Tangents vol. 29 — Serge Gainsbourg

Artist Biography by Jason Ankeny

Serge Gainsbourg was the dirty old man of popular music; a French singer/songwriter and provocateur notorious for his voracious appetite for alcohol, cigarettes, and women, his scandalous, taboo-shattering output made him a legend in Europe but only a cult figure in America, where his lone hit “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus” stalled on the pop charts — fittingly enough — at number 69.

Born Lucien Ginzberg in Paris on April 2, 1928, his parents were Russian Jews who fled to France following the events of the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. After studying art and teaching, he turned to painting before working as a bar pianist on the local cabaret circuit. Soon he was tapped to join the cast of the musical Milord L’Arsoille, where he reluctantly assumed a singing role; self-conscious about his rather homely appearance, Gainsbourg initially wanted only to carve out a niche as a composer and producer, not as a performer.

Still, he made his recording debut in 1958 with the album Du Chant a la Une; while strong efforts like 1961’s L’Etonnant Serge Gainsbourg and 1964’s Gainsbourg Confidentielfollowed, his jazz-inflected solo work performed poorly on the charts, although compositions for vocalists ranging fromPetula Clark to Juliette Greco to Dionne Warwick proved much more successful. In the late ’60s, he befriended the actress Brigitte Bardot, and later became her lover; withBardot as his muse, Gainsbourg’s lushly arranged music suddenly became erotic and delirious, and together, they performed a series of duets — including “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Harley Davidson,” and “Comic Strip” — celebrating pop culture icons.

Gainsbourg’s affair with Bardot was brief, but its effects were irrevocable: after he became involved with constant companion Jane Birkin, they recorded the 1969 duet “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus,” a song he originally penned for Bardot complete with steamy lyrics and explicit heavy breathing. Although banned in many corners of the globe, it reached the top of the charts throughout Europe, and grew in stature to become an underground classic later covered by performers ranging from Donna Summer toRay Conniff.

Gainsbourg returned in 1971 with Histoire de Melody Nelson, a dark, complex song cycle which signalled his increasing alienation from modern culture: drugs, disease, suicide and misanthropy became thematic fixtures of his work, which grew more esoteric, inflammatory, and outrageous with each passing release. Although Gainsbourgnever again reached the commercial success of his late-’60s peak, he remained an imposing and controversial figure throughout Europe, where he was both vilified and celebrated for his shocking behavior, which included burning 500 francs on a live television broadcast and recording a reggae version of the sacred “La Marseillaise.”

Gainsbourg also created a furor with the single “Lemon Incest,” a duet with his daughter, the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. In addition, he posed in drag for the cover of 1984’s Love on the Beat, a collection of songs about male hustlers, and made sexual advances towards Whitney Houston on a live TV broadcast. Along with his pop music oeuvre, Gainsbourg scored a number of films, and also directed and appeared in a handful of features, most notably 1976’s Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus, which starred Birkin andAndy Warhol mainstay Joe Dallesandro. He died on March 2, 1991

4 →4

1986 with his daughter

5 →9

Set up in 1975 as the house band of the Channel One Studios owned by Joseph Hoo Kim, The Revolutionaries with Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, created the new “rockers” style that would change the whole Jamaican sound (from roots reggae to rockers, and be imitated in all other productions. Beside Sly and Robbie, many musicians played in the band:Bertram McLean, Radcliffe “Dougie” Bryan on guitar, Ossie Hibbert, Errol “Tarzan” Nelson, Robert Lyn or Ansel Collins on keyboards, Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, Noel “Scully” Simms on percussion,Tommy McCook, Herman Marquis on saxophone, Bobby Ellis on trumpet and Vin Gordon on trombone.

The band played on numerous dub albums and recorded as a backing band for artists like B.B. Seaton, Black Uhuru, Culture, Prince Alla, Leroy Smart, Gregory Isaacs, John Holt, The Heptones,Mighty Diamonds, I-Roy, Tapper Zukie, Trinity, U Brown, Errol Scorcher, Serge Gainsbourg among others.

5 →14

4.5 →19

sly and robbie as the rythm section

5 →25

5 →30

The song juxtaposes “Libertango”, an Argentine tango classic, written by bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla and first recorded by the composer himself in 1974, against a reggae arrangement and new lyrics penned by Jones herself and Barry Reynolds. Lyrically, it describes the darker side of Parisian nightlife. The song includes spoken parts in French: “Tu cherches quoi ? À rencontrer la mort ? Tu te prends pour qui ? Toi aussi tu détestes la vie…” which translates “What are you looking for? For death? Who do you think you are? You hate life, you too…” Jones also recorded a Spanish languageversion of the track entitled “Esta cara me es conocida”, and an English version with the French passage recited in Portuguese.

Recorded in Nassau, Bahamas, with Sly and Robbie, Wally Badarou, Barry Reynolds, Mikey Chung and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, aka the Compass Point Allstars under Chris Blackwell’s and Alex Sadkin’s direction, “I’ve Seen That Face Before” was released as the second single from Jones’ albumNightclubbing, after “Demolition Man” made no chart impact. It met with a commercial success, reaching Top 20 in no less than five European countries, including number 1 in Belgium, and now counts as one of Jones’ signature tunes. A longer version of the song was released on a 12" single, which is available on the Grand 12-Inches 7 CD compilation, compiled by Ben Liebrand, and also Movie Klub 80: Episode 3 compilation CD (4 Ever Music/Warner Music Poland).[1]

The song was featured in key moments of the 1988 thriller movie Frantic, set in Paris, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Harrison Ford. The track however did not make it onto the film’s accompanying soundtrack album. It also features in Raw Deal.

“I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)” has been described as “one of the highlights of Nightclubbing” and “one of the highlights of Jones’ musical career”.[2]

4 →34

he considers this his best album

7 →41

Contemporary version of tango

5 →46

verve remixed of sarah vaughn

5 →51

Mood indigo — duke ellington

5 →56

1959

3 →59

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.