Born in Toulon, Becaud learned to play the piano at a young age, and then went to the Conservatoire de Nice. In 1942, he left school to join the French Resistance during World War 2. He began songwriting in 1948, after meeting Maurice Vidalin, who inspired him to write his early compositions. He began writing for Marie Bizet; Bizet, Becaud and Vidalin became an extremely successful trio, and their partnership lasted until 1950.
While touring with Jacques Pills as a pianist, Becaud met Edith Piaf, whom he soon married. He began singing at his wife's suggestion in 1953, with "Mes mains" and "Les croix". His first performance came the year after, and by 1955 he had earned his reputation as the most electrifying performer on the French scene. His hits in the later part of the decade included "La corrida" (1956), "Le jour où la pluie viendra" (1957) and "C'est merveilleux l'amour" (1958).
His first hit in the English-speaking world was Jane Morgan's translation of "Le jour où la pluie viendra" from 1958. He began acting in the same period, starting with 1956's Le Pays D'où Je Viens. In 1960, he won a Grand Prix du Disque and composed "L'enfant á l'étoile", a Christmas cantata. That same year, "Let It Be Me", a translation of "Je t'appartiens", became a hit for the Everly Brothers, followed, over the years, by Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Jerry Butler and James Brown.
In 1961, Becaud recorded "Et maintenant", one of the biggest singles in French history. Translated as "What Now My Love", the song became a hit by Shirley Bassey, Sonny & Cher, Elvis Presley, Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra. After writing the opera Lopéra d'Aran, Becaud toured Europe and continued recording a string of pop hits, including the controversial "Tu le regretteras".
Focusing more on touring than recording into the 1970s, Becaud did some acting work and finally took time off in 1973, citing exhaustion. In 1974, he was named Chevalier in the Legion d'Honneur. Later in the century, he began writing with Pierre Grosz and then Neil Diamond, also writing the Broadway musical Madame Roza with Julian More.