Bulgarian-born French resident Sylvie Vartan was one of France’s hugest stars, scoring hits from 1962 onwards. After British songwriters Tommy Brown and Micky Jones joined her song writing team in the middle of the decade, she went on to record a reasonable amount of material in English.
Sylvie Vartan was born in the Bulgarian village of Iskretz on 15 August 1944. Her father had a job at the French embassy in Sofia and, when the family decided to flee the Soviet-occupied territory in 1952, it was to Paris they headed.
By the time she was in her late teens, her older brother, Eddie, was working for the RCA record label and it was through him that she came to record her first song, in 1961, although she remained uncredited for her work.
However, bosses at the RCA label were impressed and offered her a solo contract. Her second solo release, Est-ce que tu le sais?, a cover of Ray Charles’s What’d I say?, issued in early 1962, became her first hit.
After a couple of years of further successes in France, Sylvie headed off to Nashville, in America’s Tennessee, in 1963 to record her second album. On it, she used Elvis Presley’s musicians and backing singers. The resultant Sylvie à Nashville contained her first two English recordings, Love has laid its hands on me and Wish you well.
In the early 1960s, Sylvie’s French material consisted largely of French cover versions of American hits, but in 1965 she began working with two Englishmen, Micky Jones (later of the group Foreigner) and Tommy Brown. The pair composed original material for Sylvie. Of these early English-language recordings, Gonna cry is arguably one of their best.
They also encouraged her to record an album of songs in English. A gift wrapped from Paris contained 11 songs, including covers of her French material and of American songs, including My boyfriend’s back (originally a hit for The Angels). Recorded in New York, the album led to Sylvie’s appearance on a number of American music shows, such as Hullabaloo and Shindig.
The album wasn’t released in France, though some of the songs turned up on her French EPs.
One single taken from it was issued in Britain. However, I made my choice, a version of Cette
lettre-là, failed to make a dent on the charts.
Her only other British release, Thinking about you, another interpretation of one of her own songs, this time Je préfère tes bras, suffered a similar fate.
Nevertheless, after marrying Johnny Hallyday, the king of French rock, in 1965, the pair appeared at the Royal command performance in London, and recorded a television show together.
Sylvie proved an adept linguist, and also recorded in German, Italian and Spanish.
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