Monday, August 30, 2010

Chanteuses Françaises: France Gall

France Gall was born in 1947 to a musical family - her mother was a singer and her father wrote songs for Edith Piaf, among others. She learned to play the piano and the guitar as a child. She released her first record "Ne sois pas si bête" ("Don't Be So Stupid") at 15. For her second single she teamed up with songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (who seems to be responsible for pretty much most French pop from the late 50s to the 80s - he's like the French Simon Cowell). "N'écoute pas les idoles" ("Don't listen to the idols") reached the top of the French charts in March 1964 and stayed there for three weeks.

Also in 1964 France released "Laisse Tomber Les Filles" ("Stop Messing The Girls Around"), another Gainsbourg composition. The song addresses a ladykiller, and is basically saying "what goes around comes around", telling the boy in question to stop breaking girls' hearts, because he'll be the one alone in the end, "leave the girls alone; one day it's you who'll be crying". It's a surprisingly dark song from an era of upbeat teenage pop, but its empowering message has ensured its enduring popularity. April March's English language version was used on the credits for Tarantino's Deathproof.

In 1965, Gall was selected to represent neighbouring Luxembourg at the Eurovision song contest in Naples, Italy. (She took a lot of flak for it from the French media, who accused her of deserting her homeland.) Of the ten song proposals, she chose the Gainsbourg composition "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" ("Wax Doll, Singing Doll"). It was the first song to win Eurovision that was not a ballad. Serge Gainsbourg described the wordplaying lyrics as being about the fact that "The songs young people turn to for help in their first attempts at discovering what life and love are about, are sung by people too young and inexperienced to be of much help and condemned by their celebrity to find out."

She won the contest convincingly (beating Britain’s Kathy Kirby into second place) and enjoyed a major international success, recording versions in German, Italian and Japanese. The song spawned a host of covers throughout Europe, including one by Twinkle in the UK, Karina in Spain and Portugal, Ritva Palukka in Finland and Denmark’s Gitte in Sweden.

She followed up with further Gainsbourg compositions, and "Attends ou va-t’en", "Nous ne sommes pas des anges" and "L’Amérique" were all hits.

1966 began well for Gall, as she scored another success with Gainsbourg’s "Baby pop" (which also became the title track of her fourth album), but the next single caused a huge scandal. Gainsbourg was well known for the erotic subtexts of his songs, and his composition "Les Sucettes", ostensibly a song about a girl who liked lollipops, was full of double entendre and innuendo that was clear to everyone – except the naïve, 18-year-old Gall. She was mortified when she realised the true meaning of the lyrics, feeling used by Gainsbourg, and went into hiding for weeks. Her career suffered a decline as a result of the scandal.

The turning point came when, in 1973, she met Michael Berger and decided she wanted to work with him. They collaborated in 1974 on "La Déclaration d'amour", which was to be the first in a long line of hits. The pair ended up marrying in June 1976, and continued to work together until Berger's sudden death of a heart attack in 1992. Although she was deeply affected by her husband's death, Gall was determined to perform the concerts they had planned together to promote their joint album, "Double Jeu".

Gall now lives privately in LA, making only rare public appearances. She is a patron for French charity Coeurs de Femmes, a group helping homeless women.

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