Requiem for a youth idol...




Johnny Hallyday, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, was a French singer who, apart from the exceptional talent that was his, could boast of having happily exceeded the 50-year career to date and sold no less than one a hundred million records, just that.


And yet, life starts off badly for little Jean-Philippe. Indeed, his father Léon Smet, Belgian actor, singer and dancer left his mother when the little one was only 8 months old. And it is his paternal aunt who will act as a double mother because his natural mother is forced to resume a professional activity which prevents her from raising him.


A double mother who also has children, daughters, who are classical dancers. An artistic career that sent the whole family to London in 1946, an adventure that would last two years. It was there that one of the girls, Desta, met and married an American dancer known by the stage name Lee Halliday. A couple, but also a duo, which will perform throughout Europe from 1949 under the name Les Halliday.


And it is precisely this famous Lee Halliday, who will serve as adoptive father to little Jean-Philippe and who will affectionately nickname him Johnny. Hence his future Johnny Halliday stage name. It is also thanks to this famous Lee that he will go on stage for the first time in his life, then aged just 9 years. Indeed, the latter allows him to do the opening act of their show in Copenhagen and this is how he can perform the song "The Ballad of Davy Crockett", dressed as a cowboy and guitar in hand. We are then in 1956.


The family therefore returned to Paris after a few months and little Jean-Philippe began to appear in series, advertisements and some TV shows. But it was above all the discovery at the age of 14 of a certain Elvis Presley that would change his life forever. He has THE revelation : he wants to be like his idol, which is to sing rock'n'roll.


And it is always the famous Lee who will put the foot in the stirrup by allowing him to be inspired by rock'n'roll records then totally unpublished in France and which he matters especially for him from the United States.


Things accelerated from 1958 when he began to frequent the Golf-Drouot with some then totally unknown accomplices such as Long Chris, Dany Logan, Jacques Dutronc and other Eddy Mitchell. Hall that would quickly establish itself as one of the temples of rock'n'roll. At the same time, he tries to perform in clubs, but refusals and failures are common. He then fell back on the American bases where he sang for the Gis.


Then came 1959, a year that finally brought him luck. Indeed, he participates in a tele-hook called Paris Cocktail and performs a title called "Viens faire une partie". A performance noticed in particular by two songwriters named Jil and Jan who present him in the wake of the Vogue label. Label which made him sign a year later, we are then in 1960.


A first title "T’aimer follement came out in stride with the artist name Johnny Hallyday, a name misspelled. An uncorrected mistake that will remain his trademark forever. But the French public is not yet ready for this kind of music and the title is a failure.


All is not lost because the singer still attracts the attention of Daniel Filippacchi and Frank Ténot, presenters of one of the biggest radio shows of the moment, namely 'Salut les copains'. Which ones decide to support him. He also made his first TV show in 'L'école des vedettes' and stood out there singing "Laisse les filles" while playing guitar and rolling on the floor.


A year 1960 which also saw him release the title "Souvenirs, souvenirs", a title which this time would make a real hit in France and launch the artist's career for good. The galas will follow one another and he will even do the first part of Sacha Distel's tour. Galas enamelled with several incidents because its first fans are somewhat hysterical and degrade the rooms in which he occurs. Degradations unanimously condemned by the press which shoots red balls on the young artist.


Collective hysteria which continued in 1961 during the 1st international rock festival organized at the Palais des sports in Paris. Festival punctuated by numerous fights and police interventions but which confirms that the rock wave is indeed launched in France. The year 1961 also saw the release of the artist’s first 33 Tours album "Nous les gars, nous les filles".


A rock wave which is emulated and which creates above all competition. In particular Les Chausettes Noires. The singer then asks for more means from his record company, and especially more musicians to face it. Vogue refuses, the singer slams the door then just 18 years old. Despite his young age, he already has 36 songs on the record and more than a million and a half records sold already to his credit, just that.


He then went under the Philipps label and recorded “Viens danser le twist”, a title which launched the twist in France. An exit followed shortly after by a first stint at the Olympia. New album "Salut les copains" also at the end of the year. Album from which will be extracted the now famous "Retiens la nuit", a song which finally allows him to have a semblance of recognition on the part of the critics.


The year 1962 was devoted to the recording and release of an English-language album "Sings America's rockin 'hits", an album which received little echo in France. This is not the case abroad where it will be rather well received. New Olympia at the end of the year where he throws the mashed potato this time. An Olympia openly hailed by critics, especially in relation to the artist's stage performance.


Despite this, he is not done with the controversy. In fact, the following year, in 1963, he tried to go sing in Lebanon after having been to sing in London. Unfortunately, he is not welcome in Beirut because his arrival creates political unrest and he is forced to leave without having performed any concert. A controversy that will be debated even within the benches of the National Assembly after his forced and forced return.


The same year, a mega free concert was organized by the magazine 'Salut les copains' place de la Nation in Paris, a concert which notably brought together him, Sylvie Vartan, Richard Anthony and Les Chats Sauvages. We expect 30,000 people, there will be almost 200,000 ! The concert went rather well but serious incidents broke out in the suburbs and many "blousons noirs" were arrested, making the scandalous press.


Comes in the wake of "Da dou ron ron", another huge success of the singer and which confirms the new name "yéyé" (in reference to the many onomatopoeias used in their songs) given to this generation. And new controversies with a revisited Marseillaise rock version during a concert in Trouville on July 14 and which will unleash the fury of the veterans. An incident that will make the headlines of the evening television news. A year that will still end on a high note with two new big hits: "D'où viens-tu Johnny" but also, and above all, "Pour moi la vie va commencer".


The year 1964 saw the release of "Les guitares jouent" recorded with his new group Joey and the Showmen. A year 1964 which rhymes with military service and which saw him put his artistic career on hold for the time of incorporation. An incorporation that La Grande Muette uses to use the artist in promotional films and some variety shows produced within the barracks itself. He is exceptionally authorized to continue recording from the moment he poses in military uniform. It was under these special conditions that a title was released which would become one of his greatest successes, namely "Le pénitencier".


Marriage to Sylvie Vartan a year later in 1965 and resumption of full-time career. New album "Hallelujah" and "Johnny chante Hallyday". A comeback that rhymes with a change of sound more typical of Rhythm & Blues, a musical reorientation that will quite disturb the fans of the first hour.


The sanction is immediate : drop in significant sales from 1966 and concerts which are played in half-empty rooms. Added to this is the duel from a distance with a new wave of singers played by Antoine, who is not shy to openly ridicule the artist. Which will answer him in the famous song "Cheveux longs et idées courtes".


Business picked up at the end of the year, notably thanks to a meeting with a certain Jimi Hendrix. So totally unknown, the latter will open for the artist during the tour that will follow. But the upturn is short-lived as rumors of separation with Sylvie Vartan are rife despite the birth of her son David. To this is added a heavy dispute with taxes concerning several arrears. Too much is too much, the artist tries to end his life only a few hours before performing at the Fête de l'Humanité and is urgently hospitalized. A particularly dark period that coincides with the release of "Noir c'est noir".


He still returns at the end of the year and seems transformed : musical style, behavior on stage and way of singing have nothing to do with it. His new "vocal power" impresses and puts him back in the race for a long time. A winning comeback accompanied by the release of the hugely successful "La génération perdue" album.


New major success at the beginning of 1967 with the release of "Hey Joe" which he interprets in the company of Jimi Hendrix, cover of a title by Billy Roberts dating from 1962. A year that sees the Hallyday-Vartan couple getting back on their feet. So much so that they embark on a joint tour of South America. The more soul music oriented album "Johnny 67" was released immediately. Which contrasts completely with a much more hippie-oriented end of the year, against a backdrop of psychedelic delusions. In particular during a Musicorama organized at the Palais des Sports and during which screens are used on which are projected delirious images. A show during which the artist delivers a landmark performance.


New album "Jeune homme" in 1968 followed by "Rêve et amour", albums which will produce several big hits that are "Entre mes mains", "Fumée" and "Cours plus vite Charlie". And tour in South Africa during which he broke his foot when he fell off the stage. Back in France, another incident in Lyon where he is uneasy in the middle of a concert. A year that ends in forced rest.


Back in force in 1969 when concerts followed one another, new look concerts which saw him perform on several stages at the same time, a particularly innovative concept for the time, notably at the Palais des Sports in Paris. Another striking fact is that he includes in his musicians a certain Jean-Pierre Azoulay, whom he met a few months earlier at the Golf Drouot. Musician who will be determining in the years to come concerning the musical evolution of the singer. But this is also the year of release of the title "Que je t'aime", one of his most iconic titles. A title that will literally unleash the crowds and provoke scenes of hysteria and swarms ...


The transition to the 1970s rhymes with new artistic collaborations, in particular that with journalist-writer Philippe Labro. A collaboration that takes the artist on a more muscular, even more aggressive musical path. Notably on the track "Jesus Christ", where the singer is wracked by the Vatican when he sings "if Christ was still alive today, he would be a hippie". The controversy is such that the Vatican is threatening to excommunicate the singer. The disc will even be removed from several stores and banned from air.


The album "Vie" which came out the same year is a reflection of this new path taken with more militant and engaged song lyrics, especially on themes such as ecology or the post-sixty-eight shock of young and old.


The year 1971, like the previous ones, brought its share of controversy. The poster used for his tour of the West Indies and Canada is a poster showing him crucified on a guitar. This will provoke numerous demonstrations of indignation which arrived on the spot. In terms of success, it will be the year of "Oh, ma jolie Sarah", a title that will be a real hit that year.


Another change of course a year later in 1972 with the collaboration with singer-songwriter Michel Mallory. Collaboration that brings him back to more peaceful ways and a less hard rock. The singer also tries a foray into the Country style, an attempt which will prove to be a failure. Just like his new show combining circus and music. After years of all-out success, the artist seems to have reached a first major crossroads in his career.


It is Mallory who will allow the singer to bounce back thanks to the album "Insolitudes", album which was released in 1973 and which notably contains "La musique que j'aime". A huge success that calls for another, a certain "J'ai un problème". A title that he performs in a duet with Sylvie Vartan and which shows once again that the duo-couple still works as well.


The year 1974 will be the year of the release of the album “Je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime”, a very ballad-oriented album as well as “Rock'n'slow”, an album which made the share well with the covers of standards of Berry, Cochran and other Presley. It’s also the year of gigantic concerts that sees a Johnny pushing his limits every time and often, beyond.


The following year he flew to the United States to record a new cover album, this time on standards from the 1950s. He also produced the album “La terre promise” with a very Country rock-oriented sound. A year 1975 decidedly very American because he is squarely thinking of settling there following the showdown between the French tax services, which are demanding huge sums of money due to unpaid arrears.


He still returned to France in 1976 and began a new collaboration, this time with Jacques Revaux. The new musical ‘variety’ direction is obvious and this in an attempt to further strengthen the popularity of the artist. It is with this in mind that titles like "Requiem pour un fou" or "Gabrielle" are coming out, two major titles of the year which will finish at the top of the charts. It is also a pivotal year for the setting up of extraordinary concerts, full of special effects and various finds, almost a first in France. The double album "Hamlet", which came out at the end of the year and which was among the very first rock operas to be released in France, was a failure.


A failure quickly forgotten the following year in 1977 when the album "C’est la vie" was released. Album from which will be extracted one of his greatest titles namely "J'ai oublié de vivre", followed shortly by "Elle m'oublie". The singer Antoine returns to the charge and once again provokes Johnny, who this time, does not reply.


New album "Hollywood" in 1979, followed by a new series of mega concerts. Concerts which see him on the one hand performing a new one that will become one of his biggest standards, namely "Ma gueule". He also took the opportunity to bring his son David on stage for the first time when he was only 13 years old. Nice duo which will see the father singing and the son playing the drums on the title “Rien que 8 jours”. In total, his concert series will attract more than 250,000 people, a near record for the time.


The turn of the 80s was smooth, and painful, because the album "A partir de maintenant" that came out that year was only a limited success. Album which will not produce any major hits and which nevertheless contains a title written by a certain Daniel Balavoine. This title is none other than "Je ne suis pas un héros", title which will be taken over by Balavoine and which will become one of its flagship titles. A year 1980 when the bad news accumulated with the official announcement of the singer's separation from Sylvie Vartan.


A strong takeover in 1981 with the release of the album "En pièces détachées, an album which sees Johnny returning to a darker and more aggressive rock, notably with the titles "Guerre" and "Lady divine". Followed up at the end of the year by the album "Pas facile", an album through which the singer decides to settle accounts with part of the tabloid press who have not spared him until then. Only this last album would produce two major hits, namely "Je t'ai aimée" and "J'en ai marre".


A sluggish start to the decade which was confirmed in 1982 with the release of 2 albums "Quelque part un aigle" and "La peur", albums which achieved significant sales scores but which also struggled to produce notorious hits. On the private side, on the other hand, the good news follows. In particular, the formalization of the relationship he has with one of the leading actresses of the moment, namely Nathalie Baye. A union that will culminate in 1983 with the birth of Laura.


The year 1983 saw the release of a single album "Entre violence et violon". Who also struggles to find his audience and who does not produce the expected results. So mixed success on the album side, but which is largely counterbalanced by the success of several concert events, one of the most incredible of which will be 'FantasmHallyday'.


In terms of albums, we will have to wait for the year 1984 and the album "Drôle de métier" to see the singer finally get back to the top of the pack, notably thanks to the title "Mon p'tit loup (Ca va faire mal)". But it was especially from 1985 that the tide turned and this time in the right direction.


Then came the album "Rock'N'Roll attitude", an album written by a certain ... Michel Berger. The album is a hit and will produce two of Johnny's most iconic tracks : "Le chanteur abandonné" but also, and above all, "Quelque chose de Tennessee". An album which also makes it possible to reach a part of the public which until then had no more interest than that in the artist.


Then it was Jean-Jacques Goldman's turn to offer the album "Gang" on a platter a year later in 1986. And even if the album did a little worse than its predecessor, it produced all the same three new titles of very, very large caliber that are "J'oublierai ton nom" (in duet with the English singer Carmel), "Je te promets" and finally "Laura", in homage to her daughter born a few years earlier.


During the years 1987 and 1988, the singer spent his life mainly on tour or to play the actors in particular for the television series David Lansky.


Music side, new album "Cadillac" in 1989. Album produced this time by Etienne Roda-Gil. The album was a hit but produced only one major hit with the hugely massive "Mirador".


The transition to the 90s is made in the company of a new partner, namely Adeline Blondieau, daughter of her old friend Long Chris. A 90 year that will be blank in terms of the album.


So we had to wait until 1991 to see the album "Ca ne change pas un homme" released. An album this time with multiple composers and not the least : Art Mengo, Patrick Bruel, Jon Bon Jovi, among others. Once again thanks to this pool of talent, the album is a huge success. The main titles will be extracted from it "Ca ne change pas un homme" and "Dans un an et un jour", title which he owes to Mort Shuman and which was his last composition. It is also the year in which he interprets on stage one of the most striking titles of his career, namely "Diego, libre dans sa tête", in truth a luxury cover of a title by Michel Berger and performed for the first time by France Gall in 1981.


New 3 years air hole on the album side and back in 1994 with "Rough Town". An album exclusively in English, it allows the singer to embark on a European tour this time. But mainly in small rooms. The English language orientation and small venues will not allow this opus to remain as one of his most iconic.


The year 1995 saw the release of the album "Lorada", album which saw the participation once again of Jean-Jacques Goldman. But this time only on 2 titles. Either way, one of the 2 tracks, "J'l'a croise tous les matins", gives Johnny a new hit. A year 1995 which also sees the singer meet a certain Laeticia ...


We will have to wait 3 years and the year 1998 to see a new studio album come out. This time under the leadership of Pascal Obispo. Album "Ce que je sais" from which the single of the same name will be extracted. But who will also produce another single called ... "Allumer le feu", single that will remain as one of the singer's most iconic.


The 90s ended in style and especially, with the family, when his son David produced the album "Sang pour sang" for him in 1999. The album was to be extremely successful and will remain as his best-selling album of the decade, notably thanks to titles such as “Vivre pour le meilleur”, “Un viendra” and “Sang pour sang”.


The artist was then at the height of fame and success. With a 40-year career on the clock, you'd think it might be time for the artist to bow out and walk out the front door. Not only will he not, but the 2000s will see him continue his dizzying ascent to the stars, with nothing and no one being able to stop him. Except perhaps the disease ...


To discover or rediscover.


Discography (among others ...) :

  • T’aimer follement 1960

  • Souvenirs, souvenirs 1960

  • Kili watch 1961

  • Tu parles trop 1961

  • Tutti frutti 1961

  • Viens danser le twist 1961

  • Retiens la nuit 1962

  • I got a woman 1962

  • Pas cette chanson 1962

  • L’idole des jeunes 1962

  • Elle est terrible 1963

  • Da dou ron ron 1963

  • Pour moi la vie va commencer 1963

  • Excuse-moi partenaire 1964

  • Les mauvais garçons 1964