This article was first published on CLUAS in Jan 2006
French Letter: Gainsbourg & Hallyday
Johnny Hallyday & Serge Gainsbourg back in the news? Aidan's on the case...
Two of France's biggest rock icons
are experiencing contrasting fortunes at the moment.
Johnny Hallyday, that glorified Elvis impersonator you may have seen in your French schoolbooks, is suffering a sustained public backlash from even his most dedicated fans.
You see, France's number one rock star wants to become a Belgian.
The news of his citizenship application has caused ructions here. Despite his family ties to Belgium (his father was Belgian), most commentators have pointed to its more generous tax system, noted Hallyday's lucrative new record deal, and have (like Johnny's accountant, no doubt) put two and two together.
The French media, sensing weakness, are tirelessly probing his private life, especially rape allegations which were recently thrown out of court. Meanwhile, his PR team is relentlessly pushing his family - especially recently-adopted Asian baby daughter - into the spotlight in a mad scramble for positive publicity. His die-hard fans are simply upset that their idol, the self-styled rocker-of-the-people they made into a star, is upping sticks to a country traditionally the butt of French jokes. Tough times indeed for poor old Johnny.
The late Serge Gainsbourg, by contrast, is about to enjoy renewed exposure and acclaim in the English-speaking pop world with the release on 27 February of 'Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited', a tribute album to mark the 15th anniversary of the death of a true French pop/rock genius. A star-studded, eclectic and ultra-hip line-up includes Franz Ferdinand, Portishead, Michael Stipe, Tricky, Jarvis Cocker and Marianne Faithfull, all singing English-language versions of his songs. With such marquee names on board, the project is sure to generate huge interest in the man and his work.
A cross between Sean Connery and Shane McGowan, Gainsbourg combined arrogant sophistication, artistic sensitivity and boorish decadence. During his creative peak in the late '60s his singles rivalled Lennon & McCartney and Bacharach & David for innovation and ambition. Enthralled by Latino rhythms, American pop culture and British aristocratic sang-froid, his work is nonetheless unmistakeably French, fun and fantastic.
Serge Gainsbourg - essential listening...
'Comic Strip' (compilation, 1996)
The best of his recordings from 1966 to 1969 - 20 electrifying tracks whose
legacy (crafted arrangements, tense mood swings, playful eclecticism) can be
heard in The Divine Comedy,
others. Recorded in Swinging London, drenched in symphonic strings and sexual
innuendo, sampled and imitated ever since - unquestionably one of the most
influential bodies of work in modern music.
'L'Histoire de Melody Nelson' (1971)
His greatest album - a melancholic yet sexy mix of soulful basslines, lush
orchestrations and more sound effects from Ms Birkin. Need we say that it's
about a middle-aged man's affair with an underage English girl? Dodgy concept,
'Love On The Beat' (1984)
Okay, admittedly this isn't classic Gainsbourg (or even classic anybody else)
but as '80s synth-rock is probably going to come back into fashion later this
year, why not start here? This New York-recorded album is famous for its iconic
cover photograph by William Klein (currently the subject of a retrospective at
the Centre Pompidou in Paris).
'Aux Armes Et Cetera' (1979)
Gainsbourg's reggae album, recorded in Kingston with
& Robbie as producers and Jamaican backing vocalists singing French
lyrics. It sounds like a bad idea, but in fact it works fantastically
with Gainsbourg's drawling voice and sleazy persona.
Johnny Hallyday - essential listening...
You must be joking.