Song of the Week (for Your Event): Sylvie Vartan, “Twiste et Chante”

July 9, 2010

Twiste et chante 45At most events where we spin, there’s guests with musical tastes that are more adventurous, and there's those guests with musical tastes that are more mild. To please both of these groups, you either have to toggle between styles a lot, or you have to find songs that at the same time can excite both groups but also still feel fresh.

An excellent example of a rare song that perfectly does this is actually one that's about 25 years old – the French singer Sylvie Vartan's cover of the Beatles' classic "Twist and Shout." Vartan's version (from the 1964 EP pictured) manages to be both instantly familiar and charmingly different at the same time – an old favorite that you've heard many times, yet also never heard at all.  

Vartan, originally from Bulgaria, and who was about nineteen when she recorded the song, was one of the most prominent stars of the female-fronted "ye-ye" scene. This musical trend in early to mid-1960s France consisted of attractive young women dressed in the most stylishly "mod" fashions of the day singing about first loves and first break-ups with an attitude that mingled innocence with an often edgy, up-front sexuality.

“Twiste et Chante” keeps the melody and speed of the iconic Beatles song, but it doesn’t try to match the intensity of the well-known raw guitar and vocal sound. Instead, the pretty French lyrics and Vartan’s playful vocals take the spotlight, with only, it seems, drums and cymbal accompaniment and a few female back-up vocals. The whole effect gives the song a more sly, more jazzy, and more, well, stereotypically French, vibe.  

The impressive thing here, though, is that this lighter treatment of the song never feels like fluff. While there may not be any gritty guitar distortion like in the version you're more familiar with, there is some grit to Vartan’s vocals. Her late-teenage voice is unusually deep and mature-sounding, and, possibly from her Bulgarian roots, there’s a husky, slightly guttural accent in her French. Regardless of wherever her vocal performance comes from, it’s what makes the song a success. The rollicking wildness of the original Beatles song is exchanged here for a wily sexiness that's impressively satisfying. The song might even leave you thinking that in those French lyrics, when Vartan sings about Twisting and Shouting, that maybe she’s describing something more provocative than simply shaking it up, baby, and working it out. Ooh la la!

Sylvie Vartan – Twiste et Chante

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