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Edith Piaf's 10 Greatest Songs

An Essential Playlist

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Edith Piaf recorded masterpiece after masterpiece from the beginning of her career to the end, and nearly all of her songs stand the test of time. These ten, though, are la creme de la creme, and if your MP3 player holds only a handful of Edith Piaf songs, these should be the ones.

"La Vie en Rose"

With lyrics written by Piaf herself, "La Vie En Rose" is surely the best-known and most-loved song in her repertoire. First released in 1946, this tiny masterpiece would go on to become a worldwide hit and an essential piece of the popular music canon. La Vie en Rose was the title of the critically-acclaimed 2007 Edith Piaf biopic, which starred the delightful Marion Cotillard as the legendary singer, a role which won her an Academy Award.

"Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"

Written by composer Charles Dumont and lyricist Michel Vaucaire, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," which translates to "No, I regret nothing," was recorded by Piaf in 1960, after she had declared her intent to retire. The free-spirited songstress, whose life was filled with scandal and drama, heard the song and identified with it so fiercely that she came out of her (albeit short-lived) retirement to record it. This song has remained popular in the pop culture cloud for over 50 years, being regularly covered, used in advertisements and films (notably 2010's Inception), and is the most popular non-classical track chosen by contributors to long-time BBC4 radio program "Desert Island Discs."

"Hymne a L'Amour"

Edith Piaf wrote the lyrics to this dramatic torch song about the love of her life, boxer Marcel Cerdan, just months before his death in a plane crash in October of 1949. The music was composed by frequent Piaf collaborator Marguerite Monnot. The song has been popularly covered by many artists, including Josh Groban and Japanese pop star Hikaru Otada.

"Padam... Padam"

Sort of a meta-earworm, "Padam... Padam" is a song about a song that's stuck in your head which, indeed, gets stuck in your head every time you listen to it. A metaphor for something (some people say "Padam" is the heartbeat of your lover, others say it's the buzz of the city of Paris itself, and still others assert that it was simply Piaf's favorite nonsense syllable to insert when she couldn't remember the words to a song), this waltz really captures a certain classic Parisian dancehall feeling.

"Milord"

This famous number, which tells the tale of a woman of the night who falls in love with an upper-class gentleman who she sees on the street, was written by lyricist Georges Moustaki and composer Marguerite Monnot. It's written very much as a performance tune for the cabaret, with part of the song being performed in a danceable upbeat bal-musette-influenced style, with breaks for dramatic rubato segments. Though not as famous as many of her other songs, the faster-timed melody is immediately recognizable.

"Jezebel"

Most of Edith Piaf's most famous songs were eventually translated from their original French into multiple languages to be covered by international artists, but "Jezebel" was actually originally an English-language song, written by American songwriter Wayne Shanklin and first made into a hit by Frankie Laine. The lyrics, taking their title from the biblical Jezebel, speak of a heartbreaking woman who breaks the narrator's heart. Piaf's version, which was translated by Charles Aznavour, is both dramatic and playful, and almost sounds as though she's singing it to herself, rather than to some outside temptress.

"Les Trois Cloches"

This unlikely hit, in which Piaf is accompanied by a male choir called Les Compagnons de la Chanson (who also accompanied her on her 1945/1946 United States tour, each night of which opened with this song), is one of her folkier numbers. A charming ballad which tells the story of the three times the church bells in the little valley rang for one Jean-Francois Nicot (his baptism, his wedding, and his funeral), it was translated and reworked into an English-language pop song under both the name "The Three Bells" as well as "When The Angelus Was Ringing," and thus recorded by a number of mid-century American pop luminaries.

"L'Accordeoniste"

"L'Accordeoniste" tells the story of a prostitute who uses music (specifically, bal-musette and its accompanying dance, the java) as an escape from the anguish of her life. "L'Accordeoniste" was written by Michel Emer, a Jewish composer and songwriter. During WWII, Piaf, who was a member of the French Resistance, gave Emer money and helped to quietly escape the country before the Nazis could catch him.

"La Foule"

This song, whose title translates to "The Crowd," was based on the tune of an earlier popular South American Waltz written by Angel Cabral, with the newer French lyrics written by Michel Rivgauche. It tells a story of a pair of people who are united by the movement of a crowd during a street festival, only to be separated and pulled apart by the same crowd mere moments later.

"Sous Le Ciel De Paris"

The beautiful city of Paris, where Edith Piaf was born, discovered, made famous, and ultimately buried, was a popular theme of her songs. This one tells simply of all the things that might be happening "Under The Paris Sky" at any given time. It's romantic and sweet, and a fitting tribute to the city she called home.

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