In the 1960s, Britain ruled the world’s airwaves. While the boy bands unquestionably captained pop’s ship, a crew of female soloists proved themselves more than capable first mates. Each of the UK’s major record labels made sure they had a female singer on board. Demand for their songs created a market for local translations. Here, we celebrate those tributes with 25 of the very best French female singers’ cover versions of songs originally cut by their British counterparts.
Overseas releases made some of these Brit girls world-wide stars – and brought extra revenue into record company coffers. However, English wasn’t as widely spoken as it is today, which left foreign record buyers all at sea. Although some Britons made great efforts to re-record their material in other languages, many simply didn’t have the time, the backing or the language skills.
This left a gap for home-grown stars. Faster than the Dover-Calais ferry, British hits were translated for local girls to record. In France, yé-yé singers were adept at repurposing American music for local consumption. Inevitably, the British girls’ hits soon became the source for a host of further releases.
By definition, our choices of the 25 best cover versions are subjective, but they are presented in alphabetical order of the British inspiration.
1. Andee Silver
We begin with a British singer who would find greater popularity in mainland Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain. Her second UK 45, The boy I used to know, included the catchy What do you do? on its flip. The song came from the pens of Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde, who were responsible for some of Dusty Springfield’s early hits. Despite its pedigree, the song remained overlooked – except in France, where Liz Brady would recut it as Qu’est-ce que tu fais?
Southend’s Antoinette was named after France’s most famous queen, having been born Marie Antoinette Daly. In 1964, Jenny let him go became her debut release. The song had been written by Charles Blackwell, the man who would go on to be considered the godfather of the Brit girl sound. Aged just 13, Antoinette’s bratty delivery suited the song perfectly. Across the Channel, singer Jocy cut a version of the song, retitled Oncle John, for her 1968 EP Dans les dix premiers.
3. Barbara Kay
Belfast’s Barbara Kay was perhaps better known as Kay Barry. Under this moniker, she cut any number of cut-price versions of chart hits for budget label Embassy. In early 1965, she joined Pye Records, where under her new name she would issue That’s what angels are for. The song would bring her no more recognition among the record-buying public, however. Over in France, Sophie Darel’s version, Un ange passe, met with similar indifference.
Londoner Barbara Ruskin saw herself more as a songwriter than as a singer. Her songs were recorded by a host of other artists, among them French star France Gall, who cut a version of Barbara’s Gentleman, please. Much better, though, is little-known singer Jennifer’s take on the classy Come into my arms again, retitled Jusqu’au prochain soleil, issued in 1967.
5. Cilla Black
For a French artist to cover a Cilla Black song was a brave move. The Liverpool-born singer was out of favour over the Channel. Just weeks after the death of Édith Piaf, Cilla’s manager, Brian Epstein, told the French media that he would make his signing a bigger worldwide star than la Môme Piaf… thereby earning her the enmity of Piaf’s legions of fans. They ordered copies of Cilla’s Love of the loved from London and proceeded to burn it ceremoniously outside Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. A delegation of TV and theatre executives also informed Epstein that Cilla would never be invited to perform in France – and they kept their word. Despite this, French ingénue Michèle Torr tackled the song on her fourth EP, transforming it, seemingly with insouciance, into Toi l’orgueilleux.
6. Clodagh Rodgers
Ballymena-born Clodagh Rodgers won her first recording contract in 1962, at the age of 15. A string of singles over the following years all fared badly until, finally, Come back and shake me hit big at the end of the decade. One of the 45s that went unnoticed by British record buyers was 1966’s Every day is just the same, from the pen of Alan Hawkshaw. The song became much better known in France, where the country’s biggest-selling yé-yé girl, Sheila, cut it as La vie est un tourbillon.
Song contests provided many a hit for singers in the 1960s. Dusty Springfield, for instance, topped the UK charts in 1966 with a song she brought back from Italy’s San Remo song festival. There, she’d heard Pino Donaggio perform Io che non vivo (senza te), which became You don’t have to say you love me for her. Similarly, French singer Séverine’s biggest hit came with her 1971 Eurovision winner for Monaco, Un banc, un arbre, une rue. Two years earlier, she had turned in a credible version of Dusty’s I close my eyes and count to ten, as Je ferme les yeux, je compte dix.
Londoner Glenda Collins was songwriter and producer Joe Meek’s leading lady. From his studios above a shop on the capital’s Holloway Road, he had her record a host of great songs. Among them was his own composition, If you’ve got to pick a baby, which was issued as a single in November 1963. In France, the song became Pourquoi pas moi for teen singer Christine Lebail.
The Beatles hit big while they were touring with Helen Shapiro – and promptly replaced the London-born singer at the top of the bill. Perhaps by way of compensation, Lennon and McCartney penned Misery for her around this time. However, her producer Norrie Paramor turned it down, preferring instead to release the charming but slightly dated Queen for tonight. In France, Maya turned the sexes round and cut the track as Roi de mes nuits.
10. Jackie Trent
Before he began saving his best material for Sandie Shaw, Chris Andrews shared his work around. Jackie Trent snapped up his Only one such as you for the B-side to her take on Edith Piaf’s Hymne à l’amour, If you love me. Adam Faith recorded Andrews’ song too, and as Ne plus penser à toi, it became one of his few French recordings. In France, Marianne Mille also cut a version of the song.
11. Kathy Kirby
Over the years, the Eurovision song contest has acted as a springboard to success for any number of acts. Kathy Kirby, however, doesn't rank among them. Having ‘won’ the dress rehearsal in Naples in March 1965, she was disappointed to finish in second place on the night behind France Gall for Luxembourg. Her contest entry, I belong, became Te voilà for Muriel Bianchi, though the French chanteuse had an even lower profile than Mademoiselle Kirby, and the record died upon release.
12. Lesley Duncan
For many years, Stockton-on-Tees singer Lesley Duncan was known to the British public – if at all – as one of Dusty Springfield’s backing singers. It wasn’t until the 1970s that she gained any notoriety, after recording a duet with Elton John of her composition Love song. However, she’d cut a string of great 45s in the 1960s. Among them is When my baby cries, which became Quand mon ami pleure for the debut EP by Annie Markan, who had emerged Diana Ross-like from girl group Les Gam’s.
Although she would become one of Britain’s biggest female stars of the 1960s, Glasgow-born Lulu struggled to score a follow-up hit to 1964’s Shout. Her next three 45s would all fail. She didn’t return to the UK top ten until the summer of 1965 with Leave a little love. On its B-side was the effervescent He don’t want your love anymore. French singer Annie Philippe’s manager liked the track and swiftly had the former Paris DJ recut it as Vous pouvez me dire for her debut EP.
Marianne Faithfull recorded a number of records in French, with linguistic coaching from fellow singer Louise Cordet. Her music was also translated for others to perform. Her exquisite Summer nights made Britain’s top ten in the summer of 1965. However, in France, its popularity in France was eclipsed by that of its B-side, The sha la la song. That was thanks to a first-rate cover by singer-cum-actress Marie LaForêt, who transformed it into A demain my darling.
15. Mary Hopkin
After making her name with Those were the days, Mary Hopkin was invited to take part in Italy’s prestigious San Remo song festival. The practice at the time was to have two singers – one Italian and one international – perform each song. Thus, Pontardawe-born Mary came to perform Lontano dagli occhi, a song written and also performed by Sergio Endrigo. Over the border in France, Claude François’ Flemish protégée Liliane Saint Pierre recorded the song as Parce que tu me quittes.
16. Maxine Darren
Under the wing of Freddie Garrity of Freddie and the Dreamers, Manchester’s Maxine Darren came to record the terrific How can I hide it from my heart in 1965. Penned by Mitch Murray, the song should have given her a hit, but didn’t. Equally obscure was Un sourire n’engage pas mon cœur, the French version of the song, cut by trio Les Émeraudes. Like Maxine, when the song failed to provide a breakthrough hit, they weren’t invited back into the recording studios.
Following some success in her native Jamaica, Millie Small came to London thanks to Island Records boss Chris Blackwell, who became her manager and legal guardian. Her global hit My boy lollipop was covered in France by Agnès Loti as C’est toi mon idole. When it proved a hit, she plundered Millie’s catalogue a second time, transforming the earlier Don’t you know into Tout nouveau, tout beau.
18. The Orchids
Georgina Oliver, Pam Jarman and Valerie Jones were still at school when The Orchids launched in 1963. Their promoters chose to play up on the girls’ youthful appeal by having the Coventry trio perform in their school uniforms. Needless to say, the girls hated the ploy – especially when it came to appearing in the 1964 pop film Just for you, belting out the single Mr Scrooge. In France, girl group Les Émeraudes were spared such ignominy but their version of the track, retitled Trois filles sur la route, fared no better than the original.
19. Petula Clark
Until Downtown struck big, Petula Clark’s popularity in France meant that she was on the verge of giving up on the British market altogether. She had first been persuaded to record in French after publicist Claude Wolff caught her eye during a trip to Paris, and the pair would later marry. Her success outre Manche meant that she re-recorded much of her material in French – and even wrote some songs in French. In France, Katy David was one of several artists to record translations of the LP track Call me. Her version was titled Plus tard.
20. Samantha Jones
Such was London’s cachet that singers from across the rest of Europe and the world flocked to its recording studios to capture its sound. Among them was French star Françoise Hardy, who was teamed with Charles Blackwell. Sadly, he hadn’t managed to make Liverpool’s Samantha Jones into a star. However, he did succeed in getting Françoise Hardy to cut a laidback version of Samantha’s dramatic Don’t come any closer, retitled Non, ce n’est pas un rêve.
21. Sandie Shaw
Sandie Shaw is quite the Francophile. She owned a home in France for many years and speaks French comfortably – and also cut a fair amount of her material in French. The Bacharach and David-penned (Always) Something there to remind me gave the Dagenham-born singer her British breakthrough, though she was pipped to the post by Eddie Mitchell when it came to scoring with a French version of the track. The B-side of Sandie’s British release, Don’t you know, also came in for translation, with both Sandie and unknown singer Anne-Marie Vincent cutting it as Ne crois pas.
22. Simone Jackson
No lesser group than The Beatles provided backing for Simone Jackson when she appeared at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in the autumn of 1962. A year later, the 16-year-old issued her third and final single for Pye’s Piccadilly offshoot, the highly hummable Tell me what to do. If its writers, Tony Hiller and Perry Ford, were disappointed when the disc sold poorly, consolation came when French yé-yé superstar Sheila recorded the song as La chorale, earning them hefty royalties.
23. Susan Maughan
There were a number of pop movies in the 1960s, few of which – possibly with the exception of The Beatles’ films – merit a repeat viewing. Pop gear is one such film, despite Consett-born Susan Maughan’s performance of Make him mine. In France, singer Anne Kern used the song to relaunch her career. Having swapped her brunette hair for a blond 'do, she issued it as Ne crains rien. Unfortunately, neither the new look nor the record caught on.
24. Suzy Cope
Biggity big should have won an award for its ultra-camp title. Unusually, the 1963 A-side was not one of Brighton singer Suzy Cope’s own compositions. As far back as 1961, when Teenage fool became her debut disc, the singer was writing her own material. In France, Biggity big was translated as Je ne suis plus une enfant for Karen Bessy, the winner of Scotch 707’s Grand challenge competition – a prize she had won after recorded herself singing on a Scotch cassette tape.
Surbiton’s Twinkle had more front that Blackpool, the town where she was inspired to write the song Golden lights. After seeing her boyfriend Dec Clusky play as part of The Bachelors in the English coastal resort, she penned the tale of a girl who loses her fella to fame. It gave the lie to her tough-girl image. French singer Chantal Goya had no qualms about her own girl-next-door charm and she transformed the song into Dans la nuit for her Laisse-moi EP.
That concludes our French tribute to Britain’s female singers of the 1960s. If you enjoyed it, check out our cover version specials, where we celebrate America’s girl groups, The Supremes, Motown girls, Motown males and Phil Spector.
Our pick of the pops
Liz Brady Qu’est-ce que tu fais?
Un ange passe
Jennifer Jusqu’au prochain soleil
Michèle Torr Toi l'orgueilleux
La vie est un tourbillon
Je ferme les yeux, je compte dix
Pourquoi pas moi
Roi de mes nuits
Ne plus penser à toi
Quand mon ami pleure
Vous pouvez me dire
A demain my darling
Parce que tu me quittes
Un sourire n’engage pas mon cœur
Tout nouveau, tout beau
Non, ce n’est pas un rêve
Ne crois pas
Je ne suis plus une enfant
Ne crains rien
Dans la nuit
Trois filles sur la route