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30 years later, the best-kept heritage of French song

Thirty years ago, on August 2, 1992, Michel Berger suffered a heart attack during a tennis match. The singer-songwriter left behind him twelve studio albums, plus six composed for France Gall, two musical comedies, and an incomparable musical touch on French variety, which he contributed, with other artists, to modernize, throughout the 70s and 80s, mixing the influences of the French classical tradition and the American “groove”.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death, a best-of will be published in the fall, as well as the first reissue of his album Puzzle, an instrumental symphony released in 1971. A rare occasion, as the projects around the singer have been rare over the past 30 years, making each novelty an event.

“A Sunday at the Water’s Edge”, the only song retouched after Berger’s death

Since the death of Michel Berger, his widow France Gall who died in 2018, and today his son, Raphaël Hamburger, have carefully guarded the “Berger house”, and defended its artistic heritage.. even if the content related to his music are disseminated in droplets. At Michel Berger, no plethora of discs filled with bonuses and unreleased : in 30 years, only three truly unreleased titles have been published, “Comme des loups” in 1994 and “La fille au sax” in 2002.

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More recently, in 2015, as part of the musical Résiste based on the songs of the Berger/Gall duo, France Gall revealed another unreleased title, Un dimanche au bord de l’eau in 2015.His main idea was to place it in one of the albums “Beauséjour” (1980) or “Beaurivage” (1981), but at a time when vinyl is king, the artist does not have enough space to exploit the song“, says the journalist François Alquier in the book “Michel Berger, a life in songs”. The creation of this title is particular: from a piano-voice demo, the musicians of the musical, directed by the producer Bruck Dawit ( who then shared the life of France Gall), make a completely new track. Even France Gall, who had not sung for twenty years, puts her voice on the backing vocals of the title.

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Remasterings in 2002

This “Sunday at the water’s edge” is the one and only example of a little fantasy that Michel Berger’s entourage allowed themselves. Beyond that, everything else remains of an unfailing fidelity to the work of the musician, including right down to the technique of the studio: his albums have already been the subject of “remastering” (and again, the last date of 2002) but no “remix”. A noticeable difference: the first is a form of restoration, the second brings a new artistic eye to the music. No question of touching the original mix of titles in the studio.




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To these unreleased releases, we can add two boxes, released respectively in 1994 and 2020, embellished with rarities (such as the titles from the “Angélina Dumas” project)… and that’s about it. We are therefore far from what is done with other artistssuch as Johnny Hallyday, who has already been entitled to two posthumous albums in symphonic version, Claude François, including remixed and extended versions of Alexandrie Alexandra and Magnolias For Ever have been releasedor, even worse, David Bowie, whose alternate versions or posthumous titles have been published continuously since his death.

Rights holders picky about covers

On the other hand, cover projects are scrutinized by the rights holders of the artists. Even if, in France, nothing prohibits anyone from taking over anyone’s songs (as long as the royalties are paid), the rights holders still retain a “moral right” on the work. Thus, when singer Jenifer released an album of France Gall covers, it was torpedoed in the press by the main interested party. Result: Jenifer stopped the promotion and interrupted the tour.

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Unlike a Goldman or an Aznavour, Berger’s cover albums are therefore few in number. Besides the one that the Star Academy devoted to him in 2002, one can count on the fingers of one hand the number of cover albums, the best known being that of Véronique Sanson in 1997, “From a butterfly to a star”, the most recent that of the drummer of the Fatals Picards, Jean-Marc Sauvagnargues, “Your piano always dances”. And, of course, an “official” cover album by France Gall.

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A Starmania ultra-faithful to Berger’s music?

The other event that will delight Michel Berger fans this fall is the return to the stage of the rock opera Starmania, which he composed in 1978 with Luc Plamondon on the libretto. Postponed several times due to the pandemic, this new version directed by Thomas Jolly and choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaouitwo men of public theatre, is musically directed by… Raphaël Hamburger and Bruck Dawit.

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For the time being, we do not know if the two musicians will have allowed themselves to bring a new musical color to the work, or if, as for Résiste, the new version will stick precisely to the period arrangements – which suggests a short video trailer released on Monday, featuring two snippets of songs very faithful to their original versions. A musical “return to basics” is also a non-negligible probability, when we know how much the version created in 1993 after the death of Michel Berger had bristled France Gall, and had caused his falling out with Luc Plamondon. To reach an agreement, perhaps the rights holders have agreed to create the version most faithful to the original work.

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