Si j’avais un char (in English, the title translates as If I Had a Car) is most familiar to fans as a cut from Stephen Faulkner’s 1978 debut solo album, “Cassonade” (Parapluie, PAR-11801), produced by Faulkner, Gaby Boucher and Yves Ladouceur. The lesser-known 45-rpm single (PAR-1101) had Mon grand cheval noir d’amour as the B side.
Featuring the country twang of slide guitar and co-composer Sylvie Choquette singing back-up vocals, Si j’avais un char continues the Quebec 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 also made the list of longest-charting hits in Quebec.
“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 The Gazette in 1994. The lyrics to Si j’avais un char are indeed meaningful; they paint a character that audiences easily identify with. A young man, flat broke, yearns for the freedom of having wheels but, he is hard-up for cash and feels like his dream is unattainable.
In addition to its place on his “Cassonade” album, Faulkner included Si j’avais un char on “Capturé vivant” (along with another Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, Mille après Mille), recorded live at Montreal’s Cabaret Music Hall in 2002, and on the familiarly-titled double album “Si j’avais un char.”
Si j’avais un char has achieved status as a “car song”; as such it was one of several car songs in the Quebec Musée de la civilisation’s “Auto Portrait” exhibit in 1993. The song’s 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).
A classic among Quebec country-western songs, 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. It is also a popular karaoke choice.
Singer-songwriter Stephen Faulkner (1954 ‒) was born in Montreal. His music career began when he recorded and toured with Plume Latraverse in the early 1970s. 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” (1993); and songwriter of the year (2001).
Sylvie Choquette was born in Montréal and began her artistic career alongside Plume and Cassonade (Stephen Faulkner) at the end of the ’70s. Later, she co-wrote a few songs with Faulkner, including the popular Si j’avais un char. Throughout her years on Québec’s music scene, she has worked as a backing vocalist, solo singer, bass player and actress. She put an end to her music career in 1996 and has since participated in only a handful of recordings for Dance Plant Record and contributed to two shows during the Montréal Jazz Fest.