While his musical career (especially outside the Francophone world) has largely been overshadowed by that of his brilliant wife Françoise Hardy, Jacques Dutronc’s pair of self-titled albums released in the 1960s hold up unexpectedly well decades later. Elements of the garage rock coming out of the U.S. during his teenage years are abound, these aspects mixing with the sounds and attitudes of yé-yé, the loose, bubbly style of French pop which originated years earlier.
Another crucial part of the songwriting on the two self-titled albums (released in 1966 and 1968) were the lyrics. Jacques Lanzmann — a renaissance man novelist, journalist and songwriter who at the time when he met Dutronc was the editor of the raunchy men’s magazine Lui — helped infuse Dutronc’s already suave sound with a distinctly French sense of sarcasm and aloofness. With Lanzmann’s help, Dutronc’s music gained a propensity to ridicule everything and everyone popular at the time.
One of the early and most enduring hits of this partnership was the 1966 single “Et moi, et moi, et moi” (“And I, and I, and I”), a simple garage rock track with a heavy dose of cynicism in its lyrics. He sings, “Cinquante millions de vietnamiens Et moi, et moi, et moi Le dimanche à la chasse au lapin Avec mon fusil, je suis le roi J’y pense et puis j’oublie C’est la vie, c’est la vie” (“Fifty million Vietnamese and me, and me, and me hunting rabbits on Sundays with my rifle, I am the king I think of it and then I forget it That’s life, that’s life”). Along with this reference to the Vietnam war, Dutronc refers to the plight of hundreds of millions around the world while contrasting them with the petty worries of his selfish Frenchman and his headaches and his “habits and tics in his little goose feather bed.”
The cover of the 1968 self-titled features Dutronc suited up, snarling off-camera with a cigar sandwiched between his teeth. It is a fitting emblem to the type of chic he represented as well as the music contained within the album. While officially titled Jacques Dutronc, it is perhaps even more known as “Il est cinq heures” after both its as well as Dutronc as a whole’s biggest hit “Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille” (“It’s five o’clock, Paris awakens”). Considered by many to be one of the best French-language singles ever released, it paints a portrait of Paris in the early morning hours, an idea that has been explored heavily by countless artists, musicians and writers throughout the decade. In a fashion reminiscent of the poet Baudelaire, he looks into the less postcard-worthy scenes, describing, “Les stripteaseuses sont rhabillées Les traversins sont écrasés Les amoureux sont fatigués” (“The strippers are dressed again, the bolsters are crushed, the lovers are tired”) and calling the famous Paris-Montparnasse station “nothing more than a carcass.”
Similarly, Dutronc satirizes the hippie lifestyle of the time in “Hippie Hippie Hourrah,” declaring, “J’aime les fleurs et la fumée Je ne suis plus un revolté Les Beatniks c’est dépassé Maintenant le monde il faut l’aimer” (“I love the flowers and smoke I’m not a rebel anymore The beatniks are passé Now we must love the world”). Dutronc’s voice is highly Dylan-esque (with slightly better melodic talents) and pairs well with these type of more straightforward garage rockers, but also shines in more earnest pieces such as “Les rois de la réforme,” an anti-war track in which he converses with Monsieurs Calvin (John Calvin), Luther (Martin Luther), Luthin and Calvaire about giving up the uniform.
As Jeremy Allen of The Guardian notes, Dutronc’s “cigar-chomping visage is the true embodiment of French pop at its most chic.” While he continued to release music as he transitioned his career into acting, none of them reached the heights that his first two did with their (rather rare) combination of witty cynicism and youthful energy.