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Telephone fused the swagger and energy of hard rock with the urban aggression of punk to emerge as the most admired and influential French band of the post-student revolt era. Their roots lie in Sémolina, an unheralded trio formed in late 1975 by singer/guitarist Jean-Louis Aubert, bassist Daniel Roux, and drummer Richard Kolinka. When their lone WEA single, "Et J'y Vais Déjà," vanished upon its mid-1976 release, Sémolina quickly split; Aubert and Kolinka remained roommates, however, frequently jamming in the cellar of their Paris home.
In late autumn of 1976, Kolinka secured a gig at Paris' American Centre, but when his regular band was unable to commit to the date, he and Aubert recruited Louis Bertignac, a gifted guitarist previously known for supporting singer Jacques Higelin, and bassist Corine Marienneau to assemble a set list comprised of classic rock hits and Aubert's first original compositions. On November 12, Telephone made their debut performance, playing a largely improvised set to a few hundred patrons; loud, snotty, and defiantly primitive, the band effectively reinvigorated French rock in one fell swoop. Though by no means the classic frontman, Aubert nevertheless transcended his limits as a vocalist and guitarist with sheer aggressive energy, becoming the poster boy for a new generation of French rock icons, while Bertignac's raw, electrifying guitar solos evoked antecedents from Keith Richards to Jimmy Page.
After a famously raucous March 1977 appearance at the Paris Metro, Telephone toured in support of British act Eddie & the Hot Rods, followed by a date opening for the seminal American band Television. A June 8th performance at Paris' Bus Palladium yielded Telephone's debut single, "Hygiaphone." Six weeks later, the quartet signed to Pathé-Marconi, teaming with producer Mike Thorne for its self-titled debut LP, issued in November. Telephone supported the album's release with their first headlining tour, culminating in a free show at Paris' Pantin racecourse. With their 1979 sophomore effort, Crache Ton Venin, Telephone rocketed to superstardom — the single "La Bombe Humaine" emerged as a generational anthem, and the album sold in excess of 600,000 copies, capped off by a performance at the annual Fête de l'Humanité in front of an audience of more than 100,000 people. Tours of Italy, Spain, and North America followed, and while in New York, Telephone began work on their third album, 1981's Au Coeur de la Nuit, which generated the smash single "Argent Trop Cher." The quartet returned home in time for the premiere of Telephone Public, a documentary feature directed by Jean-Marie Périer, previously known as the longtime photographer for the pop magazine Salut les Copaines.
With their contractual obligations to Pathé complete, Telephone leveraged their enormous popularity to negotiate a lucrative new deal with Virgin. Highlighted by the single "Ce Soir Est Ce Soir," their fourth album, Dure Limite, hit stores in conjunction with their June 14, 1982, Paris concert in support of the Rolling Stones. During the headlining tour that followed, Bertignac broke his collarbone in a fall, but Telephone still played the majority of dates, culminating in a sold-out three-night stand at the Paris Hippodrome. But creative dissension began to grow, and breakup rumors reached a fever pitch in the wake of 1984's Un Autre Monde, as all four members of Telephone began to pursue solo projects; while Aubert contributed to an Ethiopian benefit LP recorded by the all-star Chanteurs sans Frontiéres, Marienneau wrote music for the Luc Besson film Subway, and Kolinka founded his own label, Kod.
Finally, in April 1986 Aubert announced the band's demise — a subsequent live LP proved a bestseller around the same time he and Kolinka reunited with Sémolina bassist Daniel Roux under the name Aubert 'n' Ko, releasing the funk-inspired album Platre et Ciment in 1987, while Bertignac and Marienneau formed Les Visiteurs. With Kolinka still in tow, Aubert began his solo career in earnest with 1989's Bleu Blanc Vert, while Bertignac launched his post-Visiteurs career with 1993's Tony Visconti-produced Elle et Louis. Only Marienneau left the music business, focusing instead on theater.