Vive la difference – 80s French theme tunes for US telly staples

9 Sep

After noting that 80s soap opera Dallas had made a return to our screens in a “next generation” incarnation with original cast members and their progeny, I was reminded of an exchange trip to Northern France in the early part of that decade where I discovered that badly-dubbed versions of such American soaps had a fair toehold on the local telly schedules. But unlike in Germany (where Dynasty was known as “Der Denver Clan“) or Italy (where Knots Landing was simply called “California“), in France there was a special local twist to a fair few of these re-dubbed televisual behemoths.


Why this was called for was a mystery to my teenage self (and is still, to be honest) but someone on the board of TF1, Antenne2 or France 3 (remember, say the numbers in French) had decided a certain je ne sais quoi was missing from the original theme music and needed adding. In some cases, as with The A-Team – the cleverly punning “Agence Tout Risques” (sounds a bit like “Agence Touriste” or “Travel Agents” but with a bit of risk thrown in.. geddit?) it was just a case of ADDING FRENCH LYRICS TO AN ALREADY INSTRUMENTAL THEME. The estate of George Peppard (we presume) have barred embedding (out of shame, we presume) so you’ll have to click this link to see it.

Sometimes the theme was evidently considered so alien to Gallic lugholes that the lyrics had to be re-written to seem more friendly to the local audience, as was the case with Lee Majors’ second most famous series The Fall Guy, or – as it was known south of Dover – “L’homme qui tombe a pic” which sort of means “The Man With Excellent Timing” but contains the verb tomber – to fall – in it. So the country and western ditty which precluded every episode of the aforementioned series was reworked in French, and sung in a distinctly different style, as you’ll see below:

Of course Majors’ other claim to fame – other than plighting his troth to the most eighties-coiffed one of Charlie’s Angels (which itself was bizarrely re-christened “Drôles de Dames” – or “Funny Ladies”) – was as (Bostin’) Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, which on the other side of the channel was “L’homme qui valait trois milliards” or the “Three Billion (Dollar) Man”. The theme music was kept more or less intact though…

The other massive American import much-loved by Jean-Paul and Marie-France as they sat devant la télé of an evening was Starsky & Hutch. A series much-loved for its acute fashion sense, its red car with a white stripe down each side and its memorable (instrumental) theme music that former Acid Jazzers may recall was covered to good effect by The James Taylor Quartet “back in the day” (1988) with Rob “Galliano” Gallagher providing a bit of inspired and exhilarating rapping over the end of it on the 12″.

Yet French TV not only didn’t care for the fact that the theme was an instrumental (as was the original A-Team theme) but decided to SCRAP THE ORIGINAL THEME ALTOGETHER in favour of a locally – sourced replacement which Wikipedia accurately describes as “singing about Starsky and Hutch”. Or “Starkey et ‘Utch”, more like. You can imagine Daft Punk listening to this in short trousers and sporting acne and bum-fluff moustaches, possibly chewing ‘ollywood chouing gum. This was the era of Gym Tonic – which Monsieur Bangalter used as the title of one of his collaborative projects – after all.

The jewel in the crown of the Franco-American soap theme redux has, nonetheless, to be Dallas, another memorable instrumental replaced by a totally different theme with singing in French. The new theme was written by one  Jean Renard (a Thin Lizzy fan, maybe?) who had already written stuff for the now-creaky rockeur Johnny Halliday and who curiously has one of his compositions sampled by Eminem in 2009. If I remember rightly the French dubbing in the series was also fairly odd as in there was no attempt to carry over the tone of voice of the original actors by the dubbers, so someone with a very “macho” voice could be replaced by a rather weedy voice, or vice-versa. Also JR comes out in French as “Dzjee-Air”, which for non-French viewers is a little confusing. I’ll let you make your own mind up about the incredible French Dallas theme below.

I’m just hoping that Renard’s original French Dallas theme got a 2012 remix by Bob Sinclar for the new series in the land of the baguette and croissant.

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