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Johnny Hallyday: The Most Famous Singer You Never Knew Existed Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in Culture, Music, People

The French Elvis, the biggest rock star you’ve never heard of—these are just some of the nicknames given to Jean-Philippe Smet, also known as Johnny Hallyday, one of the best-selling French artists of all time.

Born in 1943, Johnny—as the French like to call him—began sa carrière (his career) in 1960 with the release of his debut album “Hello Johnny.” Heavily influenced by American rock’n’roll, blues, R&B and country artists, Johnny brought rock’n’roll to the French masses and garnered a huge following throughout France and French-speaking countries by singing mostly in French. Johnny’s nearly fifty-five year career has made his name synonymous with le rock’n’roll Français (French rock’n’roll).

Even at the age of seventy and after 181 tournées (tours), Johnny continues to release albums to great acclaim. With sales of over 100 million albums and eighteen certified platinum, Johnny’s career continues to flourish despite recurring problems with his santé (health) including colon cancer and several operations to repair herniated discs. Johnny stated during a 2011 interview “C’est formidable d’être en vie, d’être en pleine forme” (It’s great to be alive, to be in good shape).

Johnny has always had a knack of putting French paroles (lyrics) to English or American chansons (songs) to reach French-speaking audiences. Below is one of his hits called “Le Pénitencier” (The Penitentiary) based on the The Animals song “The House of the Rising Sun” released in 1964.

 

Les portes du pénitencier

Bientôt vont se fermer,

Et c’est là que je finirai ma vie

Comme d’autres gars l’ont finie

 

The penitentiary gates
Are going to close soon
And there I will end my life
Like other guys ended it

 

Pour moi, ma mère a donné

Sa robe de mariée

Peux-tu jamais me pardonner?

Je t’ai trop fait pleurer

 

For me, my mother gave
Her weding dress
Can you ever forgive me?
I made you cry too much

 

Le soleil n’est pas fait pour nous
C’est la nuit qu’on peut tricher
Toi qui ce soir a tout perdu
Demain tu peux gagner

 

The sun is not for us

It’s at night that we can cheat

You who lost everything tonight

Tomorrow you can win

 

Ô mères, écoutez-moi

Ne laissez jamais vos garçons

Seuls la nuit traîner dans les rues

Ils iront tout droit en prison.

 

O mothers, listen to me

Never let your boys

Hang around the streets alone at night

They would go straight to prison

 

Toi, la fille qui m’a aimé

Je t’ai trop fait pleurer

Les larmes de honte que tu as versées

Il faut les oublier

 

You, the girl who loved me

I made you cry too much

The tears of shame that you shed

You must forget them

 

Les portes du pénitencier

Bientôt vont se fermer

Et c’est là que je finirai ma vie

Comme d’autres gars l’ont finie

 

The penitentiary gates
Are going to close soon
And there I will end my life
Like other guys ended it

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