Téléphone: The most admired & influential French band of the post-student revolt era

By on December 17, 2018

We return, once again, to Night Flight’s syndication era of the early ’90s for a re-packaged presentation of vintage ’80s Night Flight, this time to bring you yet another look at “Take Off to European Rock,” which originally aired on April 14, 1984, and you can now see streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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In this hour-and-a-half episode, host Tom Juarez presents us with a another look at several of Europe’s biggest acts and their videos, including “Telephone” by French rockers Téléphone, who are seen playing at a crazy costume party that simply has to be seen to be believed.

Jason Ankeny, writing for the All Music Guide, describes Téléphone as having “fused the swagger and energy of hard rock with the urban aggression of punk to emerge as the most admired and influential French band of the post-student revolt era.”

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“Telephone” was written by the band’s leader Jean-Louis Aubert, who would sing nearly all of their tunes in French.

Aubert (b. April 12, 1955, in Nantua, Ain, France) became immersed in music very early in life, moving with his family to Paris when he was ten years old.

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By fifteen, Aubert was already playing rock ‘n’ roll in his first band, who were called Masturbation.

After their split, Aubert left France for America, where — just sixteen years old — he hitchhiked across the country, busking with his guitar and playing Rolling Stones songs, surviving on the coins dropped in his felt Fedora.

He returned to Paris and continued performing, singing at parties thrown by rich teenagers in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, the richest quarter of the capital.

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Aubert and drummer Richard Kolinka, along with bassist Daniel Roux, formed Sémolina.

They released a single, “Et j’y vais déjà”/”Plastic Rocker,” but when sales proved disappointing, they split up.

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Then, in November 1976, the band Kolinka was playing with were unavailable for gig at the American Center in Paris, so the drummer enlisted Aubert in forming a band to play instead.

They contacted musicians they knew from the local music scene, including guitarist Louis Bertignac (Aubert and Bertignac had gone to to school together at Lycée Pasteur , Neuilly-sur-Seine) and bassist Corine Marienneau, who had already earned quite a reputation for her musical abilities.

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They worked up a couple of English-language covers and a few of Aubert’s originals, including “Métro, c’est trop,” which he’d written while staying in a cave on Ibiza with friends, eating only rice and honey.

After receiving a standing ovation at the November 12th concert, the group — calling themselves Telephone, after one of Aubert’s songs — decided to remain together.

Read more about Telephone below.

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After opening for British pub rockers Eddie & the Hot Rods at the Paris Metro in March 1977, Telephone were well on their way to becoming one of the top French rock bands of all time.

In June of ’77, they opened for the Tom Verlaine-led NYC rock act Television at the Olympia in Paris, substituting for Blondie when they weren’t able to play.

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Six weeks after releasing their first single, “Anna”/”Hygiaphone,” Telephone’s 19-year old manager François Ravard scored them a recording contract with Pathé-Marconi EMI.

In November 1977, they released Telephone’s self-titled debut album — tracked in London with producer Mike Thorne — which featured a collection of sped-up R&B tracks infused with a punkish French snarl.

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Telephone’s debut went gold in just a matter of months.

Despite the fact that French-singing rock bands had not yet translated to big sales beyond the country’s borders, Telephone were signed outside of France to Virgin UK.

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During the late ’70s, Telephone spent a lot of time touring, playing arenas in French cities like Montpéllier, Nice, Lille, Grénobel and Paris, but outside of France, the venues were considerably smaller.

They  also toured across Europe in a top-of-the-line tour bus emblazoned with the name “Starcruiser” across both sides.

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Telephone’s second album, Crache Ton Venin (Spit Your Venom) sold 600,000 copies, propelled by a huge single, “La Bombe Humaine,” which Ankeny says “emerged as a generational anthem.”

Their first headlining tour culminated in a free show at Paris’ Pantin racecourse. They also toured across Italy, Spain, and North America and eventually did find success among American audiences (opening for Iggy Pop).

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After releasing 1981’s Au Cœur De La Nuit — featuring another smash hit, “Argent Trop Cher” — Telephone returned to France, where they were featured in a documentary film, Telephone Public, directed by Jean-Marie Périer.

In June of 1982, they released their fourth album, Dure Limite, which was released in conjunction with their June 14, 1982, concert at another racetrack, the Hippodrome d’Auteuil in Paris, where they opened for the Rolling Stones.

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As 1984’s Un Autre Monde was being released, however, all four members — by now wanting to go in different directions — began pursuing solo projects (Marienneau composed music for Luc Besson’s film Subway).

On April 21, 1986, Telephone — having been together for a decade, releasing five studio albums (which would sell upwards of six million CDs), and playing nearly five hundred concerts — announced their formal breakup as a band.

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Night Flight’s 1984 “Take Off to European Rock” also features videos by Peter Schilling, Nena, Nina Hagen, the Scorpions, George Kranz, Golden Earring, Taco, Chagrin d’Amor, Yello and Krokus.

This same episode also features a look at ’60s and ’70s “Guitar Gods,” featuring the usual six-string slingin’ suspects: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page‘s band the Firm, Eddie Van Halen, and jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan.

Have another look at Night Flight’s 1984 “Take Off to European Rock,” now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.