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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
recently his recordings were only available here in the states as
expensive imports. But now there are three great compilations that
are available here.
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
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.
Strip features the song that still makes me blush when I hear
it: Je t'aime... moi non plus along with many more heavy
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!