Sunday, 4 October 2009

l’histoire de Bonnie and Clyde

In homage to Brigitte Bardot who celebrated her 75th birthday last Monday, we bring you l’histoire de BONNIE AND CLYDE.

The year was 1967, Serge Gainsbourg had landed the job of writing and directing a few musical numbers for Le Bardot Show. A working relationship very quickly developed into a series of steamy romantic liaisons, much to the chagrin of every other Frenchman opening his copy of France Soir to see paprazzi snaps of their divine B.B. arm-in-arm with her frog prince, whom she nicknamed “gueule d’amour” or “love face”.

Their courtship didn’t all run smoothly for the louche, chain-smoking Serge, though: After a disastrous early-date, Bardot sent him packing, and requested that, by way of penance, he write her “the most beautiful love song you can imagine”.

He came crawling back the next day, bleary-eyed, a Gitane between his lips and a glint in his eye. A sleepless night had yielded not one, but two, love songs: Bonnie and Clyde, and Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus.

Gainsbourg based the lyrics to Bonnie and Clyde on The Story of Bonnie and Clyde (The Trail's End)
 a poem written by (the real) Bonnie Parker.

Gainsbourg and Bardot duetted as the heroes/villains, having apparently hi-jacked Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s wardrobe from the film of the same name (released in August 1967).

Mise en scène: a dingy hideout; Serge skulks furtively in the shadows, with a shoulder-holster and a cigarette; Bardot smolders, all panda-eyed in beret, maxi-jupe and bobbed wig, a tommy-gun perched on her knee.

Serge & Brigitte = Bonnie and Clyde (lyrics: once-removed, costumes: twice-removed)

Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot – Bonnie and Clyde
[buy Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot: iTunes |]

Mick Harvey recorded an English version of Bonnie & Clyde with Anita Lane in 1995, for his album Intoxicated Man (Songs of Serge Gainsbourg sung in English). Together with Alan Chamberlain he translated the lyrics from Serge’s French words, taking it one step further away from Bonnie Parker’s original poem. Anita Lane’s vocal is more sultry than Bardot’s deadpan delivery, and they even manage to nail the sounds-like-someone-punching-a-baboon-in-a-cage cuíca sound.

Mick Harvey & Anita Lane = Bonnie and Clyde (lyrics: twice-removed)

Mick Harvey with Anita Lane – Bonnie & Clyde
[buy Mick Harvey: iTunes |]

Also released in 1995: Luna made two French language versions of the song. These are more direct cover-versions of the Bardot-Gainsbourg duet, with frontman Dean Wareham as Clyde Barrow and Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier guesting as a slightly-softer-in-delivery-than-Bardot Bonnie Parker. The Clyde Barrow version matches the original for pace and it seems they even got someone to do a valiant impersonation of a monkey being tickled for the cuíca sounds (not sure if they got credited in the liner notes, mind). The Bonnie Parker version is more languid and pensive, with some shimmering wah-guitar - Bonnie & Clyde stripped bare, if you will. Both songs were re-mastered for the Best of Luna album in 2006 - the Bonnie Parker version fared particularly badly, losing a lot of the atmosphere and claustrophobia of this earlier mix.

Dean Wareham & Lætitia Sadier = Bonnie and Clyde (lyrics: once-removed)

Luna – Bonnie & Clyde (Clyde Barrow version)
Luna – Bonnie & Clyde (Bonnie Parker version)
[buy Luna: iTunes |]

And in 1998, Baby Birkin made a sugary lo-fi pop album of English versions of French language songs from les années sixties. It was called Classée X, and it was produced by Russell Senior who’d just jumped from the good-ship Pulp.

The vinyl version included a fun extended romp through Francis Lai’s instrumental St. Tropez (which was released on the 1968 album Brigitte Bardot Show or Special Bardot. Confusingly it was not featured in the TV special of the same name and year), which UK readers may remember from the low-rent opening credits of Eurotrash. The Baby Birkins had penned some witty anecdotal lyrics about holiday romance on a French exchange trip – “He said dansez-vous? I said askez-vous?”

The CD release of Classée X was missing the Eurotrash, in favour of a not-so-fun meander through the underworld of B. Parker and C. Barrow. Taking a nod from Luna’s wah-tinged Bonnie Parker version: Baby Birkin slow-burned it and layed on a really rather sinister whispered confessional, quoted directly from the original poem by Bonnie Parker.

Baby Birkin = Bonnie (not Clyde) (lyrics: direct-from-source)

Baby Birkin – Bonnie & Clyde
[buy Baby Birkin:]

And there’s more:
MC Solaar sampled his fellow Frenchman on Nouveau Western
According to wikipedia Belinda Carlisle covered it, along with Contact (another song Gainsbourg penned for the ’68 Bardot Show), on her 2007 French language album VoilaYouTube it if you must
And even Kylie isn’t immune to a bit of dirty ol’ Serge – she sampled it on her track Sensitized

Time for a personal anecdote:
Verity and I were drifting through the streets of the Île Saint-Louis, when she, with her bobbed hair and beret, caught the attention of some Parisian road-menders: “Bonneeee Parr-keuuurrrrrrrr” they called after us (in a very non-threatening way, I hasten to add). It is interesting to note that in Glasgow everyone thought she was French: “Ooh La La!

Having spent a good few hours compiling and researching this post, I note that Filles Sourires did something similar back in 2006, and managed to collect a far more definitive set of versions too – you can read that post here. Then come back and shoot me down.

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