1971, Music

Histoire de Melody Nelson (1971) by Serge Gainsbourg

I first encountered Serge Gainsbourg through the Great Jewish Music series. (I was probably more aware of his daughter, who I was barely aware of, than I was him.) I liked the Gainsbourg album the least of those records – and I still wish they had made way more – but it did give me this idea that Serge Gainsbourg was someone I should listen to. I tried one or two other times before this but decided not to follow through with my requisite three listens because it’s hard to justify discussing French music on a podcast that focuses on English music.

This is, ostensibly, Gainsbourg’s most coherent statement. It’s not even a half-hour long and it’s infamously just a song-cycle about a lech picking up a teenager. Unless you cackle in delight at how angry this record likely made people – and that’s something that would have appealed to me in my teens and 20s – I’m not really sure what the big deal.
I guess the music is catchy. The song I already know sticks with me the most but I’m not sure that, um, melody is the problem.

The music is far less strange than a lot of people make it out to be. I know this because I listen to a lot of strange music, particularly from the period of oh, say, 1965-1975. This music is sometimes folk pop, sometimes funky, sometimes vaguely psychedelic (I stress vaguely), and always orchestrated. The voices are hilariously far forward in the mix, because it’s Gainsbourg’s record.

I just don’t really get it. I don’t know Gainsbourg’s oeuvre so I don’t know how this compares to his other work.,I don’t know French music since Debussy (or, I guess Django, if my limited knowledge of him counts) so I have no idea how this fits in with contemporary French music. But what I hear is orchestrated pop that is occasionally funky and occasionally arty.

And to that I say “So what?”


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