80s – 90s Soundtrack to my Belgian childhood

In the midst of writing some of my “Twisted Reflections” short stories based on my childhood growing up in Brussels, Belgium, it quickly got me thinking about the tunes that essentially made up the soundtrack of my earlier years.

After serious time spent down memory lane, what ensues is this list of 60 songs—mostly covering popular tunes (and sometimes older ones that made an impact) during my years spent in Brussels from 1985 – 1996.

These are a combination of tracks based on what I remember most and songs / artists I liked. Made up mostly of European and American musicians, I can now easily spot the significant dance influence… Haha, memories! 😀  

The list, by order of release:

1. “Light My Fire” – The Doors (1966)
I distinctly remember this song playing on the radio and being fascinated by the instruments—which reminded me of a church pipe organ!! LOL (Also I did not speak or understand English at the time). To this day I love listening through the whole song for my favorite part at the end where he screams TRY TO SET THE NIGHT ON… FIIIIIIRE!! 😀

2. “SOS” – ABBA (1975)
With a few rare exceptions, I’m not into 60’s-70’s music, but I was ALL about ABBA back then!

“Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” (1979)

3. “Ma Gueule” – Johnny Hallyday (1979)
Of French and Belgian descent and referred to as the “French Elvis”, this is basically rockstar Johnny Hallyday’s iconic anthem. The song is attitude-packed, and basically a middle finger to anyone having an issue with his ‘gueule’ (French slang for face / mug) with undertones of heartbreak.

4. “Moments in Love” (Quiet Storm Version) – Art of Noise (1983)
This intense instrumental piece really made an impression on me… I love that it makes me think of a combination of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages. In retrospect, it also seems a kind of foreshadowing of my undying love for Enigma (see #26). Just amazing! ❤

5. “Marcia Baila” – Les Rita Mitsouko (1984) 
It doesn’t take long to see that this French band is something else in many ways, from performance, to semi-cryptic lyrics to genre blending of new wave, pop rock, alternative rock, and chanson. In this song, Catherine Ringer’s powerful chords sing in memory of Argentinian dancer and choreographer Marcia Moretto.

“C’est comme ça” (1986)
Video to “It’s Like That,” another popular track of theirs.

6. Michael Jackson 
I, like many others, basically grew up to the legend’s music. I have vague memories of “Thriller,” but automatically loved it given its spookiness. As much as I liked his music, the later allegations of child abuse left a bad impression and my interest fluctuated in time. Tracks that I most connect with that time period include “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Will You Be There” (Free Willy theme), “Remember the Time,” “Black or White” and “Scream” (the latter of which came out right before I left Brussels for the SF Bay).

7. “Tchiki Boum” – Niagara (1985) 
Niagara is an iconic French band who had many catchy hits in the 80’s and beyond. Lead singer Muriel Moreno’s eventual change to striking red hair only fueled the Ariel-mermaid life goals LOL (Come to think of it, two other singers in this list also have red hair… so there was no shortage of inspiration!)

This first hit song is particularly catchy and sexy, featuring Muriel singing about following her man wherever he’ll go, however not without a playful chorus saying “with you I’ll do whatever I want” (mais de toi je ferai ce que je voudrai). Bonus that San Francisco is mentioned in the song! 😉

8. “Bascule Avec Moi” – Marc Lavoine (1985) 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, French singer Marc Lavoine basically became an instant heartthrob when he stepped on the 80’s pop music scene. It helps that many of his songs are about love and/or sex and often set to dancey, catchy beats.

The song title is basically slang for ‘rock with me / get down with me’ where, as the video suggests, he’s interested in a girl. She’s a virgin and a bit of a tease—topless dancing and all—and he goes on to describe some of what she’ll experience during the act—which of course would hopefully involve him. At the end you find out what happens… and it’s probably not what you think.

9. “L’Aziza” – Daniel Balavoine (1985) 
This song was one of French singer Daniel Balavoine’s greatest hits, targeting racism in honor of his Jewish Moroccan wife. He died shortly after in a still-unresolved helicopter crash.

10. Mylène Farmer  (1986 – onwards) 
The French artist I literally ‘grew up with’ would have to be none other than one of France’s most popular singers, Mylène Farmer. With a career spanning decades, she has reinvented herself many times—going from pop, to rock, to edm influences these days—while faithfully keeping her signature red hair.

Her earlier videos are characterized as being little historical films in collaboration with video director Laurent Boutonnat. The clips propel the songs’ often controversial undertones on history, politics, religion, and sex, topped with generally moody backdrops (don’t expect happy endings here).

My favorite song of hers is “Sans Contrefaçon” whose intro line “tell me mom why am I not a boy?” struck a chord with me from the get-go. The song has tomboyish undertones, whose chorus repeats ‘without a doubt, I’m a boy,’ basically stating she’ll do as she pleases. (I’ve also heard it said that the song was inspired by a French male 18th century figure who used to dress in women’s clothes…) For some reason it seems recently a large part of Mylène’s official videos have been taken off YouTube; but the original clip features her as a girl puppet who comes to life and whose owner falls in love with once he sees her in human form.
Remixes to her earlier songs are also of note.

“Sans Contrefaçon” (1987)

View some of that signature theatrical set-up in these dramatic pieces:

“Tristana” (1987)

“Sans Logique” (1989)

Other highly popular songs (and favorites):

“Désenchantée” (1991)

“Regrets” (1991)

“California” (1995)

11. “Lady in Red” – Chris de Burgh (1986) 
Of course this was super boring to me because it was slow… It was also my parents’ (and surely many others’?!) lovey dovey tune… lol

12. “Yeke Yeke” – Mory Kanté (1987) 
This song by Guinean vocalist Mory Kanté was THE jam back in the day!

13. “Chic Planète” – L’Affaire Louis Trio (1987) 
The lead singer’s hairstyle makes his face look even more, uh, interesting… plus, the video… Oh, 80s! Chorus goes “chic planet; let’s dance on it.” And so they did.

14. “Sign Your Name – Terrence Trent D’Arby (1987) 
This and “Wishing Well” instantly come to mind. Plus my mom was a fan.

15. “Djobi Djoba” – Gipsy Kings (1987)
HOW can I resist those guitars and gypsy-flamenco vibes? Nope, can’t.

16. “Joe le Taxi” – Vanessa Paradis (1988)
Long before people heard of French singer / model / actress Vanessa Paradis as being Johnny Depp’s wife, there was this iconic song from WAY BACK in the day. In her exceedingly girly, fourteen-year old voice she sings about a Parisian taxi driver with a penchant for his saxophone and Latin American music.

17. “Puerto Rico” – Vaya Con Dios (1988)
Signature song of successful Belgian band who sings in English.

18. “Mademoiselle Chante Le Blues” – Patricia Kaas (1988)
This French singer with German ancestry has a sultry voice that channels her soulful sound. (On another note, in some ways she also reminds me a bit of my German mom LOL)
This signature track is about a female blues singer who sings about all kinds of folks, referencing common middle-class workers, prostitutes, nuns, actresses, etc.

19. “Casser la Voix” – Patrick Bruel (1989)
I was not really a fan of Bruel, but this song’s chorus instantly comes to mind when I remember his music. This song expresses his frustration and anger on various aspects of life, as highlighted by its “breaking my voice” chorus.

20. “La Lambada” – Kaoma (1989)
That infectious tune… This Portuguese song by the French-Brazilian group was so popular, it was everywhere. And of course, everyone wanted to do that Lambada dance LOL

21. “Back to Life – Soul II Soul (1989)
Loved this song then, love it now!

22. “Girl You Know It’s True” – Milli Vanilli (1989) 
Yup; I was a fan! I was too young to know about the scandal or ‘keep track’ of them so I think I chalked it up to them not making music anymore… I was quite shocked once I found out the deets (which wasn’t until after I came to California lol).

23. “Wicked Game” – Chris Isaak (1989)
Oh goodness… My ‘eyeroll face’ goes in full effect when I think of this song LOL This one is strictly for my sister who LOVED (loves?) this tune… which was basically boringly slow, ridiculously romantic, over the top for my young tomboyish ways haha!

24. “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
I mean who doesn’t remember the close-up of her cute round face? That along with an image of her holding a ripped image of the pope is what I recall most from that time.

25. “Policy of Truth” – Depeche Mode (1990)
Awesome iconic band to say the least.

26. “Principles of Lust” – Enigma (1991)
Enigma was an instant hit in Europe, what with their unusual mix of sexy dance tunes and Gregorian chants. I recall my mom playing their MCMXC a.D. debut album and despite my childlike confusion over the occasional moaning parts (lol!), I was generally enthralled. It remains one of my all-time favorite artists ever; their music is in constant rotation in my player and I just can’t imagine my life without the music!!

“Principles” actually contains 3 songs in it, so this clip is of my favorite part called “Find Love.” I still get goosebumps sometimes hearing the Gregorian chant at 2:23:

27. “I’m Too Sexy” – Right Said Fred (1992)
Well at least these English words were easier to understand, if not pretty universal LMFAO!

28. “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (1992)
Whitney… such an amazing voice. I still can’t believe sometimes that she’s gone, and sadly now her daughter as well… (However I like to think they are reunited +).
Naturally with “The Bodyguard” being such a hit, this song was everywhere, along with many of the soundtrack’s other hits.

29. “Rhythm Is A Dancer” – Snap! (1992)
Great song, misty factory setting plus that faux leather / PVC outfit = LOVE!

30. “I’m Gonna Get You” – Bizarre Inc (1992)
Why waste your time? You know you love this song! (and PVC again!!)

31. “Didi” – Khaled (1992)
With Berber lyrics and signature multi-flavored raï vibes, this is the catchy, popular first hit song by Algerian singer Khaled.

32. “Allah Hoo” – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1992)
This is one of the tunes by Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat that my dad would listen to when we were young… which I also kinda linked it to our visits to local Indian shops. Qawwali is the devotional music of the Sufis, generally centered on themes like love and devotion to God.

33. Axelle Red (1993)
Red-headed Belgian singer known for her soulfulness (although maybe not so much in these earlier pop songs?)

“Sensualité” (1993):

“Elle Danse Seule” (1993):

34. “Dreams” – The Cranberries (1993)
This is interesting… because I know Irish band The Cranberries were well present, but I can’t quite place them to which song… And for some reason they always make me think of Germany. (Maybe we heard them during our visits there?)

35. “Show Me Love” – Robin S (1993)
CLASSIC!!!

36. “What Is Love” – Haddaway (1993)
No, not the “Night at Roxbury” stuff. This is serious.

37. “Sweet Harmony” – The Beloved (1993)
The thing about naked people in a video is that it makes it very memorable.

38. “Secret” – Madonna (1994)
I’ve never been a Madonna fan, and by this I mean I’ve never cared for her as a person (for different reasons; her vulgarity and hypocrisy being the first to come to mind). With that said it has not stopped me from enjoying at least some of her music. “Bedtime Stories” remains my favorite album of hers, which I’ve often felt was underrated (and, if nothing else, has the amazing track “Bedtime Story” written by the amazing Björk).
I instantly loved the R&B vibe of “Secret.”

39. “Missing” – Everything But The Girl (1994)
Very popular dance song that I loved!

40. “The Rhythm of the Night” – Corona (1994)
Clearly there was an enduring love affair with the dance tunes LOL

41. “A Girl Like You” – Edwyn Collins (1994)
When this song would come on, my mom would get up and dance. I understand it now (both figuratively and metaphorically) because it’s a great song; plus there’s a mermaid in the video.

42. “When We Dance” – Sting (1994)
I love The Police, and Sting was a natural extension of that. Even before I could understand it I felt drawn to it, so naturally I fell even more in love once I understood the beautiful lyrics. Music speaks in mysterious ways indeed!!

43. Disney songs!!
No childhood is complete without memorization of Disney songs! In my case they were the French versions of the following:

Aladdin – “Ce Rêve Bleu” (1992):

The Lion King – “Hakuna Matata” (1994):

Pocahontas – “L’air du Vent” (1995):

44. “Pour Que Tu M’aimes Encore” – Celine Dion (1995)
Canadian star Céline Dion has formed a large following in French-speaking countries since her 80s Eurovision days. This song was huge at the time; I distinctly recall singing this out loud with my classmates in the bus during field trips—everyone knew the lyrics LOL

She basically talks about doing anything for her man—like tracking him down and casting spells—for him to love her again.

45. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” – U2 – (1995)
While everyone was fawning over Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” from the “Batman Forever” soundtrack, I was all over this here sexy track. I mean, it is Bono’s sexy voice to a sexy song… Combine that with my then-rising interest in rock music and it’s an automatic win.

46. “Wonderwall” – Oasis (1995)
You know it’s love when you twirl around to the tune even though it’s not even dancey like that.

47. “Stupid Girl” – Garbage (1995)
My intro to the band; the easy-to-understand title instantly caught my fancy.

48. “Push the Feeling On” – The Nightcrawlers (1995)
One of the popular dance tunes that you loved but couldn’t freaking find / remember because the lyrics are all funked up! LOL

49. “Beautiful Life” – Ace of Base (1995)
This song was everywhere. Like pretty much all AoB songs…

50. “Gangster’s Paradise” – Coolio (1995)
Lead single to the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack, casting the talented and gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer.

51. “I Got 5 on it” – Luniz (1995)
I was in 5th grade and all the guys would love to show off how ‘cool’ they were by listening to this song… LOL!

52. “Be My Lover” – La Bouche (1995)
CLASSIC amazingness all around!

53. “One Man in My Heart” – The Human League (1995)
Although better known for earlier tracks like “Human” and “Fascination,” this is their song I distinctly connect to living there.

54. “The Bomb” – The Bucketheads (1995)
I was obsessed with this fun, summery tune…

55. “Fantasy” – Mariah Carey (1995)
Still one of my favorite songs of hers!

56. “California Love” – 2pac (1995)
My first intro to 2pac; plus this song release was timely and made me all the more excited to finally see California.

57. “Fugeela” – The Fugees (1996)
If I remember correctly my sister had bought this tape (haha!) and this was my fav song on it. Also distinctly recall being in Germany and hanging out with our cousin while this was playing.

58. “Je Vous Aime Adieu” – Hélène Ségara (1996)
I got into this French (Italian / Armenian) singer’s music shortly before we left the country. Titled “I Love You, Goodbye”, this hit song is about 2 people who can’t be together.

59. “Return of the Mack” – Mark Morrison (1996)
Hit song!

60. “Fastlove” – George Michael (1996)
I pretty much remember this as one of the last songs before we left. I always thought he was hot, plus his songs were highly danceable!

 

Whew, what a list!!

I was also a fan of classical music but I couldn’t name symphonies that I enjoyed then off the top of my head. According to my dad I was also a very young fan of Paganini but I have zero recollection of that—but I’m pleased to say I’ve rectified that! For different reasons the list doesn’t include any potential French oldies… but that just might have to be another post. 🙂 ❤

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