Light In The Attic Records again delivers another ace reissue, this time with 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, the recording that first turned me on to all things Serge Gainsbourg. It is understood amongst those who count themselves fans of late ’60s and early ’70s French pop that Melody is unquestionably the artist/provocateurs high-water mark. His career opus. An essential listen, and one that until now has been out of print in the U.S., I envy those unfamiliar with the LP having the opportunity to take in, as a whole, for the first time.
Being that my knowledge of the French language consists of a couple of semesters in college, one misspent week in Paris and bad art-house films, I was – for years – unaware of the running theme throughout Histoire de Melody Nelson. It is, in fact, a concept album, and with a running time of 28 minutes, a short one at that. In short the plot consists of Gainsbourg, or his imagined stand-in, crashing his Rolls Royce into a teenage girl’s bicycle — one Melody Nelson. An illicit romance ensues. I’m sure you can imagine what happens from here on out. Think: Lolita with accidents.
An ambitious affair, the LP is an elegant mix of pop and rock, all orchestrated strings and big arrangements. From the first of its twenty eight minute running time, Melody is all clove cigarettes, late nights, sordid trysts, and most any other French cliché you can think of. It’s all fantastic and it all works.
Related: We are giving away one Serge package to an AD reader. The winner gets both the CD reissue of Histoire de Melody Nelson as well as the deluxe vinyl. Fan? If so, leave your name, a valid email address we can reach you at and your favorite Gainsbourg anecdote. For the record, mine is the one about Whitney Houston (amazing/crazy).
MP3: Serge Gainsbourg :: En Melody
Purchase: Serge Gainsbourg :: Histoire de Melody Nelson
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Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg – Je T’aime Moi Non Plus (1969)
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19 thoughts on “Serge Gainsbourg :: Histoire de Melody Nelson”
Mmm, honestly, the thing I enjoyed learning about Serge most is not really an anecdote, but from the Vanity Fair article a couple years ago. Reading the descriptions of his intensely strict manners and cleanliness at home in opposition to the bawdy reputation his music/persona have gathered was quite a delight.
So glad this is getting the treatment it deserves!
well not exactly about serge but he influenced it. When Iwas in college as a french student I was asking a french study abroad student about serge and she just started to make fun of the fact that I was american, my accent and not knowing about serge gainsbourg. then she started singing sea, sex and fun thinking I didn’t know much frnech because I didn’t know serge. Then I proved my language skills and later that night she showed me just what serge was talking about.
My favorite pop provacateur story is probably the time he had his daughter Charlotte sing a song that played a wordplay pun with the idea of incest (a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_Incest”>Lemon Incest. Never one to shy away from a shock, that man. Love this album.
Its a family website, so all I can mention about my favorite Serge anecdote involves Brigitte Bardot and a champagne bottle.
I’ve got to echo AD’s pick of the Whitney Houston incident. So awesome.
“Sometimes he’s a bit drunk . . .”
Fell in love with Serge three years ago and have been obsessed with him ever since. I recently purchased the 2 DVD set of all Serge Gainsbourg videos, If you are a fan you need this set. Great vids of Serge driving in the country side singing, playing piano in an awsome jazz trio, Serge was great pianist. He was really inovative, from the videos to the Dub recordings. Walked by Serges’ apartment my first time visiting Paris two years ago…awesome. Wish I could have seen him live.
favorite anecdote would be the brigite bardot/ champagne bottle one
One that makes me chuckle a little is on his reggae album Aux armes et caetera, he used Bob Marley’s wife Rita as a background singer, and made her sing “erotic” lyrics…at which Bob was quite upset.
I think my favorite serge anecdote is that the french president honored him when he died. Could you imagine Bush or Obama doing that to someone so explicit. Possibly CLinton, but neither of those two.
with catherine ringer , rita mitsouko
I love the anecdote of when he played Aux armes et caetera (which is a reggae version of the Marseillaise and had already caused a scandal) in front of a group of army officers who didn’t know whether to stand up for the national anthem or sit down in protest and sort of ended up doing both.
I was in Nice, when I was 19 and met a whole mess of american girls going to private school to learn French. We hung out at night and of course they were all obsessed with French guys who I became friendly with. For some reason or another I was supposed to hang out with these two guys during the day while the girls were at school. Of course one couldn’t make it – the one who spoke English – so I was stuck with this French kid who didn’t even want to learn English and was giving me a hard time for not knowing French. I’ll credit him though for two things, the first being he played me Serge Gainsbourg and was again offended when I didn’t know who he was, but the record blew me away. So yeah I listend to Serge in France while smoking hash – oh yeah that was the second thing I credit him for showing me… hash!
Serge sure knew how to push the buttons of the French bourgeoisie, be it with sex, art, personal relationships, his “ugly” features, etc. He even pushed boundaries surrounding bodily functions. For example, there’s Serge’s semi-autobiographical novella “Evguenie Sokolov” which features a protagonist who turns his farts into performance art. Serge himself described the novella as a “soundtrack of farts.”
For tons of great Serge stories, check out Sylvie Simmons’ entertaining book “Serge Gainsbourg- A Fistfull of Gitanes.”
This one is from the Gansbarre period (drugs & drinks times like Dr Jackill & Mr Hyde, during which he often was Mr Hyde) not Gansbourg ones.
He slowly burned a 500 French Francs banknote (around 80 present euros) live on televison, saving just a corner of it, as a way to show how much French taxes were asking him to pay. Never see a man doing this since…
There are lots of great Gainsbourg anecdotes but a particularly topical one I like is that on the track En Melody for the sounds of Melody laughing, Serge actually hid a tape recorder under the bed while he tickled Jane Birkin. That’s definitely a desire for authenticity.
A few months after meeting Serge, Jane Birkin went to the South of France to play in Jacques Deray’s movie La Piscine (The Swimming Pool – 1969), a tragic movie featuring Romy Schneider, Maurine Ronet and also Alain Delon who was then at the top of his carrier and beauty. Anxious that his new girlfriend might fall for the charm of the actor, Serge rented the biggest Rolls Royce he could find although he did not have a diver’s license, and drove to the shooting location to impress Jane and take attention away from Alain Delon. The same car was then used in the first song of the “Melody Nelson” album called “Melody”: “Les ailes de la Rolls effleuraient les pilÃ´nes / quand m’Ã©tant malgrÃ© moi Ã©garÃ© / Nous arrivames ma Rolls et moi dans un zone / Dangeureuse, un endroit isolÃ©”
Unfortunately the car was so large that it did not fit into the streets of the small village where the shooting of the movie was taking place. Gainsbourg found himself stuck in his car where he stayed and lived until the end of the shooting!
I abosutely adore Gainsbourg. After listening to a couple of his tracks, I was hooked. He was just so unique and ahead of his time. My favorite anecdote would be when he wrote “Les Sucettes” and France Gall had no idea what it was about….haha.
I’m a huge Gainsbourg fan (though, apparently, not huge enough to know that this was being reissued.. FINALLY)! Let’s see, my favorite anecdote.. well, relating to the drunken Whitney Houston encounter you mention, I get a kick every time the presenter explains away what Serge first said to her in PG-rated terms. While I think we all kind of have an insatiable hunger for the more sordid and glamourous details of his life, it’s some of the more touching anecdotes that stay with me. Every time I listen to Serge’s song, ‘La Noyee,’ I think about reading Jane Birkin’s account of the first time he played that song and how he had tears streaming down his face. When I listen to some of the breezier covers (Anna Karina moreso than Carla Bruni), I can’t help but think that it’s sacrilegious. I do also love how he wrote all those ‘naughty’ songs for France Gall, and she didn’t realize that they were filled with double-entendres. Yup, that killed her career!
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