|Legend has it; France Joli began singing as early as age 4. Always the aspiring performer, one day while entertaining family, friends and relatives, she took a jump rope in hand and began lip-synching to Barbara Streisand records. Born in Dorion, Quebec, Canada, at 11 years old in 1974 she took to talent shows; acting, singing and soon appearing professionally in commercials quickly thereafter.
In the late 1970s, France met producer and songwriter Tony Green at one of those talent shows. France’s meteoric rise to singing stardom would arrive seemingly seconds after the two first shook hands. Taking Joli under his guidance, Green wrote, produced, arranged, played instruments and even lent his voice to France’s demo sessions. Soon after shopping the masters around to record labels, Prelude quickly signed the Joli/Green team and in late 1979, France’s debut LP was released upon an unsuspecting public. It should be quickly noted, although not as an afterthought, that Dennis LePage arranged strings and horns instruments for Joli’s LP. LePage would best be known for his work with dance duo Lime.
France recorded four tracks for her debut album, “Come To Me, Let Go, Don’t Stop Dancing” and “Playboy.” The first single chosen was the most obvious, “Come To Me,” a disco classic in every sense. Beginning with an ever-seductive femme fatale voice guided by slow string arrangement, and picking up a discoized tempo just after the close of the first verse. Horns, strings, a driving beat and Joli’s powerhouse voice all lent to the makings of a definitive classic.
France’s eminent stardom was put into full-throttle when she took to the stage in a Fourth of July weekend event on New York’s famed Fire Island. With fellow disco queen Donna Summer’s impromptu cancellation at the last moment, France was called upon to fill the vacant spot and as legends go, she stole the show. Word spread of Joli’s amazing appearance and vocal talents and “Come To Me” the debut single, began an impressive ascent up the charts.
France’s rise to stardom helped to usher out disco on an impressive high note. It is unfortunate that at the time of Joli’s rise to fame in America, the US experienced one of the most devastating events ever to happen to a musical genre. Not since the dawn of Rock & Roll in the mid 1950’s had a genre of music so inundated the American psyche that it seemingly crushed all other forms of music in its awakening. As Rock & Roll had nearly killed Big Bands, Standards and the ilk, Disco had encompassed itself into radio, film, television, talk, and just about every conceivable outlet imaginable. Rock & Roll, threatened with the perception that its “masculinity” was at stake, the backlash and murder of disco in America was calculatingly planned out.
Since disco’s roots began in the subculture of Black, Latin and gay dance clubs known as “discos,” the perception of minorities rising to power to wipe out “white” rock from radio dominance, was threatening to rock & rollers. The “disco sucks” campaign found its crescendo on July 12, 1979 now known as the Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. Led for the most part by two Chicago radio dj’s, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, a large explosion between doubleheader games with the White Sox & Detroit Tigers left the field, stands and stadium in general littered with bits and pieces of disco records. (The White Sox forfeited that game thanks to Steve Dahl, the man single-handedly credited with killing disco). see note
Although disco’s demise was headline news in America, elsewhere in the world, the beat goes on.
France continued her popularity on the underground dance floors (underground, now, in America) with her follow-up LP “Tonight.” The biggest hit out of this session was The Heart To Break The Heart,” another jewel in the classic disco sense. Emotionally slow opening followed by a strong dance beat after the introduction. This track also featured an unaccredited vocal performance by Tony Green.
Each follow-up album deftly showcased France’s wide vocal talents although, none of her 80’s albums would prove as successful as her debut, and the material she chose would show a talented young lady blossom into a fiercely driven talent and emotionally open woman.
On her 1982 LP “Now!”, was a showcase celebrating her independence. She parted professionally with Tony Green and with new record producers; the goal was to aim for an urban audience. Despite a rather down tempo album on the whole, France still found time to record the dance classic “Gonna Get Over You”, which was so successful in Latin America, she recorded a Spanish version of the hit.
1983’s “Attitude” marked another musical change. France had left Prelude records and signed to Epic Records and brought in famed team Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder. The duo had helped helm Donna Summer’s career in the 70s and the hope was their magic touch would rub off on this LP. Unfortunately, the team was no longer at the top of their game and success never found this album either. Much is to be admired with this album, success not withstanding. A delicate mix of pop, rock and a minute dash of euro flavor flow throughout the record. The inspired Four Tops cover “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” featured the acclaimed The Pips (of Gladys Knight & The Pips glory) on backing vocals. Had The Pips been backing Joli throughout the sessions we would have had the perfectly titled France Joli and The Pips. Brilliant title if ever there could have been one. Also of note to check out Girl In The 80s and Dumb Blonde, two fantastic tracks in their own right.
For her 1985 LP, “Witch Of Love”, France pulled out all the stops. The maturity and growth in France’s voice on this record is never more evident. Entranced in George Duke’s synthesized productions the sound is dated now but discounting the age of the piece, the magical elements combine together perfectly to present one of the best records of that year if not commercially successful. Although this album ranks as one of the most pleasing in Joli’s 80s output, the promotion and support from Epic was unquestionably lacking. In an industry where you’re only as good as your last hit, Joli’s recording career was put to bed. This does not mean she was down and out.
Throughout her tenure away from the recording studio, France stuck to touring, and making personal appearances. She was still in top demand at dance clubs and disco revival tours where her loyal legion of fans would arrive in droves to see her perform.
Things would come full-circle in 1997 when surprisingly, by most accounts, France Joli would return to the recording studio and find herself on the comeback trail. Signing to Popular Records in the US, she re-teamed with Tony Green and found success with a new generation of music fans. “Touch” is one of those classic disco songs; a slow building opening followed by a frenetic dance beat after the introductory verse. “Touch” is a definitive slice of euro flair complete with hard driving keyboards and swirling faux strings and, of course, France’s stronger than never before voice. The follow-up, “Breakaway” repeated “Touch’s” formula and both singles made their way up the dance charts. The 1998 comeback album is full of rich material featuring varying sounds of r&b, pop, dance, reggae, and emotionally wrought ballads.
It’s never surprising when someone with gifted talents finds success in their field. It’s amazing when they go through the fame machine and can still come out alive, stronger and more determined than ever.
France shares pieces of herself in a DMA interview taken just prior to the explosion of “Touch” in 1997. Read here to discover what this amazingly talented woman has to say about her highs and lows and the joy she feels singing for her fans.