Tag Archives: Serge Gainsbourg

1001 Songs – 1969: Part Two

Wow that was a long break between songs. I guess that live and a re-emerging love of cinema got in the way… also RuPaul’s Drag Race. Man, I love those girls. So let’s continue on and finally get out of the 1960s!

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Sister Morphine – Marianne Faithfull

I am probably in the minority of people in my generation to have listened to a Marianne Faithfull album (Broken English) at some point. I’d forgotten just how haunting her vocals can be, that is until ‘Sister Morphine’ starts. I don’t know if I have ever heard such a frank song about drug addiction – granted we’ve had ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground – where the singer is exposing her own dark dependencies… and at the time of recording her drug habits were just on the precipice of an even deeper addiction. In part, because the money she made from this song helped her to afford more drugs, like the titular morphine.

The huskiness in Faithfull’s voice is haunting and the history of this song make it one of those weird relics that won’t soon be forgotten.

Okie from Muskogee – Merle Haggard

Okay, so this is how I would imagine Hank Hill as a country singer. On the surface this is a song about a man in Middle America looking at the youth culture (the then hippies and the drugs that they took) and being glad to be the sort of man he is. It’s hard to go beyond the surface because Merle Haggard himself keeps changing his story as to what this song means i.e. is it a satire or is he playing it straight. He basically veers between those depending on the company.

Personally I didn’t read it as satire – it feels just like someone rolling their eyes, shrugging their shoulders and going “kids these days”.

Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin

I said previously that with Led Zeppelin II I finally found a Led Zeppelin album that I enjoyed. I wrote that two years ago and the moment ‘Heartbreaker’ started it took me right back to that sunny day when I was listening to this on the train.

With ‘Heartbreaker’ in a better context I can really appreciate how this fit into music at the time. Hard rock is becoming harder and you can see that metal is just around the corner. In fact, you might even call this and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (which will be in the next batch of songs) metal – just not heavy metal.

Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee

Turning the dial right down from 11 here as we go for something completely different. Something utterly depressing. I’ve heard this song before, but never listened to this song before. I think that the character in the song is depressed and displaying some flat affect.

This is a woman who knows that despite being able to find any joy in love or the circus there is no point in ending it all… because death is it’s own type of disappointment. I mean, good God! Also, good on Peggy Lee for actually taking on a song like this in the twilight of her career. Her voice is sultry enough to pull this of despite the weirdly upbeat banjo in the background.

And wouldn’t you know, this helped Peggy Lee stage a comeback. Uttlerly brilliant.

Sweetness – Yes

Ladies and gentlemen, progressive rock has just arrived. If I hadn’t been so focused on the interplay between hard and soft rock in previous songs I probably would have noticed that prog-rock was quietly developing in the background – thanks in no small part to the Beatles and the Beach Boys. In the next post we’ll have a King Crimson song, which also signals the point where psychedelia is coming to an end and is mixing with the baroque rock/chamber pop of the Beach Boys to make prog-rock.

‘Sweetness’ is a song you could imagine the Beatles singing in their Sgt Pepper days, but I think it is better that this song belongs to Yes. Even if just for the sweeter vocals that the Beatles couldn’t really do.

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley

You have to hand it to Elvis, he had a long career. He managed to jump genres and change with the times. Granted that this will have been a lot down to the management knowing what they are doing, but credit where credit is due.

It’s still very much an Elvis song though and it could belong on his Memphis album if it had been recorded earlier. He sounds so good on this song and it’s just a pity that it has that weird fade out-fade in thing going on around the 3.5 minute mark. I guess that’s the producer wanting to put his mark on the song or something like that… but that’s probably just when the song should have ended.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills, & Nash

Bonus marks for this song for doing something very different. Structured more like a classical piece ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ is formed of four distinct parts to make one contiguous piece of music. It’s always an upbeat song, but it goes through variations in harmony, orchestration and (for the final section) language.

I think most people would find themselves recognising the final part of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and not being sure exactly how – but it’s pretty recognisable for its unintelligability.

Pinball Wizard – The Who

We close this group of songs with two incredibly famous entries. Whilst I have not seen Tommy the movie, I have listened to the rock opera. Within the story of Tommy ‘Pinball Wizard’ is a song about the deaf-blind protagonist becoming a world class pinball player (is player the word for pinball) just through sensing the vibrations.

I mean this is drug-fuelled rock we’re talking about so it doesn’t have to make that much sense as it veers between rock and pop.

Je t’aime… moi non plus – Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

So the story goes that there is a generation of people that have been conceived to this song. I love this idea. It’s bizarre, but I’m going to run with it. The other story goes that the heavy breathing is because of Birkin and Gainsbourg having sex during the recording. Again I love this idea if just for the logistics that would need to be involved.

Okay so both of those stories are baloney, but isn’t it great when a 4 and a half minute song can develop such a rich mythology. Especially a breathy erotic song like this one. I was about to go into how stupid it is that a song like this was banned from radio in a number of countries… but now that I’ve listened to it all the way it makes sense. There is a lot of heavy breathing in this and I can just imagine the kids in the playground mimicing this without knowing why.

Got to say that this is a weird song to end the post on…

Progress: 285/1021

1001 Songs – 1958

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

3 months of real time since last doing this. Man, these wrist injuries have really done a number on me. Anyway here goes:

It’s Only Make Believe – Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty means two things to me: a brilliantly done running joke in a Family Guy episode and a game of Trivial Pursuit being played by the stranded cast of One Foot In The Grave.

These thoughts clouded my first listen of the song. So I listened to a Fiona Apple cover of it to clear my head. By this time it is amazing to think how many people came out of the woodword with similar voices to Elvis Presley. I prefer the Fiona version (and she needs to release it), but maybe that’s just me.

Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

Marty McFly ❤ How can anyone hear this without thinking of Back to the Future? This song symbolises to me that moment that rock and roll really got its wings and began to fly. A lot of the elements come together here so much more effectively than in the songs that lead up to it.

That guitar riff is just immortal nowadays and the whole thing just makes you want to get up and dance… oh God I’ve seen what’s next.

Move It! – Cliff Richard & The Drifters

It’s better than any of his Christmas songs I’ll have to give him that.

Cliff Richard was always meant to be Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley (a terrifying idea). When you hear this song directly after ‘Johnny B. Goode’ he is just outclassed. It is interesting, however, to see what music was doing on this side of the pond though. Next!

La Bamba – Ritchie Valens

First thing to note is how much slower this song is compared to some of the covers that came later. What this and Cliff have gone to show is how that sweet rock and roll song was just starting to permeate between borders and find live everywhere.

‘La Bamba’ straddles that line between rock and roll and tejano with a really interesting result. Ritchie Valens released this just 5 months before the famous plane crash where he died alongside Buddy Holly. Only 17. Jesus.

Yakety Yak – The Coasters

Oh my god, I just one of those moments where I completely forgot I knew this song. Now that I listen to it ‘Yakety Yak’ is a funny song of a teenager getting annoyed at having to do all the household chores.

I have no idea where I’ll know this song from, probably an advert of some sort. This is just another example of how rock and roll was branching out – this time with a bit more doo-wop thrown in.

At the Hop – Danny & The Juniors

I want something other than rock and roll! Jesus other than the Conway Twitty song this is just a unbroken run of rock and roll songs.

We are still in doo-wop territory with that piano in the background, but this time this is a song about a place where teenagers would go to dance. That’s it. I mean sure sometimes kids would take their shoes off for a ‘sock hop’, but that’s it. Imagine going to a club and being okay enough with the state of the floors to be dancing around in your socks. Simpler times.

Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price

Here we have a song with a bit more substance. Based on a folk song about a man murdering his friend. The lyrics are dark with a man begging to have his life spared for the sake of his sick wife. The description of the bullet breaking his bones as if they were glass… just wow I was expecting it to be a bit more sanitized.

I’m enjoying the repeated refrain of ‘Oh Stagger Lee’ in the background. This song might go down as the happiest suprise of this year.

Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochran

Still rocky, but this feels a bit more country. Like old style rockabilly Elvis. Where ‘Yakkity Yak’ is about a teenager pouting at chores and ‘At The Hop’ is about teenagers dancing with their socks off (still weird), ‘Summertime Blues’ is very much in that ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ vein.

He’s seen as protopunk and, considering the times, I can see how ‘Summertime Blues’ can be seen that way. He died only two years later in a car crash at the age of 21. His last action? Shielding his girlfriend from the crash. Who knows what more Eddie Cochran could have achieved.

What’s with all these young dead singers!?

Dans mon île – Henry Salvador

‘Dans mon île’ is dreamy. It’s like the ultimate antidote to all the rock and roll songs. It feels like a song you would have in a dream sequence of a stuffy office worker imagining themselves on their own private island.

This song is not quite chanson, it’s close though. It’s actually proto-bossa nova. You can hear shades of ‘Girl of Ipanema’ and the future work of the Gilberto family in ‘Dans mon île’.

Lonesome Town – Ricky Nelson

You might know this song from Pulp Fiction, it’s not one of the more explicit cuts from that film’s soundtrack but it is there.

He’s a good looking man and I just want to take him away from the Lonesome Town if you know what I mean. If you look at the album cover you’ll see what I mean.

This is rockish, but it’s more Chet Baker style vocals in tone.

Fever – Peggy Lee

Edna Krabappel bursting a balloon suit with a lit cigarette. Enough said.

Okay maybe not. ‘Fever’ was not a new song, but Peggy Lee made it what it was. It’s an incredibly sexy lounge song with new lyrics and arrangement by Peggy Lee herself (and with no credit given… damn patriarchy) that have since become the standard.

She is this song. That sultry voice, those finger clicks, that sexual charisma. Weird to think that three years earlier she wrote and sung most of the songs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. What a woman!

One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) – Frank Sinatra

This is one where myself and hub disagree on (then again it’s more his sort of music). I wasn’t exactly moved by this song. It was okay and it’s interesting at how this song meanders around in a torch song fashion.

Maybe I’ve missed the point?

Le poinconneur des Lilas – Serge Gainsbourg

A nice bit of chanson here combined with jazz. So different to anything we have heard so far in this batch of 1958 songs. It’s a song about a ticket punch at Lilas station (the percussion giving us the illusion of the trains).

I really enjoyed this song and the chorus where the phrase ‘des petit trous’ or ‘little holes’ is repeated. It’s a fun song and one of two songs he has on the 1001 song list (you can guess the other). This is a lot of fun!

Nel blu dipinto di blu- Domenico Modugno

This song is better known as ‘Volare’ and was actually the Italian entry at the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1958 where it came third.

Where we have had songs that are almost chanson ‘Volare’ is absolutely a chanson song, it’s just delivered in Italian instead of the more typical French.

This song is massive. Not only did it sell 20+ million copies worldwide, but it was the first winner of Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the inaugaural Grammy awards. Not bad for third place at Eurovision.

All I Have to Do Is Dream – The Everly Brothers

Another one of those “oh my God” moments where I finally have a title of a song. I know it’s uncool, but I really do feel happy whenever a song by The Everly Brothers is featured in a TV show or film.

Finally we have a song where I can start to see the elements of pop start to take shape. Sure it’s a long way before we go from ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ to some of the trash on the radio… but it will take us via The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas. That’s a journey worth taking.

To Know Him Is to Love Him – The Teddy Bears

Wall of Sound? Is that you I can hear in this Phil Spector produced song? I know he’s turned out to be modern day Phil Spector, but you have to just listen to some of that swelling production in the background and know that he is coming. It’s subtler than what you have later in his career, but it’s exciting to know this is where it starts.

Progress: 105/1021