Though usually lumped in with the yé-yé girls of the 1960s, French singer Stella was more of an anti-yé-yé. Her compositions were styled in the fashion of the period, but the lyrics mocked the yé-yé genre.
She was born Stella Zelcer on 12 December 1950 in Paris into a family of Polish immigrants. She showed great musical aptitude as a child and learned to play a number of instruments, including the piano and guitar.
She also began composing songs with her uncle, Maurice Chorenslip, and the pair sent a demo to the Vogue record label when she was still just 12 years old.
The move resulted in a contract for the young singer and her first EP, Pourquoi pas moi, was issued in November 1963 on Vogue’s Contact label. The song, like most of her subsequent records, was written by the niece and uncle team. Its heavy satire set the tone for much of her musical career. In the song, she insisted that she had all it took to become a pop star: the ability to sing “yé yé yé yé yé yé”.
The mocking lyrics summed up her approach to the yé-yé sound. While her contemporaries embraced it, she was highly dismissive of the trend. She was particularly critical of Sheila, France’s schlockiest – but most successful – yé-yé girl. In fact, her next release, La surprise est partie, issued on the main Vogue label in June 1964, enjoyed a little jeu de mots on Sheila’s then recent hit Ma première surprise partie. More open derision was to follow.
One further EP, J’veux pas savoir, was released before Stella switched to the RCA Victor label for Adieu micro, bonjour sillon, issued in July 1965.
The follow up, J’achète des disques américains, marked a return to form. In it, Stella criticised public enthusiasm for foreign music over home-grown material.
She developed this theme further with her next release, Le folklore auvergnat (later retitled Un air du folklore auvergnat, to appease the disgruntled folk of the Auvergne region). Issued in April 1966, the song was a spoof of Sheila’s Le folklore américain. The controversy surrounding it (including calls for a ban from French radio and television) helped to give the anti-Sheila, as she was sometimes known, her biggest hit.
Stella was then teamed with producer Gerard Hugé, the man behind releases by Pussy Cat. As a result, Stella’s next EP marked something of a departure in style. Though given the ridiculous title Si vous connaissez quelque chose de pire qu’un vampire, parlez m’en toujours, ça pourra peut-être me faire sourire (sometimes shortened to Le vampire), the song was a successful mix of sound effects and a catchy tune. It gave the singer another hit, in the autumn of 1966. The release also included Beatnicks d’occasion, which had a dig at supposed beatnick types who drove round in sporty Triumph TR4s and has become a favourite of French femme pop fans.
An LP, entitled simply Stella, was issued on the back of her success, bringing together 12 of the best of her tracks from the previous year or two.
In 1967 Stella issued two further EPs, Tout va bien and Carnet de balles. Neither of the title tracks was as instantly memorable as her previous releases, and both disappeared without trace. Nevertheless, the two EPs contained strong material, including Je ne peux plus te voir en peinture on the former and Je ne me reconnais plus dans la glace on the latter.
The following year she released her first single, Matière à réflexion, though the flip, the fuzz guitar fest L’idole des jaunes – another clever, if politically questionable, play on words – is undoubtedly the better side.
For her final single, issued in February 1968, Vous devriez avoir honte was chosen, though, again, the B-side – this time, Pauvre cloche – was, arguably, the better song. Gone, however, was the satire of her previous releases.
Its change of direction perhaps reflected Stella’s own disenchantment with the music business. By this time, she had lost heart in her work. She left RCA Victor and issued a couple of singles for CBS, both of which sank.
She joined a band that played blues and rock, and later met and married Christian Vander of the progressive rock band Magma. She joined the group and became an integral member.
In the 1990s she recorded a solo album as Stella Vander and has issued several albums in the last few years.
Our pick of the pops
Je ne me reconnais plus dans la glace
Pourquoi pas moi
L'idole des jaunes
Tu peux rire
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Stella (expanded edition)
Je ne peux plus te voir en peinture