Obituary: Michel Berger

Michel Hamburger (Michel Berger), singer-songwriter, born Paris 1947, died Saint Tropez France 3 August 1992.

IF THE LATE Serge Gainsbourg, with his louche Bohemian persona, murmured delivery and Left Bank proclivities, represented one distinctive facet of French popular song, Michel Berger was the other side of the coin.

A sort of French Elton John, as the newspaper Liberation put it, 'without the flamboyance but with the same associations - piano, melody, vibrato, California . . .', Berger was responsible through the Seventies and Eighties for some of the most intelligent, craftsmanlike and successful work in incorporating Anglo- American middle-of-the-road rock into the French music scene.

Berger's childhood musical initiation came from his Parisian mother, a concert pianist. In his early teens he abandoned Chopin for Jerry Lee Lewis and embarked on a career as a pop prodigy. By 15 he had had his first song accepted by the elderly musical-hall artiste Andre Bourvil and was attracting attention as a youthful member of the yeye generation. He was featured on the covers of the quintessential document of the period, the teen magazine Salut Les Copains, along with stars he was subsequently to write for, Johnny Halliday and Francoise Hardy.

A dozen or more of Berger's own records were major hits, among them his first million-seller 'Jesus', recorded under a pseudonym while he was concluding his secondary education with a thesis on the early records of Jimi Hendrix. Primarily, it was not his slight voice and restrained stage presence which made his reputation, but his songwriting, arranging and, later, live show conceptualisation for other, often female, artistes. Rapidly refining a winning formula over a two-album partnership with Veronique Sanson, Berger achieved his first mature hit song in 1973 with 'Message Personnel' by Francoise Hardy. Three years later began his collaboration with his future wife France Gall, the demure Sixties teen idol whose hugely successful second career he masterminded. Gall became the country's biggest- selling female singer through the Seventies and Eighties - and became identified, like Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg, as the interpretress par excellence of her husband's songs.

In 1986 it was the turn of the ageing rocker Johnny Halliday to have his career revived with a new young audience attracted by Berger's songs ('Quelquechose de Tennessee' and 'Que je t'aime'), arrangements and sense of showmanship, Berger directing Halliday's triumphant shows at the huge Bercy concert hall.

At the time of Berger's death, his work was attracting more attention from the Anglophone world than at any period since his collaboration with his friend and admirer Elton John 12 years before. Berger's 1978 rock opera Starmania, revived in 1990, was adapted by Tim Rice as Tycoon and an English-language single of one song, 'The World is Stone', is a hit in the hands of Cyndi Lauper. In spite of his declared disenchantment with songwriting - his ambitions latterly lay more in film - Michel Berger's musical career was at its zenith.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An HR Consultant is required to join thi...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable