Music has been flowing in Michel Berger’s veins since childhood. From his mother, a pianist and concert performer by profession, the young Michel Hamburger inherited this taste for the musical art. Helped by his maternal grandmother, he practiced the piano diligently and became a virtuoso. In addition, he refines his musical tastes between the classical register and jazz, while opening up to Anglo-Saxon culture.
After his schooling at the Lycée Carnot and his studies in philosophy in Paris-Nanterre, Michel Berger made his debut in music during the yéyé era. While he made a timid start, it was his texts that would reveal his talent as a songwriter. “I know him better as a composer than a singer”, admits Marine, one of his young admirers for Planet. First, the public knows him for having written songs for Bourvil (Les Girafes), Monty (Les petits filles from 1968) or Vanina Michel’s 45T (Dans la ville de Kathmandu).
It was in the 1970s that the composer’s career took a turn. In a relationship with Véronique Sanson, Michel Berger produced her first two opuses, Amoureuse and De l’autre cote in 1972. But, when she left him suddenly one morning, their break-up inspired her with new titles and allowed her to rediscover love. “Fate doing things well, other arms are trying to take Michel Berger. These are the arms of France Gall”, says journalist Fabien Lecoeuvre. For the former Eurovision winner, the singer and musician will relaunch his career with The Declaration of Love in 1974, before becoming the favorite composer of all his albums. In the meantime, he is also behind the success of Françoise Hardy with the album Message personnel.
At the end of the 1970s, Michel Berger worked with Luc Plamondon to write the famous rock opera Starmania. With France Gall, Daniel Balavoine and Fabienne Thiebaut as headliners, the musical is carried by the titles When we arrive in town, Le blues du businessman, Need love, SOS of a landowner in distress and Ziggy. “These are popular hits that any generation sings,” says Marine, also a fan of musicals.
In 1985, it was for Johnny Hallyday that Michel Berger wrote and composed one of his albums. With him, the innkeeper publishes the disc Rock’n’roll Attitude from which the pieces Something of Tennessee, The abandoned singer and Aimer vivre are taken. It was during this same decade that the husband of France Gall will experience a new lease of life in his career as a singer.
Before 1980, Michel Berger’s career as a composer was at its peak. But the success of his own opuses is still relative. “He wrote a lot for Véronique Sanson, France Gall, Johnny Hallyday. But he was always a little on the sidelines, he hadn’t really known the top at the time”, remarks Fabien Lecoeuvre. It was without counting on the next disc which will turn his career upside down.
In 1980, Michel Berger publishes his fifth opus studioBeauséjour which is a real hit. The album certified gold is carried by the hits He who sings and A few words of love. But it is with La Groupie du pianiste that the singer and husband of France Gall signs the greatest success of his career with 400,000 copies sold.
“It’s the hit of the summer of 1980”, according to the TV host. “For me, this title opened a very important decade that will change the way of thinking and making music. Which will recontextualize and refocus an entire era on other values”. It is thanks to his audience that Michel Berger draws his inspiration. “He had this idea of making this title to magnify the behavior of people who are in love with a singer, a pianist, and therefore a star”.
Recognizable by its musical introduction (and its first piano notes), La Groupie du pianiste remains a very popular hit with the public. “It’s the only one I know of his repertoire because my parents listened to it. It’s thanks to them that I know the artist Michel Berger”, confides Hugues, a young entrepreneur. Like his fiancée Anne-Laure, who often listened to him in his youth with his family and during the evenings of dancing rallies.
During his lifetime, Michel Berger left a significant musical imprint on the minds of the French. Between his pen as a composer and his quality as an interpreter, his texts have resonated with generations. According to Fabien Lecoeuvre, “Michel Berger has really made music evolve”. The artist is one of “the songwriters who had things to say. They were able to find a form of rhythm and that, we really owe it to Michel Berger who was one of the pioneers”.
After signing Les Aveux de France Gall and Elton John in 1981, Michel Berger confirmed his status as a text singer. “He could write about everything: love, disappointments in love. Even with his old stories, it taught him a lot about women and love,” says Marine. Among her favorite hits, the 26-year-old young woman retains Le Paradis blanc. Released in 1990 on her last opus Ça ne ne passe pas standing, she was touched by “the very deep lyrics”.
As for Pauline, this piece (the last performed during her lifetime by the artist) has a particular resonance. “It was prophetic and the lyrics are beautiful. It’s a sweet song that means a lot of things,” said the 60-year-old, adding about the artist. “He brought a lot to French song. He wrote songs for several artists that became popular songs”. 30 years after his death on August 2, 1992, Michel Berger’s repertoire continues to punctuate the lives of the French.
In 1992, Michel Berger’s rock opera Starmania had an English adaptation under the name of Tycoon, performed notably at the Mogador theatre. Among the key titles, Céline Dion signs the success Ziggy, the American singer Cyndi Lauper thrills the public with The World Is Stone (The world is stone) while the American artist Peter Kingsbery sings the powerful Only the Very Best (SOS d an earthling in distress).
In 1998, the singer Lââm published as her first single her cover of Singing for those who are far from home (appeared on the album Differences of the late singer in 1985). An R version
In 2002, Garou performed Le Monde est stone live during his concerts. At the same time, the candidates of the second season of Star Academy took over the greatest successes of Michel Berger in a tribute album. With the tube Musique, written for France Gall, as the promotion anthem, they will sing this catchy tube at the start of each bonus on Saturday evenings on TF1. During the fourth season (2004), it was Grégory Lemarchal who offered a masterful performance with his interpretation of SOS of an earthling in distress.
In 2015, France Gall offered a last gift to the public with the musical Résiste. Written and composed with Bruck Dawit, the show featured the greatest hits of the Berger-Gall couple in a pop and modern style. While young talents like Léa Deleau, Élodie Martelet and Gwendal Marimoutou brought their repertoire up to date, Michel Berger’s widow remained in the shadows to observe her audience. “I had the pleasure of seeing the show at the Dôme de Paris with my son, I have really good memories of it”, evokes the ex-accountant Pauline for Planet.
His friend Fabien Lecoeuvre also attended the show and shared with us one of his memorable memories. “Happiness at the end of the show, France Gall appeared and came to greet the public”, and to add. “It was very moving because at the same time, she had tears in her eyes and then she held back her grief with a lot of modesty in public”. Today, the spirit of Michel Berger and France Gall is still in the memory of the French.