Having just released “Pigeon,” my second novel set in Paris, I figured it was time to share my playlist that transports me to the city. I chose these because they’re a mix of my favorite artists, songs, arrangements, and musical genres. With a few exceptions, I’ve loaded all of these into a Spotify playlist (link at the bottom of the post). Here we go:
1. I Love Paris (Cole Porter)
We’re kicking this off with the quintessential songwriter about 20’s Paris, Cole Porter. Believe it or not, it’s hard to find polished recordings of the man himself performing his songs. Every famous jazz singer or crooner on Earth sang this one at some point.
2. April In Paris (Frank Sinatra)
Putting the Chairman of the Board up front here. Can’t go wrong—especially since this list is really designed for Americans who love Paris. See also Sinatra’s version of I Love Paris.
3. The Last Time I Saw Paris (Betty Johnson)
I like this version because it’s short. It gets to the hook right off the bat. Other versions won’t do that for you. Plus, I like Betty’s style. Dean Martin does a pretty good version of this one too, as does Nicki Parrott, whose entire album about Paris is pretty solid.
4. J’aime Paris au Moi de Mai (Charles Aznavour)
Aznavour might be my favorite French singer. My uncle introduced me to him many years ago, and I think we both find ourselves entertained with his disinterested tone in his classic Tu t’laisses aller (In English: You’ve Let Yourself Go). See also his Gosse de Paris.
5. Paris (Ben Rector)
I’m trying to pepper in some more current music here and there on this list, as well as a nice mix of English and French. I dare you to find something catchier and more melodically inspiring than this one.
6. Paris (Edith Piaf)
The leading lady of French singers. When I was 16, my aunt made me a list of graves to see in Père Lachaise after I declared I was going just to see Jim Morrison’s. Edith’s name was on top. See also her definitive versions of Sous la Ciel de Paris and La Vie En Rose.
7. Dans mon Paris (Zaz)
Zaz is immensely popular—just maybe not in the U.S. She can sing like crazy. The more you listen, the more you will love, I promise. Her whole album Paris is a jazzy tribute to the city. I particularly love the clarinet in this tune (I’m on a jazz clarinet kick right now anyway). In other news, if you like this tune, you’ll love her debut album Zaz. Note: Zaz’s album, Paris, isn’t on Spotify in the U.S. as of the moment I wrote this. I’ll check back to update, but I haven’t included it on the playlist in the link at the bottom of this page. Instead, here’s a video on youtube:
8. Montmartre (Sarah Darling)
Here’s a nice little ballad about maybe the most fun neighborhood in Paris (in my opinion).
9. Paris (The 1975)
You can tell I love the classics, but I have a soft spot for more current pop as well. With that in mind, it’s hard to deny the 1975. This one is a good one from them.
10. Dolce Francia (Carla Bruni)
Another classic that’s seen many iconic singers. I felt as though it was important to include something from Carla Bruni, the actress, model, and singer who became the first lady of France when she married Nicholas Sarkozy, French president from ’07-’12.
11. Place de la Contrescarpe (Jacques Brel)
A classic French singer singing about a square in Paris. Listen to him roll those r’s, and you’ll find yourself doing the same along with him. At least try it once. It’s pretty fun.
12. The River Seine (Nicki Parrott)
As I mentioned earlier, Nicki Parrott’s album The Last Time I Saw Paris is a solid listen through and through. I love this one, though. See also Dean Martin’s version of this. Here’s the youtube video for this.
13. Paris (Camille)
Yet another tune that’s ultra catchy without a word of English in it. I picture a rag-tag band playing an impromptu gig on the banks of the Seine with this one.
14. Les Champs Élysées (Joe Dassin)
This is a downright anthemic-sounding tune lauding the grand avenue.
15. Paris (The Chainsmokers)
This is the song that made me a Chainsmokers fan. I realize it sounds drastically different than some of the other selections on this list, but I stand by the call. It’s catchy. It’s rebellious. It’s beautiful. Paris.
16. Paris (April)
This is a beautiful little tune that I don’t know anything about—other than I found it and grew to love it by searching for songs about Paris. Plus, it fits in this mix.
17. Sous la Ciel de Paris (Yves Montand)
There are so many incredible versions of this song, obviously led by Edith Piaf’s. But here’s an opportunity to hear a male lead with a beautiful voice. He does this French classic justice and then some.
18. Give Paris One More Chance (Jonathan Richman)
For me, the genius of everything this artist does is in its simplicity. It’s all clever, but never over-thought. And this song has real charm. Fun fact: you might remember this artist as the roving troubadour in the movie Something About Mary.
19. Paris Sera Toujours Paris (Maurice Chevalier)
Chevalier might be the grandfather of all French crooners. The tone of this song is perfect — almost a happy shrug as he sings “Paris will always be Paris!”
20. Paris (Yael Naim)
Added to the list by request. Exotic. Beautiful.
21. Paris (Ooh La La) (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals)
Here’s the straight-up rock song addition to this list. I like it because the lyric “if I was from Paris” fully admits that the singer—and probably the listener—are not actually from Paris. For most of us, it exists as much in our minds as it does in the world. Few cities have earned that spot in our hearts and imaginations.
22. La Romance de Paris (Charles Trenet)
When I was 22, visiting my aunt and uncle in the French countryside, I fell for the music of Trenet. Other recommended songs from this artist include Le Piano de la Plage and La Mer, the latter of which was translated to English and released by Bobby Darin as Beyond the Sea. But it was Trenet who wrote it.
23. Under the Bridges of Paris (Dean Martin)
If you like this tune, Dean-o’s album French Style is worth the listen. Sure he’s an American and almost portraying the genre with a tongue-in-cheek grin sometimes, but this song in particular really works.
24. You Don’t Know Paree (Colleen McHugh)
The point made during this song is a good one. As Americans, myself included, we love the city. We visit, we get to know our way around, we have a great time. But in the end, we can’t truly know her. It’s her world, her history. We can’t truly live it—only celebrate it.
Here’s the Spotify playlist.