One might consider that Michel Sardou was almost destined to pursue a career in the music business, coming as he did from a long line of performers. Back in the 19th century his ancestors had worked as acrobats, performing at local fairs and in the cabarets of their hometown, Marseille (in the South of France).
Child of the music hall
Michel's father, Fernand Sardou (born in 1910), carried on the family tradition, singing and acting his way to fame as a popular music-hall star and film actor. Michel's mother, Jacky, who married Fernand in 1945 was a young dancer turned actress. Born into this extremely artistic family on January 26th 1947, Michel grew up behind the scenes of the most famous music-halls in Paris, accompanying his parents on tour from an early age.
In the 50's Michel was sent to boarding school in Montcel, a village near Jouy en Josas, just outside Paris. But compared with the thrill of the music-hall, the glitter of sequins and the smell of greasepaint, school was an incredibly boring affair. After years of struggling through his studies Michel announced to his parents in 1963 that he was leaving school and going to live in Brazil. In fact the young 16-year-old did not get quite so far. He did leave school but ended up working as a waiter and performer in "Chez Fernand Sardou", the cabaret his father had opened in 1960.
In 1965 Michel married his girlfriend Françoise and the couple moved into a tiny 'chambre de bonne' in Paris. Michel began taking acting classes and soon met the young singer Michel Fugain, with whom he wrote his first songs. In the evenings Michel would earn a living performing on the cabaret circuit.
Michel's big break came later that year when he passed an audition for the Barclay label and was immediately signed to record his début single, "Le Madras".
In 1966 Michel met the composer and songwriter Jacques Revaux, who would go on to write most of his greatest hits. the young singer's career was finally beginning to get off the ground. He was already performing as a support act for François Deguelt at Bobino, but his promising career was suddenly cut short by a letter from the French army. Michel, who had apparently 'forgotten' to enlist for his national service, was arrested at the Bobino and sent off to join the army for 18 months.
On his return in 1967 Michel went into the studio to record a new single, "Les Ricains". The timing of the release of this moving tribute to the American heroes of World War Two was not very well thought out however. General de Gaulle had just made his famous speech condemning America's intervention in Vietnam, so songs about American heroism were not really the order of the day. "Les Ricains" was banned from the nation’s airwaves, although, in spite of this disappointment Michel Sardou did gain a certain notoriety. Unfortunately, Sardou's record company Barclay did not see things in quite such an optimistic light, and directors cancelled Sardou's contract in 1969, claiming he was "unsuited to the profession".
Yet Sardou's career was saved by the fact that his friends Jacques Revaux and Régis Talar set up their own label, Tréma, and offered to produce his work.
1970 proved a turning-point in Sardou's personal life as well as his career. His wife gave birth to a baby daughter, Sandrine, at the beginning of the year. Then Sardou met Vline Buggy, the famous songwriter responsible for most of Hugues Aufray and Claude François's hits. Buggy went on to write a number of songs for Sardou ("Les Bals populaires", "Et mourir de plaisir" and "J'habite en France") which finally launched him as a singing star. In fact this time Sardou's timing was just right - his traditional image as a true 'chanteur populaire' was just what the country needed after the revolutionary upheavals of May 68.
The following year the French president Georges Pompidou presented Sardou with the prestigious "Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros" for his album "J'habite en France". Sardou's triumphant concert at the Olympia later that year resulted in the popular live album "Olympia 71".
Over the next two years Sardou's career went from strength to strength. Sardou's moving ballad "La Mélodie d'amour", released on July 3rd 1973, shot straight to the n°1 spot in the French singles charts and remained there for ten weeks. The following singles, "Bonsoir Clara" and "le Rire du Sergent" sold over a million copies each. Not all Sardou's songs were smash hits however. Several of his songs, which generally portrayed a 'slice of life' brand of social realism, contained somewhat controversial lyrics. "Les villes de solitude" and "Les Vieux mariés" for instance soon had French feminists and other 'anti-Sardou' groups up in arms. Sardou sailed calmly through this sea of controversy, however, setting off on tour later that year as if nothing had happened. His second, daughter, Cynthia, was born at the end of the year in December 73.
Sardou, who had become a permanent fixture at the top of the French charts over the past three years, devoted the following years to touring. Besides performing at the Olympia in January 74 and December 75, the singer also completed extensive tours of France and Canada. He still found time to continue his recording career, however, going into the studio to record new singles, including the famous "Le France" (a tribute to the old French luxury liner which was lying abandoned in the port of Saint-Nazaire in Brittany).
For or against
In 1976 the singer's father, Fernand Sardou, died of a heart attack.
In October of that same year Sardou sparked a new controversy with the release of "Je suis pour", a song which spoke out strongly in favour of the death penalty. The hard-hitting emotional song which recounted the story of a father whose child had just been murdered was released around the time of the famous trial of Patrick Henry (who stood accused of having murdered a child). Once again a wave of 'anti-Sardou' protest swept the country and the singer's concerts were frequently interrupted by vociferous protesters. Visibly shaken by the commotion, Sardou cancelled the last two dates of his tour much to the disappointment of the thousands of fans who remained loyal throughout the controversy.
In October 1977 Michel Sardou married his second wife, Babette, the woman who had already given birth to the singer's son, Romain, in January 74.
Apparently worn out by the controversy of previous years, Sardou began to write more personal, introspective songs. "En chantant" was tinged with nostalgic memories of his childhood and "Aujourd'hui peut-être" paid tribute to his dead father while the song "Je vole" evoked the sensation of breaking away from his parents. 1978 was marked by two happy events. Babette gave birth to another son, Davy, in June and Michel met Didier Barbelivien, who went on to become one of his regular songwriters.
In the early 80's Sardou appeared to be 'calming down'. The controversial songs of old had been replaced by soothing ballads about Ireland ("Les lacs de Connemara" in 81) or exotic evocations of Africa ("Afrique adieu" in 82). But in 1983 signs of the old Sardou controversy flared again with the release of "Vladimir Ilitch" (a violently protest against the Communist regime). "La Débandade", a song Sardou co-wrote with Pierre Delanoé, and "Les deux écoles", a song in defence of public schools, caused another scandal in 1984. Yet in spite of a new wave of 'anti-Sardou' protest fans still flocked to see the singer on tour and in concert at the Palais des Congrès in Paris (in 83 and 85). Sardou somehow managed to find time in the midst of his busy touring and recording schedule to star in Michel Jullien's 1983 film "L'été de nos quinze ans" and take part in the famous "Paris Dakar" rally twice (in 84 and 85).
The "Enfoirés" Tour
In 1986 Sardou's controversial "Musulmanes" (a song evoking Muslim women, "the veiled women who must never be seen") proved to be another hit. Following this success Sardou returned to the Palais des Congrès for a new series of concerts. In 1989 the singer performed at the Palais Omnisport de Bercy for the first time, packing out the largest stadium in Paris. His song "Un jour la liberté" (written to celebrate the Bicentenary of the French Revolution) brought the house down at the end of the show. That same year Sardou took part in "La Tournée des Enfoirés" (together with Eddy Mitchell, Johnny Hallyday, Véronique Sanson and Jean-Jacques Goldman), raising money for the "Restos du Coeur" (the charity set up by the late great comedian Coluche to help the homeless).
In 1990 Michel Sardou triumphed at the annual "Victoires de la Musique" awards, winning an award for attracting that year's biggest audience to his live show. The following year Sardou was voted Best Singer of the Year at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards.
After the release of a new eponymous album in 1992, Michel Sardou caused yet another controversy with his new single "Le Bac G". Intended to be a song about the problems facing young people in the current education system, 'anti-Sardou' protesters saw it as an attack on an "easy exam system which gave kids diplomas on the cheap". The following year Sardou returned to the Palais Omnisports de Bercy (one of the rare French singers to pack the huge stadium to bursting point). Sardou's new album, "Selon que vous serez", released in 94, was followed by 5 months of uninterrupted concerts at the Olympia.
In September 96 Michel Sardou turned his attention to his acting career, throwing himself into his role in the play "Bagatelle" with veritable passion.
Towards the end of 97 Sardou returned to the studio to record a new album entitled "Salut". Released on 13 October, this album featured eleven tracks written by Sardou's faithful songwriting team which included Jacques Revaux. Several tracks also featured a number of special guest stars such as Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell on backing vocals. The song "Mon dernier rêve sera pour toi" was especially topical, referring as it did to the controversial politician Bernard Tapie and his infamous run-in with the French justice system. The following year, true to form, Sardou embarked upon another major tour. In spite of the fact that his mother died midway through the tour (on 3 April 1998), the singer respected showbiz tradition and declared that his show should definitely go on!
In October Sardou jetted off to New York to watch his actor son, Davy, perform one of his very first roles in the theatre. Sardou attended the première of Davy's play in New York with his wife, Babette, and his other son, Romain (who writes cartoon scenarios in Los Angeles).
In February '99 it came as no surprise to anyone when Sardou triumphed at the 'Victoires de la Musique' (the annual French Music Awards), winning the award for Most Successful Tour of the Year. In fact, audiences of 573,900 turned out to see the singer on his recent tour of Paris and the provinces.
New Wife, New Album
Later that year Sardou ended his 22-year marriage to Babette and the couple went on to get divorced during the summer of ’99. But at the funeral of his mother, Jackie, the singer went on to meet a new partner- Anne-Marie Perrier (daughter of the famous French actor François Perrier and sister of renowned 60s photographer Jean-Marie Perrier). The couple married in Neuilly-sur-Seine on 11 October 1999. Needless to say, the wedding was a full-on society affair - the celebrity guest list even included President Chirac.
Sardou returned to the music news the following year with a new album entitled "Français" (French) - a title which was seen as openly provocative given the sensitive political climate surrounding the problems of immigration and the far-right. Sardou, however, claimed the title was simply a means of expressing his love for his country and his fellow citizens. In spite of the minor controversy provoked by the title, Sardou's fans turned out in full force to buy the album, sending it rocketing to the top of the French album charts within weeks of its release.
Criticised by some for his notoriously gloomy character and controversial lyrics, Sardou has nevertheless built up a huge following of adoring fans. At the age of 50, with more than 30 years career behind him, Michel Sardou is still one of the most popular figures on the French music scene.
True to form, Sardou came back to perform a series of 18 dates at Bercy, starting on January, 13th 2001. Dressed in an unadorned attire—a black suit and a white shirt—and backed by a full orchestra with a section of brass and cords, the singer gave an authoritative performance in front of his devoted public of followers. Among other songs, he performed a cover of ‘Je n’aurai pas le temps’ – a song by his friend, Michel Fugain, who also wrote a great deal of the tracks on his latest album. He then embarked on a tour of 60 dates across France.
In September 2002, he walked onto the stage of the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin to act along with Brigitte Fossey and his son Davy in a play by Félicien Marceau, "L’Homme en Question". Michel Sardou had bought the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin with his partner Jean-Claude Camus in June 2001. After 160 performances in Paris, the play was taken to tour in the province.
In late March and early April, Sardou went on acting and played the part of Colonel in a television film entitled "Le Prix de l’Honneur".
A comeback on the music scene
Sardou switched to a new record label when Trema was bought out by Sony Music France (a move which put an end to his long-running financial dispute with Trema). He made a major comeback on the music scene in March 2004 with a new album, "Du plaisir", featuring contributions from a number of new songwriters and composers including Robert Goldman, Jacques Veneruso and Rick Allison. The album also included a duet with French Canadian star Garou ("La Rivière de notre enfance.") The first single release "Loin" soon took off on the airwaves, proving Sardou's popularity had in no way diminished over the years. Far from it, in fact, "Du plaisir" climbed to the no.1 spot in the French album charts and his concerts all sold out weeks in advance.
Following the release of a DVD of the play "L'homme en question" (in France), Michel Sardou kicked off a tour of France, Belgium and Switzerland in October 2004. This included a successful run at the legendary Olympia in Paris (6 October - 13 November). All in all, his tour lasted thirteen months.
Sardou returned to Paris at the beginning of 2005 and performed at the Palais des Sports (3 - 20 February 2005). A live recording of the show – simply entitled "Palais des Sports 2005" – was released in November of that year.
The phenomenal commercial success of "Du Plaisir" continued. By May 2005, the album had sold over 1 million copies, earning Sardou a diamond disc.
Suffering from mental and physical exhaustion after a marathon tour lasting over a year, Michel Sardou was rushed to hospital in November 2005. When he was discharged, the 58-year-old singer announced that he would officially retire on his 60th birthday. A few days later he went back on his decision, however, promising fans a double album in 2007 to mark the fortieth anniversary of his career.
"Hors format" finally hit record stores in November 2006. The songwriting on this double album, which featured 23 songs in all, proved to be less provocative and a lot more nuanced than in the past, Sardou affirming on "Je ne suis plus un homme pressé" (I'm not in a rush any more) that from now on he was a changed man. The first single release from the album was "Beethoven", a song about a world that has become deaf to the violence it encourages, set to an adaptation of extracts from Beethoven's compositions masterminded by Didier Barbelivien. The album also included a number of highly personal songs such as "Les yeux de mon père", on which the singer paid tribute to his father, Fernand. Chimène Badi provided guest vocals on the duo "Le chant des hommes" and composers on this new album included Daran, Jean Kapler and Jacques Veneruso.
In April 2007, he gave 10 concerts at the Zénith in Paris to a packed house. From 1 to 9 June, he performed at the Palais des Sports in Paris, and then in September celebrated forty years of career in the space of three evenings at the Olympia. He continued on his French tour until the end of the year.
Michel Sardou returned to the stage in October 2008 in the play “Secret de famille” by Eric Assous, acting opposite his own son, Davy. The play ran at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris until April 2009. Afterwards, he went on tour in France and Belgium.
2010: "Etre une femme 2010"
In August 2010, Michel Sardou presented “Etre une femme 2010”, a new album focusing entirely on women, an idea of his female producer. The first single to be taken from it was an adaptation of his 1981 hit, “Etre une femme”. In it, the singer evokes the female condition and how it has changed over the last thirty years, like an appraisal set to techno rhythms. Also featuring on the album is a duet with Céline Dion, “Voler”. The opus is more tender than his previous offerings and less focused on current affairs, with lyrics written by the singer himself and set to music by Jacques Veneruso, Daran and Didier Barbelivien.
The album’s cover shows a retro pin-up girl perched on an aeroplane wing – a reference to the singer’s new-found passion for aviation.