The Second-Biggest French Song Of All Time? The Chicken Dance

The Second-Biggest French Song Of All Time? The Chicken Dance

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Three French hens ...

You know "The Chicken Dance" as a ridiculous novelty tune, something to play at family functions in which grinding is inappropriate but where you want everyone getting up and dancing anyway. The song began in Switzerland back in the '50s. An accordionist named Werner Thomas owned hundreds of ducks and geese, who'd run up to meet him whenever he approached. They inspired a tune that he called "Der Ententanz," the duck dance.

It was called a dance, but it took another decade for him to make it one. The '60s brought all kinds of gimmick dances, so when Thomas played the song at hotels, he'd shout out simple steps to people. The story gets very Swiss from here. One of these places he was playing happened to be a ski resort and while he played the tune, he looked out on skiers coming down the slopes, with their skis turning inward and out. He used those movements (along with, of course, the flapping of actual birds) to write new steps. The first guests who tried it wound up with severely sore legs and butts the next day.

Thomas didn't record the song professionally and didn't copyright it. It spread from person to person as a drinking song. Then in the '70s, a Belgian company added lyrics and therefore secured the rights to the song. In 1980, a Dutch band recorded it, and this version spread around the world. Then various countries got their own versions, in their own languages or with new lyrics altogether.

For no particular reason that we determine, France is the country that liked the song best. Their version came out in 1981 and was recorded by J.J. Lionel, who died last year. It's the second-bestselling song of all time in France, handily beating out runners-up "Belle" (from a French Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, unconnected with the Disney one) and "Candle in the Wind 1997."

The French version is called "La Danse des Canards." Like many countries, France considers it a duck dance. Which makes sense. Duck quacks go perfectly with the clapping parts, while no one can quite agree what chicken sounds you're supposed to make during a chicken dance.

Now, all this talk about the second-bestselling song in French history prompts an obvious question: What's THE bestselling song in French history? That would be "Petit Papa Noël'' by Tino Rossi, a Christmas song from 1946. France is similar to the wider world in that way. The bestselling song of all time worldwide is Bing Crosby's 1942 Christmas song "White Christmas." 

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