Au Revoir, Johnny: France Loses Its Most Famous Rocker

The streets of Paris were lined with hundreds of thousands of mourners today, including a cortege of 700 bikers, who came to pay their respects to their country’s Elvis Presley. Johnny Hallyday passed away last week at age 74 from lung cancer. 

At his memorial, French president Emmanuel Macron told the crowd that the singer had touched everyone’s lives: “In each of your lives there have been moments where one of his songs translated what you had in your heart, what we have in our hearts.

“A love story, a loss, a moment of defiance, the birth of a child, pain—in his voice, in his songs, in his face.”

Hallyday’s star began its rise in the early 1960s, and to this day he has filled stadiums and venues across the world. But his songs never cracked the American or English charts, so you may never have heard of him before. In this article on the phenomenon that was Johnny Hallyday, the BBC wrote that “the French called him ‘Our Johnny’. Music critics called him ‘the French Elvis’. To almost anyone else, he was the biggest rock star they’d never heard of.”

For cycling instructors who enjoy playing songs from a wide variety of cultures and languages, a playlist without this French rock icon’s music would be sorely lacking. I have used several Hallyday songs for years in my Tour de France profiles or to honor Bastille Day. Below, I’ve compiled for you a few of the songs I’ve used, as well as a few more I uncovered while researching this article.

If you have a favorite Johnny Hallyday song, please list it below in the comments.

Repose en paix, Johnny!

Mal, Picture Vinyle 1966–1967, 2:40, 102 bpm
Unfortunately this video is not well synchronized, but it does show his Elvis-like moves back in the 1960s. The word mal in French means “bad.” I like to use it in my Tour de France stages when I’m describing a situation where the protagonist of my story is having a “bad” day, sitting at the back of the peloton, or being dropped from a breakaway, or struggling to catch up.

De l’Amour, De l’Amour, 4:01, 152 bpm
This danceable little rocker allows you to pedal quickly against resistance, making it fun for a climbing stage of the Tour de France.

Noir C’est Noir, Picture Vinyle 1966–1967, 3:13, 130 bpm
This video gives you a peak at his popularity with the youth of the 1960s.

Mon Coeur Qui Bat, De l’Amour, 3:30, 94 bpm
This one fits in nicely as a flat road push, not too intense. I like to riff on the lyrics, “
Écoute, écoute, mon coeur qui bat” (“Listen, listen to my beating heart”), as my riders work hard.

Laura, Gang, 4:42, 111 bpm
I was first introduced to this song back in the 1980s by my French professor as I was studying the language before going to France for an extended two-month solo self-supported bicycle tour. I’ve used it as a cool-down.

Gabrielle, Master Serie, 2:55, 159 bpm
Flat road at 80 rpm. Nice energy to this one.

Allumer le Feu, Ce Que Je Sais, 5:29, 140 bpm
The song title means “light the fire,” which is exactly what this rock-and-roll energy will do. Use it for the final push up a French mountain as you ask your riders to light their legs on fire. Stand and attack on the guitar riffs; sit back slightly when the energy backs off at 3:15. Start building up again at 3:28, then attack again at 4:02 to the summit.

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