Pierre Delanoe

Writer of more than 4,000 songs


Pierre Charles Marcel Napoléon Leroyer (Pierre Delanoë), songwriter: born Paris 16 December 1918; married Micheline Gérald (three children); died Fourqueux, France 27 December 2006.

Only the employees of Sacem, the French association of music writers, composers and publishers, know exactly how many songs Pierre Delanoë wrote between the late Forties and the end of the Eighties. Estimates vary between 4,000 and 5,000, but what is certain is that Delanoë's poetic lyrics grace hundreds of best-selling chansons by singers including Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Marlene Dietrich, Johnny Hallyday, Françoise Hardy, Nana Mouskouri, Claude François and Gilbert Bécaud. "Et Maintenant" and "Je T'Appartiens", two songs Bécaud and Delanoë composed together, were adapted into English and became international standards as "What Now, My Love" and "Let It Be Me".

In the Sixties, Delanoë also translated into French many American and British hits, helping Hughes Aufray turn Bob Dylan's "Times They are A-Changin" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" into "Les Temps Changent" and "N'y Pense Plus, Tout Va Bien" and improving on the original lyrics of the British group Christie's "Yellow River" when coming up with "L'Amérique" for Joe Dassin in 1970.

Always looking for "just the right word", Delanoë also wrote "Dors Mon Amour" ("Sleep, My Love") for André Claveau, the first French singer to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1958, and other Eurovision entries for Colette Deréal, Noelle Cordier and Patrick Juvet. He was so prolific that he would occasionally be known to call a radio station when he heard a song he liked, only to be told he had failed to recognise one of his own lyrics.

Delanoë had a loud voice, was rather overbearing and always spoke his mind, often adopting contrary, reactionary views, and falling out with the artists he had worked with. In recent years, he bemoaned the state of popular music in France, calling rap "not music but vociferations, eructations".

Born Pierre Leroyer, he was an unruly child with a stern father who ran a printing firm. "He always wanted me to be top of the class," he recalled. "He would give me five francs if I came top, three francs if I came second and nothing if I came third. I would get a spanking if I came fourth."

Pierre read Law at university before getting a job in the tax office. "When you're a civil servant, you always have time on your hands," he said. "So I started to write and I began to write lyrics. I showed them to a few people and one thing led to another."

His brother-in-law, Frank Gérald, set the lyrics to music and, in the late Forties, they formed a singing double act, though Pierre took up his grandmother's name Delanoë as a pseudonym, since he was moonlighting from his job as a tax inspector. They performed at the Central de la Chanson in Montmartre, where Delanoë met François Silly, the piano accompanist for Jacques Pills (who later became Piaf's husband).

Delanoë and Silly struck up a friendship which blossomed into a songwriting partnership when Silly started singing, changed his name to Gilbert Bécaud and evolved into the dynamic "Monsieur 100,000 Volts". In 1953, "Mes Mains", with lyrics by Delanoë, became Bécaud's first hit in France, and would later be covered by Petula Clark as "Your Love". Another collaboration, "Le Jour Où La Pluie Viendra", became "The Day the Rains Came", a chart-topper in the UK for Jane Morgan in 1958, one in a series of English-language versions of their compositions.

"Je T'Appartiens", a hit in France in 1955, was covered as "Let it Be Me" by the Everly Brothers, Tom Jones, Nina Simone, Sonny & Cher and Bob Dylan; and "Et Maintenant" (1961) became "What Now, My Love" for Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Elvis Presley. According to Delanoë, "Et Maintenant" was inspired by "a chance meeting between Bécaud and the actress Ola Andersen on a Nice-Paris flight. Her fiancé had just broken up with her and she said: "Et maintenant, que vais-je faire?""

Delanoë finally handed in his notice at the tax office and throughout the Sixties seemed to rule the French charts and airwaves. He translated Bob Dylan for the album Aufray Chante Dylan (1965), which brought the American singer to French-speaking audiences and composed "Quand J'aurai 100 Ans" ("When I'm 100") for Maurice Chevalier in 1968. He also wrote material for Michel Fugain ("Je N'Aurai Pas Le Temps", recorded in English as "If I Only Had Time" by Petula Clark) and Nicoletta ("Il Est Mort Le Soleil", which became "The Sun Died" and was covered by Ray Charles and Tom Jones).

Delanoë greatly admired General Charles de Gaulle, writing "Tu Le Regretteras" with Bécaud in praise of the French president in 1965, and was happy to see his songs hijacked by the political right, though he would insist: "I've never written a political song. There's time yet. Iraq rhymes with Chirac."

He remained active well into his eighties and found time to write several novels and two autobiographies, as well as publishing anthologies of his lyrics and poetry. "I've always followed trends, but a lyric idea can come from anywhere," he said.

Reading the newspaper, having a strange feeling, being angry about something. But being a lyricist is a proper job. The poet has to transform the reality into a lyric using all his technique and ability. I feel like a bespoke tailor who has to come up with something to fit a hunchback.

Pierre Perrone

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