For the first time in my One Random Single challenge, I’ve come across a #1 hit! In this case, it’s from François Feldman, a French performer who found the peak of his fame in the late 80s and early 90s. He had been making music since the early 80s, with his first big single “Rien que pour toi” sound particularly 80s in its electronic sound and upbeat, danceable rhythm. The same goes for his first top 2 single, “Joue pas”, released as a duet with French singer Joeniece Jamison in 1989. That same year, he released his next single, “Les valses de Vienne”, which would become his very first song to hit #1 on his country’s charts (though certainly not the last!). It was one of the biggest hits of 1989 in France, spending a total of six non-consecutive weeks atop the chart.
I was initially amazed by how lush and modern the production sounded; there is a promient sense of sonic deepness that I’m used to hearing more from music of the past couple years, and definitely not from the late 80s. This song stands out from Feldman’s previous singles, in that it is generally slower, incorporating the 3/4 time signature of a waltz, instead of the jumpy, euphoric mood of his earlier synthpop efforts. The title itself translates to “the waltzes of Vienna”, and the moody, dramatic feel of the recording, helped by the gloomy string instrumentation, give the entire piece a really nice classical vibe. It’s a lovely song, even if you don’t know French, and Feldman is quite a charismatic ringleader at the emotional center of this song’s universe.
I tried running the song’s lyrics through a translator and even sought out some translations from individuals attempting to interpret the song line by line. I’ve gotta be honest here – I’ve got nothing. So many of the lyrics translate to some vague imagery about Ancient Rome, which houses actresses with chrome-plated eyes and young, sorrowful romantics. In the chorus, though, it seems that he is asking questions of what happened to those ancient Vienna waltzes from long ago, maybe tying it in as a metaphor to a possibly unfaithful lover who has returned suddenly after some time away… or something. That’s really the best interpretation I could get from that in such short notice; the chorus gave me an indication that this was yet another song about the pain of nostalgia, but it’s really not so clear and I’m still not sure how this ties to the verses at all.
I read somewhere that the song was based on a pun, and I think that’s where the main problem lies. I feel like there are a lot of French colloquialisms and wordplay going on here that, not being a native speaker, just goes way over my head. I get this sense right away from the chorus which rhymes the French verb “deviennent” with “Vienne”, the French word for Vienna. There’s just a whole lot going on here in this song, with its flouncy poetic language, that this review honestly doesn’t do much justice to. If you’re looking for whether I liked the song, though – yes, I really do. I love how Feldman sings each line in such a flowing, appeasing way, and I love the way that the vocals seem to be in their own kind of dance with the classical, waltzy arrangement. However, I’m really gonna need to spend longer than an hour or so to mull this one over.