Over the years, France has graced the world with some of the best songs ever written. From Jacques Brel’s Ne me quitte pas to Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette nien, the French have proved that nobody writes better lyrics than them. Many of these songs, of course, have been famously covered in our own language. Take “Beyond the Sea”, the English-language version of Charles Trenet’s French song La Mer, popularized by Bobby Darin in 1959, or David Bowie’s heartfelt version of Amsterdam, by Jacques Brel. These are just a few examples of how English-speaking singers have tried to emulate the beauty of the French chanson.
What you probably didn’t know is that the French have also produced their own versions of a few beloved English language classics! From House of the Rising Sun to Frozen’s Let It Go, there are wonderful French covers that you can find for free on YouTube to sharpen your French pronunciation skills. French versions of popular English songs make wonderful learning resources because the familiarity of their melody allows you to focus exclusively on the lyrics. Besides, for those who want to delve deeper into the songs, it is always interesting to compare both versions and see what’s been kept and what’s been changed from the original version.
Below, you will find our favourite French covers of English songs, and tips on how you can use them to improve your linguistic skills.
Hugues Aufray – Ballade de Hollis Brown
Version of Bob Dylan’s Balllad of Hollis Brown.
Bob Dylan is recognized as one of the best lyricists in the English language. Rooted in the rich tradition of American folk music and influenced by the beatnik movement and modernist poetry, Dylan’s songs earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
In the 1960s, Hugues Aufray became famous with French-language covers of some of Bob Dylan’s most beloved songs. In Ballade of Hollis Brown, he adds a melancholy, almost eerie dimension to the song while keeping the essence of the lyrics intact:
|English version||French version|
|He lived on the outside of townWith his wife and five children
And his cabin broken
Oh he looked for work and money
And he walked a ragged
And your children are so hungry
That they don’t know
Hollis Brown habitait un coin perdu loin de la
Avec sa femme et ses six gosses dans un bidonville
Pour trouver du travail il chercha
longtemps sans rien dire
Richard Anthony – C’est Ma Fête
Version of Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party
It’s my party (and I’ll cry if I want to) is one of the best evocations of teenage angst ever created. Recorded by dozens of artists, this song follows the story of a girl who sees her boyfriend Johnny disappear during her birthday party only to return arm in arm with another girl who’s “wearing his ring”. The chorus of the song, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to… You would cry too if it happened to you!” is a cathartic outburst that perfectly describes the humiliation and self-pity that come with heartbreak.
In 1989, Anthony took Leslie Gore’s party-pooper song and made it about a man who’s celebrating the one-year anniversary of a breakup by going to a club and dancing with his friends. While you may argue that Anthony’s joyous take on the song is not as satisfying as Gore’s self-indulgent cry, it’s still a great tune, and a great way to practice your French pronunciation.
See how Anthony changed the song’s most iconic lines.
C’est ma fête, je fais ce qui me plaît (It’s my party, and I’ll do whatever I want)
ce qui me plaît, ce qui me plait. (whatever I want, whatever I want)
j’ai décidé ce soir de m’amuser. (I decided to have fun tonight)
Now follow the lyrics and sing along! You don’t need to sing the whole thing yet, you can just start with the chorus.
Johnny Hallyday – Le pénitencier
Version of The Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun
Described by music critics as the first “folk-rock hit”, The House of the Rising Sun is a traditional folk song popularized by The Animals in 1964 about a man whose life goes wrong in the city of New Orleans. Though little is known about the origins and authorship of the song, it has been thematically linked to the 16th-century ballad The Unfortunate Rake and it’s been known to be popular among American miners as early as 1905.
Being so iconically American both musically and thematically, it is hard to imagine this song being sung in a language other than English. However, in 1964 (the same year The Animals jumped to fame thanks to their own version of the song), Johnny Halliday recorded a fantastic cover that manages to preserve the song’s regretful tone while making it more universal in scope:
Les portes du pénitencier bientôt vont se refermer (Penitentiary doors soon will close)
Et c’est là que je finirai ma vie (And that’s where I’ll end my life)
comme d’autres gars l’ont finie (just like many other guys have before me)
Every time you hear a French cover of a familiar song, translate it back into English line by line and try to spot differences and similarities between the French version and the original. This way, you will learn new vocabulary while doing something fun.
Robbie Williams – Suprême
Version of his English-language song Supreme.
Supreme is a song by Robbie Williams released in 2000 as the third single from his album Sing When You’re Winning. According to Williams himself, it is loosely based on Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, which he couldn’t take off his mind as he was touring Switzerland and trying to find inspiration for his next album.
The song was such a massive hit for Williams that he decided to record a version in French the following year. Like Hugues Aufray, Williams tried to be as faithful as possible to the original song, an anthem for lonely souls who have become frustrated with romantic love
|English version||French version|
|When there’s no love in
townThis new century keeps
bringing you downAll the places you have
Trying to find a love supreme
A love supreme
|Quand l’amour n’est
plus làQue te reste-t-il, pour
survivre ici bas?Donne le meilleur de toi-même
Et tu trouveras l’amour suprême
When singing along to the French version, notice how many silent sounds there are at the end of French words. If you have printed out the lyrics, you can mark all silent consonants with a dot.
Anaïs Delva – Libérée, délivrée
Version of Frozen’s Let It Go, performed by Idina Menzel and Demi Lovato
Frozen is a 2013 animated film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. One of the most successful Disney movies ever made, it won 2 Oscar Awards for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song.
Let It Go, whose music and lyrics were composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, was originally performed in the film by American singer and actress Idina Menzel in her vocal role as Queen Elsa. A second version of the song, performed by pop star Demi Lovato was included during the closing credits and released as a radio single, reaching the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in a matter of hours.
In the French-dubbed version of Frozen, titled La reine des neiges, you can find another version of the song, Libérée, délivrée, performed by singer and comedian Anaïs Delva. Like its English counterpart, it’s an anthem of self-acceptance that inspires young people to reject stigma and find their true voice:
|English version||French version|
|Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway
Je ne mentirai plus jamais
C’est décidé, je m’en
Et me voilà
Oui, je suis là
Le froid est pour moi le prix
How different is the French version from the original? Which one do you think is more optimistic? Use an online French dictionary to find out.
Would you like to continue learning with music? Make a YouTube playlist with these wonderful covers, look up the lyrics on your phone, and sing along! Once you’ve memorized them, look for the karaoke versions and have fun with your friends while you perfect your French diction.
If you want expert feedback on your pronunciation, contact us now and we’ll match you with one of our fully qualified French teachers for a completely personalized course. Do you want to know what the best part is? The first lesson is for free, with no strings attached! Send us a quick message telling us about your learning goals and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours with a tailormade proposal.