CSHF inducts classic “Si j’avais un char,” popularized by Cassonade

Marie-Pierre Arthur recording “Si j’avais un char” for the Covered Classics induction series. (Photo: Mathieu Lavoie, ICI Musique)
January 9, 2017

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame  (CSHF) today inducted “Si j’avais un char” (in English, the title translates as “If I Had a Car”) written by Stephen Faulkner  and Sylvie Choquette, and most familiar to fans as a cut from Stephen Faulkner’s 1978 debut solo album Cassonade. The induction is celebrated with a tribute performance by Marie-Pierre Arthur for the Hall of Fame’s Covered Classics series. Covered Classics honours and celebrates newly inducted songs by inviting Canada’s brightest musical talents to perform their own renditions of these classics.

A classic country song known throughout Québec, “Si j’avais un char” explores the notion of freedom through the simple dream of owning a car. Featuring the country twang of a slide guitar, and the back-up vocals of co-composer Sylvie Choquette, “Si j’avais un char” lies firmly in the Québec country music tradition of Willie Lamothe, Tex Lecor, and Lucille Starr. Recorded under Faulkner’s pseudonym Cassonade, the song launched his career as a singer-songwriter. It peaked at No. 7 (measured by radio play and sales) and charted for 25 weeks, six of which were in the Top 30; it has also made the list of longest-charting hits in Québec.

“I’ve always alternated between writing country songs and rock. Country swings; it allows you to write lyrics that are more meaningful than in a rock song,” Faulkner told Montréal newspaper The Gazette in 1994. The lyrics to “Si j’avais un char” portray a character that audiences easily identify with: A young man, flat broke, who yearns for the freedom of having wheels. He imagines being able to travel in the car – but only as far as the Gaspésie – with his girlfriend, “like two gypsies.”

Faulkner included “Si j’avais un char” (along with another Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, “Mille après Mille”) on his Capturé vivant album, recorded live at Montréal’s Cabaret Music Hall in 2002, and on the double-album Si j'avais un char.  As a classic “car song,” “Si j’avais un char” was one of several in the Quebec Musée de la civilisation’s “Auto Portrait” exhibit in 1993. The song title was also used in the French version of a 2006 TV series on the history of the automobile. Faulkner appreciated the irony of the song’s status, later telling Radio-Canada that driving “...is bad for the planet.”

Faulkner has performed the song at Montreal’s FrancoFolies and other music festivals, and it appears on the 2003 St-Tite, Quebec Western Festival album, as well as the compilation album 75 ans, 75 chansons. It has pride of place in the 2011 film documentary on Faulkner, J’m’en va r’viendre. Faulkner later wrote a follow-up song, “Du gaz dans mon char” (“Gas in my car”). “Si j’avais un char” has been recorded by Génération V.I.P., The Cloverland Band, Antoine Gratton, and Dominic Sylvain, and was even sung in Italian by Marco Calliari as “Se avessi una vespa.”

Montréaler Faulkner began his music career by recording and touring in the early 1970s with Plume Latraverse (for whom Faulkner’s “Si j’avais un char” co-writer Sylvie Choquette was a background singer). He released several solo albums and is known for his songs “Doris,” “Mon grand cheval noir d’amour,” and “Un cowboy à Paris.” In the 1980s and 1990s, he toured in France. He has won two ADISQ awards: Best Country Album, for Caboose, in 1993; and Songwriter of the Year, in 2001.

“Si j’avais un char”
Written by Stephen Faulkner and Sylvie Choquette
Performed by Marie-Pierre Arthur
More about the song