C'est La Vie

Album: Robbie Nevil (1986)
Charted: 3 2


  • Before he landed a recording contract in 1986, Robbie Nevil worked as a songwriter for MCA Records, where he wrote the tune "C'est La Vie" with Mark Holding and Duncan Pain. The R&B/dance-pop track would become the lead single from Nevil's debut album and his highest-charting solo hit, but it was first recorded a year earlier by gospel singer Beau Williams for the album Bodacious!
  • In a Songfacts interview, Nevil admitted that he fought against the song as his debut single. "I had the song for three years, and I didn't consider it one of my newer things," he said. "I just didn't know how that song would be taken. You know, you get too close to it. I felt that wasn't the right first single. There were a few people at the label, particularly [executive producer] Steve Reed, who said, 'If you don't go with this, you're an absolute fool.' Not that he forced it, but he was just so passionate and compelling and felt so strong. And he was right."

    Aside from the execs at the record label, the song had another big supporter: Nevil's 96-year-old grandma. "Now, I don't know that that affected the record company whatsoever [laughing], but it is true that she actually did say, 'That's the one you should go with,'" Nevil said.
  • Nevil originally had Kool & the Gang in mind when he co-wrote the track, which led to the bouncy, eighth-note feel. After that, the song came together almost effortlessly. He told Songfacts: "My friend started singing the sax line on top, and before you know it, we've started singing 'C'est La Vie.' I don't even remember how it happened. It was one of those things where it just literally came together so fast. We sat down to write the lyric, and we're all three laying on the carpet, sitting around. As we're writing the verses, we were laughing. It really was effortless: 'Oh, how about this, maybe make it JJ?'"
  • "C'est la vie" is a French expression that translates to "it is the life" or "that's life." The song tells us that life will always try to bring us down, but we don't have to choose to stay low:

    When you're down there's just one way to go
    And that's singin'
    C'est la vie, c'est la vie
    That's just the way it goes
  • After Nevil sings the line, "That's just the way it goes," a group vocal retort of "That's life!" (the French translation of the title) comes in. That vocal was processed with lots of gated reverb, so many listeners heard it as "That's right!"
  • The music video, directed by Peter Care, finds Nevil and his band performing at a construction site and dancing in a pastel bedroom alongside a group of models. If Nevil seems like the shy, sensitive type, that's exactly what he wants you to think. In reality, it was a persona he created for his second single, "Dominoes," which he'd hoped would be his first single. He explained: "When we did the video for 'C'est La Vie,' that was the personality that I had in mind for 'Dominoes.' Some people would be like, 'It seems so low-key and you seem so shy and introspective.' It was me bringing the character from 'Dominoes' into the 'C'est La Vie' video. It was just my own perception of it. That way I felt that I found the happy medium of putting out a single I didn't think was right."
  • Frank Sinatra hit the charts with "That's Life" almost exactly 20 years before this peaked at #1 on the dance chart.
  • Nevil's version was used on the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris in the 2008 episode "Everybody Hates Cake." It was also featured in the 2008 Mike Myers comedy The Love Guru.
  • The album was produced by Alex Sadkin and Phil Thornalley. In a Songfacts interview, Thornalley (who produced The Cure's 1982 Pornography album) remembers pushing Nevil hard to get a hit-worthy performance. "I think we gave Robbie a really hard time because it probably took six months to make the record," he said. "We had some laughs, but it took such a long time. But thankfully because 'C'est La Vie' was a worldwide smash, people are still talking about it twenty years later, thirty years later, so any bad experiences are forgotten."

    Thornalley added: "We gave him a hard time with his singing and made him do lots and lots of takes and then come in the next day and do lots and lots of takes. But that's because we're just trying to make the record as good as it could be."

Comments: 2

  • Roger Howard from Parker Colorado Who is the latino backup singer in the video C'est la Vie ?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 20, 1986, Robbie Nevil performed "C'est La Vie" on Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #8 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, fours weeks later it would peak at #2* {for 2 weeks} and it spent almost a half-year on the Top 100 {23 weeks}...
    It reached #3 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    Between 1986 and 1991 he had seven records on the Top 100 chart, two made the Top 10, besides "C'est La Vie", his other Top 10 record was "Wot's It To Ya", it peaked at #10 {for 2 weeks} on July 26th, 1987...
    Robbie Nevil, born Robert S. Nevil, celebrated his 59th birthday two months ago on October 2nd {2017}...
    * The two records that kept "C'est La Vie" out of the top spot were "Shake You Down" by Gregory Abbott and "At This Moment" by Billy Vera and the Beaters...
    And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, in 1964 Chuck Berry released his version of "C'est La Vie" as "You Never Can Tell", it reached #14 on both the Top 100 and R&B Singles charts.
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