While most songs come and go, others stand the test of time. I’ve compiled a list of over 70 famous French songs of France that has become instantly recognizable by people young and old, starting from the 1940s to the present. People learning French can benefit too, because listening to foreign language songs is a fun way to improve your French language skills and learn about French culture.
All the songs on this list are sung in the French language, and most are from French artists, but some are not, yet have become staples in Francophone culture.
I’ve tried to include a mix of genres that reflect a wide range of the most popular music of France.
How this list of famous French songs of France is organized.
With the exception of the first song, all the famous French songs of France on this list are grouped by decade, starting in the 40s.
For every song on this list, I’ve included the following:
- The French song title
- The year it was released
- The singer or group who sang the song.
- The name of the French song title in English.
- A brief description about the song lyrics and anything noteworthy about the French song.
- I’ve embedded the French songs via Spotify so you can listen to them instantly without leaving the page.
Sometimes songs on Spotify include the song lyrics, so you’ll have to click through to Spotify to see if they exist.
To be honest, this list could have been much longer, but it should give you a good feel for the culture of French music in France over the years and decades.
Let’s get started!
1) What is the most iconic French song of France that everyone knows?
Without a doubt, the most well-known musical composition associated with France that EVERYONE in the country recognizes (and likely can sing) is the French national anthem, also known as “la Marseillaise”
While it may seem like cheating to include it on a list of famous French songs, technically, an anthem is a form of music that brings people together, so it feels right to feature “la Marseillaise” among the noteworthy music of France on this list.
La Marseillaise (France’s national anthem) (1792)
After France declared war on Austria in 1792, the mayor of Strasbourg needed a marching song for the French troops. Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, an amateur musician and engineer, rose to the occasion and composed the music in one night during the French revolution, the 24th of April, 1792.
The song was initially called “Chant de guerre de l’armée du Rhin” (“War Song of the Army of the Rhine”) but was changed to “La Marseillaise’ because it was so popular with the volunteer units from Marseille. The song became France’s national anthem three years later, in 1795.
5 Famous French songs of France from the 1940s
The 1940s was a turbulent decade in France, marked by several significant events and changes that profoundly impacted France’s music.
Jazz and swing music, which began to be popular in France during the 1930s, continued to gain popularity in 1940s France.
However, many musicians adapted their music to the circumstances of the Second World War, incorporating and reflecting on the experiences of the French Resistance to the Nazi regime and the difficulties of life under the German occupation of France.
Other French musicians addressed the themes of hope, love, and freedom.
Many musicians and composers were forced to flee France or go into hiding.
This had a profound effect on the music of France during that era. There was a decline in the production of new music, as well as a decline in the number of concerts and performances.
“Minor Swing” by Django Reinhardt (1937)
“Minor Swing” is a French gypsy jazz tune composed and recorded by Django Reinhardt and French Violinist Stéphane Grappelli with their Paris-based jazz group called the “Quintette du Hot Club de France.”
Django Reinhardt was a Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer who is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Starting at the age of 12, he developed his own unique style of music, which we now call “gypsy jazz genre.” Gypsy Jazz incorporates elements of gypsy music and swing jazz. He was one of the first musicians to play jazz on the guitar and is considered a pioneer of jazz guitar.
Douce France – Charles Trenet (1943) – “Sweet France”
“Douce France” was a famous French song during World War II and is well known throughout France.
The song was intended to lighten the sufferings of the French people during World War II.
It’s full of nostalgia and associates patriotic feelings with childhood memories and a life in the country.
The title “Douce France” is not an original one. It was inspired by “Chanson de Roland” from the 1100s,” where Roland reflects on his conquest of his “Dulce France.”
After Trenet proved to the Nazis that he had no Jewish heritage, he chose to go on entertaining the occupying forces rather than sacrifice his career. When the Germans asked him to sing for the French prisoners in Berlin, Germany, he sang Douce France for the first time. The song was later released in 1947.
Charles Trenet wrote over 1000 songs over the course of his 60 year career and is a well known name in France.
“La Mer” by Charles Trenet (1946) – “The Sea”
“La Mer” is another classic French song by Charles Trenet, and one of the most popular French songs recognized outside the French-speaking world, with over 400 different covers.
You may be familiar with it because it was featured in the 1995 Hollywood film “
With its upbeat melody and cheerful lyrics that celebrate the beauty and mystery of the ocean, the song has become a timeless classic of French music.
“La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf (1947) – “Life in Pink.”
La Vie en Rose” (Life in Pink) is a timeless French love song that paints a picture of a world where everything is seen through a rosy lens.
Countless artists have covered la vie en rise in numerous languages. Even Lady Gaga covered this famous French song.
Although this song is over 70 years old, it’s stood the test of time and is recognized worldwide.
“Les Feuilles Mortes” by Yves Montand (1946) – “The Dead Leaves”.
You may know this song in English as “The fallen leaves.” This classic French song is about the changing of the season’s passage of time.
5 Famous French songs from the 1950s
The 1950s marked a time of significant cultural and musical transformation in France, coinciding with the emergence of the “Nouvelle Vague” or New Wave in cinema, as well as the rise of many new artists, writers, and musicians.
Despite struggling with the aftermath of World War II, which brought about economic difficulties, high inflation, unemployment, and housing shortages, the French people remained optimistic and looked ahead to the future.
During this period, the music of France was heavily influenced by American jazz and swing, which had become very popular in France in the 1940s.
The influence of these genres is evident in the works of renowned artists such as Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, who melded jazz and swing with traditional French melodies and instrumentation to craft a distinctive style of French music.
“Sous le ciel de Paris” by Juliette Gréco (1951) – “Under the Paris sky”
This typical French-sounding song was initially written for the 1951 French film “Sous le ciel de Paris” and sung in the film by French actor and singer Jean Bretonnière.
The same year the movie came out, Juliette Gréco recorded her version. Later other famous French singers also recorded their versions, including Édith Piaf (in 1954) and Yves Montand (in 1964). The song became a symbol of Paris for the world.
“La mauvaise réputation” by Georges Brassens (1952) – “The bad reputation
“La Mauvaise Réputation” is a French song about a good person with a bad reputation for being somewhat of a rebel. The singer makes no apologies for his individuality and freedom of spirit. The song is often interpreted as a celebration of non-conformity, rejecting societal norms and expectations.
“La Foule” by Édith Piaf (1957) – “The Crowd”
“La Foule” is a classic French love song that talks about the intense emotions of love and how it can make you feel overwhelmed. The song speaks about the joy of being in a crowd of people who are all in love with each other.
“Ne me quitte pas” by Jacques Brel (1959) – “Don’t leave me.”
This heart-wrenching French song talks about a man trying to come to terms with his feelings for someone else. He tells the woman that he loves her, but he’s unsure if he can make it work.
Countless artists, including Nina Simone, have covered the song since it was released in 1959. It’s also been translated and performed in many other languages. A well-known adaptation, with English lyrics, is “If You Go Away,” covered by good old Blue eyes Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Barbera Streisand and countless others.
La valse à mille temps by Jacques Brel (1959) – “The Waltz With A Thousand Beats“
This lighthearted song is a bit of a Parisian love song. It parodies the “Musetta’s Waltz” by starting very slow but soon speeds up, faster, and faster and faster.
13 Famous French songs from the 1960s
During the 1960s, a new type of French music called “yé-yé” emerged. Yé-Yé were catchy and upbeat songs that blended rock and roll, rhythm and blues and pop, mainly influenced by British and American rock and roll in the 1950s and 60s.
Yé-yé became very popular in France, particularly among young people and many French artists like Hallyday, who is sometimes called the French Elvis Presley.
The name “yé-yé” was inspired by the English word “yeah, yeah” made popular by
bandslike the Beatles
“Non, je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf (1960) – “No, I Regret Nothing”.
Yet another French song by Edith Piaf. “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (No, I Regret Nothing) is one of the most iconic French songs of all time and perhaps one of her best-known songs. This famous French song showcases Piaf’s unique vocal style and raw emotion. The song’s lyrics talk about the importance of living life to the fullest and not dwelling on the past. Despite its sad and melancholic melody, the song has become a symbol of strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
“Tous les garçons et les filles” by Françoise Hardy (1962) – “All the Boys and Girls”
The lyrics for the French song “Tous les garçons et les filles” describe the longing and heartache of a young girl who is searching for love and finding someone who will understand her and share her life with.
“La belle vie” by Sacha Distel (1962) – “Oh the good life.”
“Oh la belle vie” is a lighthearted, upbeat tune that celebrates the joys of life, living a carefree existence filled with love, laughter, and good times. The song is an excellent example of the French chanson tradition.
“La Madrague” by Brigitte Bardot(1963) -“The Madrague”
La Madrague is the name of the property that famous French model, actress and singer Brigitte Bardot bought for 24 million French Francs in 1958, located in Saint-Tropez, on the route of Les Canebiers. Her parents, who were wealthy bourgeois, already owned a home in St Tropez.
Brigitte Bardot was extremely famous and an international household name. After fans mobbed her while shopping in St Tropez, she stepped down at the height of her career in 1973, moved permanently to her home, the Madrague, dedicated her life to animals and became somewhat of a recluse. She remains one of the most iconic figures in French and international pop culture.
“Poupe de cire, poupe de son” (1965) by France Gall – “Wax doll, rag doll”
This fun and catchy French song, written by Serge Gainsbourg and recorded by French singer France Gall, is about a woman who loves spending her time shopping. She sings about all the different clothes she’s going to buy and how happy she is just thinking about it.
“La Bohème” (1965) by Charles Aznavour and Jacques Plante -“The bohemian lifestyle”
“La Bohème” is a French song that became one of Charles Aznavour’s most famous and enduring hits. The lyrics of “La Bohème” tell the story of a struggling artist who longs for the freedom and romance of bohemian life. Many artists have covered it in a variety of languages.
Armenian-French artist Charles Aznavour has sung for royalty, presidents, and popes. He was also recognized as the century’s outstanding performer, beating Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Jean Cocteau with nearly 18% of the total vote.
“Chez Laurette” by Michel Delpech (1965) – “At Laurette’s”
“Chez Laurette” is a nostalgic adolescent song that wasn’t a huge success at the time because it was released when everyone in France was going crazy over yéyé music. However, because of the many radio broadcasts, it gave Michel Delpech his stardom to fame.
In the song Chez Laurette, Michel Delpech reflects on his high school years and the café “bar du Square,” now called “Le Bienvenu,” on rue de l’Alma in Courbevoie where he and his schoolmates would meet after class. Michel lived above the café with his parent, and the then owner Christiane “Laurette” Vauquelin, took care of Michel when he was a child.
“Noir c’est noir” by Johnny Hallyday (1966) -“Black is black”
Johnny Hallyday, sometimes called the French Elvis, is one of the most famous French singers who sang everything from ballads to rock and roll. His song “Noir c’est noir” is about how he’ll do anything to save his love.
“Un homme et une femme” by (1966) – “A man and a woman”
This French song is famous for its catchy tune and catchphrase, “Da ba da ba da, ba da ba da ba.” Originally composed for the 1966 film of the same name, it won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song.
“Comme d’habitude” by Claude Francois (1967) – “As Usual”
This classic French pop song is a sad song about the monotony of everyday life. It talks about the joys and sorrows of living life in the same old way.
Interesting fact: The song was later adapted in English by Paul Anka and released as the classic hit “My Way,” made popular by Frank Sinatra.
“Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille” by Jacques Dutronc, (1968) -“It’s Five O’Clock, Paris is Waking Up”
This nostalgic French song is an ode to the city of Paris, whose song lyrics describe the city as it wakes up at 5 a.m. The song paints a nostalgic picture of the city, with references to its famous landmarks and the sounds of its streets as they come to life. ”
Paris s’éveille” became a hit in France and is considered one of Jacques Dutronc’s most popular songs. The song has been covered by many other artists and remains a classic of French popular music. It is widely recognized as one of the defining songs of the “yé-yé” movement in French music.
“Les Champs-Élysées” by Joe Dassin (1969) – “The Elysian Fields”.
Les Champs-Élysées is actually a French adaptation of a British song written the year before called “Waterloo Road” and speaks of Les Champs-Élysées instead of waterloo.
Joe Dassin’s version of this famous French pop song has a catchy melody and upbeat lyrics that talks about a young man who dreams of strolling down the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris, meeting a beautiful girl and having a wonderful time. The song quickly became a hit in France and remains a staple of French pop culture to this day.
“Je T’aime,…Moi Non Plus” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin (1967) – “I Love You… Me Neither”.
A super sensual and provocative duet song written by Serge Gainsbourg for his then-girlfriend Brigitte Bardot. In 1969, Gainsbourg recorded the best-known version with Jane Birkin. The song became the first foreign song to reach number one in the UK and number two in Ireland.
Unfortunately, the song was banned in several countries because of its explicit and sexual lyrics. This song has become a staple in French music culture.
5 Famous French songs from the 1970s
The 1970s in France was a time of musical diversity and creativity, as artists and musicians sought to challenge conventional norms and embrace new forms of musical expression.
In addition to traditional French musical forms, the 1970s in France saw the emergence of several new and innovative musical styles, including funk, reggae, and electronic music. Another major musical style that emerged in France during the 1970s was the growth of rock music. French rock musicians began to experiment with a wide range of styles and influences, from hard rock and progressive rock to punk and new wave. And don’t forget about disco.
“Une belle histoire” by Michel Fugain (1972) – “A Beautiful Story”
The lyrics, considered risqué at the time, talk about a brief encounter between two young strangers who hide in a large wheat field and let the currents carry them away.
The singer speaks of the simple moments they shared and how they made their love grow stronger with each passing day.
“Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais” (1973) – “I came to tell you that I’m gong away”
Serge Gainsbourg was inspired to write the song “Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais” while he was in hospital recovering from a heart attack that nearly killed him. To add a dramatic effect to the song, he recorded the cries of his partner Jane Birkin, who had just given birth to their daughter, Charlotte. The song is supposedly addressed to his second wife and mother of his first two children, Françoise-Antoinette Pancrazzi.
“Paroles, Paroles” by Dalida (1973) – “Words, words”
Dalida is infamous in France. She was an Italian-French singer and actress, born in Egypt on the same level as Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn.
Paroles Paroles” is one of many famous and now classic French songs sung by Dalida. The song Paroles, Paroles features the famous French actor Alain Delon who was one of Europe’s most famous actors and top onscreen sex symbols in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
The song’s lyrics describe a conversation between a man and a woman. The man tries to win over the woman by offering her sweets like caramels, bonbons, and chocolates and showering her with compliments. However, the woman says that all these sweet words mean nothing to her because they’re just “paroles, paroles,” “words, words” (empty words.)
“Je l’aime à mourir” by Francis Cabrel (1978) – “I love her to death”
This classic French love song is about a man who loves a woman so deeply that he would rather die than be without her. He speaks about the passion and intensity of his love and how it can never be replaced.
“Laissez-moi Danser” by Dalida (1979) – “Let Me Dance.”
This iconic French pop song “is also known as “Monday Tuesday… Laissez moi danser.”
The song talks about the joys of dancing and encourages listeners to let go and have fun. The song became a hit throughout Europe and topped the French chart in 1979. It’s still recognized throughout France by young and old.
“La Ballade des gens heureux” by Gérard Lenorman (1975) – “The Ballad of happy People”
The happy lyrics of this French song describe the lives of happy people living simply, without wealth or material possessions.