Next best thing to being in Paris? Watching movies set in Paris. Reading books about Paris. Listening to other people’s stories about Paris. Or, if all else fails, listening to favorite French songs about Paris on Youtube. This list is not exhaustive. There are many contenders! The City of Light has inspired artists depuis toujours (forever.) Voilà some of this French girl’s favorite Paris-inspired tunes interpreted by French artists, with two exceptions, (but these American-born performers shot to stardom in France.) In this list, you will find some really old songs, and some newer ones too. When I miss Paris, where I lived for many years, these songs bring back happy memories as I hum along, thinking of home. I hope you enjoy them too.
From les monstres sacrés with international reach, heavyweights like Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Trénet, Yves Montand, and more artists like Patachou, Berthe Sylva, Bourvil, Cora Vaucaire, or Juliette Gréco, come classics every French native will recognize. Popular culture is culture all the same. These songs (and the evocative voices that once brought them to life,) tell stories about the Paris of yesteryear. They are nostalgic, and sad on occasion. The Paris they depict can’t be conjured up easily anymore. Paris has changed. The songs, and the stories they tell, remain. They continue to play a big part in fueling the Paris mystique so many hope to experience when they flock to the French capital.
Sous le Ciel de Paris (Giraud, Dréjac, 1951)
La Romance de Paris (Trénet, Chauliac, 1941)
A Paris (Lemarque, 1946)
Ménilmontant (Trénet, 1938)
Josephine Baker, Joe Dassin: Two Americans in Paris
“La Baker” remains a beloved icon in my homeland. She was American, yet most of her rich, tumultuous life was spent in France. She eventually became a French citizen. I once wrote a story about Josephine Baker after visiting her former home in the beautiful Périgord. In this great song, she declares her love to Paris where she ruled for many years as a popular entertainer. The chorus says it all: “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris ” (I have two loves, my country and Paris.)
J’ai deux amours (Koger, Varna, Scotto, 1930)
Joe Dassin, the American born French singer, helped a famous Parisian avenue, les Champs Elysées, achieve iconic status in French popular culture with this hit song in the 1960s. It remains one of the tunes many French natives go back to when asked to sing in public. The YouTube version of the song with lyrics has already received 15 million hits!
Les Champs-Elysées (originally Waterloo Road, French lyrics by P. Delanoë, 1969)
Singing about Paris: a family business (Jacques and Thomas Dutronc)
Jacques Dutronc‘s iconic Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille (It’s 5:00am. Paris awakens) topped the charts when it was released in 1968 and has remained a favorite in France, especially among night owls.
Il est Cinq heures, Paris s’éveille (Lanzmann, Dutronc, 1968)
Many years later, Thomas Dutronc demonstrated he had inherited his father’s good looks and musical talent when he wrote J’aime plus Paris, (I don’t like Paris anymore.) He bemoans the disappearance of the Paris of his childhood and depicts a realistic but grim picture of the French capital, from stressed locals to packed public transportation and grey skies. Yet, he can’t help declaring his love to Paris at the end of the song, “Pourtant Paris, c’est toute ma vie. C’est la plus belle, j’en fais le pari. Il n’y a qu’elle, c’est bien l’ennui” (Yet Paris is all my life. She is the most beautiful city, I would bet on it. She’s the only one, that’s the problem.)
J’aime plus Paris (Dutronc, 2007)
They call it the City of Light for a reason:
Another night owl, Jean-Louis Aubert, (former leader of the French rock band Telephone,) once put his own spin on nocturnal Parisian adventures with Quand Paris s’éteint (when lights go out in Paris)
Quand Paris s’éteint (Aubert, 1987)
Singer/Songwriter Bénabar brings his trademark humor, clever lyrics and lively beat to Paris by Night, a tribute to Parisian nightlife.
Paris by Night (Benabar, 2016)
More French songs about Paris: Finding inspiration in Parisian icons
Actress/Singer/Top Model Vanessa Paradis became a star at age 14. She knows a thing or two about Parisian icons. In 2011, Vanessa performs La Seine, with “M” (Matthieu Chedid.) The Seine river, the French capital’s lifeline for more than 2000 years, inspired this song, featured in the soundtrack of the movie A Monster in Paris. It went on to collect awards in France and abroad.
La Seine (M. Chedid, 2011)
La Parisienne: Her sense of style is the envy of many women around the world. Christophe Maë weighs in with this ironic depiction of the urban adventures of a newly-minted Parisian Bobo (Bourgeois-Bohême.) Catchy tune. Fun video clip.
La Parisienne (C. Maë, P. Ecole, 2016)
Traditional Paris, new Paris. Real Paris, mythical Paris. In the end, one ineluctable truth remains: The French capital continues to inspire. In that sense, Maurice Chevalier and Mademoiselle Zaz are right: Paris will always be Paris.
Paris sera toujours Paris ( A. Willemetz, C. Oberfeld, 1939)
What about you? Any favorite song(s) about Paris? Let me know in the comment section!
The new French Girl in Seattle website will launch in just a few weeks. I can’t wait to welcome you chez moi! In the meantime, I am off to Paris – for real this time. Join me on Instagram and on Facebook during the trip and take a different look at Paris, through the eyes of this French native. See you there?