Probably best described as the French version of “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” France Gall’s “Laisse tomber les filles” was written by Serge Gainsbourg and is one 60s French Pop song that has enjoyed a huge revival. It was way back in 1994 when my girlfriend came home from a garage sale and handed me a present: This 45 RPM EP that she got for ¢25!:
I put it on the turntable and immediately couldn’t wait to get on the air at KALX to play it.
A bit of trivia there are actually TWO versions of this EP flying around. I believe this one with the purple box around her name is the original and there is a later version with a green box. I couldn’t find a picture so I’ll have to get back to you.
Here’s the Scopitone:
In terms of covers, April March was the first to jump on the tip back in 1995 with her English language version “Chick Habit.” She also did a French version as well. March’s version was used in the closing credits of Tarantino’s Death Proof and in the film But I’m A Cheerleader.
There’s been a bunch of covers and lip synch vids on YouTube! Let me know if I missed one:
Here’s a Scopitone of Johnny singing a song from his first 45RPM. The song is “Laisse les filles.” Hard to say exactly when this Scopi was made but from the looks of it rather close to the records March 1960 release date.
Burning money and revealing one’s carnal desires for Whitney Houston on live TV are definitely the acts of a provocateur. But let’s not forget about the music, man. In honor of Serge’s birthday (April 2) and shameless promotion of our dance party tomorrow night in San Francisco, Bardot A Go Go presents the dirt on the dirt!
#4 – Les sucettes
Though he did record this song himself it was originally written for teen pop star France Gall. Unfortunately for Gall, the oral fixation innuendo of the lyrics in a song about lollipops was lost on her. People love to talk about this song and the scandal and there is a lot of myth around Gall’s reaction. While the innuendo is there, it’s not very overt unless you got a dirty one-track mind to begin with. While it did cause Gall some trauma it earned him brownie points of naughtiness. Every Frenchy knows this story.
Years later, Serge said of Gall – “it was France Gall who saved my life,” because until she sang his songs, “when it came to young people I was totally out. Suddenly I existed.” Otherwise he might have mired away in the traditional chanson style and Beck would never have had anything to sample.
Here’s an excellent YouTube video on the controversary with English subtitles!
#3 – Je t’aime…moi non plus
The song he is most famous for, Je t’aime…moi non plus was originally written and recorded for Brigitte Bardot in 1968. It was considered too scandalous for her and that version went into the vaults and didn’t resurface until 1986.
Enter Jane Birkin.
She recorded the song with Serge a year later and it became a top hit around the world while also simultaneously being banned everywhere. What makes it so naughty? It’s basically a simulated recording of two people having sex complete with the female sighs of climax. In 1969 this was a big deal. It was not only the first French pop song to become #1 on the British charts but also the first foreign song to do so. Though since it was banned the #1 spot was left empty. It spent 34 weeks on the charts.
Though the sounds of sex are what it’s known for, the lyrics are equally provocative:
je vais et je viens
entre tes reins
I come and go
between your kidneys
Jane Birkin loves to tell of getting into an English Taxi cab years after the song was recorded and having the cabby confess that all his children were conceived to that song.
The song might be the most covered French song with Donna Summer, Cibo Matto, and Malcolm McClaren among the many who recorded versions of it. There used to be a website dedicated to that, but I couldn’t find it. (Let me know if you do!)
With a funky bass line and tune sampled from a Chopin Étude, the title, as Wikipedia tells us, is a French play on words with the chorus: “Un zeste de citron” (“A lemon zest”) and “Inceste de citron”(“lemon incest”). The song is a duet with is 13 year old daugher Charlotte and the video below clearly shows the controversy. Serge, Jane and Charlotte all declare that the song is a fantasy and was not based on any reality at all. It’s just another in a long line of provocations in the life of a provocateur extraordinaire. As Serge pointed out the key words in the song are The love that we will never make together” / l’amour que nous n’f'rons jamais ensemble.
“As for paedophilia in general, he couldn’t understand the attraction, he said; little girls smell of piss on one side and shit on the other.” – from the book Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes.
The song went to #2 on the French charts.
#1 – Aux armes et cætera
The song that tops our list is the song he was almost killed over.
Always looking for the new, current, hip sound of the day for his songs Serge turned to reggae and travelled to Jamaica to get his roots on. While culturally limited types scoff at Serge’s “freggae” albums, it’s important to note that the musicians on it are 100% legit: Sly and Robbie and The I Threes featuring Rita Marley. The story goes that when he got to the studio and was talking to the musicians they didn’t know any French music and they had no idea who he was. The only song that Sly Dunbar knew was a song called Je t’aime…moi non plus. “That’s me!” Serge exclaimed and the rest of the week long session was enjoyed by all.
This time the scandal wasn’t the album’s sexual explicitness or excremental language or a song entirely comprised of fart sounds as lyrics (based on his book Evguenie Sokolov about a man whose whole life is one flatulent outburst after another). It was what was seen as an attack on national pride that was the problem. Serge took the Les merailles, French National anthem, and put it to a reggae beat mahn, and instead of the traditional “citizens to arms” chorus:
Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillon
Serge reduced it to a lazy, stoned Aux armes et cætera.
Who did this piss off? Why the French Nationalists of course, equivalent to the current day Tea Baggers. They threatened him with violence, bomb threats and showed up at the Strassbourg concert en masse to protest. They were going to storm the stage out of necessity if he were to start playing it.
“Serge was a hero. Because he stood up against these racists and right-wingers – he who had never made a political statement in his life! The only time I think he voted, it was for (conservative) Giscard D’Estaing, because he thought in a naive way that he would not be tempted into taking a bag of gold under the table because he was such a rich man and an aristocrat.” – Jane Birkin from the book Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes.
When it came time for that song, Serge came out and sang the song alone on stage accapella with no altered lyrics. The nationalists could do nothing but join in. He flipped them the bird at the end. A few years later, Serge got the last laugh. He purchased the original manuscript of the lyrics in auction.
Flipping the bird to the radical right. That’s a great way to end this piece!
There are still a lot of people out there that have no idea what I mean when I say “60s French Pop.” Even Frenchies can be miffed at what I am referring to.
Take my roommates mother for example. (My roommate when I was living in Paris that is.) A woman in her late 50s maybe early 60s who came-up with French singer Carlos when she was searching for examples of what 60s French Pop stars.
So for all you out there that are new to 60s French Pop, this example here is NOT what I mean.
Once upon a time in Paris, I happened to be in town during the summer when the Cinematheque ran their vampire series. I took this opportunity to catch on the big screen several films that a) I would probably never get an opportunity to see on the big screen again and b) see some movies that were missing from my viewing resume. So I finally got to see The Hunger, Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein (great title sequence), and Vampyros Lesbos (that’s right, on the silver screen!)!!! I’m still kicking myself for missing the Jean Rollin double feature!
You may not know this but the horror genre is basically lacking in French fantasy. So I jumped at the chance to catch a film in the series called Spermula. My French isn’t that great and I got lost pretty quickly as to what the hell this movie was about. Something to do with aliens from another planet coming to earth to suck the essential essence from men. Following the narrative didn’t really matter the visuals were nutty, sexy and fantastic. It also had Udo Kier in it and I have a fetish for watching film stock from the late 60s through the 70s.
But the highlight for me was during a party sequence when the camera was panning among the party guests. “Wait, who is that…what the… THAT’S NINO FERRER!” I had to nudge my friend and tell him. Suffice to say that he wasn’t as interested as I was.
Nino Ferrer gave us some great music and is responsible for a song that EVERY FRENCH PERSON KNOWS. They may not know who sang it, or all the words, or what the name of the song is but you start singing the chorus to the 1966 megahit “Le téléfon” and they’ll start singing it with you.
Not only is Nino and his then girlfriend Radiah in the movie, he also has two songs he wrote in it! The hunt was on. I had to have these songs. Many record conventions, internet searches and blank stares from vendors later, I am happy to announce that victory is mine and your’s too! You’ll find the link to the better of the two songs at the bottom of this post. And you’ll definitely be hearing it tonight at Bardot A Go Go.
Here’s a clip from Spermula. You can find the American dubbed version pretty easily but it doesn’t have the clip of Nino at the party. So I’m looking for the French version which is naughtier as well. But this scene has Radiah. I apologize for the use of the word midget.
There are a couple bare bottoms in this clip and it’s so bizarre let’s play it safe and label it NOT SAFE FOR WORK
Did you ever wonder where the magazine Salut les copains! got it’s name? Well from it’s predecessor radio show, that’s where. And the radio show got it’s name from a song by Gilbert Becaud. Salut les copains was first broadcast in 1958 and was the idea of media mogul Daniel Filipacchi who wanted to recreate in France what he saw going on in U.S.A. with the programs like American Bandstand.
I hear you smarty pants, yes 1958 pre-dates Johnny, Françoise and Sheila. Before those vedettes (star, idol) hit the scene the growing youth market swooned over the likes of Gilbert Becaud. Becaud’s famous nickname Monsieur 100,000 volts came from a newspaper headline referring to a concert where he brought the house down. Becaud’s performance during a matinee show at L’Oympia stirred the teenage audience into a frenzy and they tore the place apart. In the ensuing years he would be replaced by Johnny Hallyday and le genération yé-yé.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any video of early Becaud performances. His energy and performance were charismatic and engaging.