The hushed, languid sound of Jeanette. From the quiet mid-60s folk-pop of Pic-Nic to grand, heart-melting ballads, exquisitely produced, arranged and written by some of the most skilled music-makers from Spain, Argentina and France.
Softness was not a common feature of 1960s Spanish pop. Even in their ballads, top singers such as Rocío Dúrcal, Massiel, Encarnita Polo, Marisol and Karina favoured a fiery vocal style that fluctuated between deep and shrill. Jeanette wasn’t Spanish by birth; she was born in London in 1951 and spent her early years in Chicago and Los Angeles. But it was only a few years after moving to Barcelona that she scored a #1 record with her band Pic-Nic, establishing a firm footing in the Spanish music world that would span three decades.
Jeanette’s singing style seemed almost revolutionary in 1960s Spain. In the quiet of her voice was real strength and sincerity. It was free of affectation and completely at ease. You get the sense that Jeanette never attempted to be anything but herself. It was that voice that caught my ear one summer night, at a restaurant in the French West Indies. Her 1974 single ‘Porque Te Vas’ wafted over to my table, interrupting my conversation and prompting a swift sprint to the DJ booth shouting, “HOW WHY WHAT WHO IS THIS VOICE?!!??!”. Little did I know that this DJ would introduce to me one of the most treasured artists in my life (wherever you are, thank you!). I soon discovered a large quantity of Jeanette records that came both before and after ‘Porque Te Vas’ – the finger-plucked folk ballads of her first band Pic-Nic and the romantic, lavishly produced solo albums “Todo Es Nuevo” from the 1970s and “Corazón De Poeta” from the 80s.
In Japan, Jeanette was given the nickname “Whispering Lolita” and she shares a singing style with French stars such as Jane Birkin and France Gall, who built careers around the delicacy of their voices. But unlike her French contemporaries, Jeanette eschewed the gender-conforming expectations placed upon female pop singers in the 1960s. She embraced a far more DIY ethos, teaching herself the guitar, writing songs and leading her band Pic-Nic to the top of the charts with her self-penned ‘Cállate Niña’. There’s something wonderfully refreshing about the ‘Cállate Niña’ sleeve, which positions Jeanette as an almost anti-frontwoman in a casual blue t-shirt and her hair au naturel whilst her slightly more polished bandmates pose in the background.
Soon after the demise of Pic-Nic, Jeanette re-emerged as a solo artist, replacing her quiet folk-pop with grand, heart-melting ballads, exquisitely produced, arranged and written by some of the most skilled music-makers from Spain, Argentina and France. I once described Jeanette’s romantic period as falling somewhere between the Paris Sisters’ ‘I Love How You Love Me’ and 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’, with her soft, cushiony melodies set to the dreamiest and most soothing of backdrops.
Given the exceptionally high quality of her songs and productions, it’s surprising that Jeanette remains mostly under the radar outside of Spain. Although in 1994, Japan’s Kahimi Karie covered ‘Porque Te Vas’ on her “Girly” EP, and more recently 23 Latin and South American indie artists paid tribute to Jeanette with a double album called “Contemplaciones: Homenaje Iberoamericano A Jeanette”. A quick internet search will result in plenty of Spanish compilations dedicated to Jeanette’s most well-known material, but the packaging has always been lacking, with no accompanying biographical info or photos. To bring her music to a wider audience via a proper compilation is an idea that has been 20 years in the making. To do so with the blessing and assistance of Jeanette herself, and with liner notes by writer, radio DJ and Jeanette expert Gaylord Fields, means that this remarkable artist is finally given the praise, respect and recognition she deserves.
Sophisticated Boom Boom -WFMU