Johnny Hallyday

Le Roi de France: Johnny Halliday 1966-1969

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Though roughly the near-equivalent of Elvis Presley in his native France, at least in terms of popularity, Johnny Hallyday has had a limited impact in the English-speaking world. This 22-track U.K. compilation is the most determined effort to make his music accessible beyond the French border, focusing on his hardest-rocking output from the mid- to late '60s. While it will have its attraction to collectors, Hallyday may prove to be a tough sell in the U.K. and North America, and not just because almost all of the vocals are in French. Hallyday's singing has a rather bombastic quality, and while the material does borrow heavily from British and American rock trends of the period, it's more serviceably energetic than outstanding. It's most often indebted to fuzzy U.K. mod rock, although there are nods to psychedelia and soul, and "Cheval d'Acier" sounds rather like a rewrite of the Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life." The occasional poppier numbers that boast more Continental production, with a suave quality that faintly echoes Tom Jones (especially "C'est Mon Imagination" and "Son Amour Pour en Jeu"), actually come off better than the more straight-ahead rockers. Still, some of those rockers, sometimes sprinkled with a whiff of over the top psychedelia (like "Le Mauvais Rêve" and the none-too-subtle "Psychedelic"), might appeal to those who liked the selection of European '60s mod-psych on the Nuggets, Vol. 2 box set, for instance, although the tracks here have a rather more generic flavor. Serious '60s British collectors of all tastes, however, might be interested to note that "Psychedelic" and "A Tout Casser" include session guitar by then-Yardbird Jimmy Page; that three songs from early 1969 feature backing by the Small Faces (who also wrote the tunes, French translation aside), plus Peter Frampton; and that future Spooky Tooth/Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones was involved in writing much of the material, as he played often with Hallyday live and in the studio during these years. Kieron Tyler's thorough liner notes serve as a good orientation for readers unfamiliar with Hallyday and his move into late-'60s rock styles.

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