When one of the great French style icons died in Paris on January 7th of last year, she left us not only a fabulous pop song with rather sexual undertones, but also a huge photo archive surprisingly rich on stylish cars.
Or was that overtones? But let’s just start from the beginning, and we will get to the lollipops and cars a little later…
Personally I’m quite familiar with France Gall and her music. At least I was back in the eighties. She had several pop hits which I listened to – mostly because a girl I was quite attracted was a big fan of Gall. Which meant, so was I – naturally.
Apparently it wasn’t meant to be and our ways parted. With the girl, France Gall and her pop music also disappeared out of my life. It was quickly replaced by the Pretenders and classic guitar rock music. Which I’ve stuck with ever since…
But still to this day I associate France Gall with something romantic and will on the odd occasion revisit her music, pictures and history.
I recall her early career being quite a surprise to me. When I was listening to her eighties pop music, I had no clue that she had previously won the Eurovision contest in 1965, aged only 17. So I obviously also wasn’t aware that the winner song was the written by another great French artist, Serge Gainsbourg.
The little France came from a highly musical family (her father had written songs for both Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf among others), so it was practically written in the stars that her future would be a melodic one. In fact, she had her first hit as early as her 16th birthday in 1964. The song was called “Ne sois pas si bête” which means something along the lines of “don’t be so stupid”. We will return to reflect over that a little later.
But that was just the start of things, as the hits just rolled in during 1964 and 1965. Gall’s music style was strongly rooted in the yé-yé pop culture, a genre full of catchy tunes with simple lyrics and an innocent, wide-eyed sexual appeal. Europe loved it and Gall quickly reached stardom.
Gainsbourg wasn’t at all fond of yé-yé. He had written music mostly in the traditional chanson style, but stretched much broader right from jazz to mambo. As a poet he was also quite apt with words. But he just hadn’t achieved much commercial success with it. Yet he dreamt of owning a Rolls-Royce (words spoken by himself) and thus decided to compromise his ideals and write yé-yé hits. Among others for France Gall which of course led to her winning Eurovision in 1965.
The success led to a closer working relationship between Gainsbourg and Gall, and his next song for her sent Gall to the top of the hit lists in France and much of Europe. And Gainsbourg finally started making big money and much of it. Eventually he even got his Rolls-Royce.
Maybe he was just annoyed about earning money on a genre he didn’t believe in – this naïve pop music? Regardless, the devil in him came up with a new hit single for 1966, where the now 18 year old star, France Gall, was to sing “Les Sucettes”. Again in classical yé-yé upbeat rhythms it told the story of a young girl, who… well, liked lollipops.
Gainsbourg’s lyrics obviously told a second story, which the young Gall just hadn’t understood. She recorded the song and it sold well, even though – or perhaps because – at least the whole of the French male population knew exactly what Gainsbourg really meant with his song. Needless to say the theme was oralsex, and just to make sure no one could possibly be in any doubt whatsoever, Gainsbourg also staged Gall on the scene accompanied by what can probably best be described as lightly aroused dancing penises swaying from side to side. Yes, I know it sounds utterly absurd, but just have a look at this bizarre little video from 1966:
Click on the picture above to view the video, and prepare to be shocked!
How they ever managed to take it quite that far is frankly beyond me, as Gainsbourg carried the theme right to the edge – and beyond. In France they of course used the Franc at the time, but in the song, the young girl pays for her lollipops with… ta-daah… pennies! Hmmm… I wonder whether that too carried an element of ambiguity? But France Gall has always maintained and insisted that it was several months before she had understood the other side of those lyrics, after which she felt hugely humiliated and hid from the public. Once Gainsbourg and Gall finally parted ways in the late sixties, it’s claimed that Gall never again sang one of his songs during her concerts. In stark contrast, he publically laughed about his practical joke (if one can call it that?), and later became famous for his very advanced lyrics which contained several layers of reality.
Yet, there’s no denying that France Gall owed her success to his pop songs, and it was several years after their parting before she managed to reinvent herself as a pop singer. Of course the influx of rock music didn’t make it any easier for her – there was far from yé-yé to rock. In the interim she oddly sang in German and even managed some hits there. Though it wasn’t until she partnered with Michel Berger (both professionally and privately as they got married) that she found her true form again, after which she would never again sing anything which wasn’t written by her husband. He was of course also responsible for “Babacar” which I recall so well. The biggest hit from that album was “Ella, elle l’a” which I’m sure many of you will remember – at least if you were to hear the catchy tunes, which you still do sometimes on appropriately nostalgic radio stations.
Now should any of you possess information about the many cars in France Gall’s photo archive, please do enlighten us in the comments section below. I simply haven’t been able to unearth the link. When Gainsbourg on the other hand dreamt of a Rolls-Royce already in his early thirties, it’s quite clear that he indeed had an interest in cars. As such, one might think that he placed the various cars in those pictures, but bear in mind that he was “only” song-writer for France Gall, not manager.
Besides, some of the pictures below appear to be from after the break with Gainsbourg. It’s also worth noting that there are all sorts of cars – even motorcycles and ordinary bicycles. Everything from Minis to Porsches and even a Hispano-Suiza would you believe. But at least she moved on from the lollipops. Were all these cars perhaps just a manner of moving focus onto something different?
Whatever the reason, the many pictures portray France Gall at the very height of her career and looking as stylish as only a French icon can. The eighties honestly didn’t treat many style icons very well, but I feel she handled even that with quite some dignity. Towards the end of the nineties she concluded her career with one last “unplugged” concert – as had become so popular at the time. And no, she didn’t perform “Les Sucettes” there either.