For many Francophone speakers, the name Johnny Hallyday will have some resonance and maybe lyrics like “Allumez le feux!” will ring a melody to your ears, but outside of that, not many know the legend of the man who was named the Idol of the Youth during the 60s in France. The stories, albums, achievements, and masses of press coverage, has been going on ever since he stepped into the spotlight back in 1960, a life that couldn’t dare to be fully summarized in this small article. Whilst it would have been a pleasure to write this in French, I find it an honor to bring Hallyday to the light of English speakers, since not much is known about this legend around here.
As a musician, Hallyday would jump around genres, from rock’n’roll, blues, and soul to psychedelic rock as well as country, a musical talent without barriers. He was a magnet to industry talents throughout his life, working with musicians from Mick Jones of Foreigner as far as Jimi Hendrix to renowned producers, writers, and other accomplished names. Born in 1943 in Paris, his influences grow to an American style having family relations from there, a big inspiration being Elvis Presley, the king of rock’n’roll setting an example to his voice and his presence on stage. By 18 years of age and only a year into his career, Hallyday was already starting the trend of drawing delirious crowds, hostility of the media and headlining historical venues such as l’Olympia de Paris – not forgetting 36 recorded songs as well as a total of 1.6 million sold discs.
Hallyday made his mark on French culture by introducing this part of the world to the twist and mashed potato, dance incorporated to rock’n’roll that had only be seen in the US, bringing along his charisma and melodies to the mix. This would earn him the title of “L’idole des jeunes” in 1962, creating a massive buzz in the country, Halliday was fond of covering English songs by The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix, he even recorded several albums in renown musical places such as Memphis and Nashville. Unfortunately, singing in English never brought him listeners in the US or UK even after multiple gigs, but it expanded his fan base at home and in South America, earning him many new followers. Hallyday would never stop recording, always producing albums on albums no matter the consequences, an example being for the hit “Le Pénitencier” in 1964, a re-take on The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”. One of his most famous track, recorded whilst he was serving in the French army and which he would, later on, play live to prison inmates in Switzerland in 1974:
The man was known for doing shows on shows or galas as it was back then in France, multiple times passing out on the stage of pure exhaustion and even though everyone thought he would slow down, Hallyday would come out with more music and countless events. At one point the rhythm nearly brought him to his death, following a depression of constantly touring and not being there for his newly made family, he tried to commit suicide but came back stronger and better than before. Whilst this only a fraction of what this musician has been through, he’s always stayed true to his music and has marked generations.
As of Wednesday, 6th of December, Hallyday has left us with a lifetime of music, memories, and emotions that will surely be around for years to come. His love and admiration for the art of performing, composing as well as producing can only be admired no matter the language or music-style. Whilst his feud with the media in relations to his personal life is making headlines, it’s important to remember what the fuss was about, Hallyday’s career creating effects only seen with bands such as The Beatles and his talent producing what have become some of the biggest French hits. With over 183 tours, 1,000+ songs, 110 million albums sold and counting 50 studio albums as well as 29 live-performance albums, it’s truly staggering figures. I didn’t grow up listening to Hallyday but 3 generations since my grandparents have seen different sides to his music and appearance, his performances extending across cinematography as well as literature. There’s plenty of his music for you to discover and find what you like, whilst I’ve left out a lot of absolute classics, France is lucky to have had an icon like Halliday, we have a lot to thank him for.
Repose en paix Monsieur Hallyday.