#528 Brigitte Bardot & Serge Gainsbourg – Bonnie and Clyde

Gainsbourg was/is a god, a genius, a prolific master of multiple musical styles and art forms. He recorded over 500 songs, wrote and produced multiple albums for other artists as well as himself, wrote a book, directed a film, acted in over 50 TV and film roles and composed the soundtrack for another 50+ more.

This is a 1968 compilation of various songs that Gainsbourg and Bardot recorded together. It was released the same year as Gainsbourg’s studio album featuring his then lover, Ms Bardot, entitled Initials B.B. It includes many of the same tracks with some additions and the notable exception of Ford Mustang. It’s opening track, and outstanding highlight is of course the song Bonnie and Clyde, based on a poem written by Bonnie Parker herself whilst out on the run with Clyde Barrow, a few weeks before they were tracked down and shot.

Bonnie and Clyde, the song, is a fantastic piece of work, the instrumentation is pure genius, so distinctively unique that I can’t quite work out how he manages to create that sound. Unsurprisingly its been well-sampled. Whilst looking for some more information about this I discovered that the French sex symbols made a music video, it’s everything you would want it to be, and more. I don’t know how I managed without this in my life before.

Not content with creating a mini modern opera out of the true history of American outlaws, Gainsbourg also tackles the story of Jekyll and Hyde in the aptly named Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde and also adapts a Baudelaire poem. Quintessentially Gainsbourg, he mixes high culture with low culture, and these intellectual nuggets nestle alongside the brilliantly bonkers Comic Strip, with wonderful interjections from Bardot of “Shebam! Pow! Blop! Wizz!” and Bubble Gum with its gangster-era honky tonk piano.

This comp also features Bardot singing in English for the jazz classic Everybody Loves My Baby, a song that continues the record’s nostalgia and celebration of the past, from the late 19th century gothic of Baudalaire and RL Stevenson to the 1920s/30s prohibition era romance of the outlaw to the 1950s heyday of comic strip heroes. Last but not least, the record also includes Gainsbourg’s wonderful song La Javanaise, which he wrote for Juliette Greco in 1963. It is a true timeless classic, demonstrating his peerless songwriting skills, which, for English listeners at least, are often forgotten about when he is most well-known for his general bawdy behaviour and for ‘controversial’ duets with his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg (Lemon Incest) and her mother Jane Birkin (Je t’aime…moi non plus). The latter was originally written for Bardot on the same night as Bonnie and Clyde. They recorded it together, but she asked him not to release it. If she had, then I guess it would have appeared on this album, and history may have been rather different.

As a compilation of his work with a particular artist, this is collection rather than a sampler or retrospective, but isn’t a bad starting point to get to grips with the genius of Gainsbourg. As he writes about the songs presented here in the sleeve notes (based on my poor translation of the French): “Amoral or immoral is of little importance, they are all of absolute sincerity.”

Best Bits: Bonnie and Clyde – possibly the best violin riff in pop music
Genre: French Surrealist Pop
Like This, Try This: Juliette Greco singing La Javanaise in 2014 with the jazz trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf

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