi-sexy innocence that made it wildly appealing.
The yé-yé movement had its origins in the radio program Salut les copains (loosely translated as “hello mates” or “hello pals”), created by Jean Frydman and hosted by Daniel Filipacchi and Frank Ténot, which was first aired in December 1959. In fact the phrase “Salut les copains” dates back to the title of a 1957 song by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delanoë, who had little regard for the yé-yé music the radio show typically featured. The program became an immediate success and one of its sections (“le chouchou de la semaine” / “this week’s sweetheart”) became the starting point for most yé-yé singers. Any song that was presented as a chouchou went straight to the top places in the charts. The Salut les copains phenomenon continued with the magazine of the same name, which was first published in 1962 in France, with German, Spanish, and Italian (“Ciao Amici”) editions following shortly afterward.
However,in the early 1960s the term “yé-yé” was derived from the English term “yeah! yeah!”, popularized by British beat groups such as the Beatles. The style expanded worldwide, due to the success of figures such as the French singer-songwriters Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy.
In early 1962 “Est-ce que tu le sais?”, her version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”, was released. She opened for Vince Taylor at Paris Olympia for her second concert. In July she toured France with Gilbert Bécaud. In autumn 1962 she released her version of “The Loco-Motion” on EP and her first LP, Sylvie. Her next hit was “Tous mes copains”, issued on EP in 1962. She also had her first adult part in a movie with the small part of a singer in the film Un clair de lune à Maubeuge. In 1963, Paul Anka offered her the song “I’m Watching You,” which became her first international hit in Japan and Korea. She rounded out the year with four TV specials and becoming the darling of the teen magazine Salut les Copains. Six of her 31 songs released in 1962/1963 became Top-20 European hits.
Her 1964 album Sylvie à Nashville included the hits “La plus belle pour aller danser” and “Si je chante” and three new songs in English (one featuring Paul Anka). Accompanied by the movie Cherchez l’idole, the EP with “La plus belle pour aller danser” became number one in France, sold over a million copies in Japan, was very successful in Korea and Spain, and was her first release in Italy. “Il n’a rien retrouvé” became another international hit that year. In January 1964, she appeared at the Paris Olympia as one the support acts (which also included Trini Lopez) for The Beatles.
A commercial for the “Renown” clothing line and a supporting role in the film “Patate” increased her fame. She also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, and an international concert tour, including Canada, South America and Polynesia. In Tokyo she gave 13 concerts in 12 days.
In her career, Vartan has released some 52 albums – and after a period of time away from recording, has returned periodically to continue appearances and recording. Although now her preferred genre is Jazz Ballads, her audience is still International and she is considered a National treasure.
Here she is in 1965.