Serge Gainsbourg


April 2, 1928 – March 2, 1991

Gainsbourg was born Lucien Ginsburg in Paris, France, the son of Russian Jewish parents who fled to France after the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. His childhood was profoundly affected by the occupation of France by Nazi Germany. Before he was 30 years old, Gainsbourg was a disillusioned painter but earned his living as a piano player in bars. His early songs were influenced by Boris Vian. Already in the fifties, Gainsbourg began to move on and experiment with jazz, African music and blues. A long time without real success also because Gainsbourg wasn’t really fond of performing live. Singers Julliette Greco and Zizi Jeammaire helped the songwriter by recording his songs and putting him on the map. At the end of the fifties Gainsbourg also started to act in movies where he met Brigitte Bardot on the set of ‘Voulez-vous danser avec moi?’. The two would become long lasting friends.

In 1965, his song 'Poupée de cire, poupée de son' was the Luxembourg entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. Performed by French teen singer France Gall, it won first prize. His next song for Gall, 'Les sucettes' ('Lollipops'), caused a scandal in France: Whereas Gall thought that the song was about a girl enjoying lollipops, it was really about oral sex. The scandal also meant that request for songs went down. It was Bardot who helped Gainsbourg to his career back on track by working with him for her 1968 TV show. Songs like ‘Contact’, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ and ‘Harley Davidson’ were featured in the show. They also recorded a song called ‘Je t'aime... moi non plus’ but the song would not be released in the Bardot version until many years later. In 1969 Gainsbourg met his muse, the beautiful young girl from England, Jane Birkin. Together they recorded the song for the album ‘Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg’. Although many European countries and the Vatican put a ban on the song as being offensive it was a huge hit. The album was followed by 'Histoire de Melody Nelson'. This concept album tells the story of a Lolita-esque affair, with Gainsbourg as the narrator and Jane Birkin as the eponymous English heroine.

Throughout the seventies Gainsbourg stayed on releasing daring and provocative records like 'Rock around the bunker' (about the Nazism), ‘L'Homme à tête de chou’ and ‘Aux Armes et cetera’, a reggae album recorded in Jamaica in 1978. The latter featured a reggae version of the French national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’ which earned him death threats from right-wing veterans of the Algerian War of Independence. Shortly afterward, Gainsbourg bought the original manuscript of ‘La Marseillaise’.

After a 13 year relationship, Jane Birkin left Gainsbourg in 1981. At this time Gainsbourg’s public behaviour became more and more obnoxious. He would show up drunk and unshaven on stage. On Michel Drucker's live Saturday evening show with the American singer Whitney Houston, he exclaimed to the host "I want to fuck her." During the mid eighties he released 'Love on the beat', a controversial electronic album with highly sexual themes in the lyrics, and his last studio album, 'You're under arrest', which saw him adapt his style to the hip-hop genre, as well as two live recordings. His third and last Eurovision Song Contest entry came in 1990 with the French entry 'White and Black Blues' sung by Joëlle Ursull. It came second in a tie with Ireland. On march 2, 1991 Gainsbourg died of a heart attack. He was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

On the web:

- Serge´s website: http://sergegainsbourg.artistes.universalmusic.fr
Biography : http://www.rfimusique.com/siteen/biographie/biographie_6305.asp

If you like this, you probably like... / european counterparts:

Benjamin Biolay (France)

What do we think:


DB: Gainsbourg is an institute for European pop. His music could not originate on another contignent let alone in another country. Wicked, naughty and an enfant terrible throughout his career Gainsbourg gave a fresh impulse to French chanson at the end of the sixties.

Recommended albums:

♪♪♪ - L'étonnant Serge Gainsbourg - 1961

♪♪♪ - Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot: Bonnie & Clyde - 1967

♪♪ - Initials B.B. - 1968

♪♪♪♪ - Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg - 1969

♪♪♪♪♪ - Histoire de Melody Nelson - 1971

♪♪ - L'homme à tête de chou - 1976

♪♪♪♪- Aux armes et cætera - 1979

♪♪♪ - Love On The Beat -1984

Further listening: 1958: Du chant à la une ; 1959: Disque N°2 ; 1962: Disque N°4
1963: Gainsbourg Confidentiel ; 1964: Gainsbourg Percussions ; 1967: Anna
1968: Ce Sacré Grand-Père; 1970: Cannabis (OST) ;1974: Vu de l'extérieur
1975: Rock Around the Bunker;1980: Enregistrement public au Théâtre Le Palace ; 1981: Mauvaises nouvelles des étoile;1985: Serge Gainsbourg live (Casino de Paris); 1987: You're under arrest ; 1988: Le Zénith de Gainsbourg

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided