Burn, Baby, Burn

Johnny Hallyday had ‘something broken in his soul’ — you could see it when he belted out his Gallic-toned rock’n’roll. He had been an abandoned child, and the trauma never left him, though by the end he belonged to France.
Johnny Hallyday performs at Le Zénith in Paris.

Le rockeur national’, ‘the biggest rock star you never heard of ’, and ‘France’s Elvis’: none of these shorthands comes close to capturing the reach of Johnny Hallyday. During 50 years in the spotlight, this averagely talented singer of the rock’n’roll era became a national treasure, with few equals anywhere in the world. While the real Elvis faded into a niche obsession, and Britain’s nearest equivalent — Cliff Richard — became a cosy granny’s favourite, the man they called just ‘Johnny’ continued to fascinate and excite to a degree that only increased as it should have fallen away. It wasn’t so much what Johnny did as who he was.


James Medd


July 2023


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