27. Joe Le Taxi – Vanessa Paradis

There can’t be a single chap of my generation who doesn’t vividly remember the day in 1988 when gap-toothed froggy sexpot Vanessa Paradis burst onto our TV screens, into the charts, and into our hearts with Joe Le Taxi.

Vanessa was just 14, but that was OK: we were 12. We didn’t understand a word she was banging on about—except perhaps “Joe”, “le”, and “taxi”—despite the best ministrations of Mrs. Rhodes, whose francophone eagle eyes spotted a nailed-on opportunity to get a room full of pubescent boys to at least pay attention in French lessons for a change.

Joe le taxi
Y va pas partout
Y marche pas au soda

Joe the taxi driver doesn’t cover all parts of town (“South of the river this time of night? You ‘avin’ a giraffe?”) and he clearly likes a drink or two. Let’s hope our route home doesn’t involve any Parisian underpasses, am I right? Still, Joe and his saxophone do know the city by heart, including the dodgy bars and dark corners. We’re in good company:

Son saxo jaune
Connait toutes les rues par coeur
Tous les p’tits bars
Tous les coins noirs
Et la Seine
Et ses ponts qui brillent

And Joe has pretty classy taste in music too, his night shift being soundtracked by rumba and mambo, which resonate in his cab as he plies his trade:

Dans sa caisse
La musique a Joe resonne
C’est la rumba
Le vieux rock au mambo bidon

Joe le taxi
Et Xavier Cugat
Joe le taxi
Et Yma Sumac

Fittingly, the instrumentation is all swampy baritone sax and cha-cha-cha rhythms, creating a brooding atmosphere recalling searingly hot, daringly late Parisian nights.

It might be easy to dismiss Joe Le Taxi as a kind of one-hit-wonder, novelty sort of single, but there may be a serious aspect to the song. There are anecdotal claims that songwriter Étienne Roda-Gil was inspired by the tale of one Maria-José Leão Dos Santos, a Portuguese émigré who fled the authoritarian Estado Novo regime due to her homosexuality, settling in Paris and becoming a taxi driver and “nightlife figure”.

True or not, I’ll admit I hadn’t noticed the backstory myself until I started researching this piece, but then the lyrics are primarily about rum and saxophones. And in French. So my conscience is clear.

Vanessa went on to pursue a very successful career in singing, modelling and acting, despite it not being terribly easy to pinpoint exactly where her talents lie. Well, beyond getting her quite delightful bits and pieces out for all to see on film, and pursuing ill-advised relationships with famous men.

Regardless, she’ll always have a special place in the corner of your author’s heart and indeed in pop history.

Artist: Vanessa Paradis
Album: M&J
Writer: Étienne Roda-Gil
Producer: Franck Langolff
Released: April 1987; FA Productions/Polydor

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