Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inducts Diane Tell classic “Si j’étais un homme”

Beyries (Photo: ICI Musique)
June 19, 2017

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame  (CSHF) today inducted the Diane Tell classic “Si jétais un homme.” published by Tuta Musique Inc. The induction is celebrated with a tribute performance by Beyries for the Hall of Fame’s Covered Classics series. Covered Classics honours newly inducted songs by inviting Canada’s brightest musical talents to perform their own renditions of these classics.

“Si jétais un homme” (roughly translated as “If I Were a Man”) was a runaway hit in Canada and Europe for Diane Tell in 1980 and 1981, earning her four Félix awards and a SOCAN Classic award. At just 19 years old, she composed the song for Le festival de la chanson française de Spa competition in Belgium, where she was to represent Canada. Tell recalled, “The participants had to perform unpublished songs. I immediately set about creating two new ones.”

Tell wrote the music and lyrics while driving from Montréal to her home in New York City. A few weeks later she sang it for the first time in public, at the Spa competition; the song was well-received, but she was nevertheless eliminated. On her return to Montreal, she was invited to appear on TV performing a song of her choice – which was the still-unrecorded “Si jétais un homme.” The audience response was so great that Tell promptly recorded it.

The recording was released in 1980 as a single, and made it to the No. 2 spot on the Francophone pop charts. Tell included the song on her next album, En Flèche, which rocketed to No. 1, and quickly sold more than 100,000 units. The song was also released as a single in Europe, and included on the Euro release of the album.

A sophisticated ballad, the song bemoans the lack of big romantic gestures in relationships. A wistful piano intro sets the mood, and the singer offers a metaphor about wishing she could be captain of her own ship. She longs to be extravagant in expressing her feelings, but feels that she must be more guarded. In a regretful chorus, she sings, “But I’m a woman and, when you’re a woman, you don’t say/do/buy such things,” concluding with, “Ah, if I were a man, I would be romantic!”

“Si jétais un homme” led directly to four Félix awards for Tell in 1981, for Best Song, Album, Female Artist, and Singer-Songwriter. A 1982 MIDEM award (in France) for Best Female Artist followed.

Tell has included her most famous song on later compilation albums, including a vocal-with-guitar arrangement on Une in 2013. The song has also brought success to jazz singer Emilie-Claire Barlow, who sang it for her 2015 ADISQ-nominated album. It’s been recorded by Carol Welsman, and by the legendary Jean-Pierre Ferland on Chansons jalouses (with a few necessary lyric changes), and it’s been sung on the Star Académie Québec singing-competition TV program. Francesco Garcia recorded an instrumental version on Vive La France: 15 Famous Guitar Hits of France. “Si jétais un homme » is also featured on various compilation albums, was used in the film Chouchou, and the lyrics are even studied by students in in school.

Tell recognizes the irony of the success of “Si jétais un homme”: “It was eliminated from the [Spa] competition… but what an extraordinary about-face in becoming, of all the songs in my repertoire, the song the most played, covered, and sold, and always appreciated by the public.”

Diane Tell studied classical and jazz guitar and violin, before starting her career in 1974 by singing in Montréal bars. She released her first album in 1977, and had a hit with Gilberto, for which she won two Félix awards. She moved to France in the early 1980ssp; Several of her songs have earned SOCAN Classic awards.

“Si jétais un homme”
Written by Diane Tell
Performed by Beyries
More about the song