Wednesday, March 28, 2007

France Gall

This is going to be a quick one. I have tried to stay away from the more well known French artists like Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc, or Francois Hardy, just because there isn’t much new to say about them and they are already on the radar of most music geeks in this era of MP3 hoarding. But, today I will make an exception for France Gall. France is probably the 2nd best known female singer after Hardy among western Francophiles. She has a tiny little girl voice and first came to fame singing Serge Gainsbourg’s dirty old man double ententres in songs like “Les Sucettes.” All of her 60’s material, regardless of writer or arranger, is pretty great.

My favorite song by her is “Laisser Tomber les Filles”, also written by Gainsbourg. The first time I heard it, I was just infected by it. One of those genius pop songs that is inside your head the instant you hear it, and you play over and over again. The faux “Theme from Peter Gunn” riff (only Gainsbourg could have pulled that off with that much panache. The man understands jazz), the vaguely Latin feel, the shrill yet sassy vocals, and the interjecting horns combine into the ultimate swinging 60’s “au go go” pop gem. The arrangement is by Alain Goraguer, showing yet another facet to his genius.

After hearing it, I told everyone around me it was “the best song of all time.” I was being both sincere and disingenuous when I made that statement, yet a few years later, my love for the song has not worn off. If there was some sort of metaphysical soundclash of all music of all time (perhaps if the planet was held hostage by music loving space aliens and the fate of humanity hung in the blance) and there’s two outs and it’s bottom of the 9th and I’ve got to pick one song to step up to the plate, this song is my David Ortiz.

I’m hardly the first to praise this song, as first generation ye-ye revivalist April March covered it in English as “Chick Habit” from her “Paris in April” album in 1995, back when the whole cocktail music boom led many rock listeners to 60’s French music. I have never heard her version, but I have to give her a lot of credit, as when I started getting into French music, she was someone I looked to for a clue as to what was worth looking into.

The video is pretty great as well. France is innocent and cute, and the Scopitone silliness shines through. Expect some further Scopitone posts (and an explanation as to what they are) later.

Friday, March 16, 2007


I figured it’s time for another Robert Charlebois post, but on a different tip. For people who didn’t grow up there and then, his record “Lindbergh” needs context. To put it simply, that record is the “Bob Dylan goes electric” moment of Quebecois music; where the song-craft of chanson met the energy of rock and roll. In Montreal, the garage rock and the chanson scenes were separate. The rock bands played at teen clubs and school dances and the chanson singers played at cabarets. Interestingly enough, Charlebois had been trying to crack these barriers for years. In 1965, he staged a show called "Yéyés vs. Chansonniers", a concept that would have been radical for Paris at that time, nevermind Montreal. But, his three albums before “Lindbergh” reflected a folk singer, albeit one with some interesting influences. They are still folk records and one can imagine only the moodiest sort of beatnik teenagers grooving to these records on a Friday night.
But, his forth album is most definitely a rock and roll record. To hear the album now, it’s just a great late 60’s rock record that mixes in bits of folk, psych, and funk in a totally organic way. What surprises me in retrospect is that it was a huge hit. It even got issued in France on Barclay. The big single off the record was “Lindbergh” (the album itself didn’t originally have a title, but came to be known as “Lindbergh” because of the single), which features Louise Forestier, who is co-billed on the album credit and sings duets and backups on most of the LP. Forestier had a successful solo career on her own, doing mostly Quebecois folk material from the early 70's onwards. However, before she permanently mellowed out, she did cut one or two interesting records, one of which features her doing an alternate version of the song “Lindbergh” with Charlebois. This version is some crazy business that reminds me of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. There are nice, haunting organ lines that sound like Rick Wright and there is some high pitched whooping from Forestier that verges on Yoko Ono territory, except she stays in key. This version is nearly two minutes longer than the Charlebois version and definitely not as user friendly. But, if you’re a fan of the original, it’s nice to hear the song get a little odder treatment (similar to the version of “Octopus” on Opel by Syd Barrett, compared to the one on “Madcap Laughs”).
The song “Lindbergh” was a massive hit when it came out and is a well known song in Quebec to this day. It was the type of song like “Je’Taime” or “Sunny” where record companies would record sentimental organ e/z listening versions of it. Lucien Hetu was one of those aforementioned middle-of-the-road organ cats. He has recorded versions of everything from Paul Mauriat to the Monkees (as well as the obligatory Christmas record) and he was definitely not rocking the boat. That said, his version of “Lindbergh” is pretty groovy in its own way, with some nice work by the bass player. It feels a little repetitive though, and it’s only two and a half minutes long.
When disco got big, one of the quickest shortcuts in the world was to take a 60’s hit and cut a disco version. “Knock on Wood”, “Light My Fire”, “I’m a Man”, “House of the Rising Sun”, etc, etc, etc. “Lindbergh” was a song of that status in Quebec and Quebec was big into disco, hence there is a disco version by Toulouse. And to prove that the Montreal music scene is a small world, Toulouse was produced by Gary “Boule Noire” Thurston. It’s a sort of surreal take on the whole thing; uptempo and chipper without any of the moodiness of the original. About halfway through there is a breakdown with whooshing airplane noises and a voiceover announcement from the pilot with that classic pinched nose voice, about Montreal and Lindbergh. Yup, no worries, my tray table is upright, mon frere…
Louise Forestier Lucien Hutu Toulouse