As Johnny Halliday is to Elvis Presley, Jean-Jacques Goldman is to… Neil Diamond… Billy Joel? The singer/songwriter is hugely successful in his native France. Goldman has been turning out hit singles and albums for decades as a solo act or in association with other artists. As well as being a popular performer, he has a lengthy list of songwriting credits for notable Francophone artists such as Celine Dione.
In 1990, he began a ten year collaboration with American soul and blues singer, the late Carole Fredericks, and British guitarist, Michael Jones. Carole Fredericks was the younger sister of renown bluesman Taj Mahal. Although she began her career in the U.S., she moved to France in the 1970’s where she enjoyed success as a session singer and a back-up vocalist for touring British artists such as Elton John, Eric Clapton and Duran Duran. Teaming up with Goldman, however, was her ticket to the big-time. She became a major star in Europe and Africa in her own right. After answering a newspaper advertisement for a French band looking for an English speaking singer/guitarist, bi-lingual Michael Jones joined the progressive rock group ‘Tai Phong’ which had just lost its lead singer, Jean-Jacques Goldman. When Goldman later returned to the group, he and Jones became firm friends and have cooperated on a myriad of projects ever since.
This multinational group’s first task was to produce and release an album, titled ‘Fredericks, Goldman, Jones’. It was a huge hit in France and three tracks released as singles were also successful. What makes the album so worthwhile is not just the marvelous songs but the stylistic contrast between Fredericks, who has a big, breathy voice that can (when required) be a force of nature, and Goldman and Jones who are more typical pop/rock singers but possess excellent and complementary guitar playing skills. The group’s strengths are heard to best advantage in the song ‘Nuit’. This track, the best-selling single from the album, is almost six minutes long which tells you it has to be good if it can hold the attention of the singles-buying audience. The melody, lyrics, vocals and guitar solos have been blended perfectly. If I’d played those solos, I’d have thrown away the guitar afterwards because I’d have been afraid I’d never be able to do anything better. The song is so mellow, suffused with a ticking-clock-like beat, it’s almost hypnotic. Don’t take my word for it: the group’s promo video for this song can be seen on YouTube. Unfortunately, it’s shorter than the album version so some of the full impact is lost but, on the same website, you can hear – but not see – them play the full version in concert.
There are ten tracks on the album, all written or co-written by Goldman. He is inclined to social commentary in his work, and there is one track, ‘Né en 1917 à Leidenstadt’, which asks the listener to look at the world from another point of view. Each of the members of the group deals with their own circumstances: Goldman, of Polish/Jewish descent, wonders how he might have reacted to the Nazis if he’d been born a German Christian during the first world war; Fredericks wonders how, as a black woman, she might have behaved differently if she’d been born white in Johannesburg; Jones wonders how he would have viewed the IRA if he’d been born Catholic in Northern Ireland. Sounds as though it could be mawkish or silly, but Goldman manages to pull it off lyrically and with a memorable tune.
Some of the tracks are much longer than would normally be found on a pop album. In particular, ‘Tu manques’ runs nearly ten minutes but it’s ten minutes well spent: this is not something dragged out to fill up the album. It’s intimate; some of it is spoken; all of it feels as though we’re overhearing a very private conversation between lovers. It’s the kind of song that only works in French, in the way that ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’ (Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s musical encomium to concupiscence that was a worldwide hit) would sound ridiculous in English.
Overall, this is a very satisfactory album that can be played repeatedly because there’s enough variety and downright good music to keep you listening. And, by the way, the follow-up album, ‘Rouge’, in which Goldman uses the Red Army choir for backing vocals, is equally good.