Now, I'm certainly not the world's expert on traditional French pop, and certainly haven't heard as much of it as I'd like to... This section deals with two branches of pre-rocknroll Gallic popular music, chanson and musette... As time and knowledge permit, I hope to expand this page considerably, and am certainly open to suggestions from my ever-so-knowledgable readers...
Anyway, here's my rudimentary understanding of the music involved:
"Chanson" refers to French popular vocals, particularly romantic ballads, and the style spans back at least as far as music recording technology, and survives well into the present day. Many of the classic chanson singers were also movie stars, particularly Charles Trenet, Jean Gabin, and Maurice Chevalier. Others, such as the great tragic diva, Edith Piaf, were primarily cabaret performers (although it should be noted that there is also a great deal of crossover between "concert" singing and theatrical and music hall traditions, perhaps moreso in France than in, say, the United Kingdom...) Musette music is a less sleek, but no less compelling style, which is normally characterized by a prominent accordion, and by bleakly "realistic" lyrics -- often morality tales about fallen girls who come to tragic and untimely ends. Musette arose out of the fairly rough-and-tumble world of the bal musette, Depression-era Parisian dance halls that were usually filled with and controlled by gangsters. Hence, the style has a lot of the same declasse cultural mystique as early American jazz and blues, and for many decades was not necessarily accepted by polite society. (It sure sounds great, though!)
Fred Adison "Fred Adison Et Son Orchestre - 20 Succes" (Forlane, 1996)
Fred Adison "Grands Orchestres Du Music-Hall" (Marianne Melodie, 2006)
A 2-CD set of jovial, toot-tootling big band music from one of France's most successful swing/big band bandleaders... This is very much in line with the soft-edged British "sweet band" sound of the same era, delightfully carefree and corny and peppered with novelty numbers of various kinds... A nice compliment to similar bandleaders such as Jacques Helian, or American counterparts such as Paul Whiteman and Ben Selvin. Some of it is too corny, but some of it is great.
Fred Adison "Le Swing A L'Ecole"
Another 2-CD set...
Alibert "La Star De 'Operette Marseillaise" (Forlane, 1992)
Alibert "Le Meilleur De Alibert" (EMI-Odeon/Disques Pathe, 1998)
A 2-CD set...
Alibert "Etoiles De La Chanson" (Marianne Melodie/Etoiles De La Chanson, 1998)
Alibert "1932-1945" (Fremeaux, 2003)
A 2-CD set...
Simone Alma "Mes Chansons De Charme" (Mariane Melodie, 2008)
Mathe Altery "Mathe Altery" (EMI-Odeon/Disques Pathe, 1998)
A 2-CD set, primarily of genteel, old-fashioned operette-style singing, recorded in the 1950s and '60s... Late in her career Altery also dipped into some swanker, torch-singing, including some stuff that sounded almost like a James Bond theme song. Among other recognizable cover tunes, there's a super-flowery French-language version on "Summertime." A pretty voice, but the music isn't quite my style. Too florid and pop-vocals-y for me.
Mathe Altery "Les Voix D'Or" (Marianne Melodie)
Miguel Amador "Padre Don Jose" (Marianne Melodie)
Miguel Amador "Histoire D'Un Amour" (Marianne Melodie)
Marcel Amont "Le Meilleur De..." (Polygram, 2000)
A 2-CD set...
Marcel Amont "Collection Chanson Francaise" (Mariane Melodie, 2010)
Marcel Amont "Volume 2: 24 Succes Inoubliables" (Marianne Melodie)
Andrex "Bebert: 26 Succes Inoubliables" (Marianne Melodie)
Arletty "Succes Et Raretes: 1925-1939" (Chansophone, 1996)
Arletty "Les Chansons Eternelles" (Chansons Eternelles, 1999)
Arletty "Comme De Bien Entendu" (Sony, 2001)
Arletty "Arletty" (Buda Musique, 2002)
Arletty "Paris Music Hall" (Orphee, 2007)
Michele Arnaud "La Rue S'allume" (Marianne Melodie)
Jeanne Aubert "Ses 50 Plus Grands Succes" (Marianne Melodie, 2010)
A 2-CD set of music-hall star Jeanne Aubert, a showy, trilling songbird, deliciously old-fashioned, although she did dabble in big-band flavored material. Sublimely nostalgic material, though perhaps best taken in small doses: her squeaky, opera-tinged trills might get on your nerves after a while.
Marcel Azzola "Les Archives De L'Accordeon" (Marianne Melodie)
French Music Index
French Rock & Pop