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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Exploding the French Myth

Let's Meet Serge Gainsbourg!

An Appreciation by
Joe Batutus

Mr. Batutis hosts
the Serge Gainsbourg website at
http://home.dti.net/
enoklite/serge/

Serge Gainsbourg is everything you'd want from a French rock star; audacious, decadent, a real poseur who was genre hopping long before it came into vogue. In his 63 hard-lived years, he tried it all: jazz, reggae, bossa nova, twist, new wave and punk. He acted, directed and scored films. He's like Henry Mancini, Keith Richards and the Marquis de Sade, all wrapped up in a disheveled package.

He was born Lucien Ginzberg, the son of Russian Jews on April 2, 1928. He studied art and wanted to be a painter before succumbing to the lures of the Parisian cabaret circuit. He was initially interested only in composing and producing, thinking that his homely appearance wouldn't sell.

He recorded his first album at 30. But his initial recordings did not sell very well. He tried his hand at many styles of music, but never really hit his stride until he created his own form of decadent pop music.

The first recordings that really made waves were songs that had the ferocity of American rock, without merely aping them. These songs, including Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde, made a huge impact in France.

It was 1966 and Gainsbourg became famous in his homeland. But his fame (and infamy) would soon spread across Europe and even make a dent here in the States with a tune called Je t'aime... moi non plus.  He originally recorded the song with Bridget Bardot in 1967. It featured what were to become Serge's trademarks: lush strings, a languid beat, and whispered vocals. It also featured Bridget moaning in such a provocative way that many people assumed that Serge and Bridget were recorded while in the throes of passion.

Despite Bridget's reputation as an international sex kitten, she refused to allow the record's release (until recently), so Serge recorded a version with his new lover, Jane Birkin.

The song was a huge success, selling well despite the fact that it was banned from the radio in many countries. It spawned a mini-genre of moaning records and made an impression here in the states, climbing to number 69 on the American charts.

The hits continued and Serge continued to shock all the way to the end of his life, recording songs like Rock Around the Bunker, Lemon Incest (with his daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg) and even appearing in drag on one of his last albums.

Until recently his recordings were only available here in the states as expensive imports. But now there are three great compilations that are available here.

Du Jazz dans le Ravin covers Serge's early work with jazz between 1958 and 1964. Serge had great jazz chops and a good sense of harmony from working all those years in cabarets. This is jazz in the cool vein.

If you enjoy Latin flavored tunes, you will enjoy Couleur Café. This features everything from cha cha to mambo. Both of these CDs will appeal to fans of lounge music, but if seventies sleaze is more to your liking, try Comic Strip.

Comic Strip features the song that still makes me blush when I hear it: Je t'aime... moi non plus along with many more heavy breathing favorites.

If these compilations don't quench your thirst for all things Serge, there are other compilations of his available as imports. For the Serge completist, there is an eleven-CD Serge box-set available  Like any great artist, Serge Gainsbourg continues to fascinate because he was so multifaceted. If you like jazz, Latin, reggae, funk, new wave or rock, there is some Serge out there that you should try!

 

 

 


 



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