France has come a long way in 40 years. When Charles Aznavour released Comme Ils Disent – a song about a gay cabaret artist – in the early 1970s, the reaction was one of shock. These days, such a song would be likely to provoke an altogether different response.
People might again be surprised – but this time it would be because the subject matter would be deemed very retro.
There’s certainly more than a touch of the La Cage aux Folles or Torch Song Trilogy about Aznavour’s composition Comme Ils Disent.
Set to a rather downbeat melody, the lyrics play on the similarity between the sound of the ‘homme’ and ‘homo’. As a result, the words – “un homme, oh, comme ils disent” – leave the listener in suspense until the last verse, when Aznavour’s pronunciation makes his intended meaning much clearer.
When the star first performed the song privately for friends, they asked him who he would give it to. They were dumbfounded when he replied that he would record it himself.
The song has gone on to become one of his most popular.
A few years later, over in Britain, record buyers snapped up a single with a similar sting in its sequinned tail. Again with a French theme, Noosha Fox’s 1978 hit Georgina Bailey told how young Georgina fell for her French uncle, Jean-Paul. Sadly, for her, Noosha would reveal that “Jean-Paul keeps company with a man from gay Paree”.
Back then, in both countries, homosexuality was often big news. Now, thankfully, things have changed.