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.
Songs about Paris: the classics
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)
“La Baker” remains a beloved icon in my homeland. She was American, yet most of her rich, tumultuous life was spent in France. She became a French citizen through her third husband. 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 decades 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.) She was sincere, and proved it during World War II while bravely working for the Free French Forces.
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 for some
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)
Songs about Paris: “the City of Love”
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 Parisian icons
Actress/Singer/Top Model Vanessa Paradis became a star at age 14. She knows a thing or two about being a Parisian icon. 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!
A grounded tour guide (for now!) I am finding new ways to share my passion for Paris and France while interacting with an ever-growing community of Paris and France lovers. The Beatles were right: One can accomplish a lot with a little help from one’s friends!
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Music is incredibly evocative, of time and place and emotional states, so here’s my left-field nomination: Michelle by Paul McCartney (& Lennon). I know, it’s not directly about Paris and has only a few lines of French in it (but the lines you remember!) but for me at least there is something powerfully evocative of Paris about it.
First, is the period it was inspired by and released into, ie. the 60s counter-culture; here’s Macca on it (via Wiki):
The words and style of “Michelle” have their origins in the popularity of French Left Bank culture during McCartney’s Liverpool days. McCartney had gone to a party of art students where a student with a goatee and a striped T-shirt was singing a French song.
McCartney continues to favour it in concerts, particularly in any Francophone place; bien sur he sang it in Washington DC with Michelle Obama sitting in the front row. The song has been covered by innumerable performers including Nina Simone, an honorary Frenchwoman!
It won the Grammy for best song in 1967, which leads to ..
Second, it was used by Ettore Scola for his “Paris ’68” segment in his 1983 “Le Bal” which was an extraordinary film without dialogue (shot like a silent movie but with music) that tracked the fifty-year story of French society by way of a ballroom in Paris. IIRC the version didn’t use lyrics and was a solo performance on saxophone while the riots were occurring just outside the ballroom’s basement windows. There were dozens if not hundreds of songs one could have chosen to represent “the 60s” but they chose this one.
Most people find the movie to be powerfully evocative, and for me of Paris (even though the movie is entirely set in the ballroom) because I was living in Paris when I saw it not long after its first release (and again several more times over the years). It is also one of those movies that benefit from being seen in a theatre–back then there often was one of those small cinemas showing it somewhere in Paris.
Michelle, ma belle
Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Très bien ensemble
Trust “Aussie-on-Ile-St-Louis” to always leave thoughtful, informative comments! I, too, enjoy Mc Cartney’s “Michelle.” Incidentally, I recently connected with another Aussie while in Paris: Oliver Gee, the creator of the entertaining “The Earful Tower” podcast. I don’t know if you have had a chance to listen to the episode we recorded at his 20th arrondissement studio last week. It was quite fun! A bientôt.
Many old favorites and a couple that are new to me, so thanks for those!
Aux Champs Elysée is a karaoke favorite. I don’t think I’ve been to a wedding or community dinner where it wasn’t played, and everybody sang along.
I am finally replying to you, after my whirlwind Paris trip. Thank you for stopping by once again. I am certain that living in southern France as you do, you must have heard that Joe Dassin tune quite often at family celebrations! A bientôt.
If you search for “French love songs” on Youtube, you come up with several different mixes of them. The best is over 100 songs starting with Dernier Danse by Indila, followed by Stromae, and going through a lot of songs from the sixties and Julio Iglesias. “French Afro Pop” also yields a couple of nice collections. ZAZ has a mix too but unfortunately, it reapeats a lot.
Bienvenue Rebecca. You are right: French songs are popular out there. I do like that Indila song and almost added it, but I had to make some choices; or the list would have gone on for ever. Stromae is also a favorite of mine. I once wrotet e an article about him on the FGIS blog. Have you read it? Merci de votre visite, et à bientôt.
Added some of these to my Spotify playlist…many thanks and have a great trip Veronique!
Merci Jeanne. I have just returned from Paris. What a great trip that was! I hope you could follow me on Instagram or Facebook, but if not, keep an eye out for upcoming posts here on the blog, or in social media. A bientôt!
Merci Debra. Happy you enjoyed the “FGIS selection.”
Any and all songs by Françoise Hardy, especially Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles de mon age.
Agreed. Big Françoise Hardy fan here too. “Tous les Garçons” is my favorite song by her. I remember singing it when I was much, much younger. A bientôt!
What a beautiful photo of Balzac’s house! And what a coincidence! Right now I’m reading a delicious book called “Balzac’s Omelette”, translated from French. I also see in the photo the Turkish flag, flying from its embassy, in what used to be the magnificent home of the Princess of Lamballe.
And I like all your songs! Thanks to YouTube I could also find my old favorites:
Tino Rossi – “Le plus beau tango du monde”
and our own USA born, Eddie Constantine, singing “Si si si” – He was like a son to the immortal Edith Piaf.
These songs take me back to the Paris of my youth. Maybe they’re not about Paris…but they’re French after all?
Have a safe trip home. I can imagine the excitement!
Bonjour Maria. I like your selection. My mother is a big Tino Rossi fan, and I know she would agree with your choices. Thank you for stopping by, as always.
Thank you for these wonderful songs. I will listen as I fly from here to there this Thursday. We are in Nice the first two weeks, so if you are in the area let us meet up if time permits.
Bonjour DiAnn. I hope you enjoyed Nice. Another FGIS reader, Dave, has been in Nice the last two weeks and told me the weather had been pretty rough for the area. Hopefully Paris will treat you better now. It looks like spring has finally arrived in the French capital, looking at the beautiful Cherry blossoms I spotted this week. Maybe we will meet in Europe one of these days…
Yes, Nice is having some Spring weather while we are here but we role with it and enjoy the city nonetheless. I have already made some forever friends here and will be back for an even longer stay next time.
J’habite en France – Michel Sardou
Michelle – Gerard Lenorman
L’important c’est la rose – Gilbert Bécaud
Il n’y a plus d’autre – Juliette Gréco et Guy Béart
Pour toi – Mireille Mathieu
Bonjour Melinda. Some great classics here, even if they are not specifically about Paris. “J’habite en France” was a very funny (i.e. sarcastic) song about my countrymen. Did you know Michel Sardou officially retired this week when he gave his last Live performance?
La Seine by Vanessa P. Is the one for me! Thanks for all the great music ? french girl! Merci!
Avec plaisir Sandy. J’aime beaucoup Vanessa (et “la Seine”) moi aussi. The video is pretty cool too!
Thomas Dutronc is my favorite as we live in Calvi, Haute Corse, Having moved here from Ballard.
Wow! From Ballard, WA to Calvi, Haute Corse: Talk about a big change! Jacques Dutronc has lived in Corsica for years. I heard Thomas is around on a regular basis.
Dear French Girl,
I can see from recent comments you are making that you will be moving back to France soon. I wish you weren’t as I enjoy having you here in the Seattle area, and all the posts you write about that sort of touch on French life that happens here. We haven’t met, and yet it makes me happy that you are here and I will be sad when you go. Weird, huh? Even though I will still be able to read your blog and Insta if you are doing it in France…
Thanks for what you do!
Sheila in Port Townsend
Bonjour Sheila from Port Townsend (what a lovely place you live in! I used to visit on a regular basis…) I would not worry too much about my relocating to Europe. It’s been my plan for many years and yet, you see, I am still here, blogging from Seattle, or at least the Seattle area. It will be a while before I am able to move my life back to Europe, hopefully France. In the meantime, you will still have me around. As a side note, I am touched by your message. Thank you. I appreciate your support. Keep following FGIS! The next step – as soon as I can get it done in spite of my busy work schedule – is a brand-new website. I hope you enjoy it and send me some feedback when I release it later this spring. A bientôt.
I hope you still use the watercolor doggie in beret w/space needle somewhere. It’s the cutest thing ever!
In fact, please have notecards printed with this pic on front. They’d sell like hotcakes!
Sheila in Port Townsend
What an extraordinary post, Madame Veronique! One of your best! Brava!
Re: (Still) trending in Paris:
These past days, the thought that I was flying back to Paris so soon made me feel happy and excited! That is, until I remembered I had to pack a suitcase, the only part of traveling that I absolutely dislike!
After running around in circles for several days like a chicken without a head, I happened to read your new post…and voilà, everything became clear about what to pack. The only thing I need now is a youthful, slim figure like yours “pour un look parfait”.
Thank you so much for making our lives less complicated!
Ha! Your message made me smile Maria. I am so glad I could be of assistance as you were packing your bags to visit Paris! I hope you have a fabulous time and the weather stays as warm and sunny as it has been this week. After a very long, cold, and wet winter, Parisians have certainly earned this. Bon voyage Maria!
I like Riff Cohen A Paris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeMtEa5QhcA
Moi aussi! Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing your French song list. I enjoy listening as I study French or pay the bills. Haha. I suppose you have also see YouTubeMusic? It has different play lists and I hear it saves battery life if listening with smartphone.
Bonjour Denise. I am not familiar with YouTubeMusic but will look into it. As a tour guide, I often play music on the bus for our tour members!
Another lovely post, Veronique! It’s a gorgeous day in Seattle. Blue skies and warm weather and it can only get better with some Parisian songs. Hugs.