It’s Valentine’s Day, awakening the eternal lover inside every one of us. ’Tis the occasion to tell your husband, wife, partner or lover that you love them now and forever.

Red roses, gourmet chocolate, candle-lit dinner and a lovers’ getaway are the go-to gifts to mark Cupid’s Big Day. But what about music? Love has been by far the most universal song topic, regardless of language, since the beginning of time.

And there are plenty of love songs that are totally outside the scope of this February holiday. Timeless songs that talk about love on a daily basis, the ups and downs, its long-lasting effects. In short, songs like Francine Raymond’s “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” (“Living With The One You Love”).

First released on the singer-songwriter’s debut solo album three decades ago, in 1987, “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” (lyrics by Luc Plamondon, music by Francine Raymond and Christian Péloquin, published by Plamondon Publishing, Les Éditions Dernière Minute and Éditorial Avenue) became a SOCAN Classic 10 years later.  Valentine’s Day offers a great occasion to talk with the person who sang it, about how it was written, 20 years after it became a classic, and 30 years after its release.

Francophone Artist, Anglophone Song

Francine Raymond

Photo: Laurence Labat

“I already had the music, which I produced in close collaboration with Christian Péloquin, my go-to musician,” recalls Francine Raymond. “He wrote about three quarters of the song’s music. Christian always carried a big bag of loose cassettes. He would pull one out and say: ‘Listen to this.’ Without his bag of cassettes, nothing would’ve happened, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion today,” says Raymond, who lately devotes much of her attention to photography.

Raymond made her first steps on Québec stage in the early ‘70s, mostly alongside Péloquin and Hollywood and Wine, up until the mid-’80s. She spent years on Québec’s roadhouse circuit.

“I’d just stopped touring that scene six nights a week, back then,” says Raymond. “His music and my inspiration yielded a first draft. For me, melody always dictates what’s gonna come next. Because I had a lot of experience with Anglophone sounds that are easy to articulate, I’d written that first draft in English, and a complete demo.”

For Nicole

“It was the first song on that album that we completed,” Raymond continues. “In fact, it found its final form a good two years before the album came out. I’d even submitted my English demo to Nicole Martin. She said, ‘Darling, that’s a huge hit. I want it.’ But at the time, I was in France for engagements I had with Johnny Hallyday and Michel Berger. That’s when I ran into Luc Plamondon. At some point, we were at his place, and I played him the demo. Then, he tells me he wants to write a set of French lyrics for that music. I figured I needed to tell Nicole about this. She graciously gave the song back to me and said, ‘Go for it.’ She knew that song was going to be a huge hit. The rest, as they say…”

New Theme

Francine Raymond

Photo: Monic Richard

In the end, the lyrics Plamondon gave to Raymond had nothing to do – nothing at all – with her own first draft.

“It wasn’t at all an adaptation of my English lyrics, the likes of which were so common in the ’60s in Québec,” she says. “Luc drew inspiration from a secret love affair that had just ended between two of his friends. In English, the song was about something totally different. It was a song about changing the world… I think I’ll change the world todayTell me how I can work it out. Something to that effect.

“Having Luc’s name on one of your songs opens a lot of doors. Back then, I’d been living in Paris for months when it happened. I was in a ‘Paris-zone.’ I jumped from one square to the next. I had absolutely no trouble switching from an Anglo scene [where she sang covers] to an entirely Francophone environment, because I’m very adaptable.”

In the bottomless pit of love songs, there’s a plethora that are filled to the brim with “I love you”s and “I want you”s. And their opposites, of course, breakup songs that mean the same thing, in the end, but where the notion of departure is crucial. “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” is both.

Passages such as “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime/balayer tout derrière soi/pour ouvrir tout grand les bras” (“Living with the one you love / Leaving everything behind / To throw your arms wide open”), or “À chaque amour/la vie recommence/À chaque amour/une autre existence” (“With each love / Life begins anew / With each love / A new existence”), or yet again “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime/quand on s’y attendait plus/À cœur perdu de trouver/le goût de vivre” (“Living with the one you love/When you didn’t think it would ever happen/With a heart for finding/The will to live”) are prime examples of this. Although it’s undeniably a breakup song, “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime” also looks beyond the horizon of heartbreak.

“We did indeed stand on both sides of the fence,” says Raymond. “We wanted to establish a theme and fully understand that emotion. I had to lean into it. If a role is not a good match for you, you can’t play that role. The comments of the audience showed us the many ways they made that song their own. People used it at weddings. Others used it to move forward after a breakup. Remember, this was in the ’80s, when people started talking a lot about re-constructed families. Luc understood that.

Video from Yesteryear

“The video for the song was filmed when Musique Plus [the Québec equivalent of Much Music] was still in its infancy, and played on the notion of departure/new beginnings because of the boats in the port where we filmed it. We filmed it in the port of Sorel with a few connecting images shot at [the] La Ronde [amusement park] in Montréal. It was October, and it was freezing. Christian’s hands were literally frozen by the end of the day.”

In that video, Raymond sports blonde locks that are reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, but she holds her guitar like Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders would, while wearing a beret and matching jacket that wouldn’t look out of place on Rod Stewart.

“Rod Stewart, yeah, there’s some of that in there,” she says. “The look was totally intentional on my part. I figured if I didn’t look like a ditz, people would listen to the music more closely.”

And listen to the her songs we did: “Vivre avec celui qu’on aime,” “Souvenirs retrouvés,” “Y’a les mots,” to name but a few. Irresistible pop songs. While we’re on the topic, what is Raymond’s definition of a good song?

“It’s an observation of the mind,” she says. “It’s contemplation with one’s ears. It involves your heart, your soul, and all the right places… We are the channellers of an essence. In reception mode.”