je t'aime moi non plus: a maintes reprises
Hello, and welcome to “Je T’aime… moi non plus; a maintes reprises.” My name is Julian Weaver and over the next 90 minutes, I’ll be your guide through the occasionally pleasurable and often painful cover versions of Gainsbourg’s most famous song.
The cover version both points towards the original and away from it. It defines itself through a distance that is never fully disconnected from the original. Unusually, as we will see, ‘Je T’aime… moi non plus’ is one of those originals in which this distance was created before any cover versions were produced.
In 1967, after a disastrous date, Brigitte Bardot telephoned Serge Gainsbourg and demanded as a penance he write her “the most beautiful love song you can imagine.” He wrote two; the first was Bonnie and Clyde, the second “Je T’aime… moi non plus”
That winter, Gainsbourg and Bardot recorded Michel Colombier’s arrangement of Je T’aime in an intimate 2 hour session, the two singers squashed into the same booth.
Word leaked to the press that it was an audio vérité recording and Gunter Sachs, Bardot’s husband at the time, demanded the single be withdrawn. Bardot’s agent was keen to avoid any scandal and Bardot wrote Gainsbourg a letter pleading with him not to release it. Gainsbourg put the tapes away in a drawer.
Gainsbourg later asked Marianne Faithful to do the song with him. “Hah, he asked everybody,” said Marianne and a few more including actress singers Valerie Lagrange (the former pin up) and Mireille Darc (Alain Delon’s ex-wife), who almost did it.
In 1969, After Jane Birkin’s singing debut; the theme tune from the film Slogan, Gainsbourg asked her to record a new version of Je T’aime with him. She said no, she’d heard the Bardot version and it was just too impressive, and she was jealous when she thought of him shut away in a tiny studio with this exquisitely beautiful girl.”
The ‘version’ is a particular variant on the original, and necessarily involves some degree of translation; that difficult process that attempts to express the spirit of the original in addition to, or instead of, its literal sense. The ‘cover’ implies some kind of masking, protection or concealment. Together, they form an uneasy alliance; as if the original contains something that needs to be hidden or excluded.
After Gainsbourg persuaded Birkin, they recorded it in Marble Arch. Gainsbourg thought a better version than the original with Bardot. “That one was sublime but it was too hot” he said, “whereas with Jane and me it was total technique. It’s like fucking: if you fuck hot, you fuck badly, if you fuck technique, you fuck better.” With Bardot, it was a horrifying kind of copulation, which was, I believe, too much.”
Gainsbourg’s record company persuaded him to release it on an LP with ‘over 21s only” on the front in France. A tactic that ensured sales. The record was then banned in Italy after being denounced as obscenity by the Vatican newspaper. The head of Phonogram in Italy received a two month suspended sentence and a fine for the distributor. Bans followed in Spain and Sweden. In Britain, the BBC banned it announcing that the song ‘was not suitable for play’
On august 2nd, JT hit number 2 in the UK charts and would have gone to the top if Philip’s UK arm, Fontana had not bowed to pressure from its head office. The record was withdrawn from their catalogue. Rumour has it that Juliana, the reigning Dutch queen, who partly owned Philips, played a significant part in the record’s removal.
Due to the records withdrawal, Tim Mycroft under the band name ‘Sounds Nice’, recorded the first cover version. In order to clean up on the charts, there were no vocals and it was retitled ‘Love At First Sight.’ It heads up the first three instrumental versions:
1: Sounds Nice: Love at first Sight 1969
2: Franck Pourcel: Love at first sight 1971
3: Hot Butter: Love at first Sight 1972
Following the ‘Sounds Nice’ cover was Franck Pourcel’s ‘Love at first Sight’ and then the 1972 version by Hot Butter also titled ‘Love at first Sight’. Franck Pourcel And His Rockin’ Strings had in 1959 got into the US top ten with an instrumental version of the Platters' ‘Only You'. Totally eclipsed by the huge ‘Popcorn’, Hot Butter’s version could have done with the same stylistic treatment.
The Instrumental covers continued with over 20 versions recorded. The song generally being subsumed to the style or instrument of the artist. The next three, an easy-latino version entitled ‘Yo te amo, Yo tampoco’. JTMNP version 2 by Fausto Papetti, a former sax player for Chet Baker but also an Italian easy listening star, and, in my opinion, the oddest of the instrumental versions, a piano bar version attributed to Pierre Blanche.
4: Romance Instrumental – Yo te amo, Yo tampoco (no date)
5: Fausto Papetti - (Sax in Love LP)
6: Pierre Blanche – piano bar version (no date)
As was to be expected after the scandal surrounding Gainsbourg’s initial release, there were a few send ups. Bourvil, a plumber turned music hall entertainer, recorded his first record in 1946. A successful film, theatre and recording career ensued and his celebrity became such that De Gaulle admiringly remarked that Bourvil was the only comic he found amusing. Bourvil recorded Ça, out first novelty version, with Jacqueline Maillant in 1969. it turned out to be his last recording as he died shortly after. The second two, I think, require no introduction:
7: Bourvil – Ca 1969 / 8: Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield, Up Je T’aime, 1971 / 9: Judge Dread, 1975
In case, you didn’t recognise them, the second track was Up Je T’aime, released in ’71 by Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield and the third was Judge Dread which surprisingly reached no. 10 in the UK charts in 1975.
The next four continue in a similar vein although some are barely deserving of the word comedy:
10: Allo Allo 1986
11: Die Geschwister Pfister 1996
12: Wolfgang Gruner
13: Jo leemans + Jef Casiers
14: Bob Downe + Julian Clary 1996
The last four were Rene and Yvette from the ‘Allo ‘Allo TV series which I hope has been consigned to the BBC archive dustbin. Second was Die Geschwister Pfister [the brothers and sisters Pfister] who, according to their website, were german orphans resettled in Vegas with their uncle Bill. Bill apparently, was solely responsible for discovering their enormous musical talent. Third was Wolfgang Gruner and Edeltraud Elsner; cabarettists from the stadelschweine in Berlin; Gruner once said “Nowadays you need a sense of humour to endure what others see as humorous.” – now that’s funny because I know exactly what he means. Following that was a cover of the Gruner/Elsner version in Dutch by Jo Leemans & Jef Cassiers. Lastly, we suffered Bob Downe, AKA Mark Trevorrow, and Julian Clary which sounds as if they’d only listened to the howerd/whitfield version and that version only once.
Half of the last eight tracks were from England. Gainsbourg always maintained that the British liked Je T’aime best, saying “I know certain people close to Princess Margaret who think it’s about sodomy. A fact which made them very happy. Perhaps that’s the reason I got to number one in England.”
Perhaps the reason for people thinking it was about sodomy is the line “Tu vas et tu viens, Entre mes reins”: (I come and go, between your kidneys.) Later Gainsbourg was to say that “the dirtier love is, the more beautiful it is. It’s an approach of the sublime.”
In 1976, and not entirely unsupportive of the sodomy interpretation, Gainsbourg’s film ‘Je T’aime… moi non plus’ was released. In the film, a truck stop waitress named Johnny (played by Jane Birkin) starts a bizarre and violent relationship with Krassky (played by Jo Dellesandro). Krassky is a gay dump truck driver who finds himself strangely attracted to the waif like woman. Not surprisingly, Krassky's truck driving lover, Padovan, takes a strong dislike to Johnny and plans to kill her. Johnny and Krassky are ejected from a number of scenes as they attempt anal sex but all is well near the end when they get it on in the back of Krassky’s dump truck to the title track. The film also gives us another two versions by Gainsbourg:
15: Je T’aime… moi non plus au motel
16: Je T’aime… moi non plus au lac vert
As we move into 1977, the disco versions started to arrive:
17: St Tropez 1977
18: Donna Summer 1977
19: James Last 197?
St Tropez’ version oddly hybridises between the easy listening intro and pseudo-disco. Donna Summer’s version featured in the film ‘Thank God It's Friday’ where she plays an up-and-coming singer trying to get the club DJ to play her record. Moroder’s rather meandering 16 minute version makes James ‘Hansi’ Last’s zimmer rattling cover appear high octane.
With disco finally over, we head into the eighties and, I say this with a few reservations, another generation of musicians picking up the song.
20: Zentral Komitee 1982
21: Vicious Pink Phenomena 1983
Zentral Komitee, the band without who Die Toten Hosen would not have existed, recorded this version in 1982 and released it on the live album ‘Corpses pave their Way’, sounds more like bottles litter their path.
The second track was by Vicious Pink Phenomena, aka Josie Warden and Brian Moss, who did the backing vocals on Soft Cell's ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.’ Andrew Eldrich, Sisters Of Mercy frontman, chased after Josie for a short time, until Brian beat him up in Club Warehouse. Je ne t’aime pas, Andrew!
In 1986, Brigitte Bardot decided to release the 1967 recording to raise money for Greenpeace and her animal shelter With the same production as Bonnie and Clyde, the Birkin version suddenly had competition. Additionally, critics now argued over which version; Bardot or Birkin was better. Many decided that Birkin’s was the better as she sounded younger and more inexperienced. The release of the Bardot version also paved the way for a whole bunch of new cover versions some of which are attributable to it and some of which don’t seem to have much relation at all:
22: Genesis P-Orridge 1986
23: Chayanne 1992
24: Mick Harvey 1997
25: Ilona Csáková 1998
The first of the last four was an 1986 by P-Orridge and the Angels of Light with Gen + Paula on the vocals and the characteristically dreadful rhythm section we’ve come to associate with thee magick bands of the eighties. Gen’s vocals sound like he’s singing from underwater; perhaps indicative of the trajectory thee temple was to follow.
Following that was Exxtasis by Chayanne, a Puerto Rican superstar signed to Sony. Following a Grammy nomination in 1989, Chayanne branched out into an acting career in various soaps and more recently starred with Vanessa Williams and Kris Krisstofferson in Dance with Me: a dance success story written off the back of the rising popularity of salsa dance clubs. I particularly enjoy the midi panpipes on that one.
Next up was Mick Harvey’s version featuring Nick Cave and Anita Lane; Harvey’s interest in Gainsbourg’s lyrics rather than his music resulted in two albums, Intoxicated Man in 1995 and Pink Elephants in 1997 and whilst his translation of Je t’aime shows a sensitivity to the anti-erotic overtones of the song, his treatment of the musical side lacks imagination.
Lastly, Ilona Csáková. Formerly the lead singer of Laura and her Tigers, Ilona left the band in 1992 to embark on a project that resulted in probably the most expensive Czech video accompanying possibly the worst-selling Czech CD of all time which by the way you can also watch on her website. Kdyz zbyva par slov, which translates something like ‘If there is a word or two left’, veers straight off the Je t’aime after the opening phrase. My non-existent knowledge of Czech language prevents me from commenting further on the lyrics but this does appear to be the only cover without a duet.
Up next, we move into a more guitar oriented scene:
26: Bohse Onkelz (2002)
27: Core 1997
28: Ludwig von 88 (1999)
29: Los Bichos 1991
30: Davorin Bogovic (1999)
The first was from the album ‘Kein Amnestie for MTV’ by Die Bohse Onkelz, a german band whose roots lie in the right-wing political arena and it seems that they have expended more energy trying to disassociate themselves from the right-wing that concentrating on music.
The second was the Swiss group Core (55) from the album ‘Not Your Size’. Third was Ludwig von 88, a French band whose version references the original as something that requires breaking off as quickly as possible. Not surprising if they consider the original to be one of the epitomes of hippydom as the lyrics suggest. One of the band members, Sergent Garcia, is nowadays the ‘king of French raggasalsa.’
Fourth was Los Bichos, an Argentinian band connected to Billy Bond y La Pesada; a group comprising rock’n’roll, blues and hard-rock songs with psycho touches and humorous ironic lyrics. Lastly, the kazoo infested Davorin I Bogovici, a Croatian rock star who was included on the bill at an event accompanying the exhibition “Andy Warhol - His Art and Life" in Zagreb. The event is described at attempting to bring back the spirit of Andy Warhol from museums to the types of places that were essential in the sixties and seventies in creating the myth of Warhol as a pop art icon as well as a "party animal". I wonder if Warhol had a Kazoo.
Gainsbourg’s incursions into the reggae arena resulted in two albums of what was to become known as freggae. Reggae, and also Zouk artists, responded with a few versions of Je t’aime: The first of these is from an LP called ‘Are you Reggae?’ by Jamaica Soundsystem; other tracks on this album include ‘you can’t hurry love’ and ‘in the ghetto’ making it safe to say that the only places you’re likely to hear this particular posse is on package holiday sites as far away from any yard party as anyone can get:
31: Jamaica Soundsystem 2000
32: Dub Syndicate 1989
33: Nayanka Bell & Kofi Olimide 1999
Following the Jamaica Soundsytem was On U Sound’s Dub Syndicate. I can’t help thinking that they should have included this on their ‘Time Boom X de Devil Dead’ collaboration with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – who knows what he’d have brought to it. Following Dub Syndicate, we heard an afro-zouk-love version by Nayanka Bell, dubbed the African Streisand by the press, with Zairean musician Kofi Olimide and lastly, an anonymous zouk version, from an album entitled ‘Chansons Françaises Zouk.’
Next, we move into the world of pop. First, the Miami based duo Vertigo from the album Vertigogo. Second, A Fair Affair by Misty Oldland, previously half of pop-dance duo Oldland Montana. It seems reasonable to assume that there are a few people left who haven’t heard the original before and Misty certainly seems to be one of them.
35: Vertigo 1999
36: Misty Oldland 2001
37: Blown 1994
38: Texas 2000
39 Malcolm McLaren 1995
40: Cibo Matto 1997
Following Misty Oldand up was the pseudo-rap version by Blown. Then we had ‘Guitar Song’ by Texas. This isn’t the ‘scratch mix’ they played on French TV at ‘La nuit de Serge Gainsbourg’ a couple of years back. Then we had Malcolm Mclaren’s version from the ‘Paris’ LP; like the rest of the album, it’s more about McLaren than anything else and last was Cibo Matto’s version from the ‘Great Jewish Music’ Tzadik compilation.
The next five are from what I term the doodoo lala genre: the first is a la-la version by Paul Mauriat; an arranger/composer whose popularity peaked in 1968, when his version of "L'Amour Est Bleu" ("Love Is Blue"), Luxembourg's submission to the 1963 Eurovision Song contest, became an international hit. Second is the ‘doo-doo’ version by Ray Conniff and the Singers; Conniff became popular for his replacement of brass or string sections of bands with singers. He was also the first American pop artist to record an album in the former U.S.S.R.
41: Paul Mauriat – lala 1970
42: Ray Coniff – dodo (no date)
43: Willy Crook 1997
44: Bashki Quartet 2001
45: 101 Strings Orchestra. 1997 release.
Following Ray Conniff up was Willy Crook and the Funky Torinos; a one time a house-sitter for Roman Polanski. Willy was followed by the ‘dad-ba-da’ ‘soiree mix’ by the International Bashki Quartet from the album ‘lucien forever.’ And lastly, sounding more like a soundtrack from russ meyer’s vixen than a release by one of the most prolific names in instrumental easy listening was ‘Nancy’s Song’ from the LP ‘Erotic Love’ by the 101 Strings orchestra.
No cover version collection would be complete without a smattering of synth-pop covers and JTMNP is no exception:
46: Rick Strom 2002
47: Sweet Sex Symphony 2000
48: Ann Hell 1998
49: Pet Shop Boys + Sam Taylor Wood 1998
50: Sven Vath + Miss Kittin 2001
In the last five were firstly Rick Strom, then Sweet Sex Symphony from an compilation album called Street Vibes 5 featuring Destiny’s Child, Craig David and Jennifer Lopez. How it fits in is another story.
Following that was Ann Hell from Butterfly Experiment. Fourth was artist Sam Taylor-Wood and an apple macintosh text to speech processor. This track is probably more commonly known from the Pet Shop Boys’ Nightlife LP. Finally, the version that Hot Butter would have recorded had they known Popcorn would be such a smash. Unfortunately for them, the version was recorded by Sven Vath and Miss Kittin. One fan’s rather annoyed comment was that he wished Sven wouldn’t get wasted and do tracks that no-one likes.
Time to move on into the euro-dance arena with three tracks from Italy, Spain and Germany respectively:
51: Les Femmes Erotiques 1989
52: Fernandisco (no date)/ 52: Sara Noxx 1997
The first was Les Femmes Erotiques from 1989 followed by the Spanish radio presenter Fernandisco’s version La Mezcla es Posible from the interestingly titled Drag Queen Dreams. The last was by Sara Noxx from her ‘Society’ album.
From repetitive beats to breakbeats, the next selection is oriented towards the percussive:
53: Brian Molko + Asia Argento 2002
54: Barry Adamson 2001
55: Anti@lias 1996
56: Dzihan & Kamien 2001
First up was Dimitri Tikovoi ‘s Trash Palace featuring Brian Molko [of placebo] and Asia Argento in reversed roles; trash palace was a project Tikovi started whilst watching UK television. After sampling the ends of porn soundtracks, he invited molko, argento and notably John Cale to participate in the projcct. Barry Adamson’s was next; Oddly enough, or not, Adamson’s version sounds not dissimilar to Mick Harvey’s orchestration. Next up was L’odeur de L by antiAlias, a version that erases all but the first five notes and finally Dzihan & Kamien’s almost remix from the Electronicagainsbourg compilation.
A few oddities next, by various oddities:
57: Einsturzende Neubauten 1981
58: Entropy8zuper 2001
First up was Einsturzende Neubauten’s version from their first album Kollaps. In an effort to do the track and not pay for it, neubauten excluded the track from the track listing on the back. Second was entropy8zuper, an art duo who produced this version for a screen saver; Leviticus Ecstasy weighs in at a mammoth 18 and a half minutes duration, enough time to be away from your desk to make several cups of coffee and eat a few sandwiches.
Next up is the only mix in the show, johann dada of the web based Radio Fantastica was good enough to mail me this mix entitled Tu es perdu... moi non plus (you are lost… I neither). The music is provided by the Electronic Message Du Salut Orchestra and the vocal provided by a preacher.
59: Johann Dada 1973
60: Dietmar Wischmeyer 1995
61: Zimmer Frei 1999
Following johann’s mix was Dietmar Wischmeyer; the director of the comedy department of German Radio Station FFN and then Nessi Tausendschon’s live version from the tv show / circus ‘Zimmer Frei.’
So that’s almost it for the moment. In addition to the 61 versions I’ve played already, there are at least another forty including those by the Harry J Allstars, Yasuharu Konishi from Pizzicato 5, Danmass, Raymond Lefèvre, the Ensemble Vocal Garnier and the bagpipe wielding Lothian & Borders Police band. I’d imagine there are plenty more to look forward to in the future but sadly the hotly anticipated Madonna & Britney Spears version crashed before it got off the ground.
I’d just like to say thanks to…Sara Noxx and Rene Mende, Angel Ortega, Johann Dada from Radio Fantastica, Parsley Lion from Les Dutronc, Gunnar Aasle, Guenter Kreuger, Entropy8Zuper, Jack Sargeant and Angus Carlyle.
I leave you with two more: Bernt Dahlback’s unforgettable version and finally an excerpt from les dutronc’s nicely mistitled, je ne t’aime pas… moi aussi.
62: Bernt Dahlback 2001
63: Les Dutronc 1996