Yé-Yé Yeah Yeah

I must admit total bias when reviewing Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop (Faber & Faber), as we’ve been friends for many years (20 years to be exact—jesus!) and it’s thanks to Bob that I dedicate such a huge part of my life to collecting records. I remember being completely riveted by his collection of France Gall EPs, and thus began seeking out girl-pop 45s with a vengeance. The extent of Bob’s musical knowledge is astounding, and his brain appears to house numerous volumes of pop encyclopedias, which he’s channelled into 742 pages of pop-music history—beginning in Britain in 1952 and ending in the mid-’90s. If that sounds dry, let me assure you that there are few music writers more dynamic and entertaining than Bob Stanley. I have read a ton of music writing, and I can say with utmost experience that Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop is one of the few music books that is as captivating as the records it covers. Pop facts and chart positions are delivered with zest and passion, and his obvious adoration of pop of all shapes and sizes is infectious. Even the most knowledgable of music buffs are sure to discover new records to track down (I’ve already got a long list going). If Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop highlights such a rich and varied history of high-quality pop, it also alerts us to the shit we have to contend with today. I recommend that this be required reading for all students of music in hopes that they, the children of our future, aspire to reach the same heights as Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Brian Wilson, Ellie Greenwich, Morrissey, Kraftwerk, Abba, the Bee Gees, Nirvana, Madonna, and so many of the brilliant pop-makers covered in this wonderful book. 

The Internet has long been the hub for English-speaking ’60s French-pop fans seeking out obscure facts about their favorite records, but finally the country’s female-side of ’60s pop has been given its very own English-language bible in print—Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe’s Yé-Yé Girls of ’60s French Pop (Feral House). Unlike US and UK artists (whose releases were stashed in cover-less record company sleeves) French pop stars were treated to full-color glossy cardboard covers, often featuring fabulous close-ups of Brigitte Bardot biting on her sunglasses or Françoise Hardy sitting with an umbrella in the rain. Much of Yé-Yé Girls of ’60s French Pop is filled with these EP sleeves, many from France’s most visible pop stars (Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan) as well as from the girls who had only a few singles to their name (Monique Thubert, ZouZou). The re-prints from magazines Salut Les Copains and Mademoiselle Age Tendre will make you pine for more beautiful design and wish today’s teenage girls had similarly stunning publications. Many of the artist profiles are accompanied by English translations of some of the most outlandlish French lyrics (namely France Gall’s “La Petite,” which Jean-Emmanuel calls “a very thin line between being cryptic or explicitly pedophilic”) This wasn’t the first time Gall was given sketchy material–you’ll learn that many of her recordings with Serge Gainsbourg found her singing (sometimes unknowingly) about oral sex and LSD. 

The book also covers Spanish (Jeanette), Canadian (Joanna Shimkus), British (Louise Cordet), and Brazilian (Astrud Gilberto) singers who often recorded in French, and ’90s indie-pop artists heavily influenced by the Yé-Yé scene (April March, Stereo Total). Jean-Emmanuel is clearly in awe of his many female subjects, and embraces the innocence and excitement of the Yé-Yé scene with equal parts enthusiasm and honest critique. Although ’60s French pop continues to poke its head into the US mainstream (most recently in an episode of Mad Men, where Don Draper’s wife Megan sings an adorable version of Gillian Hills’ “Zou Bisou Bisou”), it’s mostly been the domain of hardcore record collectors. But a book as eye-catching and colorful as Yé-Yé Girls of ’60s French Pop is bound to whet more than a few new appetites. 

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop is available on Amazon.com
Yé-Yé Girls of ’60s French Pop is also available on Amazon.com

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