Johnny Hallyday — Live at Montreux 1988

By  Michael Popke

Perhaps the closest France has come to producing a bona fide rock star — drawing comparisons to Elvis Presley for his voice and James Dean for his looks — Johnny Hallyday remains an enigma to American audiences.

That’s why this 10-track all-French set, performed in 1988 at Switzerland’s famed Montreux Jazz Festival in front of an ecstatic crowd, is bound to have limited appeal. It also, however, provides insight into the pop-music culture of another country and another generation.

Born Jean Philippe Smet and now 65, Hallyday peppered this 48-minute set with rockabilly tunes, pop ballads, Broadway-style excess and covers of George Jackson’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” (made famous by Bob Seger and retitled “Le Bon Temps Du Rock and Roll”) and the ubiquitous early rock ’n’ roll classic “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (Hallyday’s only English-language performance here).

He sounds vibrant and vital throughout, but also extremely derivative.

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