Les Napoleons

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1963-64) as The Fendertones

- Francois De Levo -- bass

- Jean Guy De Levo -- lead guitar

- Renald De Levo -- vocals, percussion 

- Richard Tardif -- drums, percussion


  line up 2 (1964-65) as The Ventures

- Francois De Levo -- bass

- Jean Guy De Levo -- lead guitar

- Renald De Levo -- vocals, percussion

- Richard Tardif -- drums, percussion


  line up 3 (1965-69) as Les Napoleons

NEW - Jacques Lachapelle -- rhythm guitar

- Francois De Levo -- bass

- Jean Guy De Levo -- lead guitar

- Renald De Levo -- vocals 

- Richard Tardif -- drums, percussion






- unknown




Genre: garage

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Les Napoleons a Go-Go

Company: Passe Temps

Catalog: PST-17

Year: 1966

Country/State: Montreal, Canada

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1269

Price: $150.00

Cost: $80.00


Don't ask why, but for some reason I've become fascinated by mid-1960s French-Canadian garage bands.  That said, here's a wonderful copy of one of the genres' best and rarest offerings - Montreal's Les Napoleons.


Wish I knew more about thus outfit (see comments at the end of the review).  I've found next to nothing on the web and even the LP is of little help - no liner notes and no writing or performance credits.  Anyhow, here's what little I know about these guys.  


The band featured brothers Francois De Levo (bass), Jean Guy De Levo ( lead guitar), and Renald De Levo, with future brother-in-law Richard Tardif on drums.   With their father driving them to gigs, they started out playing surf rock under the name The Fendertones, before becoming The Ventures (poor choice).  By 1964 they'd won a local talent contest which included a chance to record for the small Canadian Passe Temps label . The label pushed for a name change and suggested they drop their English language repertoire in favor of French.  Adapting to changing popular tastes, they dropped the surf rock repertoire, added vocals to their act, and hired  rhythm guitarist Jacques Lachapelle.   Released by Passe Temps, the band debuted with the 1966 single "Fou De Toi" b/w "Tu Es Partis" (Passe Temps catalog number 903).  Showcasing their new garage rock sound, the single sold well with French-Canadian audiences, leading Passe Temps to finance a supporting LP.   As shown below, be sure to read Renald De Levo's email detailing the band's roots.


Sporting a subtitle that read "music for dancing", 1966's "Les Napoleons a Go Go", offered up a mix of originals and popular covers (the covers including two Beatles tunes, a pair of Buddy Holly numbers, and an odd choice of Gerry and the Pacemaker's 'Ferry Cross the Mersey (translated as 'Ne M'oublie Pas').  With the five cover tunes almost certainly demanded by the record label in an effort to ensure commerciality, it shouldn't have come as a big surprise that  the band originals were far stronger  than the cover tunes.  Band written ballads such as 'Tu es Partie' and 'La Vie Sans Toi' were certainly okay, but the band were at their best on up-tempo Kinks-influenced rockers such as ''Fou de Toi', 'Reviens' and 'Je M'en Fou'.  Elsewhere their covers of The Beatles' 'I Feel Fine' (for some reason the title was translated as 'Je Suis en Amour', or 'I'm In Love') and 'We Can Work It Out' (translated as 'Tout S'arrangera') were rote, but enjoyable.  Renald De Levo had a fantastic garage-band voice that was capable of handling everything from ballads to straight ahead garage rockers.   Even better, exemplified by tracks like 'Fou de To', lead guitarist Jean Guy De Levo could turn out some nice Dave Davies-styled musical mayhem. The set's low-fi production feel (again there were no production or writing credits) added to the album's overall appeal.  At least to my ears this set was even more interesting for the fact that although all ten tracks were sung in French, the energetic performances more than compensated for the fact the lyrics are largely a mystery.  Man, these guys were every bit as good as their American and English competition ...  Shame they weren't allow to record an all-original album.


"Les Napoleons a Go-Go" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Fou de Toi   (Jacques Lachapelle - Francois De Levo - Jean Guy De Levo - Renald De Levo - Richard Tardif) -   rating: **** stars

Having been released as their debut single, 'For de Toi' was a blazing Kinks-styled garage rocker showcasing an amazing Jean Guy De Levo solo (Dave Davies would have been proud of the performances.   YouTube has a decent live  black and white television performance of the tune, though the video and sound are out of synch.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlWC9Wa91jk 

2.) Tu es Partie (You are Leaving)  (Jacques Lachapelle - Francois De Levo - Jean Guy De Levo - Renald De Levo - Richard Tardif) -   rating: *** stars

Decent, period-sound ballad with some nice Renald De Levo lead vocals.   

3.) Reviens  (Jacques Lachapelle - Francois De Levo - Jean Guy De Levo - Renald De Levo - Richard Tardif) -   rating: **** stars

Here's what Renald De Levo had to say about this bouncy rocker: "This one took about 5 minutes and was meant to be a slow song. Somehow, we changed our mind and ended up with this."  Very commercial with another killer lead guitar solo,  and had been sung in English (it translated as 'Return'), it probably would have been a massive hit.   YouTube has a clip of the band performing the tune on the Canadian Jeunesse D'Aujourd'hui television show.  Quite impressive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv5xjmzH_vk   

4.) La Vie Sans Toi (Life without You)  (Jacques Lachapelle - Francois De Levo - Jean Guy De Levo - Renald De Levo - Richard Tardif) -   rating: **** stars

Another tune with a Kinks-feel (albeit French lyrics).   Very nice and would have sounded great on early-'60s radio.   rating: **** stars

5.) Je Suis en Amour (I'm In Love)  (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) -   rating: *** stars


Yes, it was a rote cover of The Fab Four's 'Je Suis En Amour' and while there wasn't anything particularly engaging in their cover, there was a certain charm in hearing that instantly recognizable melody surrounded by French lyrics. 


(side 2)

1.) Attention  (Jacques Lachapelle - Francois De Levo - Jean Guy De Levo - Renald De Levo - Richard Tardif) -   rating: *** stars

Tasty garage rocker with a nice jangle rock melody. 

2.) Tout S'arrangera (We Can Work It Out)  (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) -    rating: ** stars

Like the earlier Beatles cover, their cover of 'We Can Work It Out' didn't mess with the original arrangement.   Okay, but not nearly as enjoyable as 'Je Suis en Amour'.  

3.) Ne M'oublie Pas (Ferry Cross the Mersey)   (Gerry Marsden) -    rating: ** stars

Ever feel the need to hear a French version of "Ferry Cross the Mersey' ?  Probably not, but if you ever had the need, here it is.   

4.) Je M'en Fou (Well All Right)   (Buddy Holly - Norman Petty) -   rating: *** stars

The first of two Buddy Holly covers that were energetic and faithful to the originals, but hardly essential. 

5.) Un Jour (Some Day)  (Buddy Holly)   rating: ** stars

Maybe because it captured Holly's '50s sound, their cover of 'Un Jour' was pretty forgettable.


For completist, there's also a post-LP single:







- 1967's "Nous Les Jeunes" b/w "Mon Amour est Plus Fort que Tout" (Jeunesse. Franco catalog number JF 4057).







By the way, the album was reissued  a couple of times including by the European MOMs label (catalog MOMS 27) and by Discauq du Monde (catalog number VIOLA 1003).   As far as I can tell, both reissues are bootlegs that have never benefited the band so do the right thing and avoid them.


The web continues to amaze me with its ability to bring people together.  Check out this correspondence:


"Hello there.  My niece gave me the address of your website.  Even if she's American and lives in the States, her favorite band is 'The Napoleons'.  I saw your article on the band and I also saw the same article on "Lysergia.com".   I guess they got it from you [yes they did].  It's true that there wasn't much information on the LP cover because "Rusticana Records" who owned the "Passes Temps" label were more interested in promoting their other albums on the back of the LP cover.  But the band members were on the front cover of the LP.  On the photo sitting down from left to right you have the rhythm guitarist Jacques Lachapelle and drummer Richard Tardif.   Standing up from left to right you have the three De Levo brothers who started the band:  lead guitarist Jean Guy De Levo, singer Renald De Levo, and bass guitarist Francois De Levo.


The band started as "The Fendertones' in 1963 and switched names to 'The Venturies' in 1964 when they were doing dances and all kinds of other gigs playing all The Ventures songs they could get their hands on.  They started attending amateur contests and local battles of the bands and when they won the battle of the bands contest at Montreal's Le Baron Nightclub in the summer of 1964 they won a recording contract with Rusticana Records as the prize.  The band name was changed to 'The Napoleons' and they added a singer and vocals to their performances along with costumes that tied into the Napoleon theme.  


As 'The Napoleons' our first nightclub performance came in January 1965 at the Le Baron nightclub (them one of the city's most swinging clubs).  We were the very first costumed band and many others followed after that (Cesar et les Romains, Les Gendarmes, Goliath & the Philistines, etc.).  From that point on we were booked solid until we disbanded in 1969 to pursue other careers.


On the LP there are five songs that were written by band members: ''Fou de Toi', 'Tu Es Partie', 'Reviens', 'Attention', and ''La Vie Sans Toi'.  The band wanted to record in English but could not do so at that time in Quebec.  You would've heard something nice then.  Ironically, 99% of our performances were in English.  Another Montreal band "The Haunted" also won a battle of the bands contest, but the first prize in that event was a recording contract with the Toronto-based Quality Records.  They were allowed to record in English and went on to score a hit with '1-2-5'.


As far as our album went. the song 'Fou de Toi' was recorded in Autumn 1965 along with 'Tu Es Partie', 'Reviens', 'La Vie Sans Toi', 'Attention', 'Ne M'oublies Pas', and 'Tout S'arrangera'.  "Un Jour', 'Je m'en Fou' and 'Je Suis en Amour' were added in early 1966 to complete a ten song album.  The band could have put ten of our own compositions on the LP, but the record company forced us to put a couple of well known English tunes, translated into French, instead of an all original set.  That's how the French versions of The Beatles 'I Feel Fine' and 'We Can Work It Out' got on there.  There were also two Buddy Holly covers: 'Well All Right' (translated as 'Je m'en Fou') and 'Someday' (which is shown as 'Un Jour').  The final cover was Gerry and the Pacemaker's "Ferry Cross the Mercy" ('Ne M'oublies Pas').


Could you imagine ten songslike 'Fou de Toi' and 'Reviens' with Jean Guy De Levo's snarling guitar ???  'Foi de Toi' was recorded and released in late 1965 to promote the LP which was due for release in early 1966 and finally came out in May/June 1966 after being completed.  Another 45 came out in 1967 on the Jeunesse Franco label.  'Nous les Jeunes' was our first protest song [I think it translates roughly as 'We the Young'].  'Mon Amour est Plus Fort Que Tout' was the flip side.  


By the way, our father was band manager.  After recording the second 45 we were so tired of being fu*ked by record companies that our father cancelled all recording contracts.  As a result that aren't many Napoleons records floating around.  The two 45s are extremely rare.  'Fou de Toi' was put on sale, but most of the product run was used to promote the parent LP.  I remember my father had boxes of the single in the trunk of his car and gave them away at nightclubs, arenas, etc.  The second 45 came out and was only pressed in small quantities.  I have the master tape for this last 45 with a couple of different takes.


I think I'll let you go for now and like I said, if you want to know anything about this band, just email me and I'll get back to you.  I hope I've shed a little light on our band.


Like you said in your article ... "These guys were just as good as their Anglo competition."  You were certainly right and it 40 years later it makes me feel good to see comments like that.  We didn't care about the money, we didn't care what other jealous bastards thought about us, we only had one thing in mind:  play that rock and roll music like it should be played and enjoy seeing people dancing and having a good time and trying to keep us there for the night."


Renald De Levo

September 2005