- Category : Musician - Popular
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 6/3 - Role Model / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Endeavor 2
France Gall (born Isabelle Geneviève Marie Anne Gall on 9 October 1947 in Paris, France) is a popular French yé-yé singer.
Gall was married to, and had a successful singing career in partnership with, French singer-songwriter Michel Berger.
Gall's father was lyricist Robert Gall, and her mother, Cécile Berthier, was the daughter of Paul Berthier, co-founder of Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois. (This made her cousin to the guitarist Denys Lable and the composer Vincent Berthier de Lioncourt, as well as niece to Jacques Berthier.) She was the sole daughter in the family and had two brothers named Patrice and Claude.
In spring 1963, Robert Gall encouraged his daughter to record songs and send the demos to a musical publisher, Denis Bourgeois. That July, she auditioned for Bourgeois at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, after which Bourgeois wanted to sign her immediately. France was subsequently signed to Philips.
At the time, Bourgeois was working for the label as Artistic Director for Serge Gainsbourg and assumed this role for Gall as well. He encouraged her to record four tracks with French jazz musician, arranger and composer Alain Goraguer.
The first airplay of France's first single "Ne sois pas si bête" ("Don't Be So Stupid"), occurred on her 16th birthday. It was released in November and became a hit, selling 200,000 copies. Serge Gainsbourg, who had released several albums and written songs for singers including Michèle Arnaud and Juliette Gréco, was asked by Bourgeois to write songs for Gall. Gainsbourg's "N'écoute pas les idoles" ("Don't listen to the idols") became Gall's second single; it reached the top of the French charts in March 1964 and stayed there for three weeks.
At the same time, Gall made her live debut, opening for Sacha Distel in Belgium. She teamed up with Distel's business manager, Maurice Tézé, who was also a lyricist. This allowed her to create an original repertoire, unlike the majority of her contemporaries ("yéyés") who sang adaptations of Anglophone hits. However, under the influence from this team of music veterans, Gall struggled to defend her personal choice of material.
In addition to songs written by her father, Gall's success in the 1960s was built on songs written by some of the biggest names among French composers and lyricists: Gérard Bourgeois, Jean-Pierre Bourtayre, Vline Buggy Pierre Cour, Joe Dassin, Jacques Datin, Pierre Delanoë, Jean Dréjac, Alain Goraguer, Hubert Giraud, Georges Liferman, Guy Magenta, Eddy Marnay, Jean-Michel Rivat, Jean-Max Rivière, Frank Thomas, Maurice Vidalin, André Popp, Gilles Thibaut, and Jean Wiener.
Gall's songs often featured lyrics based on a stereotypical view of the teenage mind. Elaborate orchestrations by Alain Goraguer blended styles, permitting her to navigate between jazz, children's songs, and anything in between. Examples of this mixed-genre style included "Jazz à gogo" (lyrics by Robert Gall and music by Goraguer) and "Mes premières vraies vacances" (by Datin-Vidalin).
Gall and Gainsbourg's association produced many popular singles, continuing through the summer of 1964 with the hit song "Laisse tomber les filles" ("Never Mind the Girls") followed by "Christiansen" by Datin-Vidalin. Gainsbourg also secretly recorded Gall's laughter to use on Pauvre Lola, a track on his 1964 album Gainsbourg Percussions. Her laughter is not credited.
Regarding her association with Gainsbourg at this time, Gall said, "This is someone I had the pleasure to see because I admired him and liked what he wrote. And I liked his shyness, his elegance and his education. It was a very pleasant relationship. I was very impressed that this man worked for me and cared about me.
Having previously resisted, Gall gave in to her managers at the end of 1964 and recorded a single intended for children. The song "Sacré Charlemagne," written by her father, and set to the music of George Liferman, was a hit in 1965, selling 2 million copies and peaking at number one.
Gall was then selected to represent Luxembourg in the Eurovision Song Contest 1965. Out of the 10 songs proposed to her, she chose Gainsbourg's "Poupée de cire, poupée de son." On 20 March 1965, Gainsbourg, Gall, and Goraguer attended the finals of the song contest in Naples, where the song was "allegedly booed in rehearsals for straying so far from the sort of song usually heard in the Contest at this point."
Although the delivery during the live show may not have been Gall's strongest performance—one critic writes that Gall's performance was "far from note perfect", another notes that her voice was trembling and complexion pale, and when Gall called her lover at the time Claude François immediately after the performance, he shouted at her, "You sang off key. You were terrible!"—the song impressed the jury and it took the Grand Prix. Success at Eurovision ensured that Gall became even more known outside Europe and she recorded "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" in French, German, Italian, and Japanese. There appears to be no English version released by France Gall herself, although there was an English cover by the English 1960s star Twinkle.
Sylvie Simmons, in her biography of Gainsbourg, wrote that on the surface, the song appears to be nothing but catchy Eurovision fodder, but "closer examination revealed perspicacious lyrics about the ironies and incongruities inherent in baby pop. That the songs young people turn to for help in their first attempts at discovering what life and love are about are sung by people too young and inexperienced themselves to be of much assistance, and condemned by their celebrity to be unlikely to soon find out." At a young age, France Gall was too naïve to understand the second meaning of the lyrics. But later on she felt she was manipulated and used by Gainsbourg throughout this period, most notably after the song "Les Sucettes".
Today France Gall tries to not discuss the Gainsbourg period in public and refuses to perform her winning song.
In the summer of 1965, France Gall toured France for several months with "Le Grand Cirque de France" ("The Great Circus of France"), a combination of radio show and live circus. Her singles continued to chart successfully, including the Gainsbourg-penned "Attends ou va-t'en" ("Wait for me, or go away") and "Nous ne sommes pas des anges" ("We are not angels"). She also had a hit with the song "Amérique" ("America") by Eddy Marnay and Guy Magenta.
Stewart Mason sums up this early period of Gall's career, culminating in the Eurovision win:
Although many dismissed Gall as a Francophone Lesley Gore, making fluffy and ultra-commercial pop hits with little substance, Gall's hits from this era stand up far better than most. Only Francoise Hardy was consistently making records up to these standards during this era. Though Gall's high, breathy voice was admittedly somewhat limited, she made the most of it. Even dopey hits like "Sacre Charlemagne," a duet with a pair of puppets who were the stars of a children's show on French TV, have an infectious, zesty charm; meatier tunes, like the sultry jazz-tinged ballad "Pense a Moi" and the brilliant rocker "Laisse Tomber les Filles," were as good as any single produced in the U.S. or Great Britain at the time.
After a TV film directed by Jean-Christophe Averty and dedicated to the songs of Gall was distributed in the United States in 1965, Gall was sought by Walt Disney to appear as Alice in a musical film version of Alice in Wonderland, after having already made Alice into a cartoon in 1951. Although Gall had insisted she did not want to become involved in film work, this was the only project which appealed to her. The project was cancelled after Disney's death in 1966.
In 1966 Gall appeared in the television film Viva Morandi, made in the same psychoanalytical mould as the (1965) Federico Fellini film Giulietta degli Spiriti ("Juliet of the Spirits"). Gall played "La Grâce" alongside Christine Lebail who plays "La Pureté", both singing Les Sucettes in a segment which was prominently labelled "Fantasy", in a clear reference to the song's sexual undertones.
She was approached by director Bernardo Bertolucci for the leading female role in Last Tango in Paris (1972). However, she firmly rejected this offer.
Gall once again considered appearing on screen in 1993 for a cinematographic collaboration with her best friend, the screenplay writer Telsche Boorman. Like the Disney film, this planned project was never completed due to the death of Boorman in 1996.
In a feature film titled Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) released in France in January 2010, which is based on the graphic novel by the writer-director of the film, Joann Sfar, Gall is portrayed by Sara Forestier.
At the beginning of 1966 Gall released Baby pop, another song written by Gainsbourg, the lyrics of which Gall once described as "brutal", but whose dark undertones are not easily perceived when one hears the song as sung by the then 18 year-old girl. However, the undertones in her next hit song were not so easily missed, and caused a scandal when it was released. Gainsbourg deliberately filled the song Les Sucettes ("Lollipops") with double-meanings and strong sexual innuendo. On the surface, the lyrics tell the innocent tale of a girl named Annie who enjoys lollipops. However, it is clear that Gainsbourg intentionally created the theme as a metaphor for oral sex. Although a big hit, the song sat in stark contrast to genuinely innocent songs on the same album such as Je me marie en blanc ("White Wedding") and Ça me fait rire ("It makes me laugh").
The public furor over Les Sucettes would throw Gall’s career off-track for years, and Gall was not left unscathed by the experience. She belatedly understood that she had been used: the song was deliberately conceived with the aim of attracting publicity. All her records which followed, even expunged of the Gainsbourg signature, would be suspiciously viewed as having crass commercial motivations. She interpreted a song dedicated to John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., Bonsoir John John. Sullied by her association with Gainsbourg, her songs failed to chart for a long time afterwards.
Even some of her children’s songs recorded in 1966, for example, Les Leçons particulières ("private lessons"), have not been spared pernicious assumptions. It was not helpful when Jean-Christophe Averty choreographed a troupe of men on all fours to illustrate her children's song J'ai retrouvé mon chien ("I’ve found my dog") on his television program Les Raisins verts ("Green grapes").
Psychedelic era and transition to adulthood
At the beginning of the year 1967, Gall sang a duet with Maurice Biraud, La Petite, which describes a young girl coveted by a friend of her father. The controversy over this performance overshadowed her release that year of Gainsbourg’s poetic Néfertiti.
Her next single was recorded with the orchestration of English composer David Whitaker. New authors Frank Thomas and Jean-Michel Rivat were brought on board. They wrote Bébé requin (Baby Shark), a song which met with some success for Gall.
This was followed by Teenie Weenie Boppie, an anti-LSD song by Gainsbourg, which has been described as "a bizarre tune about a deadly LSD trip that somehow involves Mick Jagger." Gainsbourg then sang an anti-capital punishment song with Gall, Qui se souvient de Caryl Chessman? ("Anyone remember Caryl Chessman?"), about the death row prisoner.
Stewart Mason wrote about this period: "The psychedelic era found Gall, under Gainsbourg's guidance, singing increasingly strange songs . . . set to some of Gainsbourg's most out-there arrangements."
Her next record C'est toi que je veux, again with Whitaker, also failed to make an impact.
With this string of recordings in the late 1960s, none of them an unmitigated success, and making the transition from teen-age to adult performer, Gall faced some challenges in this period through the early 1970s. Mason wrote:
No longer a teenager, but without a new persona to redefine herself with, (and without the help of Gainsbourg, whose time was taken by his own albums and those of his wife Jane Birkin), Gall floundered both commercially and artistically. A label change from Philips to BASF in 1972 didn't help matters.
Although struggling in her home country, Gall regularly recorded in Germany from 1966 to 1972, in particular with the composer and orchestrator Werner Müller. She had a successful German career with songs by Horst Buchholz and Giorgio Moroder: Love, l'amour und liebe (1967), Hippie, hippie (1968), Ich liebe dich, so wie du bist (I love you the way you are) (1969) and Mein Herz kann man nicht kaufen (My heart is not for sale) (1970). Some of her other German hits included: Haifischbaby (Bébé requin), Die schönste Musik, die es gibt (The most beautiful music there is/Music To Watch Girls By), Was will ein Boy (What does a boy want?) (1967), Ja, ich sing (Yes, I sing), A Banda (Zwei Apfelsinen im Haar) (Two oranges in my hair), Der Computer Nr. 3 (1968), Ein bisschen Goethe, ein bisschen Bonaparte (A little Goethe, a little Bonaparte), I like Mozart (1969), Dann schon eher der Piano player (Then rather the piano player) (1970), Komm mit mir nach Bahia, Miguel (Come with me to Bahia, Miguel) (1972).
New label, new beginnings
Gall had several other releases in France in 1968, none of which aroused any great interest. At the end of 1968, on reaching the age of 21, Gall separated from Denis Bourgeois and stretched her wings upon the expiration of her contract with Philips.
She moved to a new record label, "La Compagnie", born from the association of artists Hugues Aufray, Nicole Croisille and Michel Colombier. At "La Compagnie", Gall made a number of recordings, but she never succeeded in finding a coherent style with Norbert Saada as Artistic Director. She went her own way in 1969 with two adaptations: one Italian and the other British: L'Orage / La Pioggia) ("The Storm") which she sang with Gigliola Cinquetti at the 1969 San Remo Music Festival, and Les Années folles ("Gentlemen Please"), created by Barbara Ruskin. Her songs Des gens bien élevés, La Manille et la révolution, Zozoï and Éléphants were largely ignored. Moreover, "La Compagnie" went bankrupt.
The early seventies continued to be a barren period for Gall. Although she was the first artist to be recorded in France for Atlantic Records in 1971, her singles C'est cela l'amour (1971) and Chasse neige (1971), faltered in the charts. In 1972, Gall, for the last time, recorded songs by Gainsbourg, Frankenstein and Les Petits ballons, but these also failed to chart. The results of her collaboration with Jean-Michel Rivat as artistic director, La Quatrieme chose (1972, suspiciously similar to Bread's "Everything I Own") and Par plaisir or Plus haut que moi (1973) did not meet with commercial success. While officially done with Gainsbourg, an old flame and producer from her Gainsbourg days, invited France Gall on television to sing a medley of old songs from their time together, which in included "Poupee de cire, Poupee de son". From the 1970s onwards, Gall started regularly visiting Senegal, which she loved. She bought her hideaway there on the island of N'Gor, close to Dakar in 1990.
France Gall was seduced by Michel Berger’s music when she heard his song Attends-moi ("Wait for Me") one day in 1973. During a later radio broadcast, she asked him for his opinion on songs which her then producer wanted her to record. Although he was disconcerted by the quality of the songs, there would be no question of collaboration.
Only 6 months later, in 1974, after she sang vocals on the song Mon fils rira du rock'n'roll on Berger's new album, Gall's publisher asked him, at her behest, to write for her. Gall had already made her mind up that "It will be him or else it will be nobody" (documentary France 3 France Gall by France Gall). Thus, in 1974, La Déclaration d'amour was to be the first in a long line of hits which marked a turning point in Gall’s career.
Meanwhile, the two artists, whose affinities became more than musical, married on 22 June 1976. France Gall shared years of work and family life with Michel Berger. The couple had two children.
In 1978, pushed by Berger, she once again trod the boards of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées where she had auditioned 15 years earlier, starring in a show entitled "Made in France". The most novel aspect of this show was that, except for the Brazilian drag act Les Étoiles, the members of the orchestra, choir and the dance troupe were exclusively female. In this show, France sang Maria vai com as outras the original, Brazilian (Portuguese) version of Plus haut que moi.
In 1979, Gall took part in a new show which remains memorable for many. Composed by Michel Berger and written by the Québécois author Luc Plamondon, the rock opera Starmania enjoyed a success not usual for musicals in France. The show played for one month at Palais des congrès de Paris.
In 1982, Gall rehearsed in the Palais des Sports of Paris to present Tout pour la musique, an innovative spectacle marked by its use of electronic music. The songs Résiste and Il jouait du piano debout ("He played the piano standing") quickly became French pop standards.
1980s and humanitarian projects
In 1985, France Gall joined Chanteurs Sans Frontières, on the initiative of Valerie Lagrange. She also worked for S.O.S Ethiopie for the benefit of Ethiopia under the aegis of Renaud.
At the same time, she gave a successful series of concerts lasting three weeks at the new venue Zénith in Paris, where she performed new songs like Débranche ("Loosen-up"), Hong-Kong Star, and gave solid acoustic performances of Plus haut, Diego libre dans sa tête and Cézanne peint.
In 1985 and 1986, Gall worked with Berger, Richard Berry, Daniel Balavoine and Lionel Rotcage for the benefit of Action Écoles, an organization of schoolboy volunteers which collects essential food products in France for African countries where famine and drought prevail. On 14 January 1986, during a trip to Africa, Balavoine tragically perished in a helicopter crash. In 1987, the song Évidemment, written by Berger and sung by Gall, was a moving homage to their lost friend. The song appeared on the album Babacar.
Gall topped the pop charts in many countries in 1987 and 1988 with another song from the Babacar album, Ella, elle l'a ("Ella, she's got it"), a Berger tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.
Following the release of Babacar, Gall launched a new show produced by Berger. Opening at Le Zénith, the successful production toured throughout Europe, and gave rise to the live album Le Tour de France '88.
Gall took a break from singing in the early 1990s and did not record any more for several years to come. She did, however, make an album called Double Jeu with Berger.
Following the release of Double Jeu, Gall and Berger announced a series of concerts in various Parisian venues, such as La Cigale and Bercy. This project was nearly cancelled by Berger's death from a heart attack on 2 August 1992.
Although Gall was strongly affected by Berger's death, she wanted to complete the project they had planned. However, she decided to commit to the performances at the Bercy and promoted the songs that she and Berger created together. However, Gall was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1993, which was successfully treated. She finally performed at the Bercy in September. All the songs she performed were written by Michel Berger from Double Jeu, and from their discographies.
A year later, she went back on stage and performed in a new show in the Pleyel in Paris featuring new musicians. The repertoire featured songs written exclusively by Berger though Gall included her own versions of songs originally performed by others.
In 1996, Gall asked Jean-Luc Godard to produce the video clip of her song "Plus haut", taken from her album "France". Godard initially refused Gall's offer but later agreed, and directed a dreamy, picturesque video entitled "Plus Oh!" near his residence in Rolle (Switzerland). It was given its first and only airing on 20 April 1996 on the French television channel M6. It was only shown once, due to copyright issues.
After a year in Los Angeles, she released her eighth studio album, France in 1996. The album featured Gall's own interpretations of some of Michel Berger's songs. In 1996, Gall finally decided to appear as a headline artist at the legendary venue for French artists, the Paris Olympia. In 1997, she announced her retirement and recorded an unplugged show for French television showcasing songs from her final album.
In December 1997, Pauline, Gall's elder daughter with Michel Berger, died of complications of cystic fibrosis. Her illness was never made public. Her son Raphael is a music supervisor.
Since the death of her daughter Gall has made only occasional public appearances. As a farewell to her career, a documentary movie was shot in 2001, France Gall par France Gall, directed by Eric Guéret. Nine million people tuned in to watch the documentary when it aired on French television that year. She also staged and appeared in the 2007 France 2 documentary "Tous pour la musique" marking the fifteenth anniversary of Michel Berger's death.
Today she is a patron for French charity Coeurs de Femmes – a group helping homeless women.