What’s Good?: Serge Gainsbourg

In lieu of any fictional writing this week, I thought I’d devote a little more attention to this blog.

As I emerge from the mire of my novel, I’ll take a few gasps of clean air and talk about shit that I really like. No agenda, just freeform rambling.

This weekend I dumped Spotify for its younger, shinier rival, Apple Music. I won’t dwell on this (I’m not doing a techradar article here), but what appealed to me was being able to merge my personal iTunes tracks with what’s on Apple Music. That and Taylor Swift, obviously. Oh Taylor. One day…You and me.

…Where was I?

Right, yeah, Apple Music. So I have quite a lot of rare tracks that I’ve obsessively lovingly collected over the years. There might be a time when a person needs to listen to every Ultrasound b-side. You just never know.

So this weekend, I trawled my way through some records I haven’t listened to in years. During this wonderful and slightly cringe-inducing journey, I was reminded of my man, Serge. (Gainsbourg, not that twat from Kasabian.)

In the short year during which my band grazed success (2005, mainly), I was often asked to DJ. Let’s get this straight right now: I’m a fucking terrible DJ. Turns out a bunch of pilled-up kids in Shoreditch do not want to hear the entire 23 minutes of Pink Floyd’s Echoes. More fool them, I say.

So, in a sorry excuse for a pub somewhere in the South of England, I was asked to DJ a heavy metal night. Heavy metal. Don’t get me wrong, I like Slayer and…well…that’s about it…but I needed the money. On the night, for a reason I can’t recall (probably a girl), I refused to play anything other than Prince. As a result of this, I got into a spat with an irate teenager in a Slipknot hoodie. He head-butted me and broke my nose. And as if to add insult to (literal) injury, later I did not get through 23 positions in a one night stand.

A smarter kid would’ve learnt from this. Darwinism, right? But a week or two on and I dropped Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime at a warehouse party in Whitechapel at about 3am. I was escorted off the premises, which was timely as the police were on their way in to shut the thing down.

My DJing career was over, but my love of Serge Gainsbourg was just beginning. I started with the classics – Histoire de Melody Nelson (a great album to begin with if you’re looking for an introduction), the earlier duets with Jane Birkin and Bridget Bardot, etc. Back then, in the UK, most Gainsbourg albums were only available on import at HMV. Far too expensive for my ever-approaching overdraft limit.

This all made Gainsbourg even more alluring. Every now and then, I would swap a CD with someone. I hit the jackpot when my best friend bought a 3-disc compilation album back from a trip to Normandy. It was on it that I discovered this gem:

Just listen to those strings! Christ. Jean-Claude Vannier – that’s the arranger and co-writer. Guy is a fucking genius.

Even if you don’t understand what he’s singing about, you still get the idea. His best work (late ‘60s/early ‘70s – before he went reggae…sad emoticon) is steeped in decadence. Thick baselines, complex strings and the feeling that just listening to it might be getting you slightly wasted.

And just look at the guy. What a cool bastard. Who do we have these days? Chris Martin? Bruno Mars? Mumford & Cunts. (Cheap shot, but worth it for the vehemence.)

Of course, he aged disgracefully. 1984 gave birth to the questionable duet with his daughter, ‘Lemon Incest.’ And then drunk, straight-out telling Whitney Houston ‘I want to fuck you’ on a live chat show a couple of years later. I’d post the film clip, but it creeps me out a little. Google it if you feel so inclined.

So, Gainsbourg. Fucking love the guy (‘til about 1979, anyway). I can completely understand why people wouldn’t like it. In the words of a friend of mine: ‘Jack, unless you’re trying to initiate an orgy, which, quite frankly, I am not in the mood for, turn off the fucking porno music, yeah.’


  1. I tried, I really did. I really wanted to like it, and even let it whimper along with its band of tired and emotional musicians, unti l the very end.
    Thinking of Gainsbourg, though makes me want to buy a pack of unflitered Gitantes and smoke them one after another right to the very end before gettting my guitar out and murdering a song or too with a gravelly voice made of broken glass and grit.


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