Friday, March 7, 2008

Syvie Vartan, Les Hou Lops, Bruce

“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was originally recorded by the Supremes. The song is driven by a fast stomping beat and an insistent guitar hook that sounded like the ringing of faraway bells. It was a moderate hit for them, coming in the middle of a string of number one hits like “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “Baby Love”, “Love Child”, and “Someday We’ll Be Together", and not standing out amongst them one way or another.

France’s foremost female soul singer of the time (one of those “in the kingdom of the blind…” scenarios) Sylvie Vartan recorded a cover soon after the release of the original on which, to her credit, she does a pretty credible imitation of Diana Ross’ patented bloodless blank delivery (Diana = the original Rihanna).
Sylvie Vartan was one of the chief exponents of the Ye Ye Girl style, recording high energy girlish pop music. She was famously married to Johnny Hallyday, a relationship that made them the king and queen of French pop. Like myself, she is half Hungarian.

ANYWAYS, One year after the Supremes version, the white Long Island rock band Vanilla Fudge covered the song on their debut LP, which consisted entirely of their versions of other peoples materials reworked as heavy rock. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is the stand out track on the album, with the song slowed down to almost halftime and turned into a dirge. Whereas the original had been light as air with its soaring vocals and guitar, the Vanilla Fudge version sounded literally HEAVY; weighted down and stuck in the mire. Oddly enough, this version was a underground FM radio hit and, more importantly to our story, resonated with musicians as well. A Motown tune from a few years back had been given a new lease on life. The Box Tops and Wilson Pickett both recorded versions with arrangements that were near identical to the Vanilla Fudge version, with prominent organ, thunderous chord hits and pounding drums replacing the ethereal guitar of the Supremes version.

The Vanilla Fudge version resonated in Montreal as well. Perhaps by slowing down the song and bringing out the drama in it, they somehow rendered it gallic. My armchair pop sociology aside, they were at least two covers by French Canadian groups. One was by Les Hou Lops who were winding down their career at that point. Like many Quebecois rock bands, they started out as an instrumental group inspired by the pre-surf rock of Duane Eddy, The Ventures and The Shadows. In the early 60’s as the Beatles hit, they begin doing vocal numbers and shifted into a Classels inspired group of bleached blondes known as the Tetes Blanches. Sadly, I could find no pictures. But, could someone who was there please tell me what was up with Quebecois bands and freakishly bleached pompadours?

Les Hou Lops released quite a few mid 60’s singles, that while not quite as crazy as Les Lutins or Les Sinners, were certainly nice, solid rhythm and blues based rock. As rock moved away from R&B, they cut a psychedelic album, covering Deep Purple (via Johnny Hallyday), Cream, The Box Tops, Jimi Hendrix, and Bach (via Jethro Tull), as well as the aforementioned “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Their version may just be the wildest Hou Lops song, complete with a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG spacey chord intro (setting the mood, dig?) before finally releasing the tension with the full band pounding out the opening chord hits. Oh, and then there is a crazy backwards part. They never reach that level of FREAK OUT TOTAL that the best psych bands do, but for a bunch of semi-geezers hitching a ride on the bandwagon, they are pretty fucking rocking.

The second Quebecois version is by Bruce, a/k/a Bruce Huard, the former lead singer of Les Sultans.

Les Sultans were probably the biggest band in Quebec from 64-67 and deserve their own post. They covered a lot of great British Invasion stuff by the Kinks, the Zombies and Van Morrison’s Them, as well as doing a great (but sort of superfluous) cover of Michel Polnareff’s “La poupee qui fait non.” After they split, producer Denis Pantis brought Bruce into his stable and groomed him in a similar manner as he had Michel Pagliaro. In fact, Bruce’s first solo LP came out around the same time as Pagliaro’s and follows a similar formula: a blend of light rock covers (the Beatles AND Lou Rawls) designed to appeal to both old and young and give Bruce a more serious audience as a singer skirting the edges of Chanson style. As such, his version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is more mannered than Les Hou Lops. Actually out of all the versions that use the Vanilla Fudge arrangement, it's the most normal. That’s not to say I don’t like it. I actually might prefer it the Hou Lops version as the arrangement and vocals are just so tight. It's dramatic while still being poppy and unpretentious.

Anyways, you can decide for yourself… 3 French versions of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”… Enjoy.

Sylvie Vartan- Je N_ai Pas Pu Resister

Bruce- Laisse Moi

Hou Lops- Tu Me Gardes En Suspens


Blogger S.ébastien said...

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March 15, 2008 at 10:11:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite version of You Keep Me Hanging On is by Nanette (Workman), from her 1st self-titled album, produced by Tony Roman.

August 30, 2009 at 9:37:00 PM PDT  
Blogger petergunn said...

that is nice one, very close to the supremes version tho...

September 24, 2009 at 1:07:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow a guy from Queens covering the 60s Quebec music scene...impressive. Les Sultans were indeed the shit. I remember walking into Sam the Record man store back in the 80s and going thru the catalogs to order the tape - not enough orders were registered so it wasn't worth pulling out the master to cut my tape. Thank goodness for the net.

June 12, 2012 at 5:42:00 PM PDT  

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