France best selling albums ever: Babacar by France Gall (1987)
Forrest Gump is the incredible journey of a person living a life reflecting perfectly the US cultural history from the 50s to the 80s. France Gall is the incredible journey of a person living a life reflecting perfectly the French music history from the 60s to the 90s. The difference? France Gall actually existed. During more than 30 years, she touched pretty much every key event that happened in the French music scene.
Her father composed song for Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour among others when she was a kid. Very frequently she was meeting the most famous French stars at home. At barely 16 in 1963, she released a first single that ironically charted just ahead of the last hit wrote by her father for Charles Aznavour. She started to sing songs written and composed by legendary artist Serge Gainsbourg at the same age.
The following year, she had a string of massive hits, including overseas. She started to date another legendary French singer, Claude François. This latter wrote afterwards the most cult French song of all-time, Comme D’Habitude, refering to their breakup. If that song doesn’t tell you a thing, just know this is the original song of My Way that Frank Sinatra, among many others, successfully translated and covered. In 1965 she won the Eurovision contest with Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son that was the very first Eurovision song turned into worldwide hit, paving the way to the likes ABBA or Celine Dion. The funny thing is that at this point she had yet to turn 18.
During a weaker period, from 1970 to 1974, she lives with the leader of French version of Hair musical, Julien Clerc. From 1973, she meets genius composer Michel Berger, her upcoming husband from 1996. He composed one of the biggest French musicals even in 1978 with Starmania, starred by France Gall.
In 1980, Elton John who was struggling for over a decade to break into the French market released a duet with her. It worked perfectly with his profile increasing year after year from that point. During the first half of the 80s, she was the first female artist to become a massive selling album act. With Michel Berger working with her, she had three consecutive albums selling upwards half a million units within’ a year despite an awful music market context. This included the longest running #1 album (24 weeks) of the decade. One more time, she paved the way to the likes Patricia Kaas and Mylène Farmer.
Then, we are up to 1987 and the release of the Babacar album. The title track was a decent #11 hit enabling the album to enter at #3, peak at #2 one month later and stay its first three months inside the Top 5. As the album resisted very well, never dropping outside the Top 20 during the year, second single was issued a full six months later. It was the iconic Ella, Elle L’A (translated “Ella has it“), a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. Ironically, while the song was blocked at #2 by Los Lobos worldwide hit La Bamba in France, it went to #1 in numerous overseas countries including Germany.
The album jumped inside the Top 5 during the crucial Christmas season thanks to this smash. After six more months – although again the album maintained a Top 25 placing all along – the third single Evidemment was released. Peaking at #6, it has gained easily classic song status since, even giving its name to her career spanning 2004 compilation.
It’s 15 consecutive months inside the Top 25 granted the album 560,000 sales in 1987 plus 240,000 in 1988. In 1993, the set was certified 3xPlatinum, representing 900,000 sales since release. Catalog sales completed the million plateau in France some 14 years after the initial album release, in 2001. Since that date the album added an estimated 55,000 units.
After this album, in 1992, she released a duo album with Michel Berger, Double Jeu. Only a couple of months later, her husband and music partner suddenly passed away of a heart attack at only 44. Not motivated anymore, France Gall only released one subsequent album, a 1996 tribute to her defunct husband with covers of his songs. Their youngest child died one year later at 19 from a genetic disorder. Just like Forrest Gump stopped running after his muse Jenny passed away, France Gall stopped singing once she lost the partner of her life, ending her incredible journey into the French music history.
Net shipment as of the end of 2015 is estimated at 1,055,000 copies.
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Sources: SNEP, Nielsen, Platine.