Richard Anthony died a few days ago at the relatively young – by today’s standards – age of 77. To the vast majority of my english-speaking readers, his name will ring no bell. He was one of the “yéyé” idols of the sixties. His music and songs were mainly adaptations of english or american hits as the french tried to follow the pop-rock world wave. He recorded more than 600 songs, adapting hits such as “You talk too much” (Tu parles trop”), or Ray Charles’ “Hit the road Jack”.
He was born Richard Anthony Btesh, of a jewish syrian father from Alep (now nearly destroyed after years of fighting in Syria) and an english mother. (I always thought he was Lebanese!) His birthplace: Cairo. The year? 1938. The year my father, brought up in Ismailia, Egypt, turned 20. My father had spent his entire childhood in Egypt, my grandfather working for the Brits at the Suez Canal. Egypt, in between the two wars was a cosmopolitan, tolerant place: egyptians, moslems and copts, greeks, italians, french and many other nationalities lived together in, I believe, relative harmony. Alexandria was the best example of “multiculturalism”, before the word was invented. (Read Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet) Other french singers were also born in Egypt: Claude François (Ismailia, 1939), Dalida (Cairo 1933), Moustaki (Alexandria, 1934), to name a few.
Richard Anthony picked his first two given names to “sound” more english, like Johnny Haliday (Jean-Philippe Smet), or Eddy Mitchell (Claude Moine). He spoke six languages, including english, and started adapting american songs “from o’er there yonder” into French: Paul Anka’s “you are my destiny” and Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” (My! My! Can’t fault his taste). His breakthrough came with his third song: “Nouvelle vague” an adaptation of the Coasters’ “Three cool cats”.
The introducer of Twist in France, he was more of my older brothers’ generation. Not mine. Personally, I was soon to plunge into James Brown’s Soul or Clapton or Jeff Beck’s brit Rock and didn’t like the Yéyés much, but listening to Richard Anthony’s songs half a century later… Well. He was good.
“Et j’entends siffler le train” (I will hear the whistle blow) is one of his major hits. And quite deservedly so. Click on the link, even if you don’t understand a word of french. Let’s see who identifies the original song first. The words in french bear little ressemblance to the original text in english. But let’s see if someone will say: “Hey” That’s…!”
Salut Monsieur Anthony. Bon voyage. I hope they’ve finally upgraded the harps up there to electric guitars. Fenders or Gibson.