Let’s jump into a time machine and discover the most famous French songs of all time! I divided this ranking by decade. To be more precise, I classified the French titles chronologically, from the oldest to the most recent songs. 

The final selection of famous French songs for the list was tough and it wasn’t easy for me to select la crème de la crème. So don’t get too upset if any of your favorites are missing…

Most of the popular French artists featured have made more than one hit. I’d suggest you check out their Spotify discography and listen to their other musical successes. 

I would claim that all French people are familiar with the songs on this list. These songs are undoubtedly an important part of French culture. C’est parti!

Best French songs before the 60s

Starting with a broader period of time, here are my top picks from before the 1960s. Not a decade of course, but these French songs simply had to feature on the list.

#1 Félicie aussi – Fernandel

Released: 1939

Title translation: Félicie too

Fernandel started his career as a humoristic singer before working as an actor and movie director. This humorous song tells the story of a guy having a date with a woman. Throughout the song, he keeps comparing the environment with his date. For example “I had a lobster with tomato sauce. It had hair on its legs. Félicie too”. The humor is based on the comedy of repetition by saying “Félicie aussi” over and over.

#2 La mer – Charles Trenet 

Released in: 1946 

Title translation: The sea

La mer is a beautiful poem with simple words about the sea. Trenet had the inspiration in 1943 while traveling on a train between Montpellier and Perpignan (south coast of France). He was facing the landscape around the pond of Thau and it took him twenty minutes to write this masterpiece. An even crazier fun fact, he was only 18 years old when he wrote it.

#3 Douce France – Charles Trenet 

Released in: 1947

Title translation: Sweet France

This song by Charles Trenet and Léon Chauliac was written in 1943 when France was under German occupation. The singer evokes “cher pays de mon enfance” (dear country of my childhood) to support the French forced migrants, the war prisoners, and the workers from STO (le Service de Travail Obligatoire = Obligatory Work Service). Today, it’s still a super popular French song that the younger generation love to play on their Instagram stories, particularly remixes like the Aarno’s one.  

#4 La mauvaise réputation – Georges Brassens 

Released in: 1952

Title translation: The bad reputation

In “La mauvais réputation” Georges Brassens sings about a person that has a bad image in his village. The marginal character is an honest person, who minds his own business. The moral of the song is that society often disapproves when a person follows a different path and challenges the status quo.  

#5 Le petit cheval – Georges Brassens 

Released in: 1952

Title translation: The little horse

I love this cute song where the French singer is telling the story of a little white horse traveling through bad weather conditions. Sad spoiler alert, the little horse ends up struck by lightning and will not see the good weather at the end of the song. In reality, the little horse is an allegory to death. Many people have died too soon without having the chance to enjoy their lives to the fullest. So take note! Also, listen to the song “Les amoureux des bancs publics” describing lovers sitting on public benches.

#6 Ne me quitte pas – Jacque Brel

Released in: 1959

Title translation: Don’t leave me

“Ne me quitte pas” is a song about a breakup. This song was inspired by the personal life of the Belgian singer who was in love with a mistress named Suzanne Gabriello. Jacques Brel did not want to leave his wife and three children, so she decided to leave him.

#7 La valse à mille temps – Jacques Brel

Released in: 1959 

Title translation: The thousand-beat waltz

Another song from Jacques Brel will get you dancing slowly but surely. The song is characterized by the unofficial Brel’s crescendo with dramatic progression in writing and interpretation. This progression in the writing is accompanied by an acceleration of the tempo. The song starts with the mention of a four-beat waltz, then twenty, then a hundred, and finally a thousand beats.

Best French songs from the 60s

Probably the decade that saw the emergence of one of the most famous French singers of all time, Édith Piaf.

#8 Non, je ne regrette rien – Édith Piaf

Released in: 1960

Title translation: No, I don’t regret anything

Probably one of the reasons I started this blog. This is a famous French song in the USA. Somehow, it feels like time stopped in 1962 and since then, no other French artist has made such an impact. In this song, Piaf is simply saying that she has no regrets over how she lived her life, neither the good things nor the bad things. For the cinephile, this song is part of a notable French movie scene “Hate” (La Haine) where the French DJ CuteKiller does a mashup with “Sound of da Police” (from the American artist KRS-One).

Read also: Non, je ne regrette rien Lyrics Translated into English 

#9 C’était bien (Le petit bal perdu) – Bourvil 

Released in: 1961

Title translation: It was good (the little lost ball)

In this song, Bourvil describes a ball after the war where he can see cheerful people and, more precisely, two lovers. All throughout the song, the singer cannot remember the name of the place but he will forever remember this moment of joy. Bourvil is a French musician, humorist, and actor! He played with Louis de Funès in probably the most emblematic French movie “La Grande Vadrouille ” in 1966, a movie about the Second World War II.

#10 Oh la belle vie – Sacha Distel

Released in: 1962

Title translation: Oh the good life

I included this artist because we have the same first name (just kidding). Fun fact, this French Jazz song had an English adaptation with “The Good Life” by the American singer Tony Bennet in 1963. The song expresses the beauty of life which is made up of the simplest things. It is a simplistic perception that claims happiness can be acquired by everyone, far from complications and illusionary dreams. Nevertheless, when love comes into play, it complicates life and makes it difficult to maintain permanent happiness. Another excellent song from Sacha Distel is “Toute la pluie tombe sur moi”(1971).

#11 Le temps de l’amour – Françoise Hardy

Released in: 1962

Title translation: The time of love 

Even though this song seems a little a bit melancholic in the way it discusses youth and love, it is an ode to love, joy and adventure. I have to mention the excellent remix by the French band Bon Entendeur. They managed to make it more relaxing. Another song from Françoise Hardy that I enjoy is “Tous les garçons et les filles” (1962). The song describes loneliness in love. A person is observing all the couples on the street and wishes the same for herself.

#12 Les copains d’abord – Georges Brassens 

Released in: 1964

Title translation: The friend first

Les copains d’abord is probably an older version of the American expression “Bros before h#@%”. There is a word game with the title “Les copains d’abord” that can be heard as “Les copains à bord “(friends on board). Georges Brassens is comparing friendship to an unsinkable ship, with many marine metaphors.

#13 La montagne – Jean Ferrat

Released in: 1964

Title translation: The mountain

Probably a famous French song with a chorus that every single French person knows “ Pourtant que la montagne est belle” (=yet how beautiful the mountain is) but not everyone could recall the name of the artist. The French artist had the inspiration during a summer holiday in 1964 in the French county of Ardèche (a great location for canoeing). He ended up moving there permanently in 1973. This song, which might sound simple and poetic, is related to politics. France at that time was facing a rural exodus and many urban people had parents and grandparents from the French countryside. It also criticizes consumer society with “Et rentrer dans son HLM, manger du poulet aux hormones” (=and go back to your apartment block and eat hormone chicken).  Finally, I would recommend you listen to “Ma France” by this same artist.

#14 Love me please love me – Michel Polnareff 

Released in: 1966

A French artist that you could recognize instantly due to his long curly blond hair and white sunglasses. This is a beautiful song about a man asking to be loved. Michel Polnareff, released this song ( and also the song “La poupée qui fait non”) in the sixties, singing in a unique high-pitched voice (sometimes). This artist became a new icon of French pop during the cultural revolution. For once, the title and the chorus are in English.

#15 Comme d’habitude – Claude François

Released in: 1967

Title translation: As usual

English native speakers are probably already familiar with this song without knowing it. There were several adaptations in English. The first one was by Paul Anka and then another followed, the Frank Sinatra with “My way” in 1969. This song describes François’ monotonous daily routine but also highlights the loneliness of the individual. Why? Because the artist had a passionate relationship with a rising French singer France Gall that started in 1964. In 1967, when they separated for good, the artist decided to transcribe his feelings in songs.

#16 Emmenez-moi – Charles Aznavour

Released in: 1967

Title translation: Take me away

Charles Aznavour is a small man in size but has huge talent. Aznavour was a polyglot and spoke six languages; French, Italian, Spanish, English, Russian, and of course, Armenian (he belongs to the big Armenian community that emigrated to France). In this song, Aznavour shares the nostalgic desire of the narrator to leave for sunny countries to escape the misery of his daily life, as he claims: “It seems to me that misery would be less painful in the sun”.

#17 Initials B.B – Serge Gainsbourg 

Released in: 1968

One of my favorite songs from one of the most controversial and rebellious French artists. Serge Gainsbourg had a relationship with Brigitte Bardot, a sex symbol in France at that time. Unfortunately, their relationship eventually came to an end. Following the sentimental rupture, Gainsbourg wrote the song, Initials B.B, a tribute to the French actress/model. 

#18 Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille – Jacques Dutronc

Released in: 1968

Title translation: It is five o’clock, Paris wakes up

In a song full of joy, Jacques Dutronc describes the city of Paris waking up at five in the morning. He describes many workers starting or ending their shift of the day.

#19 Siffler sur la colline – Joe Dassin

Released in: 1968

Title translation: Whistle on the hill

“Siffler sur la colline” is a song that will make you want to sing along. This song is an adaptation of an Italian song “Uno tranquilo” (1967). The lyrics describe a naive man who is trying to have a date with a countryside woman. The woman asked him to whistle and wait for her at the top of the hill. Unfortunately, she never comes to meet him but the man stays positive and keeps whistling like a bird all alone. I would recommend a deep love song from this artist “Et si tu n’existais pas” (1975).

#20 La Bicyclette – Yves Montand

Released in: 1968

Title translation: The Bicycle

One of the most famous French songs from Yves Montand. The artist is describing a joyful bike trip in the French countryside with many male friends and Paulette, the postman’s daughter. All of them were in love with her and they spent their time biking on dirt paths and playing in the fields in nature.

#21 L’opportuniste – Jacques Dutronc 

Released in: 1968

Title translation: The opportunist

Not the most famous song from Jacques Dutronc but I like the lyrics. The song is describing a man that seizes every opportunity by “retourner sa veste” (by turning his jacket inside out). It is a French expression for people that change their opinion based on interests and not convictions. There are many other Famous French songs from Jacques Dutronc such as “Et moi, et moi, et moi” (1966), “J’aime les filles”(1967) and  “Les cactus” (1967).

#22 Comment te dire adieu – Françoise Hardy

Released in: 1968

Title translation: How to say goodbye  

This song was written by the famous Serge Gainsbourg but the love song is an adaptation of an American one “It Hurts to Say Goodbye”. Here, the writer was pretty smart by accentuating the sound “ex” at the end of most words. Indeed in French and in English, an “Ex” has the same meaning. Once a couple has split up, they begin to refer to each other as an “Ex”. 

#23 Les Champs-Elysées – Joe Dassin

Released in: 1969

Title translation: The Champs-Elysées

A song that a lot of non-French speakers already know. Here, Joe Dassin, an American-French singer, is singing a tribute to the most beautiful avenue in the world, “Les Champs-Elysées” in Paris. The song is an adaptation of “Waterloo Road” by the British band Jason Crest.

#24 Le métèque – Georges Moustaki

Released in: 1969

A “métèque” was a foreigner residing in Athens without the rights of a citizen during Greek antiquity. The singer was born in Egypt to Greek and Jewish parents. This song is about his life in Paris when he moved there after high school. Sadly, he was regularly being treated like a metèque. The song represents the attitudes of the time: 1968 was a period of questioning racism, xenophobia, and freedom. The singer had a lot of luck in life since his brother-in-law was Georges Brassens who pushed him to write. But, it was predominantly Edith Piaf that helped him to start his music career. His romantic relationship with her definitely had a big impact on his future.

Best French songs from the 70s

The decade that saw a cultural revolution in France and in the world. There is a kind of euphoria in most of the famous French songs of this period.

#25 San Francisco – Maxime Le Forestier 

Released in: 1972

The artist traveled in the seventies in California and lived in San Francisco. He had a life-changing experience by living in a Victorian-style house with a hippie community. After his trip, the French singer received a letter from the hosts with some drawings. Since his level of English was low, he preferred to send them a song in order to thank them for his time in the USA. The French song describes his life in the community in a poetic way. This house is real and still exists today. It had one particular detail, it was blue. 

For the 40th anniversary of Maxime Le Forestier’s career, his record company proposed to the owners of the house to paint blue again. They also added a plaque explaining the story behind the house and this famous French song. Many French tourists come to take pictures of themselves in front of the place and it’s possible that a lot of Americans don’t know the reason why. 

#26 Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais – Serge Gainsbourg

Released in: 1973

Title translation: I came to tell you that I am leaving

At this time, the singer was with the British actress Jane Berkin. Together they had a baby, Charlotte Gainsbourg in 1971. Serge Gainsbourg had the inspiration for this song after a terrible heart attack that saw him hospitalized for a week. He decided to include the cry of Jane Berkin in the background to emphasize the sadness of the song.

#27 Paroles paroles – Dalida

Released in: 1973

Title translation: Words Words

In this famous French song, Dalida, an Italian actress and singer did a feature with the famous French actor Alain Delon. In this song, a man is offering many gifts and compliments. In response, the woman rejects him by saying “Paroles paroles” ; those are only words and he won’t keep his promises to her.

#28 Maintenant je sais – Jean Gabin

Released in: 1974

Title translation: Now I know

One of my favorites from this list of famous French songs. It’s an adaptation of “But Now I Know” by Harry Philip Green. In this beautiful song, Jean Gabin, a French actor, describes his different visions of life at different ages. It’s a spoken monologue rather than a sung one, but in my opinion, it gives more importance to the words spoken. When he was a kid, he would always declare “Je sais je sais je sais” (I know, I know, I know). Then at eighteen years old, “that’s it, I know”. When he turned twenty-five years old, he knew everything about love, money, and life. When he became middle-aged, he learned something important that can be summarized in a few words “The day when someone loves you, the weather is beautiful”. He realized he spent all his life saying “I know” but at sixty years old he finally realized that he knows nothing about life, love, people, or friends and of this, he is sure. That’s a valuable lesson to learn! 

#29 Le Sud – Nino Ferrer 

Released in: 1975

Title translation: The South 

Another adaptation, this time from the American song “South” by Radiah Frye. The artist was influenced by American folk and country music when it came to deciding on the title. The artist lived in Italy for three years (he had Italian origins) before interpreting this song describing “the south”, probably the reason why he decided to accept this project. For the story, his record company wanted him to sing the song in English but the artist refused and finally sang it in French. The song became a classic on the French music scene with a million copies sold. Strangely, the more time that passed, the more the singer found this song mediocre. He hated to be considered a variety artist.

#30 Cette année-là – Claude François 

Released in: 1976

Title translation: In this year

Another joyful French song from Claude François with “Cette année-là”. It is an adaptation from the band The Four Seasons “Oh What a Night”. In this famous French song, the artist describes the year 1962 and references some of his accomplishments: singing for the first time and being unknown to the French public audience. Claude François describes mostly important historic events. Fun fact, the song was sampled for another popular French song “Ces soirées-là” from Yannick in 2000.

#31 Ça plane pour moi – Plastic Bertrand

Released in: 1978

Title translation: It’s high for me

Fun fact, this song was supposed to be a parody that became a world hit. Everything started when the producer Lou Deprijck was watching a Belgian TV show about punk music, featuring a local band named Hubble Bubble and a journalist wearing a plastic bag named Bert Bertrand. Lou Deprijck decided to make a parody of a punk song and let the singer Roger Jouret take the pseudo: Plastic Bertrand. Another fun fact, in order not to waste time the producer recorded the original song with his voice and not the one from Roger Jouret. Later, the voice of Plastic Bertrand was added to the track.

#32 Le chanteur – Daniel Balavoine

Released in: 1978

Title translation: The singer

Daniel Balavoine was not famous when he released  “Le chanteur” in 1978. This song describes the story of an unknown singer becoming a rock star. In a way, he admitted that he would like to become a big star and he managed to do so thanks to this exact song! It became a big hit in France with 800,000 copies sold.

#33 Ma préférence – Julien Clerc 

Released in: 1978

Title translation: My preference

A beautiful French love song from Julien Clerc, “Ma préférence” is probably one of the biggest successes of this French singer. At that time, the young singer was in an unofficial relationship with the actress Miou-miou. The actress was the partner of Patrick Dewaere. The general public took a disapproving view of this secret relationship. It should be noted that Patrick Dewaere was a very talented actor and very appreciated by the French public since the release of the film “Les Valseuses” by Bertrand Blier. With “Ma préférence”, Julien Clerc claimed his love for the actress without naming her in the lyrics. This relationship was clearly an important one as they had a daughter together, named Jeanne.

#34 Fier et fou de vous – William Sheller

Released in: 1978

Title translation: Proud and crazy about you 

Fun fact, William Sheller was born in Paris to an American soldier and a French mother. This song describes a good guy who doesn’t understand much of what’s happening to him.

#35 Vous les femmes – Julio Iglesias 

Released in: 1979

Title translation: You women

Iconic French song from the famous Spanish singer Julio Iglesias. In this song, the singer declares his love for women. He compares men and women by doing a dichotomy between the sexes. Women are described as “charming, adorable angels” whereas men as “vulnerable, miserable”.

#36 Je l’aime à mourir – Francis Cabrel

Released in: 1979

Title translation: I love her to death

Here is another beautiful French love song by Francis Cabrel. This is the song that introduced him to the public in 1979. Maybe you can notice the accent from the southwest. The singer is from the city of Agen with Italian origins (grandson of Italian immigrants). The single sold 700,000 copies and was an unexpected success during the disco era.

Best French songs from the 80s

For this decade, I wrote an article about the top 10 best French songs from the 80s for dancing.  

#37 Couleur menthe à l’eau – Eddy Mitchell

Released in: 1980

Title translation: Water mint color

This was a big hit in France with over 500,000 copies sold. In this song, Eddy Mitchell sings about the story of a man intimidated by the charms of a girl with watermint colored eyes.

#38 Il jouait du piano debout – France Gall 

Released in: 1980

Title translation: He played the piano standing up 

Written by Michel Berger, this song pays tribute to the particular way of playing the piano of the American rocker, Jerry Lee Lewis. Michel Berger had been impressed by this American artist who had even set fire to his musical instrument during a concert in the first part of Chuck Berry. France Gall sold more than 800,000 copies in France.

#39 Antisocial – Trust

Released in: 1980

Song from the hard rock band Trust that you have to listen loud, really loud, if you want to relieve all of your anger. This song is a big cry against the capitalist system, the working world, the passing of time, and society in general. Up until now, we’ve had a lot of love songs, confirming one of the many French clichés. This one shows the rebel side of French society, another (true) cliché.

#40 La groupie du pianiste – Michel Berger 

Released in: 1980

Title translation: The pianist’s groupie

Throughout this song, Michel Berger tells the story of a young girl who is deeply in love with a pianist. For him, she is ready to do anything, even go to the edge of the world. It is a song intended to express total love. It’s also the song that really launched the career of this singer.

#41 Mon fils ma bataille – Daniel Balavoine

Released in: 1980

Title translation: My son my battle

Even though this song was written more than 40 years ago, it’s still significant today. The song tells the story of a father who does not want to lose custody of his child to his mother, who has left home. Despite having written the song in 1980, strangely, Daniel Balavoine only had his first child in 1984. From the album he released this same year “ Un autre monde”, I enjoy the two other big hits “La vie ne m’apprends rien” and “Je ne suis pas héros”.

#42 Résiste – France Gall

Released in: 1981

Title translation: Resists

Michel Berger wrote this song for France Gall and he addressed the perfect words to a generation. The lyrics still echo the generations of the time. In this song, France Gall encourages young people to make choices, to never accept the easy way out, and to turn away from a predetermined path to find true happiness.

#43 Être une femme – Michel Sardou

Released in: 1981

Title translation: Being a woman

An energetic French song that acts as a hymn about being a woman in the eighties. Michel Sardou sings his vision of the evolution of the role of women in society. He describes women with job titles that were usually more occupied by men. This song, which was a public success, caused some controversy. The song was considered sexist by some feminist movements.

#44 Les lacs du Connemara – Michel Sardou

Released in: 1981

Title translation: The Lakes of Connemara

The lakes of Connemara are not located in France but in Ireland. Most Irish people have no clue that French people come together completely drunk during weddings and birthday parties to sing this fraternal music. This song is a kind of tradition, it is often played at the very end of an event to mark the closing in a solemn way. Fun fact, this song generates more tourism from the French community to Ireland, and to this specific region. In fact, 20% of the total number of tourists are French there. 

#45 Quand la musique est bonne – Jean-Jacques Goldman

Released in: 1982

Title translation: When the music is good 

This is a song about a song, really! Actually, Jean-Jacques Goldman is singing about the feeling that hits you when you hear a nice groove. He sold more than 800,000 copies in France with this big hit. 

#46 L’aventurier – Indochine

Released in: 1982

Title translation: The adventurer

In the emblematic song, which most French people know by heart, the French band is describing the adventures of Bob Morane. The inspiration from this song comes from the books of the Belgian author Henri Vernes (“La Vallée infernale” or “Terreur à la Manicouagan”). Indochine managed to recreate a song around all the adventure universes of the Belgian author. Even though this song is getting old, it became a timeless hit of Indochine. The song is super popular among younger French generations that still enjoy dancing to it.

#47 Cendrillon – Téléphone

Released in: 1982

Title translation: Cinderella

A French song interpreted by the French band Téléphone. They are describing the depressing life of Cinderella in three stages. Starting when she is 20, full of dreams and deeply in love. Then, she is thirty years old, she is a mother, her husband left her and she lost custody of her kids. She is now all alone by herself. The last step, she is forty and sadly a drug addict and prostitute. She ends her life by choosing to take an overdose in the ambulance. The song shows the distortion between the utopias of teenagers or young adults and reality. The lesson of this song: life is not a fairy tale.

#48 Dès que le vent soufflera – Renaud

Released in: 1983

Title translation: As soon as the wind blows

A beautiful song about the ocean and the life of a sailor. He had the inspiration for the lyrics and the song right after sailing back from the French Antilles to metropolitan France. He speaks of his life on board in a humorous way, full of self-mockery. The song is inspired by another famous one “Santiano” from Hugues Aufray.

#49 On va s’aimer – Gilbert Montagné

Released in: 1984

Title translation: We will love each other

Here is a cheerful song from the most famous blind French singer, Gilbert Montagné. This song describes perfectly the first phase when you are deeply in love. The text of the song speaks of true and unconditional love. The repetition of the statement “On va s’aimer” (we’re going to love each other) marks the determination of the singer to make this love story last.

#50 Marcia Baïla – Les Rita Mitsouko

Released in: 1984

This is a tribute from this French band to Marcia Moretto, an Argentinian dancer, and choreographer. She worked with them for two years on tour and passed away at a young age (36 years old) from cancer in Paris in 1983. 

#51 New-York avec toi – Téléphone

Released in: 1985

Title translation: New York with you 

Joyful song from Téléphone where the lead singer Jean-Louis Aubert sings about his dream to travel to New York with his love.

#52 Mistral gagnant – Renaud

Released in: 1986

Title translation: Winning Mistral

In this melancholic song, the French artist remembers his memories of youth. The title refers to a brand of candy “Mistral gagnant” that has since disappeared.

#53 L’envie – Johnny Hallyday 

Released in: 1986

Title translation: The desire

This song was written by Jean-Jacques Goldman and will give you a boost of self-motivation to accomplish your dreams. This is one of the biggest hits from Johnny Hallyday that he played on all of his tours. Fun fact, the songwriter showed this piece to Michel Sardou at the end of the seventies who refused it. A big mistake!

#54 Joe le taxi – Vanessa Paradis

Released in: 1987

Title translation: Joe the cab

This is a song that was interpreted by the super young Vanessa Paradi (14 years old). The single was hugely successful worldwide, with more than 3,2 million copies sold. Vannessa Paradis is describing the daily life of a Parisian taxi driver driving across the different bridges and through traffic jams.

#55 Ella, elle l’a – France Gall

Released in: 1987

Title translation: Ella, she has it

A song written by Michel Berger is a tribute to the jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. It is also a protest song against racism and a hymn of empowerment. French speakers may be confused by the title of the song since the name ‘Ella’ and “she” in French are pronounced the same way. 

Best French songs from the 90s

This decade saw a new type of music emerge from the USA, rap! A decade later, rap music became mainstream in France. 

#56 Désenchantée – Mylène Farmer

Released in: 1991

Title translation: Disenchanted

A popular French song from Mylène Farmer, an artist who rarely talks to the media but has a big fan community. This is probably her biggest song and it went international, with three million copies sold worldwide. This is another French song that you’re sure to hear at a birthday party or wedding. The singer describes a disillusioned generation. Some people have attributed a political dimension to the lyrics but the singer declared that it was an introspective song about a difficult period in her life. If you’re a techno fan, I highly recommend you to listen to the recent remix from the artist Trym.

#57 Foule sentimentale – Alain Souchon

Released in: 1993

Title translation: Sentimental crowd

Alain Souchon had the idea for this song at Christmas time. The crazy expenses caused by this time of year inspired him to write lyrics that denounce our society of hyperconsumption.

#58 Je danse le mia – IAM 

Released in: 1994

Title translation: I dance the mia

The emblematic old-school French rap group from Marseille wrote this ironic tribute to the parties of the eighties in Marseille. To dance the “mia” is a way to describe those who don’t know how to dance and don’t make any effort to do so.

#59 Je t’aimais, je t’aime, je t’aimerai – Francis Cabrel

Released in: 1994

Title translation: I loved you, I love you, I will love you 

The title is quite self-explanatory, this is a French love song by Francis Cabrel. More precisely, this is a hymn about eternal love. 

#60 Sur la route – Gérald De Palmas

Released in: 1994

Title translation: On the road

One of those famous French songs that was always on repeat on the radio. It’s a song that evokes the difficulty of maintaining both a private life and notoriety. It’s the story of a singer who toured so much that he let his love go. Strangely, when the singer was concerned about this issue, he was not famous at all in France. “Sur la route” was the first hit by the artist originating from the island of Réunion. He then went on tour and sold over a million copies. An example of when fiction becomes reality.

#61 Pour que tu m’aimes encore – Céline Dion 

Released in: 1995

Title translation: For you to love me again

Another popular French love song by the Canadian singer Céline Dion, which was written by Jean-Jacques Goldman. This is one of the few French singles that succeed abroad (Netherlands, Sweden, UK, Ireland, Poland). The singer evokes the will of a woman to keep her lover who is leaving her. Here, we see a connection with the song “Ne me quitte pas” by Jacques Brel. It was adapted in English with “Falling Into You” and saw even bigger success in 1996.

#62 Savoir aimer – Florent Pagny

Released in: 1997

Title translation: Know how to love

The most famous (love) song from the rebel Florent Pagny. Why was he a rebel? He lived outside of France for many years because he thought the tax imposition was way too high. He wrote a song about it named “Ma liberté de penser”. 

#63 J’t’emmène au vent – Louise Attaque

Released in: 1997

Title translation: I’ll take you to the wind

The first success for this French band was this supercharged rock ballad that became a classic in French music. Distressed by the distance imposed by his lover, the artist asks her to be more present and to swear “eternal love”. The lyrics are backed by frenetic violins that give a powerful energy and make the song immediately recognizable from the first notes.

#64 La tribu de Dana – Manau

Released in: 1998

Title translation: Dana’s tribe

A Celtic rap song that you can recognize right away with the bagpipes and violins. This French band from Brittany state (in France) sings about a member of Dana’s tribe starting a war against barbarians. After some time, the character proudly becomes the king of Dana.

#65 Laisse pas traîner ton fils – Suprême NTM

Released in: 1998

Title translation: Don’t let your son hang around

A song from a controversial Parisian French rap group, Suprême NTM known as NTM. This is a call from the rap duo to the parents in the French ghettos to take care of their kids and not allow them to spend their time on the streets. The lesson they preach: the youth from the street always end up bad. 

#66 L’hymne de nos campagnes – Tryo

Released in: 1998

Title translation: The anthem of our countryside

This is a reggae song interpreted by the French band Tryo. The song is defending nature, ecology, and the world. This hit encourages listeners to take action, to find a job, and to do something positive with their lives.

#67 Allumer le feu – Johnny Hallyday

Released in: 1998

Title translation: Lighting the fire

A powerful song from the most famous French rock artist, Johnny Hallyday. This song was created for his tour in 1998 and his concerts in the Stade de France (the biggest French stadium near Paris). The artist wanted a song to excite his fans, and I think it worked.

#68 La nuit je mens – Alain Bashung

Released in: 1998

Title translation: The night I lie

The song evokes the resistance, the collaboration, and more generally the lie. We note that the artist mentions the massif of Vercors at the very beginning of the song, a strategic location of the French resistance.

#69 Onde Sensuelle – M

Released in: 1998

Title translation: Sensual Wave 

Matthieu Chedid, known as M, managed to create his own name on the French music scene despite being the son of Louis Chedid (a famous French singer). This song describes the physical union of love in a funky and poetic way.

#70 Je ne t’aime plus – Manu Chao

Released in: 1998

Title translation: I don’t love you anymore

It may be a surprise to Spanish speakers but Manu Chao is actually a French citizen, born in Paris to Spanish parents. This French male singer is telling his love that, unfortunately, he doesn’t love her anymore and just wants to die from it.

Best French songs from the 2000s

This decade saw the French rap scene level up as well the introduction of new musical themes linked to the environment and modern wars. 

#71 Jeune et con – Saez 

Released in: 2000

Title translation: Young and dumb

Written by Damien Saez, this rock song has a universal theme: the “meaning of life”. Some of the disappointed and revolted youth of the day criticize a certain dehumanization of the economic and social model of the current society of materialistic consumption.

#72 Moi… Lolita – Alizée

Released in: 2000

Title translation: Me… Lolita

This is an international French song (two million copies sold abroad!) written by Mylène Farmer. She was inspired by the novel Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov. At first sight, the song seems innocent but after analyzing the lyrics, the listener realizes that this is not the case. The song describes a young person who appeals to a much older man. It’s possible that the French female singer had not fully understood the meaning of this song that she performed at the age of 16. Later, in 2009, Julien Dorée made a masculine version of it. He had a lot of success, but only in France. 

#73 Solaar pleure – Mc Solaar

Released in: 2001

Title translation: Solaar is crying 

An old-school French rapper that prefers poetic lyrics over violent lyrics. This is a very complex, personal, and intimate allegorical song through which the author reveals himself and tells his dark thoughts. This song comes from the excellent rap album “Cinquième As” where you’ll find songs like “ Hasta la vista” or La belle et la bad boy”. 

#74 Sous le vent – Garou, Céline Dion

Released in: 2001

Title translation: Downwind

A French song from the two most famous artists from Quebec. The duo sing about love and compare it to sailing, stating; “J’ai sorti la grande voile” (I took out the big sail).

#75 J’ai demandé à la lune – Indochine

Released in: 2002

Title translation: I asked the moon

The French song that saw a comeback at the top of the charts from the band Indochine. It was written by the Mickaël Furnon, the lead singer from Mickey 3D some years ago, in 1994. This hit is far from the musical universe of Indochine with this hypnotic guitar-voice duet. The big success comes from the fact that this simple poetic ballad managed to touch people who were not necessarily fans of the band.

#76 Respire – Mickey 3d

Released in: 2002

Title translation: Breath

The biggest hit from the French band, Mickey 3D. In this song, the character imagines a future in which his grandchildren ask him why the earth is ruined. Unfortunately, the topic of this song is even more relevant today.

#77 Manhattan-Kaboul – Renaud, Axelle Red

Released in: 2002

Here is a song that denounces world violence by comparing two characters living two completely different lives. Renaud was touched by the attacks of September 11th and the American military response. One character is a Puerto Rican (interpreted by Renaud) working in Manhattan in a skyscraper. On the other side of the world, there is a little Afghan girl (interpreted by Axelle Red) living in misery in a village. Sadly, both are going to die because both are linked with the “eternal violence”. 

#78 Gravé dans la roche – Sniper

Released in: 2003

Title translation: Engraved in the rock 

Emblematic French rap song from the Parisian rap group Sniper (with Tunisiano and Aketo). Here, they sing about their desire to succeed in the music scene and to engrave their name on a rock. This song has many fun facts, first, the band didn’t make a video for it. On French television, only the album cover was broadcasted. Speaking of the album cover, it was made in a rush by an intern at the last minute. Finally, there is a big grammar mistake made by Aketo with “Ce serait mentir si je dirais que c’est pareil” when it should have been “Ce serait mentir si je disais que c’est pareil”. All of these elements participated to build a legend around the song.

#79 Désolé pour hier soir – Tryo

Released in: 2003

Title translation: Sorry for last night

The reggae band sing about a guy that had been drinking too much last night and did some crazy stuff. Who knows, maybe this song inspired the American movie Hangover.

#80 À la faveur de l’automne – Tété

Released in: 2003

Title translation: In favor of autumn

Beautiful lyrics from Tété, a singer with Senegalese origin who was born in Dakar. The text of the song is poetic, portraying the landscape of autumn. We find figures of style which describe the feelings of the singer. He is feeling melancholic and waiting for his love to finally call him back.

#81 Elle m’a dit – Cali

Released in: 2003

Title translation: She told me 

Cali is describing the moment his girlfriend broke up with him. She simply tells him “Je crois que je ne t’aime plus” (I don’t think I love you anymore).

#82 Rude Boy – Dub Inc

Released in: 2003

This is the most famous French dub music band from Saint-Étienne. In this song, they describe the environment of a young man growing up in “25 meters squared” in the French suburbs. The young man is surrounded by concrete and he, unfortunately, preferred the option of easy money.

#83 Tout le bonheur du monde – Sinsemilia 

Released in: 2004

Title translation: All the happiness in the world

A French band from Grenoble that managed to create a popular optimistic French song. In this song, the singer wishes all the happiness in the world to the listeners, far away from bombs and in quiet gardens. This song will make you feel good and give you faith in humanity!

#84 Aux armes citoyen – Yannick Noah 

Released in: 2006

Title translation: To arms citizen

This song encourages us to change things for the better in order to preserve the environment. Yannick Noah is one of the few people who managed to have both a successful sports career (he’s the last French person to win Roland Garros Tournament) and a successful music career. The title of the song is a reference to the chorus of the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” with the ‘Aux armes citoyens !”.

#85 Je suis un homme – Zazie

Released in: 2007

Title translation: I am a man

This French singer denounces the destruction caused by man on earth. She has an extremely pessimistic view of consumerist society.

#86 Les limites – Julien Doré

Released in: 2008

Title translation: The limits

This artist sings about his feelings about being borderline. He fears that his crazy Parisian life will end sooner or later and that he’ll end up paying the price. After being introduced to the general public in a TV contest, he managed to create his first successful original song with “Les limites”.

#87 Ça m’énerve – Helmut Fritz 

Released in: 2009

Title translation: It pisses me off

Éric Greff was a completely unknown poetic pop artist in France. He struggled to make it on the French music scene. One day, he created a character named Helmut Fritz with a German accent. He was mainly inspired by the famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld after watching a documentary about him. The goal was for him to manage to face his audience, using this extravagant avatar to feel more confident. In this silly song, he expresses bitterness in relation to the Parisian high society that he was unable to integrate. He uses humor and especially self-deprecation by parodying himself. In the space of two months, his life changed and he ended up at the top of the French charts. Notably, he performed at la fête de la musique in Paris at longchamp’s hippodrome in front of 150,000 people. This song has the same vibes as “C’est beau la bourgeoisie”, by Discobitch in 2008, another famous pop song, that regained some popularity on TikTok.

Best French songs from the 2010s

A decade that saw French rap potentially reaching its apogee. 

#88 Je veux – Zaz

Released in: 2010

Title translation: I want

International famous French song from Zaz that I personally don’t like at all. Maybe it’s her rattling voice that annoys me… She sings about very down-to-earth themes like the happiness and beauty of having a simple life. In this song, she declares that she does not want money for her happiness. I highly recommend another song from her instead: “Éblouie par la nuit”. 

#89 Alors on danse – Stromae 

Released in: 2010

Title translation: So we dance

This Belgian artist is probably one of the only other French speaking artists to have had such an international impact as Édith Piaf. “Alors on danse” (lyrics) was his first hit, that rapidly spread through Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, reaching the top of the charts. In this song full of sadness, the singer recommends that we simply dance to forget all of our different problems; love, money, and mental health. That’s the beauty of Stromae, he can make us dance to catchy music with dark lyrics. I highly recommend you to listen to his new album named multitude released in 2022.

#90 On verra – Nekfeu

Released in: 2015

Title translation: We will see

Nekfeu started his music career years ago, in 2008, with the French rap group 1995 from the South of Paris. During the hot summer of 2015, the French rapper became a big star in France with his album “Feu”. This song was a big hit and I could have added “Ma dope” from this same album. This was the song that made him famous among the French general public. In this title, he sings about life and friendship but especially about the mysteries of what life has in store for him in the future. It’s funny because he concludes that in the end, he doesn’t care about anything.

#91 Où va le monde – La Femme

Released in: 2016

Title translation: Where the world is going

In this song, the French band sings about the cruelty that humans show to each other in love or in friendship. They contemplate this kind of violence, which seems useless to them, and makes life a little more complicated.

#92 Basique – OrelSan 

Released in: 2017

Title translation: Basic

The French rap song of the year 2017. This song has a big impact on French pop culture, to the point where French politicians, artists, and advertisers were making reference to it with the catchy lyrics “Simple, Basique”.  OrelSan decided to simplify his thoughts in this song with short and catchy lyrics. Here, the singer describes verified facts and ends by stating “simple” or “basic”.

Read also: Basique Lyrics Translated into English

#93 La Grenade – Clara Luciani 

Released in: 2017

Title translation: The Grenade

In this song, Clara Luciani stands up as a feminist and shows that all women have strength. She warns men that behind the sweetness of a woman, there is a deep and intense inner rage. The hit and the album that made Clara Luciani famous in France. She won the revelation award two years later, at Les Victoires de la Musique (a French Ceremony that rewards the best French artists).

#94 Yeux disent – Lomepal

Released in: 2017

Title translation: Eyes say

A modern French love song that launched the career of French rapper, Lomepal. He tells one of his love stories, where he preferred to invest more in his musical project than in his relationship. Unfortunately, she left him and he realized only after it was too late.

#95 Hit Sale – Thérapie Taxi 

Released in: 2018

Title translation: Dirty Hit 

A French band that entered the French music scene with generational and provocative lyrics. This song describes a girl who is “100 fois trop bonne” (100 times too hot) and that all men dream of. This feature with the famous Belgian rapper, Roméo Elvis, skyrocketed their short career. Why short? The band already split up in 2021 with a final album “Rupture 2 merde” (shitty breakup). 

Read also : Hit Sale Lyrics Translated into English

#96 Agitations tropicales – L’Impératrice

Title translation: Tropical agitations

Released in: 2018

A Parisian band that experienced great success at the 2022 Coachella Festival. The American audience were actually not too familiar with this famous band. The band is made up of six members and is led by the singer, Flore Benguigui (the only woman in the band). Their songs are usually poetic and visual, accompanied by a bass guitar, an electronic guitar, two keyboards, and a drum kit.

#97 Bleu fuchsia – Odezenne 

Released in: 2019

Title translation: Fuchsia blue

A current French band from Bordeaux that I really like. They will put you in a melancholic mood with their calm voices and poetic lyrics. This song describes the banal life of a disillusioned man offloading food at the Parisian market of Rungis (the largest market for agricultural products in the world). 

Best French songs from the 2020s

It’s too early to tell what the big hits and top artists for this decade are going to be… but you can find my selection of the best French songs from of 2021!

#98 Mais je t’aime – Grand Corps Malade & Camille Lellouche

Released in: 2020

Title translation: But I love you

The most famous French slammer is back with his deep voice, accompanied by the surprisingly excellent Camille Lellouche. She is primarily an actress and a comedian but it seems she is also an amazing singer. Both of them describe, in a poetic way, the large amount of energy given and received in a loving relationship. His stage name, Grand Corps Malade (Big sick body), is a reference to a big accident the artist had. Back in 1997, he dived into a pool and ended up permanently disabled after three months in a coma.

#99 Jusqu’à mon dernier souffle – Terrenoire

Released in: 2020

Title translation: My soul will be really beautiful for you 

A French duo composed of two brothers, who won the Revelation award of the Victoire de la musique 2022. In order to reach that goal, they spent the last two years promoting their album “Les Forces Contraires” by playing at many French music festivals. They are excellent at interpreting their songs and adding emotions to their performances. In “Jusqu’à mon dernier souffle”  they are pay tribute to their hometown, Saint-Etienne, and their working class small town which gave them their stage name, Terrenoire.

#100 L’odeur de l’essence – OrelSan 

Released in: 2021

Title translation: The smell of gasoline

In “L’odeur de l’essence” the rapper describes how French society is falling apart, drawing attention to social protests, the environment, the politics and more. Another big year for the artist from Normandy. He won a total of three awards at the Victoire de la musique 2022 with: 

The best album of 2021 with “Civilisation”, the best song of 2021 with “L’odeur de l’essence”, and the best Audiovisual creation with his documentary “Montre jamais ça à personne “ on Amazon Prime

After reading this article, you can now consider yourself an expert in French music! You can also read my article about modern French music artists.

You can quote those popular French songs to fool French people the next time you meet some. 

I really tried to limit the amount of French songs with love as a topic but if you want to succeed on the French music scene you might have more chances to make it with a love song. 

You can listen to all of the songs on this list on my Spotify playlist below. 

Also, feel free to leave a comment on which song you think should have made it to the list! I’d love to have your opinon 🙂 Finally, you can find a “small” list of songs that were shortlisted for this selection here:

Other French famous songs that could have been in this list: 

  • Les amoureux des bancs publics – Georges Brassens (1953)
  • Tous les garçons et les filles – Françoise Hardy (1962)
  • Amesterdam – Jacques Brel (1964)
  • La bohème – Charles Aznavour (1965)
  • Et moi, et moi, et moi – Jacques Dutronc (1966)
  • J’aime les filles – Jacques Dutronc (1967)
  • Les cactus – Jacques Dutronc (1967)
  • Vesoul – Jacques Brel (1968)
  • Ma France – Jean Ferrat (1969)
  • Toute la pluie tombe sur moi – Sacha Distel (1971)
  • Et si tu n’existais pas – Joe Dassin (1975)
  • Requiem pour un fou – Johnny Hallyday, Lara fabian (1976)
  • Sur la route de Memphis – Eddy Mitchell (1976)
  • Mangolias for Ever – Claude François (1977)
  • En chantant – Michel Sardou (1978)
  • Quand on arrive en ville – Daniel Balavoine (1978)
  • Laissez moi danser – Dalida (1979)
  • Je n’ai pas changé – Julio Iglesias (1980)
  • Cargo de nuit – Alex Bauer (1983)
  • Tous les cris les SOS – Balavoine (1985)
  • Quelque chose de Tennessee  – Johnny Hallyday (1985)
  • Lait de coco – Maya (1987)
  • Sensualité – Axelle Red (1993)
  • Machistador – M (1998)
  • Je dis aime – M (1999)
  • Ces soirées-là – Yannick  (2000)
  • Seul – Garou (2000)
  • Les rois du monde – Roméo & Juliette (2000) 
  • J’en rêve encore – Gérald De Palmas (2000)
  • Yannick Noak – Simon Papa Tara (2000)
  • Le vent nous portera – Noir Désir (2001)
  • Hasta la vista – Mc Solaar (2001)
  • La belle et la bad boy – Mc Solaar (2001)
  • Parce qu’on vient de loin – Corneille (2002)
  • Qui de nous deux – M (2003)
  • La Lettre – Renan Luce (2006)
  • Éblouie par la nuit – Zaz (2011)
  • Stupeflip vite – Stupeflip (2011)
  • ave cesaria – Stromae (2013)
  • Ma Dope – Nekfeu (2015)
  • Nue – Clara Luciani (2018)
  • La vie de tous les jours – Jacques (2022)

You can find the top 100 French famous songs in my Spotify playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0aTloQ3OHflfVje4EjqnUV?si=d1d2ac5fd1594c87

Proofread by Molly Perkins 

Photo Credits @Jean-Marie Périer

Cover picture: Claude François (Paris – 1967)

Picture1: Françoise Hardy (Paris – 1967)

Picture 2: Johnny Hallyday (Grosrouvre – 1963)