There’s something inherently intriguing about Françoise Hardy.
There’s something inherently intriguing about Françoise Hardy. Almost enigmatic, she stares out from the cover of the majority of her releases, giving off an unknowable quality, removed from the ordinary despite the often straightforward content of the music itself. Because of this aura of mystery, she’s long held sway over a certain segment of the listening public. While these stock characters are often disaffected teens or overly twee adults (see Moonrise Kingdom for evidence of the former and nearly the whole of Wes Anderson’s oeuvre for the latter), Hardy’s music itself owes little to affected disaffection.
In fact, were her recordings in English they would likely have been largely overlooked. But, given her airy, ingénue-esque vocals, wistful instrumentation and decidedly French persona, the music of Françoise Hardy has found lasting appeal. And now, thanks to the fine folks over at Light In The Attic, these five early full-lengths have been granted lavish reissue treatment. Much as they’ve done in the excavation and resurrection of Lee Hazlewood and his LHI Industries, Bettye Davis and a host of others, these reissues have been lovingly assembled and made available to a wider audience.
Taken as a whole, these five releases (Tous les garçons et les filles, Le Premier Bonheur du jour, Mon Amie la rose, L’Amitié, La Maison oú j’ai grandi) make up much of the early appeal and mystique upon which the Hardy mythos was established. Originally coming to prominence within the yé-yé girl movement that also spawned the likes of France Gall, Brigitte Bardot, Sylvie Vartan and Jacqueline Taïeb, Hardy quickly established herself as something more. By diversifying her musical palette, she quickly moved from the admittedly limiting confines of the yé-yé girl sound and its reliance on American pop traditions in favor of something more.
Mixing elements of folk, jazz, blues and early rock, Hardy helped herself stand out from the pack. Implementing these disparate yet ultimately similar styles, coupled with her pure vocals, saw her artistic stock rise above the teenybopper fray. Writing much of her own material further elevated her standing and allowed for a career that lasted well beyond yé-yé’s faddishness. Similarly, her musical approach was less bombastic than that of her peers. Where others relied on Spectorian walls of sound and layered production, Hardy’s albums relied more on simplified groupings of instruments. Often relying on little more than an acoustic guitar, bass and other complementary instruments or string arrangements, she made it clear her voice was the most important element on display.
Indeed, much of L’Amité and her debut, Tous les garçons et les filles, feature little more than this stripped down approach, allowing for her voice to ring through clearly without being saddled with superfluous instrumentation and backing vocals. The latter is perhaps one of the most interesting qualities of Hardy’s music, given its origins in the American girl group sounds and their trademark harmonies. Instead, these recordings are solo pursuits finding Hardy alone at the microphone, pouring out her emotions unaided and unencumbered.
And while the majority of these recordings rely on a more folk-based approach, Hardy proves several times she is not above the pop bombast of her yé-yé peers and American counterparts. “Je changerais d’avis (Se telefonando)” from 1967’s La Maison oú j’ai grandi features a triumphant, modulating melody and lavish production. While the antithesis of the sound for which she is largely known, it’s a tremendously emotional moment that rivals the Righteous Brothers at their most histrionic. That it’s followed by the harp and strings-based “Je serai là pour toi” makes the former’s surprising bombast all the more affecting.
Taken as a whole, there is little in the way of stylistic differentiation to help separate one album from the next. Far from a backhanded compliment, rather this shows the overwhelming level of quality and consistency on display over the course of these five releases. With their reissue here, these early albums of Françoise Hardy will now have the chance to reach a wider audience.