Joe Dassin is alive and well and living on YouTube
August 7, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Joe Dassin was the son of a Russian jewish American film director a Hungarian virtuoso violinist.

The family left the States when Joe's father was blacklisted in Hollywood in the McCarthy witch hunt. They eventually settled in France; Joe finished his high school in Geneva, Switzerland. He moved back to the States where he enrolled at teh University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and got a PhD in ethnology.

While working as a DJ at WXR (now WJR in Detroit he met Tamla Motown's Berry Gordy, got introduced to Robert Dylan by Pete Seeger, and became more interested in making music himself: he would go out busking with a friend and perform Georges Brassens songs.

Dassin returned to France in the 1960s and recorded a first (unsuccessful) single in 1965. The single bombed, but he didn't give up, shooting to the top of the hit parade with his fourth single, the whimsical Bip bip.

The B-side of that first hit single, Guantanamera, started a trend for Dassin: you probably mainly remember him (if at all) from a time when most succesful songs existed in many language versions. His songs were not necessarily straight translations by any measure and they were often much more popular than the original versions -- to the extent many people would be amazed if you told them these were not original French songs.

Some examples? L'été indien (a cover of Toto Cotugno's Africa, but eclipsing Cotugno in the European charts), Ça va pas changer le monde (couldn't even find the original, Parappa-pa, on the internets), Marie Jeanne (a cover of Bobbie Gentry's Ode To Billy Joe keeping the song but transposing it to France), Le café des trois colombes (a different text on Pierre "Smurf Song" Cartner's Het kleine café aan de haven) or L'Amérique (a cover of Christie's Yellow River), Si tu t'appelles mélancholie (cover of Please tell him I said hello).

Dassin not only did covers -- I'll leave you with Et si tu n'existais pas (stick around for the bridge -- never were 1001 strings better used), À toi (can't listen to this without tearing up), La fleur aux dents, and a rare song that made the trip in the opposite direction: Dassin wrote Le marché aux puces ("The flea market") in 1979, and adapted and translated it (with Tony Joe White) to The guitar don't lie (see also: White's version).

Biography, discography and more at the Unofficial Joe Dassin Site.
posted by mvuijlst (6 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic post. Here is another video of L'été indien which has the kind of images I always associated with the song.

Of all the chansonniers I listen to in order to improve my French, he is the best.
posted by niccolo at 1:02 PM on August 7, 2010

Great post. I like Joe Dassin a lot.

I went to a wedding in Paris recently and the bride and groom used Dassin's version of Aux Champs Elysées for their first dance. It was just perfect.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:29 PM on August 7, 2010

I love Dassin's Salut les Amoureux, sung to the tune of City of New Orleans and just as wistful in the French, though on a different theme.

Lyrics in both original French and English translation can be found here.
posted by darkstar at 5:17 PM on August 7, 2010

American Joe! Thanks for this.
posted by Roachbeard at 5:25 PM on August 7, 2010

I love Aux Champs Elysées, I listened to it while walking there when I visited Paris. Another perfect moment.
posted by lizbunny at 6:40 PM on August 7, 2010

Thanks. He was one of my faves when I was a kid. Saturday evenings, family around the tv set, watching Maritie and Gilbert Carpentier's Numero Un. Well, check this if you're into French songs from the 70's.
posted by nicolin at 4:18 AM on August 8, 2010

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