Top 10 famous songs about Paris

To my mind, nothing is more revealing about a city  than the way it is depicted in arts and pop culture alike. The case of Paris was always especially fascinating to me, since it is a city that is mystified a lot in the western world and beyond.

The city continues to mesmerize to this day many writers, singers, painters, dancers and intellectuals, who find inspiration in its many sides and in turn feature it in their work of art.

I have decided today to make you discover my top 10 famous songs about Paris. I was especially careful in this article to include old cult classical songs (Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf, Juliette Greco, Leo Ferré), but also to include iconic contemporary songs about the city as well (because the whole point of this is : we do not want to be stuck with a romanticized vision of Paris in the 1950’s).

I hope to show you how much you can understand about a city when you listen to the songs written about it. The following songs indeed have a very ambivalent relationship to Paris, pretty much like every Parisian of France! We adore it and hate it at the same time, and yet we would not leave it for any reason.

All the singers featured here are not French; because sometimes it is foreigners who fall in love the most deeply with Paris. Sacha Guitry famously said that “Being Parisian does not been you were born there; it means you were reborn there.” (“Être Parisien, ce n’est pas être né à Paris, c’est y renaître”.)

Also, there is one thing you should know if you are curious about all things French and Parisian: some locals are giving free tours to help you experience the French capital like a true Parisian. If you are willing to explore the hidden gems in each of Paris’ iconic neighborhoods and truly feel the city like a local, click here to book yours! You might even recognize the famous Parisian places mentioned in the following songs while drifting through the city’s streets.

So without further ado, let me walk you through the top 10 most famous songs about Paris.

1. Les Champs Elyséees – Joe Dassin

by David Monniaux – Wikimedia Commons

Les Champs-Elysées is somewhat of an iconic song here in France ; every single person knows it by heart.

When Joe Dassin released the song as part of his album Le Chemin de papa, the song was such a success he had to change his album’s name to give it the name of Les Champs-Elysées.

The song is happy and catchy; it tells the story of a man speaking in the first person, strolling through the famous Champs-Elysées avenue and talking to dwellers. Click here to listen to the song.

If I am being perfectly honest, even though I find the song endearing, it is not my most favorite song in the whole world, but it is so iconic in France you somewhat have to start from there. What I would advise you is to listen to the cover that Carla Bruni released of the song (she is a famous supermodel and singer in France who is also known to have former French president Nicolas Sarkozy for husband). I really like Carla Bruni and her cover, it made me rediscover Joe Dassin and I think she gave the song and extremely Parisian edge.

Famous lyrics :

« Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées
Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit
Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées »

(At the Champs-Elysées, at the Champs-Elysées,
Wheither raining, at noon or at midnight,
There is everything you want at the Champs-Elysées.)

2. J’aime plus Paris – Jacques Dutronc

Famous French singer Jacques Dutronc in 2010 – Source: Wikipedia

Maybe my own personal song from the list. Click here to listen to this fantastic song.

Honoré de Balzac wrote in the 19th century that “L’être qui ne vient pas souvent à Paris ne sera jamais complètement élégant.” (Someone who does not come often to Paris will never completely elegant). It seemed that before, loving Paris and going there often was a sign of elegance.

Well, nowadays, we could say that the tendency has been reversed: if you do not hate Paris, or at the very least if you are not snobbish about it, you cannot be completely elegant in the French capital. Alphonse Karr summed it up: “Le vrai Parisien n’aime pas Paris, mais il ne peut vivre ailleurs” (The real Parisian does not like Paris, but cannot live anywhere else.)

This song by Jacques Dutronc embodies just that (the title translates to “I don’t love Paris anymore”). After criticizing Paris, Dutronc ends the song by reveling he cannot seem to find any city he would rather live in than Paris.

Famous lyrics:

“J’aime plus paris
On court partout ça m’ennuie
Je vois trop de gens,
Je me fous de leur vie”

« I don’t like Paris anymore, everybody is running everywhere and I’m bored, I’m seeing too many people, I don’t care about their lives. »

3. Paris c’est une idée – Leo Ferré

Moulin Rouge, Pigalle

Moulin Rouge, Pigalle – pixabay

What I like most about this song is its cynical title: “Paris is an idea”. Unlike other songs of the same era, this one is rather gloomy and depicts an image of Paris full of lurking night owls and misfits. Leo Ferré wanted to stand in opposition to all the glorified and romanticized visions of Paris that are entrenched in the French capital representations.

Click here to listen to the song on youtube.

Famous lyrics:

« Paris c’est mon job capital
Je sais par coeur des nuits qui traînent
Et qui s’en vont brouter ma traîne
Dans les prés rouges de Pigalle»

(Paris is my capital job
I know the late nights by heart
They go and eat my trail
In the red fields of Pigalle.)

4. Pam-Pa-Nam – Oxmo Puccino

Street life in Belleville – by Guilhem Vellut – Wikimedia Commons

Maybe one of the most famous contemporary rap songs about Paris. Oxmo Puccino is a French rapper and musician who is known for being an extraordinarily gifted lyricist (so if you listen to him, I suggest you pay close attention to his lyrics, they are full of poetry, metaphors and puns).

The title of the song actually is a play on the name Parisians give to Paris : “Paname”. A lot of Parisians and French people refer to the capital as “Paname”; bear in mind that it is colloquial and slang. Yet, it is a widespread nickname that you will hear everywhere if you speak with Parisians.

Click here to listen to the song on youtube.

Famous lyrics:

“Une créature de bitume, sa voix ferrée te crie dessus
Chuchote au marteau piqueur, les petits coeurs sont des fissures
Le temps se divise par quatre dans son oesophage
C’est lui la bête mais c’est nous qui sommes en cage”

5. Paris Le Flore – Etienne Daho

Café de Flore in Paris – Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is a song I love from a French singer I also love. Etienne Daho talks in this song about a man wandering in the Saint Germain des Près neighborhood. You can book a tour to Saint Germain des Près here. Discover our article on the specificities of this iconic neighborhood here.

Click here to listen to the song on youtube.

The title of the song refers to the infamous Café de Flore, probably the most famous café of Paris (and one of the most expensive and overrated if you want my advice).

Famous lyrics :

« Après-midi, Paris c’est fun, en terrasse, attablé
Regards lourds de sens et connivence pour qui cherche une main
Je n’attends vraiment rien, je viens pour y lire des bouquins
Artaud, Miller puis faut qu’j’aille
Traîner sans raison »

« Afternoon, Paris is fun, on a table outside
Heavy glances for who is looking for a hand
I’m really expecting nothing, I come there to read books
Artaud, Miller, I have to go
Wander with no reason. »

6. Sous le ciel de Paris – Juliette Greco

Juliette Greco – Source: wikipedia

This one you have probably already heard, it may be one of the most famous songs about Paris.

The song was covered by many artists, including Yves Montand, Juliette Greco, Zaz.

Click here to listen to the song on youtube.

Famous lyrics:

“Sous le ciel de Paris s’envole une chanson”

« Under the Parisian sky, a song flies off. »

7. Les Amants de Paris – Edith Piaf

Edith Piaf – by Eric Koch / Anefo – Wikimedia Commons

Now if you have not heard about Edith Piaf, I would suggest you pause what you are doing and go listen to her songs. You most probably know her from her worldwide success La vie en Rose. She might be the most famous and iconic French singer, and she embodies the Parisian spirit in her music and lyrics. She evokes Paris in almost every song, so if you like oldies and cult Parisian songs, I would definitely advise you to go check her out.

Click here to listen to the song on youtube.

Famous lyrics:

“Les amants de Paris couchent sur ma chanson.
A Paris, les amants s’aiment à leur façon.
Les refrains que je leur dis,
C’est plus beau que les beaux jours.
Ça fait des tas de printemps et le printemps fait l’amour.”

« In Paris lovers sleep together on my song
In Paris lovers love themselves as they please
The choruses I sing for them
Are more beautiful than sunny days
They make a lot of springs and spring makes love. »

8. La Bohême – Charles Aznavour

saint pierre de montmartre

St. Pierre de Montmartre souvenirs by Fred PO – WikiCommons

This song you should know if you are coming to Paris. Charles Aznavour was one of the most famous French singers, who died last year. His most famous songs include Emmenez-moi, Hier encore, and La Bohême.

In this song, he tells the story of a couple of bohemian artists living in Montmartre, selling their paintings to eat, discussing all night in obscure cafés.

This is as much a song on the bohemian Paris as it is a song on nostalgia. The song’s opening lines are especially famous: “Je vous parle d’un temps que les moins de vingt ans ne peuvent pas connaitre. ” (I am telling you about a time that people under 20 years-old cannot have known.)

The trope of nostalgia is recurrent when artists speak about Paris; they often refer to a past they are too young to have known, but are still nostalgic for. This lust for a golden era is exactly was this song is about: at the end, the singer returns in Montmartre years after, and does not recognize any of the places he used to see every day when he was young.

There is a quote that to my mind goes perfectly with the song. Gustave Flaubert, famous writer of the 19th century, once wrote that ” Ne pouvoir se passer de Paris, est marque de bêtise ; ne plus l’aimer est signe de décadence” : « Not being able to live without Paris is a sign of dumbness ; not loving Paris anymore is a sign of decay.»

Famous lyrics:

“Quand au hasard des jours je m’en vais faire un tour à mon ancienne adresse, je ne reconnais plus ni les murs, ni les rues qui ont vu ma jeunesse. En haut d’un escalier je cherche l’atelier dont plus rien ne subsiste. Dans son nouveau décor Montmartre semble triste et les lilas sont morts.”

« When by chance I go to visit my old address, I do not recognize the walls or streets that have seen my youth. At the top of a staircase I look for my workshop, of which nothing remains. In his new decor Montmartre seems sad and the lilacs are dead. »

10. J’ai deux amours – Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker in 1961 by Jack de Nijs – WikiCommons

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Les meilleurs Américains meurent à Paris” (The best Americans die in Paris).

Famous lyrics :

« Manhattan est belle
Mais à quoi bon le nier
Ce qui m’ensorcelle
C’est Paris, c’est Paris tout entier »

« Manhattan is beautiful but there is no need to deny it, what mesmerizes me is Paris, Paris as a whole. »

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