Tell composed the melody and lyrics for Si jétais un homme while driving from Montreal to her home in New York City. Some weeks later she sang it for the first time in public, at the Spa competition; the song was well-received but she was nevertheless eliminated. Then, on her return to Montreal, she was invited to appear on television performing a song of her choice – which was the still-unrecorded Si jétais un homme. The audience response to the new song was so great that Tell recorded it promptly.
The recording, arranged by Carl Marsh and produced by Allan Katz, was released in 1980 on the Disques Pleiade (Polydor) label as a 45-rpm single (2065-442), with Tell’s Marie-Jeanne, Claire et Sophie on the reverse. By March 1981 it made it to the No. 2 spot on the francophone pop charts. Tell naturally included the song on her next album, “En Flèche,” (Polydor 2424 217), which rocketed to No. 1 in November 1980. By 1981, the album had sold over 100,000 copies, and Si jétais was released in sheet music form. Tell flew to Paris to promote Éditions Barclay’s European release (Disc’ AZ 1/814), which had Je suis en amour on the reverse. The European version of the album proclaimed “Diane Tell: Si jétais un homme” on the cover.
A sophisticated ballad, Si jétais un homme bemoans the lack of big romantic gestures in relationships. A wistful piano intro sets the mood, and the singer offers a metaphor about wishing she could be captain of her own ship. She longs to be extravagant in expressing her feelings, but feels it’s not proper, that she must be more guarded. In a regretful chorus, she sings, “But I’m a woman and, when you’re a woman, you don’t say/do/buy such things,” concluding with, “Ah, if I were a man, I would be romantic!”
Si jétais un homme led directly to four Félix awards for Tell in 1981: best song, best album, best female artist, and, for the second year in a row, best singer-songwriter. A 1982 MIDEM award (France) for best female artist followed.
Tell has included her most famous song on later albums: “Collection Or” (1992), “Morceaux choisis” (1993), “Tout de Diane Tell” (2003), and “Une” (2013), the latter in a vocal-with-guitar arrangement. The song has also brought success to jazz singer Emilie-Claire Barlow, who sang it for her 2015 ADISQ-nominated album. It has been recorded by Carol Welsman, and by the legendary Jean-Pierre Ferland on “Chansons jalouses” (with a few necessary lyric changes), and it has been sung on the “Star Académie” show. Francesco Garcia recorded an instrumental version on “Vive La France: 15 Famous Guitar Hits of France.”
Si jétais un homme also features on such compilation albums as “Souvenirs garantis,” “Les plus belles chansons du Québec,” Radio-Canada’s “75 ans, 75 chansons,” and “Mes souvenirs jeunesses.” It was used in the film “Chouchou,” and students study the lyrics in school.
Tell recognizes the irony of Si jétais un homme’s success: “It was eliminated from the [Spa] competition…but what an extraordinary about-face in becoming, of all the songs in my repertoire, the song the most played, covered, and sold, and always appreciated by the public.”
Singer-songwriter Diane Tell has enjoyed success in Quebec and Europe. Born Diane Fortin in Quebec in 1957, she was raised in Val d’Or before moving to Montreal, where she studied classical and jazz guitar and violin. She began her career in 1974 singing in Montreal bars, released her first album in 1977, and had a hit with Gilberto, for which she won two Félix awards. She moved to France in the early 1980s. Several of her songs have earned SOCAN Classic awards.